About this post
Content Note: Sex, violence, mortal peril. This is a postmortem, a demonstration of a kind of optimization, a repository of datapoints, and a catalog of potentially reusable ideas. I have in the past planned about making a much more detailed version of this. It didn’t happen because the scope was too big. I probably will add plenty of detail later. I feel like in the course of this I lived a lifetime in the course of a year. This is still going to be a verbose story, because I want to capture the experience, the decisions, and I want people to be able to extract the updates that I made by understanding what algorithms I ran and what worked and didn’t. I’m optimizing this for someone willing to read a lot. And especially interested in my psychology. To convey experience and priors, not just concepts. Any crimes said herein to be committed by me and my friends should be considered “based on a true story” fictional embellishments.
Prologue: My first year of Bay Area hell (2016)
One year prior to start, in January 2016 I moved to the Bay Area for proximity to the tech industry which I considered sort of my destiny, proximity to startups since one of my main guesses about how I could best contribute to saving the world was earning to give via startups. I had in 2015 dropped out of grad school because it sucked and spent about 7 months working on an indie video game which seemed to be teaching me a lot more about software engineering. The first startup, after other dishonesty, fired me after 4 days after I moved to the Bay for them, because I said I couldn’t implement a payment system for their game (written in a 7000 line function in a 10000 line file, with fifteen layers of nested scope and nested ifdef comments because they didn’t want to get rid of disabled code) in 2 days, and because I walked out of the office after 8 hours of work. (They seemed upset, “where are you going?”, half an hour later calling me to say I was fired.) This was the only programming job in the Bay Area I could find after 5 months searching, which I attribute to a mixture of an academic computer hardware engineering background + a niche language and a game engine that was not most of the market for programmers, and bad social skills, in particular that I was honest when interviewers asked me what I wanted out of life. This left me with 1.5 months of runway. My parents gave me an extra month of rent as a gift, and then I found another job at another dishonest startup, which kept demanding that I work unpaid overtime, talking about how other employees just always put 40 hours on their timesheet no matter what, and this exemplary employee over here worked 12 hours a day, and he really went the extra mile and got the job done, and they needed me to really go the extra mile and get the job done. When I refused to work longer than 40 hours a week, they did not renew my 3 month contract to work there, then offered by-the-job contracts designed to decrease my pay per hour. In negotiating over these, my manager lied that he had a constraint in how much to spend from HR. I asked HR, they said he had no such constraint. I confronted him with this, and made a counteroffer based on my estimate about how much he’d gain from the software being done. He said he was no longer interested in contracting with me.
During this time, was my “turn to the dark side“. But at the time, this could be described in retrospect as a much too weak attempt to be less stupidly scrupulous. I used by technically-still-a-grad-student status to find a $15 or $20/hr undergraduate summer project type job, in exactly the technology I knew best. I negotiated with them, trying to convert it into a contract for the entire work, based on the reasoning, people don’t hire large numbers of undergraduate programmers to do real projects, I expect to be paid more, but I’m more efficient in product/hour. The grad student and professor running the project agreed, and were happy with a sample of my work. It seemed I’d basically be making an average of $300/hr at that rate, for a total of $7000 (I think) by the time that project was done, which I hoped would be a start to my career as a freelancer. The professor described how to set it up so I’d be paid, and it required falsifying forms with the university to indicate I was working full time. I turned down the gig. The student paid me for what I’d done so far out of her own pocket, seemingly presuming the professor wouldn’t.
These events happened. I dropped a bunch of my planning thus far, and started going to Authentic Relating Comprehensive (ARC) and studying with focus and determination to avert the prophecy of doom.
My roommate/landlord subletting to me fell on hard financial times, and started getting pushy about rent, although I was following the terms of our contract and always paying on time. He wanted to change the contract to get him more money sooner. I had previously accepted something like this in exchange for some other concession. Now he wanted to do it again. I refused. He didn’t take no for an answer, and got angry at me for “stonewalling” him when I’d silently walk past him on the way into my room when he demanded this. Towards this time the bathroom (which I didn’t know how to walk, and he kept walking in on me) was more often then not full of waste on the floor from his neglected dogs. Arriving home, on the way to lock myself in my bedroom, I once walked past him in the living room masturbating, I don’t know why there since he had his own room. I guess he wanted to use his big-screen TV? He had an unpaid nanny-for-housing to take care of his son, she lived on the couch toward the end. She started a conversation with me, asked me about my bike, said she had ridden one as a child but now suspected she couldn’t. I let her borrow it to demonstrate that riding a bike was “like riding a bike” (it was). He got very upset over this, saying he saw me “playing footsy” with his “girlfriend”. When I showed her this text, she denied being in any romantic relationship with him. He tried to block my exit from the house once, demanding that I pay him more “rent” up front. Said if I didn’t negotiate things would get nasty. I said I wanted to leave to refund my deposit. He said sure and later said he wanted me to leave earlier, because he’d found a tenant who demanded a specific start date. I said refund my deposit (which the contract said was convertible to last months rent if not repaid first) then I’d go. Coming home from ARC, I saw outside he had destroyed one of my possessions, I called the cops on him, they did nothing and were upset at me for disturbing them. He then blocked my entrance, and said I’d really crossed a line by calling the cops, and I had to leave immediately. I tried to walk around him, he got in front of me, I tried to walk around again, eventually we bumped into each other. He called the cops on me for assault. With the cops there, I was able to get inside my room, and lock myself in. He started pounding on my door, promising to give me hell until I left. He kept pounding, and pounding. The breaker box was in my room. I turned some