Batesian Mimicry

Batesian Mimicry, Noun, mimicry in which an edible animal is protected by its resemblance to one avoided by predators. Named after Henry W. Bates (1825–92), the English naturalist who first described it.

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The easiest example of Batesian Mimicry is usually the comparison between the Coral snake and the Mexican Milk snake. One is completely harmless, the other has venom second in virulence only to that of the Black Mamba. Which one is which?

The Milk snake knows its a pretender. The Coral snake knows that it is the real deal. The expert knows the difference. But to the layman… it could be either or… so we are more than likely going err on the side of caution.

If Red Touches Yellow it will kill a fellow
If Red touch Black, venom is lacks

Now you know.

Human beings also practice a form of psychological Batesian Mimicry. For example when we exhibit expertise. Or rather when we pretend to exhibit expertise.

For example (and I can only speak for my gender). A group of guys are clustered round the barbecue, beers in hand, talking ice hockey, eighties action heroes versus the modern day dearth of these exemplars, the merits of queens pawn openings… you know the usual. Casually the conversation shifts from light banter into serious murk and ego. Suddenly someone is espousing their foolproof stock picks or real estate scheme. There is ALWAYS that one guy. That guy whose side hustle is trading or flipping houses, who talks a big game. Now if there was a real Coral snake (i.e. A stock broker or a real estate tycoon) in the group that wouldn’t happen. But if that expert isn’t there to moderate the conversation… how would we know if this guy was for real?

I used to see a form of Batesian Mimicry almost every day at the MMA gym where I was an instructor. Guys would come into the gym for the beginners class and talk smack. How many street fights/bar brawls they’d been in, how many opponents, how they’d prevailed (often heroically without a scratch). You’d start to imagine you were in the company of some exceptionally scary individuals.

The two hour class was split, forty minutes of stand up and clinch followed by sparring. Usually boxing. Those guys that talked big before class would often do okay against other beginners (milk snakes) but when they went up against a coral snake, they would wilt and fade. Often they didn’t make it to the second part of the class which was grappling… and if they did, they usually didn’t come back. I’m pretty sure this happens in MMA, Muay Thai and boxing gyms around the world. Those that talk the talk, can rarely, if ever, walk it.

I think this is made even worse these days by social media, and being able to present or project any idea of self you want to. Post some unverifiable claims. Edit some video. Fake it, until you make it.

The problems comes in when you are seeking guidance, advice or mentorship. None of us are experts at everything… and usually the area’s we seek to improve are area’s in which we ourselves are deficient.

For example. I know very little about cars. I am reliant on my mechanic to tell me what the problem is. He’s throwing a lot of jargon at me. Something about having to replace the catalytic converter. I smile tightly… and nod my head, in a fashion I hope signals some sort of consideration on my part. But really, I have NO idea what he’s been on about for the last five minutes. Is he a milk snake or a coral snake?

In the end I decide to trust him. Mostly because he has a great big red Viking beard and I’ve been using him for years. He sends me videos of Melodic German Death Metal bands. We bumped into each other at a Rammstein concert once… which basically (I think) means we are related now.

In any event. Almost no one is what they appear to be. (I also like Miles Davis and Vivaldi) We have been conditioned that asking for proof is rude and that we should give people the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sure that’s entirely logical.

For example, if I’m going to pay someone to give me financial advice…. I’d want to see their personal portfolio. Preferably a verified copy of their dashboard. If you are not willing to do that… I don’t think I’m going to give you a dime. If that were the normal operating procedure… that’s one industry that would disappear in an instant. Same goes for stock pickers and real estate guys*. Bring me a list of every trade you’ve ever done. If you’re above average, we can talk… if you’re exceptional then I will listen, but until then color me skeptical.

*or any industry really.