Status-Regulating Emotions

Elizer Yud­kowsky wrote an in­ter­est­ing com­ment on What Univer­sal Hu­man Ex­pe­riences Are You Miss­ing Without Real­iz­ing It?

It was the gel­ling of the HPMOR hate­dom which caused me to fi­nally re­al­ize that I was blind, pos­si­bly I-don’t-have-that-sense blind, to the or­di­nary sta­tus-reg­u­la­tion emo­tions that, yes, in ret­ro­spect, many other peo­ple have, and that evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy would log­i­cally lead us to ex­pect ex­ists.

…It was only af­ter­ward that I looked back and re­al­ized that no­body ever hates Hermione, or Harry, on ac­count of ei­ther of them act­ing like they have more sta­tus than some­one else has already men­tally as­signed. Char­ac­ters in HPMOR may dis­like peo­ple who are ahead of them, or envy peo­ple who have things they want, but “you don’t have a li­cense to be im­por­tant” is not a thing that any­one in HPMOR, hero or villain or NPC, ever feels.

For though I have known many a nega­tive emo­tion in my life, yea I have known bit­ter­ness, frus­tra­tion, de­spair, re­sent­ment, and a few times even envy and a sense that some­one else has some­thing that I de­serve more, I have never felt the sta­tus-reg­u­la­tion-slap­down emo­tion. I needed to de­duce its ab­stract ex­is­tence via evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy once HPMOR fi­nally pro­voked enough data. I still have no idea what it feels like.

Are these a real thing? To find out, I asked my friend Justin Ith. Justin Ith is a mas­ter of so­cial fi­nesse. Ask­ing him if sta­tus-reg­u­la­tion emo­tion is real is like ask­ing Leonardo da Vinci if red and green are differ­ent col­ors.

Justin: “Are you ask­ing if sta­tus-reg­u­la­tion emo­tion is a real thing peo­ple feel?”

Me: “Yes.”

Justin: “If so, then ab­solutely yes.”

Justin: “Lets say there are 9 fol­low­ers and 1 leader in a group. If one of the fol­low­ers started boss­ing the other fol­low­ers around, it’s frus­trat­ing be­cause that per­son is act­ing out of their sta­tus.”

Justin: “Even more clearly, lets say 9 sol­diers and 1 gen­eral. If one of the sol­diers starts com­mand­ing the oth­ers with­out any au­thor­ity be­stowed on them by the gen­eral, the other sol­diers would re­act in a pissed way be­cause they don’t have to listen to them.”

It both­ers me when some­one is dis­rup­tive. It both­ers me when some­one at­tempts to self­ishly seize power. I can be jeal­ous of peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity. But some­one “act­ing above their sta­tion” has never both­ered me. I barely com­pre­hend the idea.

I to treat wait­ers and la­bor­ers with ab­solute cour­tesy. I give chil­dren with the same re­spect I give adults. On the other hand, I of­ten un­wit­tingly in­sult peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity over me.

I get along so badly with in­sti­tu­tions that by age 15 I had writ­ten off com­pul­sory school as an ob­sta­cle to my ed­u­ca­tion. By 21 I con­cluded the same thing about col­lege. By 22 I had taught my­self com­puter pro­gram­ming but I was so im­per­ti­nent[1] to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers I re­sorted to start­ing own tech com­pany at age 24 be­cause no­body would hire me.

My lack of sta­tus-reg­u­la­tion emo­tions dam­ages me so­cially. It com­pen­sates me by re­duc­ing my self-cen­sor­ship.

At first the de­fault re­ac­tion of the Slash­dot trolls was (trans­lated into ar­tic­u­late terms): “Who is this guy and what au­thor­ity does he have to write about these top­ics? I haven’t read the es­say, but there’s no way any­thing so short and writ­ten in such an in­for­mal style could have any­thing use­ful to say about such and such topic, when peo­ple with de­grees in the sub­ject have already writ­ten many thick books about it.” Now there’s a new gen­er­a­tion of trolls on a new gen­er­a­tion of sites, but they have at least started to omit the ini­tial “Who is this guy?”

Six Prin­ci­ples for Mak­ing New Things by Paul Graham

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, when I think about peo­ple like Albert Ein­stein, my next thought is “I could do that”. Then I try to.


  1. I once got an in­ter­view at a startup by leav­ing on the CEO’s desk a printed dec­la­ra­tion of my in­ten­tion to start a com­pet­ing com­pany. ↩︎