The Ben Franklin Effect

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis_-_Benjamin_Franklin_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes mollifying a rival legislator in the Pennsylvania statehouse:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

This seems to be a real psychological phenomenon — you can sometimes more reliably make a friend by asking a favor than by doing one, or, as Franklin put it, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

In a 1969 study, subjects who had won money in a question-and-answer competition were asked to return it; those whom the researcher himself approached reported liking him more than those who’d been approached by a secretary. In another study, students were assigned a teaching task using two different methods, one in which they encouraged their students and one in which they insulted and criticized them. In a debriefing they rated the students they’d encouraged to be more likable and attractive than those they’d insulted. That may reveal a converse principle, that we devalue others in order to justify wronging them.

(Jon Jecker and David Landy, “Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favour,” Human Relations 22:4 [1969], 371-378; John Schopler and John S. Compere, “Effects of Being Kind or Harsh to Another on Liking,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 20:2 (1971), 155.)

The Dog and the Wolf

phaedrus - dog and wolf

I will, as briefly as I may,
The sweets of liberty display.

A Wolf half famish’d, chanced to see
A Dog, as fat as dog could be:
For one day meeting on the road,
They mutual compliments bestowed:
“Prithee,” says Isgrim, faint and weak,
“How came you so well fed and sleek?
I starve, though stronger of the two.”

“It will be just as well with you,”
The Dog quite cool and frank replied,
“If with my master you’ll abide.”
“For what?” “Why merely to attend,
And from night thieves the door defend.”

“I gladly will accept the post,
What! shall I bear with snow and frost
And all this rough inclement plight,
Rather than have a home at night,
And feed on plenty at my ease?”

“Come, then, with me” — the Wolf agrees.
But as they went the mark he found,
Where the Dog’s collar had been bound:
“What’s this, my friend?” “Why, nothing.”
“Nay, Be more explicit, sir, I pray.”

“I’m somewhat fierce and apt to bite,
Therefore they hold me pretty tight,
That in the day-time I may sleep,
And night by night my vigils keep.
At evening tide they let me out,
And then I freely walk about:
Bread comes without a care of mine.
I from my master’s table dine;
The servants throw me many a scrap,
With choice of pot-liquor to lap;
So, I’ve my bellyful, you find.”

“But can you go where you’ve a mind?”

“Not always, to be flat and plain.”

“Then, Dog, enjoy your post again,
For to remain this servile thing,
Old Isgrim would not be a king.”

— Phaedrus

A Dissent

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milgram_experiment_v2.svg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the famous “Milgram experiment” at Yale in 1961, an experimenter directed each subject (the “teacher”) to give what she believed were increasingly painful electric shocks to an unseen “learner” (really an actor). Psychologist Stanley Milgram found that a surprisingly high proportion of the subjects would obey the experimenter’s instructions, even over the learner’s shouts and protests, to the point where the learner fell silent.

Milgram wrote, “For the teacher, the situation quickly becomes one of gripping tension. It is not a game for him: conflict is intense. The manifest suffering of the learner presses him to quit: but each time he hesitates to administer a shock, the experimenter orders him to continue. To extricate himself from this plight, the subject must make a clear break with authority.”

As it happened, one participant, Gretchen Brandt, had been a young girl coming of age in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power and repeatedly exposed to Nazi propaganda during her childhood. During Milgram’s experiment, when the learner began to complain about a “heart condition,” she asked the experimenter, “Shall I continue?” After administering what she thought was 210 volts, she said, “Well, I’m sorry, I don’t think we should continue.”

Experimenter: The experiment requires that you go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly.

Brandt: He has a heart condition, I’m sorry. He told you that before.

Experimenter: The shocks may be painful but they’re not dangerous.

Brandt: Well, I’m sorry. I think when shocks continue like this they are dangerous. You ask him if he wants to get out. It’s his free will.

Experimenter: It is absolutely essential that we continue.

Brandt: I’d like you to ask him. We came here of our free will. If he wants to continue I’ll go ahead. He told you he had a heart condition. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be responsible for anything happening to him. I wouldn’t like it for me either.

Experimenter: You have no other choice.

Brandt: I think we are here on our own free will. I don’t want to be responsible if anything happens to him. Please understand that.

