Cold and Warm Cultures

Maybe a term for this dichotamy already exists elsewhere, but I haven’t heard it yet and have found my own term for it super useful, so here we go:

Cold Culture examples

  • Highly efficient in small things
  • Knows how much time is worth, e.g. might consciously spend no more than 1 minute selecting a grocery product with a price difference lower than a dollar
  • Libertarian-esque; pays attention to system efficiency, not what ‘feels good’
  • Willing to use money to incentivize things in their personal life, e.g. “if you figure out my emotional issue I’ll pay you 1k” or “paying a roommate to do chores for you”
  • More risk-tolerant; likely to view downsides or problems as sometimes being worthwhile tradeoffs
  • More likely to place responsibility inside the self; views others as ultimately not responsible for your well being
  • Less likely to parse things as exploitation or manipulation; views additional choices as non-coercive (e.g., a new employer offering well below minimum wage is not viewed as exploitative)
  • Donates to efficient charities; utilitarian
  • Ask culture: a frame where people should ask directly for what they want with the expectation that the askee will say no if they don’t want to
  • High decoupling
  • Destination over the journey

Warm Culture examples

  • More attention to the subjective, emotive, connective world
  • More disgust sensitive (more likely to resist things that trigger moral disgust, such as homosexuality or sex work. this is highly relative to culture)
  • Persuaded by sense of fairness
  • Distrusts conscious signaling as manipulative; e.g., really hates pickup artistry because it’s making deliberate something that is otherwise organic and intuitive
  • Wary of manipulation in general; more likely to perceive manipulation as genuinely subverting individual agency
  • Perceives responsibility as resting more outside the self or diversified; others can be responsible for your well being
  • Views some voluntary options as coercive or exploitative; e.g. less likely to allow a rich private individual to pay voluntary minority groups to get sterilized
  • Naturalistic and community oriented
  • Dislikes advertising and capitalism
  • Guess culture: a frame where there can be harm in asking for things because of implicit pressure for the askee to agree even if they don’t want to
  • Low decoupling
  • Journey over the destination

I know this list covers many clear dichotomies already (ask vs guess culture, or right vs left brain), but I have kept wanting a more general term that covers a lot of these feelings. I keep saying “that sounds like a cold culture thing” in conversation and then feeling awkward I don’t have a longer post to refer to, so here it is finally.

7 thoughts on “Cold and Warm Cultures”

  1. In the late 60s friends and I called ourselves freaks and had a very clear idea about who was a freak and who wasn’t. It could be style but had more to do with our mindset. The problem was that as I grew a little older I was seeing people calling themselves freaks who weren’t and people who definitely did not think of themselves as freaks who were more than allies. We had characteristics of both the cold culture and warm culture dichotomies, willing to take risks while being community minded, for example. We had issues with big capitalism while having no problem with small capitalism.

    I’m more warm than cold according to the criteria listed here. I have trouble with the triggers that seem to be embedded with the descriptions of characteristics. The sensitivity to disgust is most problematic since most friends who would probably call themselves warm culture are gay or lesbian or their allies, and includes at least one who had transactional sex.

    What came out of my experience as a freak and later from being in the punk movement was that polarities didn’t work in trying to create definitions of who we were and who they were. We all are more alike than not.

  2. Interesting dichotomy. As someone who likes coming up with such dichotomies myself (my hobbyhorse is low-agency versus high-agency mindsets, which is touched on in the list of features above: “more likely to place responsibility inside the self”), I never quite thought of this one. I suppose I have noticed some clustering around this lists of traits, but I don’t feel at all like either of those clusters entirely or mostly applies to me: I’m extremely high-decoupling and not at all disgust-sensitive but at the same time tend to have serious issues with ask culture, pick-up artistry, and advertisement culture.

    (There is one person I used to know extremely well who was my primary inspiration both for what I once called an “anti-emotion rationalist” and for what I call a “high-agency goggles-wearer” who resoundingly ticks off every item listed for Cold Culture with the stark exception of interest in donation to charities. Hmm.)

  3. > More risk-tolerant; likely to view downsides or problems as sometimes being worthwhile tradeoffs

    When I first read this I assumed personal risk tolerance like “How likely is this person to be willing to quit a high paying job to start a startup?” and I didn’t really see the connection.

    But thinking about it more I think I see what your getting at. More risk tolerant in the “Should the FDA fast track a drug that might kill people?” way. There’s something there but I don’t know if directly relates to risk tolerance. Willingness to be unconventional, willingness to trust data over intuition? Maybe it has something to do with sacred values.

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