The Handicap Principle: Why Accepting a Disadvantage is a Show of Strength

The Handicap Principle

 

The handicap principle is the idea that in order to guarantee honesty in communication, the signals that you make must be costly in some way. Therefore, if you want to showcase your strength, you must be willing to pay a price, and the greater the price, the more reliable your show of strength will be.

For example, think of a peacock’s tail. Aside from looking pretty, it serves little to no functional purpose. At the same time, it takes a considerable amount of resources to grow and to carry around, and makes it harder for the peacock to escape predators. Because of this, the bigger the tail, the more impressive it is, since it signals to other peacocks that the individual walking around with it is fit enough to find food and evade predators, despite his handicap.

In this article, you will learn more about the handicap principle and about the theory behind it, and see how understanding it can benefit you in practice.

 

Theory of the handicap principle

The basic idea behind the handicap principle is that reliable signals must incur a cost to the signaler, and the heavier the cost, the more reliable the signal is.

For example, let’s go back to the peacock’s tail. A large tail serves as a reliable signal, because the cost of carrying it is high, in terms of the resources the peacock must consume, and in terms of the difficulty of avoiding predators. The female peacocks therefore trust it as a signal, because a male that is not fit enough to carry his big tail around, generally won’t be able to survive for long.

Humans are no different, and showcase their strength through their willingness to pay a price in some way. Often, this price is monetary, as people buy expensive products in order to demonstrate their financial strength. For example, a person might buy a luxury watch as a signal that they are wealthy, since buying the watch shows that they can afford to spend a large amount of money on something that serves mostly as a status symbol.

However, the price that a person pays doesn’t always have to do with money. In sports, for example, there is the concept of a golf handicap, which refers to the number of golf strokes that a player is limited to during a game. Under this context, the better the player is, the greater the handicap that they play with.

Since a player’s handicap is determined based on their past performance in golf matches, it serves as a direct indicator of their golfing ability. If a weak player claims to be better than they are in reality, they will have to prove it by playing with a significant handicap. Because they’re not actually good enough to play at that level, they will simply end up losing most of their matches, until they accept a handicap that matches their true abilities.

 

Signal inflation

The value of a signal can degrade over time, because once a signal becomes affordable to everyone, its value shrinks, in a process of inflation.

For example, in a park where food is plentiful and there are no natural predators, a peacock’s extravagant tail might not serve as a good indicator of fitness, since even weak males could afford to carry a tail like that around.

The same is true with cars. Once, simply owning a car was a status symbol by itself. Eventually however, cars became ubiquitous, and owning a luxury car became the new status symbol.

Now, thanks to leasing and loans, even this signal degraded, since people can drive around in relatively expensive cars, without being wealthy enough to own them in a responsible manner. This makes such a signal less reliable, and means that people have to either buy more expensive cars, or turn to other status symbols in order to demonstrate their wealth.

 

Altruism and prestige

The handicap principle can explain a lot of altruistic behavior, since altruism, or the willingness to care for others, serves as a signal of personal ability, which increases the prestige of the signaler in the eyes of others.

For example, when a male bird gives some of his food to weak members of his flock, he is demonstrating his ability to easily get food, which increases his prestige in the eyes of other members of the flock.

This can be so beneficial to one’s social standing, that sometimes competitive altruism develops. When this happens, different members of the group will fight for the opportunity to show others how altruistic they are, and how much they can help others, in order to improve their standing within the group hierarchy.

 

The value of understanding the handicap principle

You can use the handicap principle to make your signals and communication appear more honest. Understand that the greater the cost you incur when signaling others, the more reliable your communication will appear. Cost can be anything of value, including your willingness to spend time, money, or effort.

You can also use the handicap principle in order to interpret other people’s signals. If you’re unsure about how honest someone is, ask yourself what cost they are incurring by signaling whatever they are signaling, and what price they will have to pay if they are being dishonest.

