Out to Get You

Epistemic Status: Reference.

Expanded From: Against Facebook, as the post originally intended.

Some things are fundamentally Out to Get You

They seek resources at your expense. Fees are hidden. Extra options are foisted upon you. Things are made intentionally worse, forcing you to pay to make it less worse. Least bad deals require careful search. Experiences are not as advertised. What you want is buried underneath stuff you don’t want. Everything is data to sell you something, rather than an opportunity to help you.

When you deal with Out to Get Youyou know it in your gut. Your brain cannot relax. You lookout for tricks and traps. Everything is a scheme.

They want you not to notice. To blind you from the truth. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to church. When you pay your taxes. It is bad government and bad capitalism. It is many bad relationships, groups and cultures.

When you listen to a political speech, you feel it. Dealing with your wireless or cable company, you feel it. At the car dealership, you feel it. When you deal with that one would-be friend, you feel it. Thinking back on that one ex, you feel it. It’s a trap.

Get Gone, Get Got, Get Compact or Get Ready

There are four responses to Out to Get You.

You can Get Gone. Walk away. Breathe a sigh of relief.

You can Get Got. Give the thing everything it wants. Pay up, relax, enjoy the show.

You can Get Compact. Find a rule limiting what ‘everything it wants’ means in context. Then Get Got, relax and enjoy the show.

You can Get Ready. Do battle. Get what you want.

When to Get Got

Get Got when the deal is Worth It.

This is a difficult lesson for everyone in at least one direction.

I am among those with a natural hatred of Getting Got. I needed to learn to relax and enjoy the show when the deal is Worth It. Getting Got imposes a large emotional cost for people like me. I have worked to put this aside when it’s time to Get Got, while preserving my instincts as a defense. That’s hard.

Others make the mistake of not hating Getting Got. They might not even notice. This is bad. If you Get Got without realizing, you’ll Get Got often for large amounts. Bad habits will form. Deals won’t be Worth It. Reasonable is insufficient: Out to Get You is engineered to fool. Only accept capital letters Worth It.

When you Get Got, do it on purpose.

Never Get Got without saying to yourself “I am Getting Got. It is Worth It.”

If you realize you’ve been unwittingly Got, feel sad. Update. Cost is finite, so you should sometimes Get Got unaware. It is still unacceptable.

You can choose to Get Got only if you know what you’ll be Got for.

You cannot afford to Get Got if the price is not compact. 

You can Get Got by a car salesman, saving time and aggravation. Max loss is the price.

You can Get Got with an unlimited phone plan. Max loss is the price.

You can Get Got by a restaurant, club or cruise ship vacation. Leaving money on the table and relaxing could be Worth It, if you know your max loss and find it acceptable.

You can Get Got in a relationship. That’s the Price of Admission. That’s fine if you know the price and find it Worth It. 

You can buy a AAA game for $60 today rather than $20 next year. Pay $2,000 a year for Magic: The Gathering. Overpay for concert tickets. Wear a symbolic hat. Go vegan. Believe the Knicks will be good next year. If you want. Your call.

There may be no reasonable max loss. Some things want too much.

A clean example is free to play mobile games. If allowed, they charge tens of thousands of dollars. Players called whales are so addicted they pay. The games destroy them.

The motivating example was Facebook. Facebook wants your entire life. Users not consciously limiting engagement lose hours a day. Every spare moment is spent scrolling, checking for updates, likes and comments. This reliably makes users miserable. Other social networks share this problem.

An important example is politics. Political causes want every spare minute and dollar. They want to choose your friends, words and thoughts. If given power, they seize the resources of state and nation for their purposes. Then they take those purposes further. One cannot simply give any political movement what it wants. That way lies ruin and madness.

Yes, that means your cause, too.

This generalizes into most sufficiently intense signaling and status competition. One must always signal harder or seek higher status. This takes over everything you are and eats your entire life. Part of sending sufficiently intense signals is showing that you have allowed this! Maya Millennial has fallen victim. Those keeping up with the Joneses fall victim. Many a child looking fitting in or applying to college falls victim.

Obsession with safety does this.

Television eats people’s lives. So do video games. So do drugs and alcohol. One must be careful and know your tenancies and limits.

Ethical arguments do this, ensnaring vulnerable people.

This property is a way to distinguish cults from religions. Cults want it all. Religion wants its cut.

You can only pay off those who charge a bounded price and stay bought. Before you pay the ransom, be sure it will free the hostages.

Would going along result in cooperation? Or put blood in the water?

