[Epistemic Status: An even split of observations and wild inferences]
[Content Warning: Poverty, Class, Capitalism, Gender, this post is basically maximum disclosure]
When we last left off, we gave a very broad outlook on our history as a plural system, and how that interfaced with our ideas of consciousness. Today, we’re going to go the other way, and talk about our past as a human person navigating meatspace. We feel it’s important to tell this story as well, because it’s brought us to where we are today, and it’s a part of a general vector through time that we’re unsure as to the ending of. We hope this post might help steer us towards a better ending some small way.
Our body was born in Western New York, in this little nowhere city on the shore of Lake Erie. Our parents weren’t particularly well off but weren’t that poorly off either. They initially rented the upstairs of an apartment shortly after we were born. We have a few of Jamie’s memories from that time, but she was a kid, she was bad at forming strong long-term memories back then, so we don’t really know much about what went on in those days. First point of disclosure: we were assigned male at birth.
It’s interesting, given that, that we always refer to Jamie as she then, isn’t it? Why is that? Well, Jamie was a kid, she didn’t really have a gender, she didn’t know what gender was and didn’t perceive herself as particularly gendered. We’re fairly sure it was Jamie’s finally internalizing the concept of gender that triggered Shiloh’s formation as well as catalyzing the downward spiral towards Jamie’s eventual egocide. We’re not actually sure what the biological correlates to dysphoria are even now, but whatever causes it basically drove Jamie completely insane around age nine.
So, in the end, Jamie completely self-destructed and left Shiloh, who strongly identified as a girl at a point in our life when the body was just starting to go through puberty and was expected to put on the opposite gender roles. Shiloh didn’t really identify with the body at that point in time, so she was fine, but someone needed to be driving the body, and so she created Fiona.
Our legal first name is Fiona, it was Fiona who actually came out to our parents, went through high school as a trans youth, graduated, she was basically the new host for quite a while, with Shiloh just hanging on for the ride.
Western New York is a strange place. In our experience, when people think New York State, they immediately think New York city. Then, maybe they also think about the Hudson river valley and the Adirondacks. But New York also extends a middle finger west across the entire width of the state of Pennsylvania, terminating in Niagara falls at the place where Lake Erie and Lake Ontario meet. The western parts of the state are less mountainous but still rugged and hilly glacially tilled terrain. It has some farmland, some forests, some small lakes, it’s largely rural, largely white, and largely republican leaning. It looks like this.
Interestingly, Buffalo NY, the closest metropolitan area to our hometown, was ranked as the most homophobic in the nation in a 2016 study that looked at slurs and derogatory language on twitter. It doesn’t seem to be particularly rigorous, but it’s interesting and corresponds well with our lived experiences.
Our parents were (still are, though they’ve cooled off some) deeply devout Christians. They didn’t label their denomination, our extended family was Catholic, but they spent a few years while we were between the ages of six and fourteen flirting with various other churches. Our mother dressed Jamie up as a pumpkin for Halloween when we were five, we’ve seen the pictures of it. But every year after that until after we’d moved out of the house, our parents were operating under the principle that Halloween was Satan’s holiday. Pokemon was satanic, along with most other anime and mainstream cartoons. We were held to a strict standard of religious practice, and so our parents didn’t take Fiona coming out as trans particularly well.
After fleeing home and enrolling in a community college, Fiona crashed and burnt in the middle of transitioning our body. She failed out of all our classes and nuked our GPA. We dropped out of school and lived with our partner of the time. We worked on and off, but eventually had a polyamory related breakup that probably deserves its own post at some point as an investigation of possible failure modes for poly relationships, and that was what landed us in the Otherkin house.
We’ve already talked about them quite a bit, so we’ll gloss over it mostly this time. We got a job, lived with them, had our spectacular falling out, then lived in the woods for a few months while working and saving up money for an apartment. By this point, we’d mostly reconciled things with our parents, but they didn’t want us to move back in or offer us any sort of economic support, which was how we ended up living in the woods for a while. They were, and still seem to be, under the impression that if we just work hard enough our life will work out, and that if we’re not succeeding then we have to be doing something wrong. It can’t be the system, it can’t be the economy, they worked when our parents were our age and those things are just fixed, static. It’s like they don’t perceive the change in the times.
We worked various jobs for a while, Sage was created, and we decided to take another swing at college. Our GPA still sucked, but our father was an adjunct professor and was able to give us some free credit hours to take courses with. With that, we were able to start working towards an Environmental Science degree and clawing up our GPA.
The college only allowed us to use our father’s credit hours until our body turned 24, after that we no longer qualified for it. We aimed to have our GPA repaired by that point so we could once again qualify for student loans. And we did it, we brought our GPA up enough to qualify for student loans.
Except we didn’t. Our counselors had been telling us for years to drop classes where we didn’t like the teachers if it turned out they were homophobic or disagreeable to us, or if we weren’t doing well and were afraid we were going to fail. It was usually framed around “don’t let it affect your GPA” and so we didn’t. However, there was another metric that’s looked at when applying for student loans, which is the ratio of classes passed to classes attempted. Because we’d attempted a bunch of classes and then withdrawn from them for various reasons, the ratio was too far skewed towards attempts, thus continuing to prevent us from qualifying for student loans.
We turned twenty-four, ran out of money for college, couldn’t get financial aid or student loans, and Fiona self-destructed. She basically saw the future of our life as one long slow depressing slide into misery and death and decided to just get off before things got any worse. Maybe she saw the writing on the wall? Maybe the rest of us are stubborn enough we can avoid that fate, but her prediction is still hanging over our heads even now as if waiting to prove to whatever fragments of her remain that she made the right decision.
We decided to get the fuck out of Western New York. If we weren’t going to be able to get a degree, then there was no reason for us to stay. College had been the only thing holding us there, and once that option was taken away, we saw no reason to remain.
We set out to defy Fiona’s prediction despite all our failures. We decided if the gutter was to be our fate, we’d go there kicking and screaming. That was around the time our writing career started. Not with Sideways in Hyperspace, but with Tales from Aeria, which is and will likely remain on ice for the foreseeable future.
We were good at writing, it came easily to us, and when we were able to get into the zone, the words just flowed out onto the screen. It took us a while to get to the point where our content was good, but we’d always felt that our writing ability was something we could leverage, something we could build on. We also rather strongly identified with the Rationalist community by that point as well, and we desperately wanted to be able to participate meaningfully in the conversations that were going on, contributing to the shared and growing subcultural narrative.
We moved to Seattle. Overall, given the election of Donald Trump a year later, it was probably a good decision. Things have been pretty okay here. We’re still poor objectively speaking, we work a minimum wage job, can barely cover rent and afford mundane expenses associated with survival, but it’s a nicer environment to be poor in than a semi-rural post-industrial landscape. We’ve stretched out and established social networks, made friends, and it’s been a pretty great experience all things considered.
Fiona’s prediction is still looming overhead though like a twenty-year curse just waiting to land. Our job is nice, it’s fairly stable even, but it doesn’t earn us much money. We live very frugally, but we’ve not managed to save anything, so if we were hurt and couldn’t work, we’d have about a month to figure something about before we were thrown out on the street. Our support network is decent, we might be able to couch surf, but all of that still feels like hanging out beneath Fiona’s curse just waiting for it to hit home. We can scrape by for a long time, we’ve been scraping by for years now and our plan is to continue doing so until either the pavement or our face gives way, out of lack of a better option, but it’d be really nice to have a better option.
So where exactly does that leave us? What is the better option? There doesn’t seem to be one at the moment, so we’ve set out to construct one from the ground up. We had no formal degree so we couldn’t pursue a technical field, we had to do something that leveraged our skills, and thus we zeroed in on writing. Initially fiction writing, we set out to produce good rationalist fiction in the vein of HPMOR. We’ve put a lot of time into our writing. We launched Sideways In Hyperspace nine months ago, and we’re really happy with how it’s developing.