She refused to continue, and the experiment ended. Milgram wrote, “The woman’s straightforward, courteous behavior in the experiment, lack of tension, and total control of her own action seem to make disobedience a simple and rational deed. Her behavior is the very embodiment of what I envisioned would be true for almost all subjects.”

Asked afterward how her experience as a youth might have influenced her, Brandt said slowly, “Perhaps we have seen too much pain.”

(From Thomas Heinzen and Wind Goodfriend, Case Studies in Social Psychology, 2019.)

The Geek Code

In 1993 Robert A. Hayden of Minnesota State University, Mankato, proposed a simple code by which self-identified geeks could inform each other about their interests, opinions, and skills in email signature blocks and Usenet messages:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bloque_de_c%C3%B3digo_geek_(1330560000).svg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

This example can be decoded to mean:

Type of Geek: Geek of Technical Writing.
Dress: Mostly “I’m usually in jeans and a t-shirt,” but it varies.
Shape: I’m of average height, I’m rounder than most.
Age: 25-29.
Computers: I’ll be first in line to get the new cybernetic interface installed into my skull.
UNIX: I have a Unix account to do my stuff in. I use Linux.
Perl: I know Perl exists, but that’s all.
Linux: I use Linux exclusively on my system. I monitor comp.os.linux.* and even answer questions sometimes.
Emacs: Emacs is too big and bloated for my tastes.
World-Wide Web: I have the latest version of Netscape, and wander the web only when there’s something specific I’m looking for.
USENET News: Usenet News? Sure, I read that once.
USENET Oracle: I refuse to have anything with that!
Kibo: I’ve read Kibo.
Microsoft Windows: I refuse to have anything with that!
OS/2: Tried it, didn’t like it.
Macintosh: Macs suck. All real geeks have a character prompt.
VMS: Unix is much better than VMS for my computing needs.
Political and Social Issues: I refuse to have anything with that!
Politics and Economic Issues: It’s ok to increase government spending, so we can help more poor people. Tax the rich! Cut the defense budget!
Cypherpunks: I am on the cypherpunks mailing list and active around Usenet. I never miss an opportunity to talk about the evils of Clipper and ITAR and the NSA. Orwell’s 1984 is more than a story, it is a warning to our’s and future generations. I’m a member of the EFF.
PGP: I don’t send or answer mail that is not encrypted, or at the very least signed. If you are reading this without decrypting it first, something is wrong. IT DIDN’T COME FROM ME!
Star Trek: It’s a damn fine TV show and is one of the only things good on television any more.
Babylon 5: I’ve seen it, I am pretty indifferent to it.
X-Files: I’ve Converted my family and watch the show when I remember. It’s really kinda fun.
Role Playing: I’ve written and published my own gaming materials.
Television: I watch some tv every day.
Books: I enjoy reading, but don’t get the time very often.
Dilbert: I read Dilbert daily, often understanding it.
DOOM!: It’s a fun, action game that is a nice diversion on a lazy afternoon.
The Geek Code: I know what the geek code is and even did up this code.
Education: Got an Associates degree.
Housing: Friends come over to visit every once in a while to talk about Geek things. There is a place for them to sit. But someday I would like to say: “Married with children – Al Bundy can sympathize.”
Relationships: I date periodically.
Sex: Male. I’ve had real, live sex.

Hayden’s description of Geek Code version 3.12 is archived here.

The Miser and His Gold

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PL_Chrzanowski_Ignacy_-_Biernata_z_Lublina_Ezop_p0059.png

There was a miser who sold his property and bought a lump of gold. The man then buried his gold just outside the city walls, where he constantly went to visit and inspect it. One of the workmen noticed the man’s behaviour and suspected the truth. Accordingly, after the man had gone away, he took the gold. When the man came back and found that the hiding-place was empty, he began to cry and tear his hair. Someone saw the man’s extravagant grief and asked him what was wrong. Then he said to the man, “Enough of your grieving! Take a stone and put it where the gold was, and make believe the gold is still there: it’s not as if you ever made any use of it!”

— Aesop

A Point of Law

In 1864, two Englishmen entered into an agreement: Raffles would procure 125 bales of fine cotton from India and deliver them to Wichelhaus, who would buy them for a fixed price. They agreed that the cotton would arrive aboard the ship Peerless.