When To Get Compact

Get Compact when you find a rule you can follow that makes it Worth It to Get Got.

The rule must create an acceptable max loss. A well-chosen rule transforms Out to Get You for a lot into Out to Get You for a price you find Worth It. You then Get Got.

This works best using a natural point beyond which lies clear diminishing returns. If no such point exists, be suspicious.

A simple way is a budget. Spend at most $25,000 on this car, or $5,000 on this vacation package. This creates an obvious max dollar loss.

Many budgets should be $0. Example: free to play games. Either it’s worth playing for free or it isn’t. It isn’t.

The downside of budgets is often spending exactly your maximum, especially if others figure out what it is. Do your best to avoid this. Known bug.

An alternative is restriction on type. Go to a restaurant and avoid alcohol, desert and appetizers. Pay in-game only for full game unlocks and storage space.

Budgets can be set for each purchase. Hybrid approaches are good.

Many cap their charitable giving at 10%. Even those giving more reserve some amount for themselves. Same principle.

For other activities, max loss is about time. Again, you can use a (time) budget or limit your actions in a way that restricts (time) spent, or combine both.

Time limits are crude but effective. Limiting yourself to an hour of television or social media per day maxes loss at an hour. This risks making you value the activity more. Often time budgets get exactly spent same as dollar budgets. Try to let unspent time roll over into future periods, to avoid fear or ‘losing’ unspent time.

When time is the limiting factor, it is better where possible to engineer your environment and options to make the activity compact. You’ll  get more out of the time you do spend and avoid feeling like you’re arbitrarily cutting yourself off.

Decide what’s worth watching. Watch that.

For Facebook, classify a handful of people See First. See their posts. No others. Look at social media only on computers. Don’t comment. Or post.

A buffet creates overeating. Filling up one plate (or one early to explore, then one to exploit) ends better.

Unlimited often requires limitation.

Outside demands follow the pattern. To make explanation and justification easier, choose good enough rules that sound natural, simple and reasonable.

Experiments need a chance, but also a known point where you can know to call it quits. Ask whether you can get a definitive negative result in reasonable time. Will I worry I did it wrong? Will others claim or assume I did it wrong or didn’t give it a fair chance?

When to Get Ready

Get Ready when you have no choice.

Getting Ready means battle. An enemy trying to Get You. You are determined not to Get Got. You have done the research. Your eyes are open. You are on alert. You are ready.

You have no choice. The price of surrender is too high. Simple heuristics won’t work. You are already in too deep, or they have something you need and all alternatives are worse.

Sometimes you must accept a bad time and try not to let events get to you. Other times going into battle can be fun. I like games. Games are fun! So are puzzles. Buying a car, planning a vacation, trading for your Magic deck or managing one’s social media interactions can be a game or puzzle. Get the one trying to get you. Get a lot for a little.

There are big downsides.

The game can be fun. The original activity can be fun. Both at once is rarely fun. Both means multi-tasking and context-switching, plus a radical shift in emotion and tone. Relaxing into cooperative experience is not compatible with battles of wits and tricks.

The result of this is that you often end up unable to maintain both states at once. Sometimes you end up relaxing, and Get Got. Other times, you focus on not Getting Got and don’t enjoy what you get. Either way, you lose.

The best way out of this is to try and front-load or batch as much of the battle as possible. Sometimes this happens naturally. If you first choose, shop and haggle, then later enjoy the bounty, that’s the ideal way to do battle. Do your best to transform into that sequence, or to make enough choices to transform into a Compact situation.

If this is not possible, consciously switch between modes when needed. Think, “time to pause to not get got,” deal with the issue, switch back. This minimizes bleeding between states. If getting attempts are too continuous, this becomes possible and you need another mode.

You pay for not Getting Got with time and attention. You master arcane details. Time disappears. You spend parties talking tricks instead of living life. If shower thoughts shift to such places, you are paying a high price.

The biggest downside is you can lose. 

When To Get Gone


You need good reason to stick around when things are Out to Get You. It is often wise to Get Gone, if you can.

If your instincts say Get Gone, Get Gone. At worst it is only a small mistake.

If your instincts do not say Get Gone, but you can’t find a viable approach to another option, Get Gone anyway.

The getting can be insidious. Constant vigilance is required. Many think they can handle it, check all the right boxes and not get drawn in. Some are right. Often they are wrong.

If Getting Got means you lose an order of magnitude bigger than you can win, Get Gone.

If Getting People is how something survives, Get Gone.

Free trial! Automatically renews. Probably won’t want? Don’t wait. Get Gone.