breakers off. He got madder and started pounding louder. He would not negotiate to cease his assault. It was well past midnight. He had been pounding for about 2 hrs maybe? I put in earplugs, and lay down in my bed. Just as I was falling asleep anyway from sheer exhaustion, he kicked my door down, knocked a table with some of my stuff on it over, picked up my chair and threw it at me as I was sitting up. It only hit my raised arm, bruising it. I called the cops. With them on the phone, he stopped his attack after turning on the breakers. The cop that talked to me was angry for wasting the cops time since I couldn’t prove any of this, if he assaulted me then where was a visible injury? He angrily asked me if I had turned off the breaker, that was domestic mischief, and I could face charges for that, I remained silent. He demanded to know if I was remaining silent, because if I was exercising my right to remain silent then that was an admission that speaking would incriminate me, and that meant I was guilty, I fell silent. He said they weren’t social services, people were dying out there and I was distracting them. I said “sorry” in a weak voice, he gave me some kind of warning not to call them again. Soon after I saw my roommate, he was acting all chummy, said “nice one” with the breaker box. I called my friend Kara and told her what happened. She offered a place to stay temporarily, giving up her room temporarily in a shared rationalist house. I took it, came back the next day, got my stuff, talked to the nanny, who had heard all of this happening from the couch. I told her what happened, she said Michael (the roommate) had also taken money from her on false pretenses. She said she had nowhere else to go. I asked if she had parents. She said she did but wasn’t on great terms with them. I convinced her to call one of her parents (she picked her father) for help, tell him she was in a fucking domestic abuse situation, to buy her a plane ticket and get her the hell out. She introduced me to the neighbor who was an enemy of Michael, had heard him do the same sort of thing with multiple previous sublet tenants. She told more stories, including of him putting his fingers into his son’s throat to get him to stop crying. The neighbor offered me a bed to stay in, and some marijuana to smoke. I declined. We plotted to simultaneously report him to basically everyone. The nanny had seen him driving Uber will drunk. I called my mom who was a school counselor with strong opinions on the plight of children in poverty, she said foster care was probably better than that. We all had reports to make to CPS. We called the landlord. The nanny reported him for driving drunk to Uber. I went to the police again, showed them my bruise, they still said I couldn’t prove anything. I thought I had a deontological obligation not to let him profit by aggression meant to drive me out of my home for resources. I wondered if this was enough. I felt like maybe I was deontologically obligated to stay there, but, fuck. The door didn’t really close anymore. There was a hole in it. I heard his child was taken away, and was satisfied with that. Then I heard he got him back. I considered whether to show up at fuck o’clock in the morning and put something in his car’s gas tank to destroy it. Murphyjitsu: bring a charged cordless drill to create a hole if it was one of those gas tank caps that locked, and actually look up what things will destroy an engine. (Not done with Murphyjitsu here).
I stayed at Liminal for a week. I went to EAG. I applied to lots of housing sublets on craigslist. I did not know how long I’d want to stay in a place because I didn’t know how quickly I’d get a job. As I was introduced at Liminal as a non-transitioning trans woman, one of the residents (who posts pretty extreme anti trans woman stuff on Facebook) looked at me with something like disgust and asked when I’d be leaving. I was unable to find housing on Craigslist. Someone said I could sublet if I wanted, then that fell through after they saw me in person. Although Craigslist had always been how I found housing in the past when I went to Maryland for my internship while in college, I figured the introduction of AirBnB and its rating system was probably doing a combination of filtering Craigslist to be bad housing offers, and also causing every other housing offer to be faced with bad tenants. I cleaned up the basement, full of toys everywhere belonging to the cissexist left out long enough to induce learned helplessness, to make the other housemates feel happy with me and remind them they were unhappy with her. I had to stop myself from sorting them, reminding myself my intent was not pure niceness. At least one other housemate seemed happy about this and thanked me. I booked an AirBnB and left. 1 or 2 month max booking duration. To save money, I would start moving farther from the rationalist parts of the Bay Area. San Leandro. Union City. Hayward.
At a rationalist party, I asked a friend from meetups who worked at Google if she knew why my application I made about 8 months earlier in the year never got a response. She said she’d look into it. I got an email from Google, saying they wanted to interview me. That there would be a series of interviews, and if I passed them all I’d have my case sent to a committee and then if I passed that I’d be hired. I also applied to other big tech companies, finding an acquaintance to give me a referral, but never got a response. I was running out of money quickly from AirBnBs. The process dragged on, while I spent most of my time applying to startups. And then getting rejected sometimes at the last minute when they asked what other companies I was applying to and I answered honestly, that it included Google, they said they couldn’t compete with them in salary. They were basically all looking for clueless people who would believe they had a good chance of becoming rich from equity, when the terms of the equity contracts were, to put it mildly, completely exploitative and deceptive, and not really a guarantee of anything. They were equity options, During funding rounds, they could be reduced in value arbitrarily. Only the sense of niceness of sociopaths to ensure their value. They would all be unvestable if you didn’t work there long enough, often. And these startups were all obviously not the next Google. Don’t get the misimpression that I was so scrupulous as to convey an accurate impression of who I was and what I wanted out of life. I just thought I could get away with not outright lying. Perhaps that came off as evasive. They were all asking after answers like, “I always wanted to work in a company like this! I just love work so much I don’t even care about money! Not the intrinsic technical challenges! I love above anything else I could do with my life contributing to this team and doing interpretive labor! This startup seems irreplaceable, and I’d never go somewhere else, I want to grow old with this company!”. I was inexperienced with convincing body language-inclusive lies like this (I did not have the right false face), but very quick to think up words to say.
