The Power Of The Situation To Shape Behavior

I’ve gone through my life idealizing and devaluing people. Many of those I’ve most admired, I’ve subsequently devalued. Others who I devalued, I came to admire.

I’ve hated some people until I met them, and then I quickly found myself liking them. I’ve loved some people until I met them, and then I found I hated them.

I’ve been learning about the moral philosophy of situationism (that the situation will often determine our behavior more than any other factor, including psychological traits and belief in God) and I love how useful it is.

Philosopher John M. Doris writes: “Commitment to globalism threatens to poison understandings of self and others with disappointment and resentment on the one hand and delusion and hero-worship on the other. In fact, engaging situationism can enable loving relationships, because affection for others would not be contingent on their conformity to unrealistic standards of character. With luck, a situationist tuning of the emotions could increase our ever-short supply of compassion, forgiveness, and fair-mindedness. And these are things worth having in greater abundance.”

Take, for example, my tendency to idealize certain people in public life (and often adopt them as father figures). In the situations I encounter them, I put them on a pedestal. But if they say something I hate, or if I see a side of them outside of the normal, I may loathe them. The situation may well shape my reaction to these public figures more than any other factor.

When I see somebody every day, it is impossible for me to put them on a pedestal. No man is a hero to his butler (and this may be caused by the man being a man, or the butler being a butler, but more likely this is caused by the nature of the man-butler relationship).

I’ve met all sorts of women for whom I felt no initial romantic or erotic attraction. Then, because I was placed in situations where I interacted with them in certain ways (perhaps I talked with them regularly and came to enjoy their company), I might feel a powerful attraction. For example, I am not normally attracted to women with large bottoms, but if I had a lot of laughs and pleasant interactions with a large bottomed woman, I might start feeling something for her. I might even lose my mind in my infatuation and surprising lust.

I remember being set up with a large bottomed woman and I could not face asking her out, but at the same time I recognized that if I was around her enough in low pressure situations, I might well fall for her. Alas, I rarely saw her again and nothing happened.

Similarly, I might have developed and consummated an all consuming erotic and romantic attraction for a woman that was then destroyed when I found myself in a new situation with them. For example, I might suddenly realize that my friends find her stupid, or that she is less socially astute in many situations than I am, or I might realize that she loathed my religion (Orthodox Judaism), or that because of her irresponsibility, having her in my life would inevitably cause chaos and that she would feel like a millstone around my neck.

I might fall in love with a woman with a moderate size bum and then over time, her bums expands, and when the expansion reaches a certain point, my love and respect for her is gone.

I think a major reason why people develop strong erotic and romantic attraction is because of certain situations they find themselves in and when those situations change, the erotic and romantic attraction changes. Most people feel the most intense erotic attraction early in a relationship. Typically, the half-life of a sexual relationship is six weeks (meaning, that six weeks in, the erotic excitement is half the level it was at first).

Many public figures such as Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson develop a following who regard them as heroes, and then when Dennis or Jordan do one thing to disappoint their fans, the fans turn on them with a passion and want to hurt them. I also notice that other public figures don’t seem to endure this. Why?

I have been blogging since 1997 and I have, at times, developed a small following. Sometimes, fans of my work, for inexplicable reasons, turn passionately against me. Why did this happen? Because situations changed, and their admiration transformed into loathing.

Are there things public figures can do to encourage a more sane following? Yes, they could emphasize the power of situation and that there will always be situations wherein people who admire them will hate them. There is nobody we love who we could not also come to hate in particular types of situations.

If you find yourself playing a hero role to some people, it might be in everybody’s interest to emphasize that while there may be certain situations that make you come across to some people as heroic, there are also situations that will reveal you to be a coward. Nobody is universally brave or universally kind or universally serene or universally faithful or universally honest.

In every relationship, we feel powerful tugs of attraction and repulsion. Sometimes the repulsion is at such a level, we can’t handle it and we have to end the relationship despite everything wonderful about it. The more mature a person, the more turbulence he can handle without lashing out at himself and others.

The five main personality traits of OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) are partly conditioned by situation. In certain situations, I become extraverted and in other situations I became introverted. In some situations, I strongly more into all of these five traits, and in other situations, I move strongly against these traits.

I have a history of pursuing overly intense relationships in the work place as a distraction from work. Many of these relationships have blown up and destroyed my job. Once I recognized that certain relationship work only at a certain distance and any more intimacy threatens to blow things up, I more effectively navigate reality. Work is not always the place to meet my needs.

Putting myself in sexualized situations such as strip clubs don’t serve me.

I do a regular show on Youtube. Accurate criticism and friendly banter in the chat serve me, but when someone turns nasty, that tends not to bring out the best in me, so it is best for me (and maybe for them), that I ban them.

I have friends (such as Ricardo) who are wonderful friends on a periodic basis but if I interact with them every day, we hate each other.

Situationism is not necessarily moral relativism because one can regard the situation as determining the moral absolute. For example, one might regard the Torah and mesorah (Jewish tradition) as divine, but also recognize the challenge of applying the God-based rules to new and unexpected situations. You might struggle and even fail to find the divine absolute in your current situation or you make find the moral absolute and lack the strength to obey.

People can’t live for long failing to do what they believe is right. If you can’t quit smoking, you will stop believing that smoking is bad. If you can’t quit committing adultery, you will stop believing adultery is bad.

One of two things will almost always happen — you will start obeying the rules, or you will abandon your beliefs in the rules.