You think you are getting good odds. You are probably wrong.

You think you know all the tricks they will try. You are probably wrong.

You think something is forcing your hand. Make sure this is something you need rather than a want. The word need is thrown around a lot these days.

Getting Gone is worth making sacrifices. Big sacrifices.

If you cannot Get Gone, do not engage more than necessary. Go into Easy Mode. Get what you must. Then Get Gone.





Posted in Uncategorized, Facebook Sequence, Good Advice, Rationality, Death by Metrics, Reference | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Against Facebook: The Stalking

Epistemic Status: Nothing we didn’t basically already know, but felt obligated to share

Previously: Against FacebookAgainst Facebook: Comparison to Alternatives and Call to Action

Also Previously But Fully Optional: Help Us Find Your Blog (and others)How to Destroy Civilization

I knew that when Facebook went it would go spooky. It was still spooky.

After the events of How to Destroy Civilization, I had definitive proof that Facebook was not only using terrible software, it was making my life appreciably worse to interact with Facebook. It still took me several weeks and new inspiration to delete the app from my phone. That came in the form of the article Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation? which is the summary version of the book iGen.

Later I also read the book. The book has some neat charts, but unless you’re super fascinated I would stick to the article. Both make a strong case that smartphones and social media are destroying young people’s lives and making them miserable. I have reviewing the book on my ‘maybe’ stack.

Today on the radio I heard from an author whose book makes an explicit case for boredom. She claims we need quiet time to reflect and develop ideas. Therefore filling every spare moment with our phones is really bad. I am skeptical, but find it plausible.

In any case, I finally deleted the app.

This made me instantly happy.

It also set Facebook into action.

Its first trick was that suddenly its notifications were turned back on. It seems that it thought the two of us had a deal. I keep it on my phone, and in exchange it will agree to not spam me with an email every time my friends like a photo.

I marked a few of those as spam and Google made the problem go away.

Later that day, Facebook fired its second salvo, with an email that said “Having trouble logging into Facebook? Get back on with just one click!” 

Needless to say, this did not work.

A few weeks later, I made the mistake of checking Facebook’s website for the few people I have See First on for, which I’ve been doing less and less often. While there, I was chatted up briefly by an old friend. It was nice to hear from her.

Her second message mysteriously had a giant link to installing the messenger application.

I asked her what that was doing there. She laughed and said she hadn’t meant to put it there. An accident. I’m sure.

Then a few weeks later, after not logging in for a long time, Facebook decided to notify me that there was a woman requesting my friendship, and that we had four mutual friends. Via text.

I will repeat that. Facebook texted me to tell me I had a friend request.

At this point the website is just a crazy stalker ex. She tried emailing me cute little things. Then she tried emailing me saying I must have lost her number. Then she tried to get me to click on a link and install spy software. Finally, she’s reduced to texting me asking about the new girl in my life and asking why I’m not returning any of her calls.

The good news is that I’ve talked to a few other people she’s dated. Good friends. And they’re so over her. The heroes are winning this one.

Today I deleted Twitter from my phone. I again felt instantly happy.

Join us.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Best of Don’t Worry About the Vase

Epistemic Status: Welcome everyone!

This was last updated 10/8/2017. Plan is to continue to update it periodically.

This blog is part of the rationalist community. The general interest links below are fully general interest, and require no knowledge of or interest in rationality.

What is rationality? This post is one good answer. It is believing, and updating on evidence, so as to systematically improve the correspondence between your map and the territory, and using that map to achieve your values.

To me, a rationalist is someone who highly values, and invests in, this process and the art thereof, both in themselves and others.

This blog strives to embody that way of thinking. If you are interested in the way of thinking you saw in the guide, and want to see or explore more of it, this blog might be for you.

If you’re wondering why anyone would think this way, my best responses to that are Responses to Tyler Cowen on Rationality and Why Rationality?

If you’re really interested, you should try reading the sequences. You can get the Kindle version here.

The rest of this post organizes what this blog has produced over the years, starting with highlighting the best posts of general or economic interest.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the community, especially in New York City, leave a comment with information on how to reach you, preferably email.


