Epistemic Status: Reference.

Expanded From: Against Facebook, as the post originally intended.

Some things are fundamentally Out to Get You.

They seek resources at your expense. Fees are hidden. Extra options are foisted upon you. Things are made intentionally worse, forcing you to pay to make it less worse. Least bad deals require careful search. Experiences are not as advertised. What you want is buried underneath stuff you don’t want. Everything is data to sell you something, rather than an opportunity to help you.

When you deal with Out to Get You, you know it in your gut. Your brain cannot relax. You lookout for tricks and traps. Everything is a scheme.

They want you not to notice. To blind you from the truth. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to church. When you pay your taxes. It is bad government and bad capitalism. It is many bad relationships, groups and cultures.

When you listen to a political speech, you feel it. Dealing with your wireless or cable company, you feel it. At the car dealership, you feel it. When you deal with that one would-be friend, you feel it. Thinking back on that one ex, you feel it. It’s a trap.

Get Gone, Get Got, Get Compact or Get Ready

There are four responses to Out to Get You.

You can Get Gone. Walk away. Breathe a sigh of relief.

You can Get Got. Give the thing everything it wants. Pay up, relax, enjoy the show.

You can Get Compact. Find a rule limiting what ‘everything it wants’ means in context. Then Get Got, relax and enjoy the show.

You can Get Ready. Do battle. Get what you want.

When to Get Got

Get Got when the deal is Worth It.

This is a difficult lesson for everyone in at least one direction.

I am among those with a natural hatred of Getting Got. I needed to learn to relax and enjoy the show when the deal is Worth It. Getting Got imposes a large emotional cost for people like me. I have worked to put this aside when it’s time to Get Got, while preserving my instincts as a defense. That’s hard.

Others make the mistake of not hating Getting Got. They might not even notice. This is bad. If you Get Got without realizing, you’ll Get Got often for large amounts. Bad habits will form. Deals won’t be Worth It. Reasonable is insufficient: Out to Get You is engineered to fool. Only accept capital letters Worth It.

When you Get Got, do it on purpose.

Never Get Got without saying to yourself “I am Getting Got. It is Worth It.”

If you realize you’ve been unwittingly Got, feel sad. Update. Cost is finite, so you should sometimes Get Got unaware. It is still unacceptable.

You can choose to Get Got only if you know what you’ll be Got for.

You cannot afford to Get Got if the price is not compact.

You can Get Got by a car salesman, saving time and aggravation. Max loss is the price.

You can Get Got with an unlimited phone plan. Max loss is the price.

You can Get Got by a restaurant, club or cruise ship vacation. Leaving money on the table and relaxing could be Worth It, if you know your max loss and find it acceptable.

You can Get Got in a relationship. That’s the Price of Admission. That’s fine if you know the price and find it Worth It.

You can buy a AAA game for $60 today rather than $20 next year. Pay $2,000 a year for Magic: The Gathering. Overpay for concert tickets. Wear a symbolic hat. Go vegan. Believe the Knicks will be good next year. If you want. Your call.

There may be no reasonable max loss. Some things want too much.

A clean example is free to play mobile games. If allowed, they charge tens of thousands of dollars. Players called whales are so addicted they pay. The games destroy them.

The motivating example was Facebook. Facebook wants your entire life. Users not consciously limiting engagement lose hours a day. Every spare moment is spent scrolling, checking for updates, likes and comments. This reliably makes users miserable. Other social networks share this problem.

An important example is politics. Political causes want every spare minute and dollar. They want to choose your friends, words and thoughts. If given power, they seize the resources of state and nation for their purposes. Then they take those purposes further. One cannot simply give any political movement what it wants. That way lies ruin and madness.

Yes, that means your cause, too.

This generalizes into most sufficiently intense signaling and status competition. One must always signal harder or seek higher status. This takes over everything you are and eats your entire life. Part of sending sufficiently intense signals is showing that you have allowed this! Maya Millennial has fallen victim. Those keeping up with the Joneses fall victim. Many a child looking fitting in or applying to college falls victim.

Obsession with safety does this.

Television eats people’s lives. So do video games. So do drugs and alcohol. One must be careful and know your tenancies and limits.