I went on finasteride so at least I’d not get male baldness. I experimented with estrogen and general antiandrogens. I decided to stay on them for a hard to describe felt sense of cognitive benefits, at least at a low dose and for the time being. It’d be a long time before I had breasts I couldn’t hide. I started writing this blog.
In October, I talked to someone introducing themself as “Jasper Gwenn” at a meetup, in some sort of confusion over whether they were a trans woman. I talked it over with them, and also talked about the contents of this blog, which they seemed pretty interested in (they had internal coherence problems, and a lot of mental arts that seemed based on hacks based on “shut up and do the impossible“). They (and I use they/them pronouns retrospectively, because they are bigender) showed me the sailboat they were in the course of moving onto for housing, which was anchored in Encinal Basin. I thought that was pretty sweet. When it was offered for me to stay the night, and I said I didn’t bring my hormones with me, they lent me some. Wait, I thought they didn’t know they were a trans woman? They talked about how when they were a child their friend who was a cat had died, and they had, to use their own retroactive paraphrasing, sworn an oath of vengeance against Death. They had investigated the paranormal, looking for anything that could be replicated and munchkinned, gone around in circles, and then heard about a selection effect where if you stop making random trials when the paranormal seems to be working, you will appear to get results better than chance, realized that was all they were finding, and quit. Investigated biotech, then AGI they say would have destroyed the world, finally hearing about the AI alignment problem coming to the Bay Area to talk to people in the cause area. They also told me about how they were otherkin, specifically dragonkin, not in a supernatural way, but a morphological freedom way. They showed me a dragon-shaped necklace, and said it was a reminder of how they would turn into a dragon after the singularity. And eat their human body, since that seemed like the most fitting way to dispose of it. I said I’d want mine burned once I could escape it. In later conversations they came to the conclusion that draconity was a means of keeping their femininity alive in a hostile world, lacking the, I’ll retroactively phrase it as resistance to social reality to say so outright. They said they’d asked to be a girl when they were a young child, and been turned down. They talked a lot about precursor ideas to aliveness a lot. Said they hated sex and seeing animals have sex, and automatic actions like that seemed like a spark of personhood going out. That sounded familiar. I impermanently convinced them they were a trans woman.
They seemed to think animals were moral patients, had determination and actual course-changing and epistemology. Okay, I liked this person. I told them that if they could be turned to the dark side, they would make a powerful ally. They were into this and asked me questions to try and learn out my mental tech. This would go on for quite some time.
I passed all the Google interviews. Google adjusted the schedule repeatedly, adding an extra surprise interview. I had to ask my parents to pay rent for me again. Finally, around November, they said I’d passed the committee and I’d be hired, I just had to talk to teams and be put on one. I asked how long this would take. They said not that long, but it varied. I said, okay, I just wanted to know if it’s going to take like, 4 weeks or something. The recruiter laughed and said it never takes that long. 3 months of recruiter saying any day/week now later, and me telling my parents they said that, my parents cut me off with some warning. At the same time, I turned 26, and
Chapter 1: It’s a boat time
I expressed maybe-interest to “Jasper Gwenn” in renting space on their sailboat. They said they were interested.
They said they had just been moving the sailboat out to Richardson Bay where it was legal to anchor a boat to live on permanently. And they were broke, if I wanted to stay in a marina and have electricity constantly, I’d have to cover the marina’s cost, $15/day. I offered to pay $600 per month. This was about half of what I’d been paying on AirBnBs and cybertaxis to move between AirBnBs. And they were poor as hell. I wanted them to have some margin. They said their boyfriend Eric had to be able to visit. I said okay.
I was to meet them at Jack London Square. They were late. I sat on my luggage and waited. Their boyfriend was there. I loaded it onboard, and met him. He was a normie. I think but am not sure if he got off there. I rode on the boat to the marina we would stay at, Berkeley Marina.
I couldn’t use my computer as well. Couldn’t set up my 3 monitors, there was no room. Couldn’t have a programming flow state for 9 hours. I had trouble sleeping. The slightest noise, and my mind kept alerting me to the possibility that someone like my roommate from several months ago was going to attack me in my sleep.
There were bathrooms and showers on the shore, and that was not bad. I got an electronic keycard. There was a park right next to the marina to walk in, and that was great.
I studied math. I kept trying to get a job. I looked at statistics on AngelList for how many advertised jobs per technology cluster, and decided I needed to learn modern frontend technology, rather than C#. I talked to Jasper for several hours a day. About transness, about neuroscience, about their old crazy plans to save the world (breed superintelligent dogs), about mine, about the ferret named Nova they considered their son, whom they had given to a pet store after deciding training ferrets was not the optimal course. Changed their mind, and tried to find him again so he could be cryopreserved, and it had been too late. About my attempts to figure out the “actual art of planning”. About my mental tech I wrote about on my blog. About my (much cruder back then) theories of human morality.
