Book Review – Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

For the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from the onset of my SAD, so I’ve been getting less done than I prefer, and that includes reading. This means that I had the option this week of not doing a review this week, or doing a review on something I read previously, and doing a piece on a work of fiction seems better to me than to do nothing, which would only further harm my expectancy.

So, HPMOR! People seem to either hate it or love it; nobody’s told me about having a middle of the road opinion. Personally, I fall into the ‘love’ camp – I’ve read it almost as many times as Worm; I tend to read and reread my favorites, trying to patch bits that I appreciate and approve of into my soul.

Now, don’t mistake me – Harry makes a number of unforced errors, he’s intensely arrogant, and he is, at core, an inexperienced child, no matter that he has a vast library of literature to draw on. Still, his persistence, his loyalty, and his absolute opposition to death are valuable to me.

Every time I read it, and the times that I’ve read it aloud to others to express my values, the patronus speech has driven me to tears; I hope that I can learn to write in a way that conveys that kind of passion. I think, honestly, that I owe that passage a great deal for my ignition over the last few years. Previously, I was abstractly anti-death, I thought that it was something that needed to go and would, eventually, be resolved. Repeated rereadings have changed this position from one of abstract support into a burning need – mors delenda est!

Prior to reading HPMOR, I was generally against fanfiction. “Why,” I wondered, “can’t these authors have original characters? Even filing off the serial numbers and making some minor changes would be better than directly copying the originals.” HPMOR forced an update on this position, and let me enjoy a much more complex and rich Potterverse, one that includes such works as Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time and A Black Comedy, which to not have enjoyed would have been a loss.

HPMOR brought a lot of new blood into the rationality community, and if you have the right shape of mind, you, too, will love it. You can also learn a fair amount about rationality from it, which required a tricky balancing act on Eliezer’s part.

“I’m learning and enjoying it? What is this sorcery?”

The fandom, presumably.

HPMOR is worth your time to read, and reread, if you’re that sort of person. Grab a copy and delight in it today!

On Failure

As the Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries says,

“Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.”

If you’ve read the autobiographical posts, you know that I’ve had a fair share of exposure to the experience of failure. Honestly, any human of adult age who hasn’t been insulated by privilege and money has, but I’ve failed a lot. The Lost Decade was me deciding to let failure be the last thing I did, and The Hell Year was, at least in my eyes, me failing again – so much so that I ended it with the only solution I could see, removing myself from the situation and letting her hit rock bottom.

On the whole, it is better that I ended up going my own way; my life is significantly improved, as is my mental state, as are my prospects. From the perspective of my personal utility, it’s been quite good. Of course, this perspective requires taking a long-term view, and not taking count of what effect the experience had on her – while my understanding is that she did pull herself together, having my abandon her like that must have been crushing.

So yes, I consider that whole incident a failure of mine – I could have done far, far better. Instead, I focused on my pain, and assumed she could work out her problems herself. In light of this, I ask myself what I ask every time I observe a failure, mine or that of others: “What have we learned?”

I learned that I want to pay more and better attention to what’s going on in the heads of the people I care about. I learned that I want to be better at understanding people, and improving their situations. And I learned that sometimes, protecting people from the consequences of their decisions isn’t the best thing you can do for them.

I’ve noticed, in the last few weeks, that my depression seems to be building back up. My motivation has dropped quite a bit, I have less confidence, less faith in myself and my ability to have a positive effect on this world’s outcomes. My past failures have taught me that I don’t need to accept this as is. While I am going to and have been taking a hit on my output, I don’t have to give in to it. I don’t have to let it control me, and I won’t. I’m not going to let it turn into another spiraling failure that consumes me, because I’ve learned.

And you, dear reader? What failures have you lived through, and what have they taught you?