Ethical arguments do this, ensnaring vulnerable people.

This property is a way to distinguish cults from religions. Cults want it all. Religion wants its cut.

You can only pay off those who charge a bounded price and stay bought. Before you pay the ransom, be sure it will free the hostages.

Would going along result in cooperation? Or put blood in the water?

When To Get Compact

Get Compact when you find a rule you can follow that makes it Worth It to Get Got.

The rule must create an acceptable max loss. A well-chosen rule transforms Out to Get You for a lot into Out to Get You for a price you find Worth It. You then Get Got.

This works best using a natural point beyond which lies clear diminishing returns. If no such point exists, be suspicious.

A simple way is a budget. Spend at most $25,000 on this car, or $5,000 on this vacation package. This creates an obvious max dollar loss.

Many budgets should be $0. Example: free to play games. Either it’s worth playing for free or it isn’t. It isn’t.

The downside of budgets is often spending exactly your maximum, especially if others figure out what it is. Do your best to avoid this. Known bug.

An alternative is restriction on type. Go to a restaurant and avoid alcohol, desert and appetizers. Pay in-game only for full game unlocks and storage space.

Budgets can be set for each purchase. Hybrid approaches are good.

Many cap their charitable giving at 10%. Even those giving more reserve some amount for themselves. Same principle.

For other activities, max loss is about time. Again, you can use a (time) budget or limit your actions in a way that restricts (time) spent, or combine both.

Time limits are crude but effective. Limiting yourself to an hour of television or social media per day maxes loss at an hour. This risks making you value the activity more. Often time budgets get exactly spent same as dollar budgets. Try to let unspent time roll over into future periods, to avoid fear or ‘losing’ unspent time.

When time is the limiting factor, it is better where possible to engineer your environment and options to make the activity compact. You’ll get more out of the time you do spend and avoid feeling like you’re arbitrarily cutting yourself off.

Decide what’s worth watching. Watch that.

For Facebook, classify a handful of people See First. See their posts. No others. Look at social media only on computers. Don’t comment. Or post.

A buffet creates overeating. Filling up one plate (or one early to explore, then one to exploit) ends better.

Unlimited often requires limitation.

Outside demands follow the pattern. To make explanation and justification easier, choose good enough rules that sound natural, simple and reasonable.

Experiments need a chance, but also a known point where you can know to call it quits. Ask whether you can get a definitive negative result in reasonable time. Will I worry I did it wrong? Will others claim or assume I did it wrong or didn’t give it a fair chance?

When to Get Ready

Get Ready when you have no choice.

Getting Ready means battle. An enemy trying to Get You. You are determined not to Get Got. You have done the research. Your eyes are open. You are on alert. You are ready.

You have no choice. The price of surrender is too high. Simple heuristics won’t work. You are already in too deep, or they have something you need and all alternatives are worse.

Sometimes you must accept a bad time and try not to let events get to you. Other times going into battle can be fun. I like games. Games are fun! So are puzzles. Buying a car, planning a vacation, trading for your Magic deck or managing one’s social media interactions can be a game or puzzle. Get the one trying to get you. Get a lot for a little.

There are big downsides.

The game can be fun. The original activity can be fun. Both at once is rarely fun. Both means multi-tasking and context-switching, plus a radical shift in emotion and tone. Relaxing into cooperative experience is not compatible with battles of wits and tricks.

The result of this is that you often end up unable to maintain both states at once. Sometimes you end up relaxing, and Get Got. Other times, you focus on not Getting Got and don’t enjoy what you get. Either way, you lose.

The best way out of this is to try and front-load or batch as much of the battle as possible. Sometimes this happens naturally. If you first choose, shop and haggle, then later enjoy the bounty, that’s the ideal way to do battle. Do your best to transform into that sequence, or to make enough choices to transform into a Compact situation.

If this is not possible, consciously switch between modes when needed. Think, “time to pause to not get got,” deal with the issue, switch back. This minimizes bleeding between states. If getting attempts are too continuous, this becomes possible and you need another mode.

You pay for not Getting Got with time and attention. You master arcane details. Time disappears. You spend parties talking tricks instead of living life. If shower thoughts shift to such places, you are paying a high price.

The biggest downside is you can lose.