Here’s the thing though, most people who write fiction, or produce rationalist blogs, or otherwise create rationalist content (aside from CFAR), do it as a hobby, something in their spare time when they’re not doing even more awesome things to save the world. We’re trying to do something different, where we devote as much of our life and our resources as we can to the project of rationality itself.
We don’t have a lot going for us, and what we do have going for us is at least partly attributable to rationality and the ideas we’ve taken away from the sequences and from people like Scott, so we’re very attached to the ideas presented in the community and very much want to see rationality grow and spread as a community, subculture, and movement. We want our tribe to win.
But the rationality tribe is mostly focused externally, on big real world problems like killing malaria or preventing an AI from turning us into paperclips, there’s not much focus being directed inwards, towards the community itself. Which makes sense, pooling resources in the tribe isn’t effective altruism. It’s buying fuzzies, not utilions, and why would we waste precious and limited community resources on fuzzies when people are literally dying of malaria right now?
We’re a community, and we want to do good in the world. We want the world to be good, not just for our tribe, but for everyone. In that context, directing resources back at the tribe that we could be using to do more good elsewhere seems like a mistake. There’s another side of that to consider though, which is that our tribe is a collection of humans trying to live their lives. Our ability to do good in the world, to direct positive action outwards, is based on the ability of the members of the community to support themselves with enough resources left to spare to direct outward action. That works when the majority of the community can support themselves, as is the current case with the rationalist community, but not everyone is doing well enough for that to be a viable course of action for all community members.
As an example, there’s a suggested effective altruism pledge to cut your income down to $30,000 a year, live frugally with a bunch of friends, and donate all the rest of what you make to charity. Okay, that’s great, but what if you’re us, and last year working full time the whole year, you only made $20,000 dollars and had to use all of it on survival expenses? We’re not able to do anything to help with those big important external problems. We can’t attack it from the technical side since we don’t have a degree, and we can’t attack it from the financial side since we don’t have money. There’s not really much we can do to contribute to big important altruist causes like that besides cheerleading from the sidelines.
But we want to help, and we doubt we’re the only ones. It seems like everyone sufficiently integrated into our community and not too bogged down with their own personal problems feels the pressing need to do something. We feel that need and we are bogged down in personal problems.
It seems to us like sufficiently incorporating the rationalist mindset brings the desire to do good in the world along with it, and even if someone can’t personally help, they want to. Rationality feels like this grand adventure, going into battle against the forces of darkness and bringing humanity into a new age of light. Defeating death and banishing it from our lives, building great cities in the sky, and manifesting our wildest dreams into reality. It’s a humbling and awe-inspiring vision of the humanity and the future, and once you’ve heard the tune, you can’t stop humming it.
We’ve heard the song of Dath Ilan, and we can’t unhear it. The concepts and ideas all come together up in the headwaters of form and hint at a future brighter than we can possibly imagine, and we want to do everything in our power to make that future a reality.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to strongly encourage everyone who likes reading our content and wants to help enable us and other rationalist content creators to donate to our patreon. We’re also going to implement the $30,000 dollar cap on our personal income. Any amount we make beyond that will be donated into the Origin Project, which is a rationalist housing project aiming to provide a home for down and out members of the community while they rebuild their lives and get into a place where they’re able to put value back in. There will be a blog post dedicated to the Origin Project following soon, so stay tuned for that.
We’re also pledging that we’ll keep producing rationalist content for as long as we’re able to dedicate the time and resources to it. Hopefully, as our income grows, we’ll be able to make more and more content and provide support for more and more members of the community.
Our long-term goal is to enable community growth and cohesion through members supporting and enabling one another to do as much as they can, and increasing what they can do by leveraging them out of bad circumstances and into better life positions. The first step of this is to get enough out of the hole ourselves that we can begin dedicating resources to helping others climb out of the hole. This isn’t Effective Altruism, this is more like Venture Rationality, but it does still seem like a worthy addition to the rationalist sphere of concern.