They talked to themself all the time. An absence of a private room made it impossible for me to spend long hours at a time thinking about anything. Unless it was talking to them.
Me and Jasper Gwenn argued over roommate difficulties. They had ADHD and autism. They were very particular about influence of things most people would ignore on their cognition. They had to have an uninterrupted wake-up process of some hours after they woke up shortly after noon. They slept way longer than 9 hours. They had mapped out the cognitive effects of each hour of their stimulants. And would get very angry if I interrupted their thoughts at the wrong time. Like it would ruin their whole day.
When I made accommodations for this, they started invoking them all the time, days on end, to avoid difficult conversations about accommodations I wanted from them. In a “false faces” sort of way. There was something else to the social strategy they were using that fit this. They discouraged me from going meta. At one point they threatened to kick me out because (if I remember correctly) after more than a day of them saying I couldn’t talk about my grievances because it would do bad things to their cognition, I said something anyway. Eventually they said okay, let’s talk about the thing. We did. They were surprised the main thing was just that I was sick of being discouraged in talking about things.
They came to agree with me about the false face assertions. Started seeing the same things in other people. Apologized. It was continuous work. Social strategies ran deep. Over time they became less painful to be around.
I finally actually applied for unemployment benefits. I had had a psychological barrier to doing so. I had been in talks with NASA where I used to work to do remote work for them. They were interested in paying me like an intern, but not as an employee, as an independent contractor without benefits. They cited financial difficulties. I did not believe them. Drat. I had liked them. Google continued to string me along, but the interviews dried up. I got approved for unemployment benefits. Wow. ~$10000. This meant I had some time. I stopped bugging Google to complete the supposedly-confirmed-I’d-get hired-process. If they hired me soon, it would deprive me of at least several months of freedom. There was probably no way to “put them on reserve”. But if they ever were going to hire me, becoming forgotten about was about the same thing.
There was something really deep I hadn’t had before in being able to just think and bounce ideas off someone equally interested in schemes to save the world for weeks on end. I came to see the way the Bay Area compressed this style of thought away by shortening runway via artificially high housing prices as something that was crucial to escape for anyone who wanted to actually try to save the world. Who wouldn’t accept a 90% probability of doom. Who knew the game had to change somehow.
I had come away from WAISS convinced I needed to learn so many things. To sort out my thinking and planning in so many ways. And trying to squeeze this in but never having the time. And job application hell had displaced it. The Bay Area was the problem. But that was where all the rationalists were. And historically talking to them had been extremely important. Hopefully at some point I’d be a programmer with money to spare. But time kept going by.
But, I went on a boat, and that solved the problem.
Jasper Gwenn had a sort of continual ontology-generation thing going on. They called them, “ontologies of the week”, because they were to be tried on an usually discarded. They had enormous trouble writing their thoughts down. They said all their best thoughts were illegible. That they would try and leave breadcrumbs for themself to reload the context. But writing incautiously subtly but actively damaged the process. They had lost friends from psychological inability to write emails, like they stopped trusting someone as soon as they stopped seeing them in person regularly. They said they experienced discontinuities in personal identity they figuratively called “reincarnations”.
One of their ascended ontologies of the week that actually stuck around for a summer was an extension/rewrite of Val’s “bending types”. I was supposedly an airbender (about abstract ideas and dissociation) transitioning towards realmbender (about plans, goals something else I get). Maybe with some lightningbending in the form of PTSD from my old roommate making me on guard against physical threats (About rapidly responding to physical threats.). Jasper Gwenn was supposedly a smokebender (About moving toward an an answer around obstacles in all directions at once).
At one point I remarked it seemed like trans women (or at least trans women who transitioned) had unusually high “life force”. At another point Jasper Gwenn remarked that I seemed like one of the “Returned” from Significant Digits. At one point I half-jokingly called their dragon necklace a “phylactery”. These were some of the seeds of this post.
Jasper Gwenn and Eric broke up. They had been in a difficult position, Eric having cheated on them and his (prior) boyfriend with each other. Jasper Gwenn said something along the lines of “let’s just be polyamorous, owning people is stupid.” Eric’s boyfriend wasn’t having it. According to Jasper Gwenn, they were seeming to work through things with a lot of talking (despite them thinking Eric’s boyfriend was an annoying normie), but when they had to leave the South Bay because a government-man chased them out of their old slip, decreased bandwidth had led to things falling apart.
<check dates> After discussing a risk analysis with Jasper Gwenn, I answered yes to sailing / being taught to sail. They were very happy about this, since they hadn’t been able to for a while since the sailboat also became my home. They told me that one of the largest risks was inhaling water when we first fell in. If we could stay in the boat, we’d basically be fine. (This was in the Bay. Basically whichever direction led to land, and we could in basically any case then get out and swim to shore.) One of the first things for me to do in an emergency was drop anchor and pull it up. They had me practice this at dock. When I pulled it up it was covered in smelly gray silt. After I did, I gave Jasper Gwenn a mock-serious look as I smeared mud on my cheeks like warpaint. They were amused. It was a Danforth anchor (picture below), attached directly to a chain that might have been about 20ft long, in turn connected to a much longer rope. The chain was to weigh it down so that the force the line exerted on the anchor would be closer to along the sea floor, so that the anchor could dig into it. Rope was cheaper and lighter than chain for a very long distance. Jasper Gwenn said this type of anchor would work for mud and sand, which was basically everywhere in the Bay.
I was to let out at least several times the water’s depth of rope+chain connected to the anchor. Only then would the tug be near-horizontal, and only then would it catch. So as a braking mechanism it was inherently delayed. See diagram:
The water was cold. We looked it up, and it was hypothermia to blacking out in 1-2hr (and maybe having waves put water in your lungs while blacked out), 1-6hr to hypothermia unto death.
If I stayed in the cockpit, which I intended to, held onto a rail, the chance of me flying out was negligible. First Jasper Gwenn said that if they fell out, I should turn around and try and let them climb aboard. But then they were afraid of being run over, and decided that just dropping anchor quickly before the boat got too far, and then letting them swim to it, and calling for help would probably be enough. I do not remember for sure but I kind of think we left the motor running the whole time.
They told me some stuff about how sailing worked, that didn’t quite make sense, saying “lift” was responsible for how sailing worked. (I think they said because the sails were curved, that didn’t sound right to me, we gave up on me understanding it) They said their sailboat, “Islander”, was a Bermuda-rigged sloop, (specifically a Rawson 30) and pointed out other sailboats in the marina that were other types for comparison.
Jasper Gwenn had me on the rudder, they controlled the sails. The wind came from the west (the winds in the Bay are almost always from the west), and we were departing from the marina traveling westward, which meant we were going upwind. Which meant tacking, or zig-zagging because you couldn’t sail straight into the wind. Between zig-zags, one had to turn the bow the short way through the wind, “coming about”, or the long way, “jibing”. As you switched which side the wind was on, the arm that held the mainsail, “boom”, had to switch sides. One end was hinged and attached to the mast in the center of the boat. And on the other end there was a rope you could feed out more or less of, attaching it to the center-back of the cockpit, which controlled how much of an arc it could freely swing through. At any angle you could sail at, the wind would hold it at one end of the arc. Pointing close-to-directly into the wind, it was a big hard pole animated by a lot of force and of under-determined position. In coming about it would change sides. So you had to keep your head down. “Boom”.
I wore my bike helmet and constantly tracked the boom’s position in my mind so as to never accidentally raise my head high enough to be in its plane of motion.
We began to zig-zag out of the breakwater (wall of rocks in the water to stop waves) of the marina, Jasper Gwenn explained that you had to stay a very long way away from the rocks, because the boat extended well below the water. Then we saw some people in a boat called “Mad Max” who were like within 12 ft of the rocks and didn’t give a fuck. After we got out what Jasper Gwenn considered a safe distance from the shore to account for not-immediately-corrected unwanted boat movement, we switched from motoring to sailing.
The winds were high. Once the sails were up, the boat tilted almost 45 degrees. That was an interesting thing to see happen to the place I’d been living. I didn’t know better, but in retrospect that was bad. Normally, the sails would have been partially deployed to catch less wind (“reefed”), but for some reason this boat didn’t have attachment points for ropes in the right places on the mainsail for that.
Jasper Gwenn was getting very frustrated. While sailing, the rudder didn’t actually steer the boat unless it had already built up speed-relative-to-water. Using the rudder while building up speed would prevent building up speed. 3 or 4 times we tried to turn through the wind starting from close to as close to the wind as we could sail, but didn’t have enough momentum to go the whole way. We kept ending up briefly in irons, no forward momentum to use the rudder, no angle to the wind sufficient to hold the boom in a rigid position and puff out the sails. Then overturning back, and losing ground against the wind before we could recover enough to use the rudder to try again. They yelled at me. I don’t remember exactly what for, but I thought it was trying to construct social reality to self-protectively blame me. When the action was over I quietly confronted them over this. They apologized.
While motoring back, they were asking me about fusion, which they said they still hadn’t been able to do. I was basically stumped. I asked them to give an example internal conflict. They said adventure vs comfort. They mentioned putting themself through discomfort like exposing themself to cold to enter a more adventurous mindset where they would do more adventurous things. I said don’t do that, it’s internal violence. I might have also said something about a state of being where you just fixed bugs without worrying if they were bugs fixing bugs, because you knew you could fix the next one when they were exposed. That there was some self-fulfilling prophecy nature to whether you were in that state or not. They said that helped.
My LessWrong meetup attendance dropped off. Talking to Jasper Gwenn was better. At the beginning of March, I went to one. I talked to someone I’d seen many times at meetups but never really talked to before. Jacob Pekarek aka Fluttershy, Now aka Jane. Usually they would sit silently in the male androphile cuddle pile. But she was apparently a trans woman. I guess I should have seen that coming given the identification with Fluttershy. She talked in tones like she was cooing to a baby. I ignored it, thinking something like, “trans people are gonna ineffectively, embarrassingly, cope with nature having fucked up our voices, I don’t want to give her shit about it.”. (Retrospectively, I guess she was mimicking the character. I think I realized that before and then forgot.)
I quite strongly disagree. This will inevitably lead the most competent and busy people to not share their assessments of anything, since they will be met with the expectation of having to justify every assessment in detail, which is simply not workable in terms of time. It also means there is no way for someone to register that they have a bad feeling about something without being able to make it fully explicit. This also runs into problems with secret information, embarrassing information and situations where someone does not feel safe with the current norms of public discourse.
I recognize and agree with the failure modes of default discourse that this is trying to fix, but I don’t think this norm as described is a good idea.
I expressed disapproval of meetup dynamics as led by Eddy Libolt, which I believed led to low-quality small-talk-esque conversation. Of a single shared conversational “workspace” with everyone listening to whomever would fill a silence first, a lot of people sitting around bored. I thought breaking off smaller conversations was better. (And that’s what we were doing.) She strongly disliked Libolt, and acted extremely enthused about what I said. I talked about my rudimentary theories of morality. I mentioned vegans were much more often women. So maybe good (which I was calling something like a mysterious overactive empathy thing which I believed could cause people to not be corrupted by power) was overrepresented in women. She really really liked this idea. And displayed maybe exaggerated interest in the rest of my ideas as well. For some reason, part of me became tunnel-visioned on how I could help this person so much, how I was ideally comparative-advantaged, trans women should look out for each other…
She said she was a vegetarian. Okay, now I had reasons to be interested in her. She said she was otherkin. She said she had a Jain phase, a reaction to reading (I think it was) Malthusian philosophy and wanting to prove it wrong, so her new name was sort of a pun. She said she was a vegetarian. Okay, if she had the trait and was this readily interested in my ideas, maybe she could be useful. She said she was otherkin, specifically a pony. I remarked about list of similarities with Jasper Gwenn. (/ list of similarities between me and Jasper Gwenn. It was a running trollpothesis between us. Often strangers assumed we were siblings, we even looked similar, and so did Jane.) Jane seemed extremely happy about this. I think she asked to me to introduce her. I think I said something not fully committal.
She asked me to lie on the ground and stare into her eyes, saying this would release oxytocin. Part of me was weirdly hesitant to say no to any request from her. Part of me was like, this is creepy attempted mind control. But that sounded like mostly-placebo BS. My cached flinch response to failed mind control, formed of imagining optimal responses to fictional scenarios, was, “pretend it’s working, see what opportunities their reliance on the expectation you are their slave opens up.” And this thought sort of placated that part of me that was scared of her. And I agreed. But I positioned myself so that there were the legs of a table between us.
We both walked home in the same direction for a while together, splitting up as our paths diverged. She asked me to help her confront Libolt to try and change the meetup status quo. I agreed. But something I don’t remember about the way she talked about meetup politics and people she didn’t like rubbed me wrong, and I decided I didn’t like her. She pressed for that introduction to Gwenn I think she said I said I’d give. I remember having evaluated this as suspicious of being an adjustment to the record to use my sense of honor to take away my choice. But I sort of flinched away from having to confront her, and I said I’d mention her to Jasper Gwenn.
Later, Jane was asking after Jasper, who was gone briefly. When I saw them next, I told Jasper Gwenn about Jane. I tried to describe faithfully. I didn’t really have the words to express the ways in which they scared me. They later told me they figured I was saying Jane was a person I thought they should meet.
Jasper Gwenn changed her name to just Gwenn with she/her pronouns. Around then, I had a reaction like, “knew it.”
I introduced Gwenn and Jane. One time when I got back to the boat, I found Gwenn had invited Jane over. Gwenn was wearing new stylish clothes. So was Jane. They were looking at each other in a very distinctive way. Long gazes. More that I forget. Jane asked if I noticed what’s changed (about both of them? about Gwenn? I forget.) I asked if they were in a relationship. Jane said something like, “no you silly! Gwenn transitioned!”, and pointed out her clothes. One of them talked about how they’d been doing waterbending stuff (about emotional support), and this had given them the ability to do that.
There followed a “getting to know each other and our designs for the rationality community” conversation. Jane said social status was really important, seemed to think it controlled mostly everything. That there was a “natural” way for it to be distributed to incentivize good behavior. And this was what happened if it was regulated subconsciously. She mentioned a book (I think it was this one?), practice at contact improv and “playing high, and playing low”. She said people in the rationalist community were starting to adjust their status-laden behavior consciously. (She later gave the “cherub posture” as an example.) That this was dangerous and needed to be fought before it completely destroyed the fabric of the community more than it already had. This could be done by training people to see when someone was overstepping the natural order as she could, and using conscious tricks to increase their status, and punish them.
I said I thought this was a terrible policy, to make things allowed only if they were unconscious. This incentivized destroying your own introspection to make your attacks allowed.
At some point I habitually made a Darth Sidious impression, croaking to Gwenn, “…my young apprentice.” Jane said I was consciously grabbing more status than I deserved and I needed to be punished. She shouted something I forget (was it “FUCK YOU!”?) at me, with a whole lot of bile in her voice. Somehow it actually hurt, especially as right after she returned to “apparently-civil” tones and said there I’d been punished.
She said Cameron Libolt and Scott Garrabrant were examples of this. Firebending “doms”, and if it weren’t for Scott Garrabrant dominating people like her, there would be way more (I think she said 3x as many?) people making similar contributions to AI alignment. (This sounded very implausible to me. My read of Scott was as socially weak nerd. And it sounded like quite a stretch in the case of Libolt. He was kinda cocky, but his thing was not domination, but acting like a polished diplomatic leader in a room full of nerds and goodharting conversation by content-ignoring social nicety. (You know, when I put that in words now, I find myself agreeing with Jane more than I did then.))