Key points to remember:

  • A high cost does not ensure honesty, but it does contribute to the signal’s reliability.
  • Cost is relative to the situation and to the signaler’s ability. A $100 donation from a poor college student can be a much stronger signal than a $1,000 donation from a large corporation.
  • The cost must be relevant to the signal, and of interest to whomever you are signaling to. For example, if someone wants to see that you care about them through your willingness to spend time and effort, spending all the money in the world might not help.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The handicap principle denotes that in order to guarantee honesty in communication, the signals that you make must be costly in some way.
  • Therefore, if you want to display your strength, you must be willing to pay a price, and the greater the price, the more reliable your show of strength will be.
  • For example, a peacock’s tail serves no functional purpose, and requires a lot of resources to carry around, while also making it difficult for the peacock to escape predators. Because of this, it serves as a good signal of fitness, since weak males who grow a big tail likely won’t survive for long.
  • A common way for people to display their strength is by buying expensive things, which signal others that they are strong from a financial perspective.
  • When communicating with others, always keep in mind that the greater the cost of the signal, the more reliable it is. This is important both when you try to get others to trust your signals, as well as when you consider the honesty of other people’s communication.

 

If you want to learn more about the handicap principle, beyond the basic information outlined in this article, take a look at the original book on the topic “The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle“.

 


Learn How to Sew: a Basic Guide

Sewing

 

Sooner or later, the things that you use start falling apart. Clothes are no exceptions, and eventually they start to tear, split at the seams, lose buttons, or suffer from other minor forms of damage.

When this happens, a lot of people tend to just throw the item away. However, in most cases you can easily fix the issue with some basic sewing. This allows you to significantly extend the shelf-life of the items, which saves you time, money, and can also help you in situations where you can’t immediately replace the item in question.

This isn’t a guide for people who want to master the art of sewing intricate patterns. Rather, this guide is for people who want to learn, in about 5 minutes, how they can sew and fix stuff that gets damaged. This guide isn’t limited to fixing clothes, and can also help with other items, including anything from backpacks to pillowcases. If you want to learn this simple but useful skill, read on.

 

Items you will need

Thread- the closer the color of the thread to the color of the item you are sewing, the less noticeable it will be. A single spool of thread costs almost nothing and will last for years.

Sewing needle- the bigger the eye, the easier it will be to thread it. Overall though, size shouldn’t really matter unless it’s so small that you can’t thread it at all, or so large that it makes holes in whatever you’re trying to sew.

Scissors/knife- designated sewing scissors/shears are best, but anything that can cut the thread will work. Don’t use your teeth: it’s bad for them, and they do a bad job at this anyway. Besides, finding something to cut with isn’t that hard.

Pins (optional)- these can be used to hold the fabric in place while you’re sewing. Not crucial in most cases, but useful in some.

 

Small tip on getting sewing supplies

A lot of hotels give out, for free, small sewing-kits which contain all of these items (except for scissors). You can stock up on a few extra kits whenever you stay in a hotel.

In fact, you could generally just walk into a hotel and ask for a sewing kit, and you’ll probably get it without any questions asked.

You can also ask them for a disposable razor, and add its blade to your mini sewing kit (after carefully removing it), to ensure you always have something to cut with (though it’s not a very convenient tool to use).

 

Free hotel sewing kit
Credit to Reddit user ‘photolouis’

 

It’s worth it to keep a spare sewing kit in your bag. It barely takes up any space, and you never know when you need it. People almost never think of carrying something like this, so not only is it convenient, but you could also end up saving the day for someone with an unfortunate clothing malfunction.

 

Setting up the materials

First, you’re going to have to cut the thread to the desired length. A rough estimate is to cut thread about 6 times longer than the length of the stitch you’ll make. When in doubt go with more thread, since you can always trim the excess if necessary (try not to overdo it though).

Next, you’re going to thread the needle. Simply pinch the thread near the tip, and lower the needle onto it. Once the string is securely in the eye, pull the rest of it through until the needle is hanging in the middle. Tie the ends of the thread together. If you’re struggling to thread the needle, try the following things:

  • Make sure there are no frayed edges that are catching on the edge of the needle’s eye. If there are, trim the end of the thread and try again.
  • You can compress the end of the thread by wetting it and/or pressing it hard.
  • You can try pushing the string into the needle, as opposed to lowering the needle onto it (some people prefer this method).
  • If nothing works, you’re going to have to get a bigger needle, or a sewing kit where the needle comes pre-threaded.

 

Threaded needle

 

How to sew

Now that you have everything ready, you can start sewing. All stitches generally revolve around the same concept, of pushing the needle across two parts of the fabric, in order to connect them.

The following 3 commonly-used stitches are usually your best bet:

Running stitch- place the two pieces of fabric you’re going to sew over each other to create some overlap. Sew in a straight line from the start of the overlapping section, while passing the needle up and down through the fabric. If you want the stitch to not show too much, you can alternate in terms of how much of the stitch appears on each side of the fabric.

 

Running stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “Sewing How To: Running Stitch

 

Backstitch- this one is the same as a running stitch, with one change: you produce a full stitch going forward on the bottom side of the fabric, and then a half-length stitch going backward on the top side.

 

Back stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “Sewing How To: Backstitch

 

If that doesn’t make sense, try looking at the following diagram. The odd numbers show when the needle is pulled up from below the fabric towards you, while the even numbers show when it’s being pushed down away from you.

 

Back stitch diagram

 

Whip stitch- usable mainly when sewing edges of a fabric together. Simply align the two edges, and perform a spiral sewing motions through them.

 

Whip stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “How to Sew

 

(Variants of this are also referred to as an overlap stitch, but for our purposes the distinction isn’t important).

 

Things to keep in mind:

  • You can either hold the fabrics in place yourself, or use pins to keep them aligned.
  • If something is ripped or if there is a split seam, always start sewing a bit before the beginning of the rip, and finish the stitch a bit past it, to prevent it from ripping again.
  • When you start sewing, secure the stitch by making a few passes through the fabric at the starting point. When you’re done, do the same at the end of the stitch. Finish by tying a knot near the base of the string, and trim any loose remains.
  • Make sure to pull the thread completely through at each pass, without leaving any loose thread behind. However, don’t pull it too tightly, as this could weaken the thread, and distort the fabric.
  • The smaller the length of each individual pass, the stronger the stitch will be, but the longer it will take to sew.
  • If something is starting to rip, fix it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more damaged the material will get, and the more work it will require. In addition, small tears are relatively vulnerable, and can grow into big one quickly.

 

Fixing specialized items

The guidelines above are intended to provide you with the basic knowledge that can be used to fix the majority of items.

However, if you need to fix something that requires additional, specialized knowledge, simply search online for a further explanation on how to fix it. This can be helpful for example if you’re looking to learn how to darn a sock, or how to fix a button that fell. Feel free to improvise a bit, as these guides sometimes lean towards the overly-complex side. This is especially true if you’re mostly interested mostly in ensuring that you have a strong stitch, and don’t care too much about how it looks.

The most important thing to remember is that most sewing fixes are pretty straightforward and easy, so don’t be afraid to try and sew things instead of just throwing them away.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Learning how to sew items that get damaged is easy, and can save you time and money.
  • You’ll need a needle, some thread, and something to cut with. Hotels often give out free sewing kits you can use, and it’s worth it to keep a spare one in your bag in case you need it.
  • To start, you will first have to thread the needle by lowering the needle’s eye onto the thread. After this is done, tie the edges of the string together.
  • Then, you will sew whatever you need to fix using one of a few simple techniques which are explained in the article, such as the running stitch, the back stitch, or the whip stitch.
  • The article also lists some other useful advice, regarding how to thread the needle if you’re stuck, how to make sure your stitch is strong, and what to do if you’re trying to fix things that require more specialized knowledge.

 


The ‘Appeal to the Stone’ Fallacy: On Being Completely Dismissive in Arguments

Appeal to the Stone

 

The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person simply dismisses a claim as absurd, without actually addressing it or showing proof for its absurdity. The following article will explain to you how this fallacy works, how you can counter people who use it, and how you can use it yourself in debates.

 

Explanation of the fallacy

The appeal to the stone (argumentum ad lapidem) is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the content of the fallacious argument fails to support its proposed conclusion.

This fallacy occurs every time a person simply denounces an argument as absurd, without explaining why. For example, consider the following conversation:

Alice: Thousand of scientists just signed a document urging countries to consider the risks of global warming, and to act accordingly.

Bob: Who cares. It’s a ridiculous idea anyway.

Alice: What? How so?

Bob: I don’t know. It just sounds made up. Don’t know about you, but I don’t believe it.

Here, Alice raises a point, and Bob simply dismisses it as absurd, without explaining why. This is a typical example of someone using the appeal to the stone, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Note: The name of this fallacy originates from an incident where Dr. Samuel Johnson, a renowned English writer, was discussing why he disagrees with George Berkeley, a philosopher who researched immaterialism, which is the idea that no material things exist outside of our mind. To refute this concept, which Johnson thought was wrong, he simply walked up to a large stone, kicked it, and said: “I refute it thus”.