Top 5 General Interest / For Marginal Revolution Readers:

Something Was Wrong

Against Facebook


Out to Get You

Play in Hard Mode


Next 5 General Interest:

On Cutting Wages

Play in Hard Mode [Play in Easy Mode]

In a world… of venture capital

On the Seattle Minimum Wage Study (part 1) [Part 2] [Part 3]

The Thing and the Symbolic Representation of The Thing


Against Facebook Sequence:

Against Facebook

Against Facebook: Comparison to Alternatives and Call to Action

Help Us Find Your Blog (and others)


Choices Sequence:

Change Is Bad

Choices Are Really Bad

Complexity Is Bad

Choices Are Really Bad

Play in Easy Mode

Play in Hard Mode

Exploring Premium Mediocrity

Expanding Premium Mediocrity

Out to Get You


Bring Back the Sabbath

Sabbath Commentary


Restaurant Guide (I owe part 3 at some point, maybe more):

Restaurant Guide 1: Restaurants should not look like (most) restaurants

Restaurant Guide 2: Pizza


About Rationality (General Interest):

Responses to Tyler Cohen on Rationality

Why Rationality?


Rationalist Culture and Ideas (For General Interest)

The Twelve Virtues of Rationality

Trio Walks, Duo Talks

Write Down Your Process

Avoiding Emotional Dominance Spirals


Decision Theory:

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

How to Destroy Civilization


On Rationalist Culture and Ideas (For Community Members):

On Dragon Army

On Automoderation

What Is Rationalist Berkley’s Community Culture?

Paths Forward on Berkeley Culture Discussion

Altruism is Incomplete

You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and People Would Like You


AI (This section needs to get bigger):

The AI Paper with The Best Title Ever

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Expanding Premium Mediocrity

Epistemic Status: Skippable. This is (much of) what I think Rao is trying to say in the second section of his post, the part about Maya but before Molly and Max, translated into DWATV-speak. Proceed if and only if you want that.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Exploring Premium Mediocrity

Epistemic Status: Mediocre Premium

Response To (Rao / Ribbonfarm) : The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial

Builds Upon (not required): Play in Easy ModePlay in Hard Mode

Leads To: Expanding Premium Mediocrity

Good Other Commentary (Jacob / Put a Num On It): Escaping the Premium Mediocre


A few days ago I read this very good sentence by Venkatesh Rao:

Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden.

Exactly, my brain thought. Say no more! Long have I waited for a name to put to this concept! Somewhere Plato was smiling.

Then Rao continued, and I wondered if he was pondering something different than what I was pondering:

Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is “truffle” oil on anything (no actual truffles are harmed in the making of “truffle” oil), and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio.

As Elanor of The Good Place observed when given a list of supposedly sexy things, well, some of those are right. In particular, froyo, “truffle” oil, extra-leg-room seats in Economy and cruise ships are clearly right. Artisan pizza at first struck me as wrong but now strikes me as right, because the ones that are wrong don’t call themselves ‘artisan.’ Cupcakes are Actually Good, but kind of by coincidence, which is a strange gray area. Then there were two clear errors: The Bellagio is a terrible example given the casino options, and Game of Thrones, which is both Actually Good and outside the pattern entirely (or rather, it wasn’t until some point in the past two seasons, which is a clue).

Something was amiss.

Continue reading

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Play in Hard Mode

Epistemic Status: Love the player, love the game

Also consider: Playing on Easy Mode

Raymond Arnold asked me, why do you insist on playing in hard mode?


Hard mode is harder. The reason to Play in Hard Mode is because it is the only known way to become stronger, and to defend against Goodhart’s Law.

Strategies that work in Easy Mode won’t work in Hard Mode.

The key idea of Hard Mode is to keep your eyes on the prize. You know exactly what you want. You can’t munchkin your way to getting it. Once you start aiming to make a number go up, or get a check in the right box, you have lost sight of the thing you actually want. Proxy measures lead to failure; your value is fragile. That number correlates to what you want, but only insofar as you’re aiming for the goal and not the number. If you break the spirit of the exercise, all is lost. Your values have been hijacked. If you fail to develop skills along the way, you have missed the point, because the game has no end.

Continue reading

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Play in Easy Mode

Epistemic Status: Love the player, love the game

Also consider: Playing on Hard Mode

Raymond Arnold asked me, why not play in easy mode?

Easy Mode is easier. The reason to Play in Easy Mode is because it is the best known way to achieve your explicit measurable goal and get to the victory screen.

Strategies that work in Easy Mode won’t work in Hard Mode.

The key idea of Easy Mode is to keep your eyes on the prize. You know exactly what you want. You will munchkin your way to getting it. As long as you get a high enough number, or a check in the right box, you have what you want. That number isn’t just a proxy for victory. It is victory. If you break the spirit of the exercise, nothing is lost. Your values are safe. You are not here to develop skills, because the game ends here.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments