Sep 202021

In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry is confused as to why Lucius would want to harm an innocent girl (Hermione). He’s told that Lucius knows that Dumbledore will expend resources to protect Hermione. Since they are enemies in frequent direct conflict, every bit of effort Dumbledore is forced to expend on anything else is that much less effort he can expend on opposing Lucius. Any time Lucius can impose costs on Dumbledore without any negative externalities for himself, he should do so.

Sometimes these costs are blatant and large, and it’s obvious why they should be fought. The nature of your enemy is apparent to all. See, for example, half the stuff Trump got up to. Frequently, though, the costs are small and their imposition is waved away with “What’s the big deal? Stop being so difficult.” Individually, any such cost may or may not be a big deal. Incentives are strong to minimize how big of a deal it is to your opponents, and maximize how big of a deal it is to you

Regardless of relative severity, all costs are cumulative. Every additional cost adds to the disease burden you have to bear, and makes it harder for you to accomplish anything in life. The more resources you dedicate to meeting all these costs, the less you have available for other things. Therefore imposing additional costs is exactly the sort of thing a dedicated enemy would pursue to cripple you. Some costs are worth paying, the advantages they bring more than offset their demands. But many costs are simply deadweight, destroying value, and sapping your life.

Any arbitrary imposition of additional costs, no matter how minor, could be viewed as enemy action. The more innocuous, the better. Accumulating small costs over time is how empires are felled. Be suspicious of anyone who seeks to impose a cost on you, especially when they claim it’s no big deal.

Common examples of such No-Big-Deal costs.


1. Religious Rituals

My personal favorite in this vein was always “Just hold hands with everyone else around the dinner table and sit quietly while we say Grace. What’s the big deal?” A lot of religious rituals fit into the “What’s the big deal?” mold, and before you know it you’re killing people who draw cartoons and mutilating babies. Any individual ritual may be no big deal. The whole point of them is to be no big deal. “Just say the magic words and we’ll accept you. You don’t even have to believe them.” No one cares if the conversion is insincere, because your grandchildren won’t be able to tell the difference, and the Church has always played the long game. In the aggregate, all the little rituals take over a large part of your life, and occupy much of one’s mental energy.

I include civic religion in this list. It may be “no big deal” to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school, but just try NOT doing that. If it’s no big deal to say it, why is it such a big deal if you don’t? Why expend so much energy forcing someone to do something so trivial? Maybe it’s not that trivial after all.


2. Closeting

I grew up among people asking why the guys couldn’t just keep their homosexuality private. Why did they have to “flaunt it” in everyone’s face? Is it really that hard to not kiss or hold hands in public? Do what you want at home, but is it that big a deal to just wear normal clothes when you go out, and not talk about your gay lover?

It turns out that constantly watching everything you say for censor-traps, catching them before they happen, and censoring yourself, is actually mentally costly, as well as stressful. This is to say nothing of further societal effects. Forcing someone to run a constant censorship filter slows down their thinking. It makes conversation less fun. It makes people underestimate your actual mental abilities, as they only see them while they’re under extra strain. It tires you out earlier than those around you. It is exactly the sort of cost-sabotage any enemy would delight in imposing.


3. Pronoun Requirements

Yes, it’d be better if sex-determined pronouns didn’t exist at all. Given that they do exist, and that language software is strongly embedded in many minds, hijacking it to impose costs can be seen as a hostile act.

Unintuitive pronouns not only require one to memorize and cross-reference a mental database for everyone they know, they also impose all the additional mental costs of conforming to Closeting. There are people who claim this is “no big deal,” but would never have said that of being asked to not “be gay in public” or to follow others’ religious taboos in public. Someone who asks you to live in the closet may actually be a saboteur, hoping to weigh you down with enough Disease Burden to handicap your life.

  6 Responses to ““No Big Deal” Disease Burden”

  1. I’m not sure quite what you’re saying with point 3. Are you saying that people with, for instance, pronoun preferences different from their biological gender should basically conform instead with what has been the norm up until now?

    If so it’s hard to see how that’s any different from homosexual people being told not to ‘flaunt it’.

    And I don’t really see how having to remember a person’s preferred pronoun is any more burdensome than remembering other basic personal facts about the people you know.

    • I’m specifically talking about NBs. So, yes in a way, although I’m not sure if we were actually thinking about the same thing here? Since their preferences don’t “differ” from their biological gender insomuch as they ignore it. I don’t mind people using whatever pronouns they want, and I do hope the language eventually gets rid of gendered pronouns altogether. I do mind people policing my thoughts.

      If you don’t have any trouble monitoring your speech for counter-intuitive linguistic traps, I admit you have quite an advantage over me in certain enviroments. I do, and so I try to avoid those enviroments, and prevent their spread to places I value.

      • If you’re opposed to gendered pronouns why not just use they/them for everyone? Then you’re actively opposing the gendering of language.

        • Because the English language as it is, is what’s installed in my brain. There is no “just” about a major firmware update like that. It takes constant, costly self-monitoring and censoring. If someone wants to impose those kinds of costs on me, it needs to have some benefits to justify it.

        • Using they/them for everyone is easier than the costs you outline in the article (no need to consult a mental database) but that doesnʼt make it easy, and it doesnʼt help that much because people will often object to not using the right gendered pronoun.

          • Oops, I moved who I was replying to but didnʼt fix the comment. By “you” I mean Eneasz.

            It takes some but not all of the mental effort, gets some but not all of the short-term benefit (and some additional costs compared to “whichever pronoun feels right”), and gives more long-term benefit in changing the English language.

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