 

How to counter an appeal to the stone

The first step to countering this fallacy is recognizing that your opponent is using it. Once you are capable of that, your best course of action is to call the other person out, and ask that they support their stance and explain why they find your argument to be absurd. To do this, use key phrases such as “I understand that you think that, but can you explain why you think it’s absurd?”

Make sure to stay persistent, and try to get the other person to defend their unsupported stance. Defending your own stance using additional evidence often doesn’t help, since the other person isn’t engaging with logical arguments in the first place.

Keep in mind that there are two options: either the other person is unaware that they’re using the fallacy, or they’re doing it intentionally. If they’re unaware, pushing them to question their stance might actually help them see the hole in their reasoning. If they’re doing it intentionally, calling them out on it is the main way of fighting against this technique.

However, there are some situations where nothing you can do will get the other person to change their mind, regardless of whether they’re aware of this fallacy or not. Learn how to pick your battles.

In addition, always make sure to stay calm and not to let the other person get under your skin. This is one of the most crucial pieces of advice for debates in general, and it’s especially important in situations like this, which can often be frustrating.

 

Arguing in a crowd

Often, when you’re arguing about something, other people will be watching. This is important to remember for several reasons:

  • If you call the other person out on using this fallacy, the more people realize you’re right and support your argument, the better your argument will look, even if your opponent sticks to their fallacious stance.
  • Conversely, if the crowd supports your opponent’s assertion, calling it out might not help much, though it’s still the best option you have. Keep in mind that people don’t necessarily support the strongest argument; often, the appearance of confidence by the speaker can play the main role in swaying the crowd. Furthermore, people will often choose to support the side which has the simpler, more appealing argument, even if it’s incorrect, because it’s easier for them to understand. This goes back to the previous advice on knowing how to pick your battles.
  • If the crowd doesn’t provide much support for either side, the benefit of calling your opponent out is that even if they don’t change their stance, people in the crowd might still notice the fallacious reasoning and agree with your point, even if they won’t support it directly.

 

Using an appeal to the stone yourself

First of all, consider the fact that you might be using this fallacy yourself unintentionally. Ask yourself whether you sometimes dismiss claims as absurd, without actually considering their validity. If you do, and nearly all of us do this from time to time, consider adjusting the way you process information in such cases, by asking yourself why you think such claims are absurd, before dismissing them.

You can also choose to use this fallacy intentionally in arguments. Sometimes you might do it because you just don’t want to argue with the other person. Other times, you might use it because that’s the best way for you to win the argument.

If you do choose to use it intentionally, your goal is now to stick to mocking the claim as absurd, without explaining why. You can combine this attack with other techniques, such as strawman arguments, by twisting your opponent’s stance before mocking it as absurd.

It’s also possible to use this technique as an opener, by first claiming that your opponent’s views are absurd, and then attacking their actual argument only if they continue to argue.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you are arguing in front of other people, winning the crowd is the most important part.
  • If you’re trying to discredit your opponent’s stance, you want to get under their skin as much as possible.
  • Since your argument has no logical basis, sticking to it requires having (or faking) a lot of confidence.
  • This technique is risky, since at the end of the day you have no way to actually support your stance. Therefore, you need to consider the situation before using it; if the crowd is intelligent and actually cares about the topic of the debate, you might end up looking like an idiot if you stick with this line of “reasoning”.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person claims that a certain argument is absurd, without actually explaining why.
  • For example, if person A says that “Thousands of scientists recently showed support for a law which would mitigate global warming”, person B might reply “Who cares. It’s a ridiculous concept anyway”.
  • The name of the fallacy comes from an instance where a writer argued against the philosophy of immaterialism (the idea that nothing exists outside of our minds), by walking up to a stone and kicking it, while proclaiming “I refute it thus”.
  • The key to countering this fallacy is to recognize that the other person is using it, and to call them out on it by asking them to explain why they think the argument is absurd.
  • Crowds might often support the use of this fallacy, because it offers a shallow argument that is easy to understand. This could be an advantage if you decide to use this fallacy yourself, and it’s something important to remember if you’re trying to argue with someone else who is using it.