“Nahh, that wouldn’t work”

After having it recommended to me for the fifth time, I finally read through Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It didn’t seem like it’d be interesting to me, but I was really mistaken. It’s fantastic.

One thing I noticed is that Harry threatens people a lot. My initial reaction was, “Nahh, that wouldn’t work.”

It wasn’t to scrutinize my own experience. It wasn’t to do a google search if there’s literature available. It wasn’t to ask a few friends what their experiences were like and compare them.

After further thought, I came to realization—almost every time I’ve threatened someone (which is rarely), it’s worked. Now, I’m kind of tempted to write that off as “well, I had the moral high ground in each of those cases”—but:

1. Harry usually or always has the moral high ground when he threatens people in MOR.

2. I don’t have any personal anecdotes or data about threatening people from a non-moral high ground, but history provides a number of examples, and the threats often work.

This gets me to thinking—“Huh, why did I write that off so fast as not accurate?” And I think the answer is because I don’t want the world to work like that. I don’t want threatening people to be an effective way of communicating.

It’s just… not a nice idea.

And then I stop, and think. The world is as it is, not as I think it ought to be.

And going further, this makes me consider all the times I’ve tried to explain something I understood to someone, but where they didn’t like the answer. Saying things like, “People don’t care about your product features, they care about what benefit they’ll derive in their own life… your engineering here is impressive, but 99% of people don’t care that you just did an amazing engineering feat for the first time in history if you can’t explain the benefit to them.”

Of course, highly technical people hate that, and tend not to adjust.

Or explaining to someone how clothing is a tool that changes people’s perceptions of you, and by studying the basics of fashion and aesthetics, you can achieve more of your aims in life. Yes, it shouldn’t be like that in an ideal world. But we’re not in that ideal world—fashion and aesthetics matter and people react to it.

I used to rebel against that until I wizened up, studied a little fashion and aesthetics, and started dressing to produce outcomes. So I ask, what’s my goal here? Okay, what kind of first impression furthers that goal? Okay, what kind of clothing helps make that first impression?

Then I wear that clothing.

And yet, when confronted with something I don’t like—I dismiss it out of hand, without even considering my own past experiences. I think this is incredibly common. “Nahh, that wouldn’t work”—because the person doesn’t want to live in a world where it would work.