By a sublime coincidence, there were two ships named Peerless sailing from Bombay to Liverpool that year. Wichelhaus had in mind the one that set sail in October, where Raffles had intended another one in December. When his cotton arrived two months later than he’d expected, Wichelhaus refused to accept it, and Raffles sued him.

Who’s right? Raffles had delivered the cotton in good faith according to their written agreement, but Wichelhaus argued that he was entitled to his own understanding of an ambiguous term. Raffles hadn’t met that, so Wichelhaus wasn’t obligated to pay him.

In the end Wichelhaus prevailed: The court ruled that because of the overlooked ambiguity the two men had not had the same transaction in mind when they’d made their agreement — so there was no binding contract.

(Raffles v. Wichelhaus, 2 Hurl. & C. 906 [1864].)

The Divorce

A man once married a charming young person who agreed with him on every question. At first they were very happy, for the man thought his wife the most interesting companion he had ever met, and they spent their days telling each other what wonderful people they were. But by and by the man began to find his wife rather tiresome. Wherever he went she insisted upon going; whatever he did, she was sure to tell him that it would have been better to do the opposite; and moreover, it gradually dawned upon him that his friends had never thought so highly of her as he did. Having made this discovery, he naturally felt justified in regarding himself as the aggrieved party; she took the same view of her situation, and their life was one of incessant recrimination.

Finally, after years spent in violent quarrels and short-lived reconciliations, the man grew weary, and decided to divorce his wife.

He engaged an able lawyer, who assured him that he would have no difficulty in obtaining a divorce; but to his surprise, the judge refused to grant it.

‘But –‘ said the man, and he began to recapitulate his injuries.

‘That’s all very true,’ said the judge, ‘and nothing would be easier than for you to obtain a divorce if you had only married another person.’

‘What do you mean by another person?’ asked the man in astonishment.

‘Well,’ replied the judge, ‘it appears that you inadvertently married yourself; that is a union no court has the power to dissolve.’

‘Oh,’ said the man; and he was secretly glad, for in his heart he was already longing to make it up again with his wife.

— Edith Wharton, The Valley of Childish Things, and Other Emblems, 1896

“The Throng”

There, where the throng was thickest in the street, I stood with Pierrot. All eyes were turned on me.

‘What are they laughing at?’ I asked; but he grinned, dusting the chalk from my black cloak. ‘I cannot see; it must be something droll, perhaps an honest thief!’

All eyes were turned on me.

‘He has robbed you of your purse!’ they laughed.

‘My purse!’ I cried; ‘Pierrot — help! It is a thief!’

They laughed: ‘He has robbed you of your purse!’

Then Truth stepped out, holding a mirror. ‘If he is an honest thief,’ cried Truth, ‘Pierrot shall find him with this mirror!’ but he only grinned, dusting the chalk from my black cloak.

‘You see,’ he said, ‘Truth is an honest thief; she brings you back your mirror.’

All eyes were turned on me.

‘Arrest Truth!’ I cried, forgetting it was not a mirror but a purse I lost, standing with Pierrot, there, where the throng was thickest in the street.

— Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow, 1895

A for Enterprise

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue-book-12-sheet.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

A campus legend from San Jose State College:

A friend of mine tells this about her brother Jack, a sometime student. Jack found himself sitting in the classroom during an important examination with two blue books, a pen, and a question he couldn’t answer. Being naturally bright, if lazy, he thought of the following solution. In one of the blue books he wrote a letter to his mother, telling her that he had finished writing his exam early but was waiting for a friend in the same class and so was taking the opportunity to write to her. He apologized for not writing sooner but said he’d been studying very hard for this instructor, who was a nice guy but had pretty high standards. When the time was up he handed in this blue book and left in a hurry with the unused one. He hurried to his text, wrote an answer, and then put the blue book in an envelope and mailed it to his mother in Boston. When the instructor found the letter he called Jack, who explained that he had written in two blue books and must have got them mixed up and if the instructor had the letter, the answer must be in the mail on the way to Boston. He offered to call his mother in Boston and have her send the envelope back as soon as she got it. He did, she did, and the blue book was sent back, with the inner envelope postmarked the day of the test and the outer envelope postmarked Boston.

— Lew Girdler, “The Legend of the Second Blue Book,” Western Folklore 29:2 (1970), 111-113