Disagreeing with a friend puts stress on the friendship. The closer the friendship, the more stress. The more situations you have that make your disagreement important, the more endangered your friendship.

I had my first cup of coffee this morning in many weeks and this caffeinated situation has made me more creative than usual. Because I don’t usually ingest caffeine, on those infrequent situations that I do, I often get added insight and energy.

If I didn’t have that cup of coffee this morning, I would not have written this post. On the other hand, my coffee this morning may reduce my sleep tonight, leading to a bad spiral in insomnia, causing a decrease in creativity and output.

A friend says:

It struck me your description of people is like certain foods. There are some foods you can eat everyday and others only once in a while. Some food in small servings, and some in big bowls. Some in cold weather, others in hot etc. I remember being surprised at myself by how taken I was when a Polish au-pair I was dating, made dinner for me, then took away the plates and brought in dessert etc. The line ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ suddenly had new meaning. Whoa, Elliot did shrooms and Luke had a cup of coffee, it’s like the sixties in here.

I heard an argument that the shift to coffee caused the Enlightenment and the shift to beer caused depression.

In certain places, I am extroverted, charming and the life of the party. In other circumstances, I am shy, withdrawn and awkward. In certain arrangements, I am seen as prestigious, and in other arrangements, I seem like the Orthodox Judaism’s biggest loser.

With certain cohosts, I do fantastic Youtube shows. Without a cohost, I rarely do a fantastic show. I find it hard to sustain emotional energy without a certain type of cohost. Other cohosts start out as fantastic, and then over time, I find them increasingly draining and depressing (and they have not changed).

In last night’s debate about voter fraud, Joseph Cotto discussed how much I respect the New York Times and the Washington Post and how he did not place faith in any on media source. I believe all sources of information need to be understood critically (who said it, what are their ideologies and predilections, which groups are they most incentivized to please, what was the situation that gave rise to this communication, etc). That said, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are broadsheets aimed at an average IQ of 115 while Fox News and the New York Post are down market tabloids aimed at a 100 IQ audience. Most nationally syndicated talk radio seems aimed at an audience with an average IQ of around 105 (Howard Stern and Sean Hannity probably aim at the 100 IQ crowd, Michael Medved and Dennis Prager at the 110 IQ crowd). PBS and NPR and the ABC in Australia probably shoot for the 110 crowd while commercial TV networks (prole feed) aim at the 95 group.

I spend about 20 minutes a day with the New York Times, 10-15 minutes with the Wall Street Journal and Steve Sailer and the New York Review of Books (meaning one day for an hour or two with the NYROB, and then no time for five days), and about five minutes each with the Washington Post, the New Yorker (about 20-30 minutes about once a week), ESPN, The Athletic, and the Los Angeles Times.

Some days I don’t have the bandwidth for some people, and other days I appreciate them in small doses. Others feel the same way about me. There’s nobody in my life who I love that I would not also hate in certain situations.

I went at it hard with Joseph Cotto last night, but there were no shots below the belt, and hence there was no damage to our friendship. Because I don’t consider myself childish or autistic, it causes me no offense to be called such. The only criticisms that wound are the ones that amplify my own insecurities. I don’t think Cotto was hurt when I said he lacked comprehension with regard to my comments on his show about Hans Von Popofsky.

Throughout my life, I have been called selfish. This did not help me to become unselfish. It seems to me that “selfish” people are only selfish in those situations where they feel gaping psychic wounds. If somebody has a huge wound, it does not help them to advise that they become less selfish. First, they have to heal. Once a person feels well, he’ll naturally incline to helping others. Happy people like helping others.

Telling a selfish person to become generous is like telling an alcoholic to stop drinking and a debtor to stop debting. First, they need a way to heal their wounds, and once they undergo a program of recovery, they will naturally incline to helping others.

You have to change their situation to change their traits.

The same person will be brave in some situations and cowardly in other situations. The same person will be generous in some situations and selfish in other situations. The same person will be righteous in some situations and wicked in other situations. Traits such as bravery, generosity and righteousness never characterize the totality of anyone. Nobody exhibits the same traits in every situation. In some situations, the person will be akin to a concentration camp victim, and in other situations, the same person will be akin to a concentration camp guard. There is no nationalism without an inclination to wipe our your enemies in dire situations. There is no victimhood without nationalism and no nationalism without victimhood and no nationalism and victimhood without freedom from moral restraints in certain circumstances.

A person who wants to be good will try to maximize situations that maximize his chances of behaving admirably and minimize those situations that are most likely to bring out his bad side. There’s more effectiveness in this approach, I think, than in trying to improve one’s global moral character.

When I am in hurry, I am short, curt, impatient and transactional in my interactions with others. The more stressed and competitive I feel, the more likely I am to behave in a spiteful manner. Hence, I’ve created a life where I’ve rarely had a long commute. I hate placing my happiness in the hands of circumstance. The shorter my commute, the more control I feel. The more control I feel over my life, the happier I am.

The more desperate I feel, the more moral latitude I feel. So the more I am able to build a life with little desperation, the more decently I behave. The more connected I feel to other people, the better I behave. My natural tendency is towards isolation, so I have to go against my tendencies to create a life that works. One way I do that is by volunteering up to about 10 hours a week. This provide me with energy and connection I would not otherwise enjoy and helps me to learn new skills and experience new sides to life. More than ten hours or so of volunteering a week and I feel that I am hiding from my life mission of writing and speaking.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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