She said Brent Dill was doing awful status things. I asked what things. She said on Facebook, I pulled up his wall and she pointed out a post. It was a poem about wanting love. All I can remember from her reason for disliking it was her saying something like, “oh, give me love” in a mocking voice. I defended him. (Although I bet if the same thing happened now I’d agree with her.)
I brought up Eliezer Yudkowsky’s writing about status slap downs, I said I thought status regulation was generally opposed to people doing a certain kind of very necessary epistemic thing. They said Eliezer was doing bad things with status and needed to be slapped down. Other people would come up with ideas like he did if he wasn’t dominating them.
I updated that my ideological conflict with Jane would make us enemies in the future, that the preferences revealed in those distortions made them basically irredeemable. I talked to Gwenn afterward. Gwenn seemed to mostly agree with my assessment, but believed Jane could be fixed. She agreed with me the thing about way more Scott Garrabrant level mathematicians was BS, and incentives towards unconsciousness were bad. She said she was helping Jane with her depression.
The remainder of this post is a disorganized work in progress placeholder summary:
We saw a big sailboat, cabins for 6. Not headspace for me. Inspected many things. It was moldy as hell. Going for $10k, previously $300k of work put into it. Gwen said there were two ways of using boats. You could be a rich idiot, or you could take advantage of rich idiots (not necessarily in a predatory way). Gwen was scouting for a potential housing project. House 6 SF programmers in a boat in Richardson Bay. That would be badass. Holy shit. The name on the transom was “The Rapture”, in faded paint. I joked if we bought it we could refresh that paint, then cross it out, and write, “The Singularity”. I guess “Black Swan” would be a cool name for a sailboat too, especially if you could like dye the sails black.
<Insert Zack plotline beginning>
I got a boat, named it Black Cygnet (A cygnet is a baby swan). I wanted to have housing not dependent on the social situation. (After Jane moved in). Gwen helped me examine it. It cost me only $300, plus $300 for the outboard motor. It was too small to stand up in. I discussed with Gwen and we planned to move it out immediately, as the previous owner insisted we had to. Saying they got like 70 other calls and I was the first. (I looked on Craigslist, first time on the random assumption, maybe I should be checking for boats, since sometimes there are very good deals according to Gwen.) It was a 24′ sailboat, too small to stand up in, with 2 beds and one not-quite-two-beds place. We planned to move it from Gashouse Cove in SF to Grand Marina in Alameda, which was expensive, but just to be there temporarily. Gwen got confused about the amount of gas left in the tank, thinking we were running out unexpectedly. And there was not enough wind to sail. We anchored near the Bay Bridge, waiting for wind to pick up. We had no blankets, no food. We each curled up in the fetal position in the bow, back to back, huddled in sails and sail bags. It was enormously cold, I only half-slept until Gwen said it was time to go. However, the rocking of the bow of the boat was, an extremely comforting thing, made me kind of want to always sleep like that. The almost being tilted enough that you slid, almost, over and over again.
I started planning to outfit it to live on, even anchored in Richardson Bay where it wouldn’t cost anything. No more rent. Finally be able to cool down and think without money burning up.
Gwen recruited me and Jane to a project, basically, try and get the rationality community to be on boats.
What overrode my reluctance to work with Jane: I noticed things were moving faster, this seemed more like the plotline, than they had in my life previously. Maybe following Gwen’s crazy idea would be an answer to the problem where whatever I expect to try, I just expected it will be too slow for me to save the world. I would rather get into whatever trouble this entailed than turn away from this glimmer of, things-not-making-sense-according-to-the-old-inescapable-feeling-analysis-all-was-doomed and never know what this moving-fast blowing all the walls out of the problem thing I didn’t understand meant or could have been.
We called it Rationalist Fleet. Someone suggested “Rat Fleet”, abbreviating “rationalist” to “rat”. It was a meme that the “humble” people in the community liked. I didn’t like that political force. Of, “not rationalists, aspiring rationalists”. Like, it seemed anticorrelated with actually trying, correlated with trying to fit in with muggles. We rejected the name “Bay Area Rationalist Fleet” because of the acronym.
We talked over the economics. Marinas had a legal limit of a certain percentage of boats that could be liveaboards in the Bay. This was per-boat. Large used ships were very cheap. (E.g., the MV Taku, which sold for $171k, which we’d later tour because it was next to the tugboat we were buying.) The cost of renting a slip scaled with length of the slip. The number of people who can live on a ship scaled with volume, which scaled as the cube of the length. Then, perhaps, we could just get the rationality community, or most of it, or the good parts, to sail away from the Bay Area for good. So much talk in the community of how we should leave but we can’t because everyone else won’t and this is the only Schelling point. So much talk I’d heard earlier of the Bay eating people. And I’d been happy to come, because it meant being around lots of rationalists. But now that the rent situation had caused so much damage…
We started looking at boats.
We saw a powerboat, with 3 large common areas, 3 decks, plenty of headroom, way better than the sailboat for housing, I forget how many people we deemed it suitable for. About 5? Only one of two diesel engines working I think. It had already been a liveaboard for a while. But we’d have to find a new marina for it. Price was ballpark of $20k I think? Gwen thought a very good deal, could start Rationalist Fleet right there. Jane was considering buying it on the spot. Gwen thought it was a good deal. I suggested (earnestly thinking myself practicing rationality), let’s not buy the second boat we look at. And the first motorboat no less.
