Sharp Culture

There’s been a lot of discussion of ask vs guess vs tell culture. I propose an orthogonal social axis: soft vs sharp culture. In soft culture, people are polite; they don’t make rude jokes about each other or about outsiders. They laugh less and less boisterously. Criticism is less common. In sharp culture, people are “mean”—they are constantly ribbing each other. Humor and honesty are valued more. Kindness and social harmony are valued less. Basically all comedians are sharp culture. Most churches are soft culture.

Sharp culture and soft culture appeal to different people/personalities: Some people don’t get pleasure out of landing and parrying strikes. If your blade isn’t particularly sharp or your armor isn’t particularly durable or you just don’t like dueling, you will have less fun sparring. Also, kindness is SUPER important. Sharp culture people are less good at taking care of people when they are vulnerable.

Scott Alexander has a great commenting rule. Your comments must be at least two out of these three:

– true
– kind
– necessary

Sharp culture people do true better. Soft culture people do kind better. But who does necessary better? Well, sharp culture people are more likely to say unnecessary things. Soft culture people are more likely to neglect to say necessary things. They err in opposite directions. It probably depends on context which way you should err.

 So both have their pros and cons, but issues arise when they interact without agreeing on the terms of their interaction. People either demand their norms be the joint norms, or they don’t realize that the other culture exists with its own internally coherent
norms, or they think their culture is strictly better. I’m totally sharp culture. I slightly prefer to be around sharp culture people. But soft culture has important insights.
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