I met an honest-to-fuck druid living in a boat at the marina Gwen’s boat was staying at; he invited me to tour while I was wandering the docks later at night. He said his family had kept the old ways all these centuries despite Christianity’s attempts to stamp them out.
Me and Jane were starting to dislike each other more and more. I tried Authentic Relating Comprehensive stuff. Did not help. I tried talking to an ARC person. No matter how I tried to talk to them, the sort of filibustered with assertions that I was a dom, that I was dominating them, dominating Gwen. Did not help. Eric Bruylant (not the same person as Gwen’s ex), a potential investor Gwen had located, also involved in several other housing projects, said our project seemed like it could work, Gwen had the munchkinry, Jane had the noticing when people were hurting and helping them. I forget what he said I had. <Gwen, what did he say?>
<insert stuff about Eric Bruylent mental tech>
<Archipelago, evacuation, greatest mass of rationalists in one place, aspects of planning>
We were to decide project organization. Would this be a business? A nonprofit? Who/what would own boats? I think it was Jane that raised the idea my boat was common property. I said no. I said, we should let the individuals own boats, set their own terms for interacting with the Rationalist Fleet. I convinced the other two of this. So boat purchases would be by single people or groups of people, whatever. Then, for all the stuff involving multiple boats we’d planned, our group would be the Schelling medium for organizing it.
What of leadership, project structure?
I suggested we make Gwen “the dictator”. We agreed unanimously.
That meant no power for Jane. And I’d rather have that than more power for myself. The trick was, I figured Gwen was good, (and Jane not) so this was maximizing the control that good had.
Gwen was talking to people in the rationality community, rapidly attracting attention for being cool. But didn’t have a facebook account. Some people talking about SlateStarCodex’s map of the rationality community mentioned us, this led to me talking to a rationalist named Dan Powell, relaying technical knowledge from Gwen. Gwen thought I was working miracles, because I decided we should not be salesy to him, just say the straightforward truth of what we were thinking. I said something about TDT. Gwen may have later said they’d just have been too cautious to actually talk. He said if we found a ship matching certain criteria, he’d be wiling to pitch in $50k.
Gwen had been looking at a sailboat, 36′ Lancer called Le’Etoile de la Mer. (Star of the Sea). We usually called it “The Lancer” or just “Lancer”. The engine was broken, but Gwen was confident they could fix it. Gwen asked me if she should buy it. Even if we might switch to a larger ship. They gave a bunch of little intangible reasons, they really wanted to. It was $5k. Not really knowing the tradeoffs, I said go ahead. Big mistake.
Gwen and Jane found a decrepit, sinking, motorboat, full of mold everywhere for $1k. Strongly considered it with a bunch of impressive munchkinny options. Did not get.
We found a boat with no working motor but a pretty decent interior, owned by a Neo Nazi, clothes covered in caked layers of paint, with a swastika tattoo, and his email address had an “88” in it. Jane was about to buy. I got all privately worked up, they might control the changes we hope to make, ruin them. I considered treacherously buying out the boat before they could or something. But if I did that, I’d probably be net negative in the long run. I talked to Gwen instead, they seemed to have all the same concerns, agree with me about Jane. In the big picture, it didn’t matter then.
I not only not interfered. I helped Jane when Gwen asked me to. I helped them with jailbroken agency. I’m not sure exactly why. Except “when I don’t have any particular reason to do anything, I help people”. But that doesn’t make literal sense either, because I helped Jane at the expense of the neo-Nazi.
The boat was about to be taken by the harbor for not paying rent. Jane decided not to act on this.
Gwen asked me to go with them to buy, saying the Nazi would want to steer them to signing without checking for encumbrances on the boat, and Jane did not have the mana to resist. Jane wanted them to check at hte harbor office. I used mind control techniques, made the unconscious default option to walk to the harbor office rather than the Nazi’s boat as he had planned to sign. We were almost all the way there before he said anything to contest. Then we agreed to go to the DMV isntead, he didn’t want to talk to the harbormaster because of personal feud allegedly. We checked we could indeed check encumbrances at the DMV. So we did. Then we got there, and Jane expressed doubts, I re-evaluated, and advised (truthfully) from their perspective I’d hold off.
I let the Nazi in the uber. Why? He was a Nazi. Except. He was also an impoverished soon to be homeless idiot. I couldn’t bring myself to see him as a threat. I pitied him. What was wrong with me, I thought.
<Insert more stuff earlier about Jane conflict escalation. Including unilaterally deciding our policy was to ban Zack without consulting me and Gwen.>
Gwen found an ad for a ship, and went up to Seattle to check it out. A former Coast Guard Cutter named Pacific Hunter. <Gwen please tell me price so I can insert it here.>
We didn’t buy Pacific Hunter, we changed course for a tugboat, Caleb, in Ketchikan, because the price was dropping.
I was sent back to help Jane move the Lancer, after everything had failed.
<String of emergencies for 1 month, Gwen yelling at me, Jane defecting, marinas defecting, somehow pulling through>
<I recruited crew for Caleb, we bought it, we repaired it, we drove it down the coast. Dan threatened physical violence. Left at the end. Left us in boat hell. Months to dig out, get 3 damaged sailboats secure. Prevent Caleb from sinking. Perpetual ocean machine, unable to dock.>