When To Get Gone


You need good reason to stick around when things are Out to Get You. It is often wise to Get Gone, if you can.

If your instincts say Get Gone, Get Gone. At worst it is only a small mistake.

If your instincts do not say Get Gone, but you can’t find a viable approach to another option, Get Gone anyway.

The getting can be insidious. Constant vigilance is required. Many think they can handle it, check all the right boxes and not get drawn in. Some are right. Often they are wrong.

If Getting Got means you lose an order of magnitude bigger than you can win, Get Gone.

If Getting People is how something survives, Get Gone.

Free trial! Automatically renews. Probably won’t want? Don’t wait. Get Gone.

You think you are getting good odds. You are probably wrong.

You think you know all the tricks they will try. You are probably wrong.

You think there is something is forcing your hand. Make sure this is something you need rather than a want. The word need is thrown around a lot these days.

Getting Gone is worth making sacrifices. Big sacrifices.

If you cannot Get Gone, do not engage more than necessary. Go into Easy Mode. Get what you must. Then Get Gone.

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15 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Very important concept to give a name to. I upvote you today, because by tomorrow I'll be convinced everything here has always been common knowledge.

That said, a lot of things are Out To Get You, but not You in particular, and the Get Ready approach ends up not being that hard. This is probably dangerous advice, but also true.

Examples: Credit cards. Sure, they charge merchant fees to keep the lights on, but the real money comes from borrowing. But I, and probably a lot of readers here, find it almost trivially easy to enjoy the convenience of a credit card without ever paying a cent in interest. Passive investing with Fidelity is also this way, everything is an upsell to make you buy a managed product, but for a true believer in passive investing it's trivially easy to ignore.

Heck, I've even played a few free mobile games that I found worth playing for free, and have never felt close to tempted to put any cash into one. And I've been known to strategically use a free trial of a product I don't want enough to pay for. I don't think I've ever missed a cancellation on one of them.

The trick here, of course, is being a different person from the average target of these things.

Though another common feature of these things is that they mostly don't lose money on me, they just don't make any. Game downloads cost nothing, credit cards have merchant fees, and Fidelity index funds charge expense ratio. So they have no incentive to eliminate those they can't Get.

Huh - I thought this post was quite good, and am a bit surprised that it looks like it's been getting downvoted.

I think this might be necessarily read in sequence with the various posts that led up to it - I found this did a good job of crystalizing a lot of sentiments you'd expressed in previous posts and making it more clear why a thing was important to you. (It also gives me more context for some concerns about effective altruism)

I have some thoughts brewing about implications of this.


I look forward to seeing the results of your brewing. I'm also glad you made the leap to my concerns about EA.

It also seems that whatever initial downvotes occured have been swamped, and it's scoring about where I'd expect given the amount it was highlighted. I'm sad it hasn't generated more discussion, though.

I'm torn about exactly how to proceed with my previous blog content, since a lot of it is important background (and also there's a bug that's making it logistically hard for me to put things in main). I've given Oliver permission to promote my things to main as he thinks it will help, which I extend to others working on the Beta.

It'll be awhile before I'm able to give it the time it warrants, but the basic gist of my EA-Get-Got-thoughts:

(Most of what I've written here is cached from before I read Out To Get You, and I think is still true and relevant)

Point A: The Sane Response to The World Being On Fire (While Human)

Myself, and most EA folk I talk to extensively (including all the leaders I know of) seem to share the following mindset:

The set of ideas in EA (whether focused on poverty, X-Risk, or whatever), do naturally lead one down a path of "sacrifice everything because do you really need that $4 Mocha when people are dying the future is burning everything is screwed but maybe you can help?"

But, as soon as you've thought about this for any length of time, clearly, stressing yourself out about that all the time is bad. It is basically not possible to hold all the relevant ideas and values in your head at once without going crazy or otherwise getting twisted/consumed-in-a-bad-way.

There are a few people who are able to hold all of this in their head and have a principled approach to resolving everything in a healthy way. (Nate Soares is the only one who comes to mind, see his "replacing guilt" series). But for most people, there doesn't seem to be a viable approach to integrating the obvious-implications-of-EA-thinking and the obvious-implications-of-living-healthily.

You can resolve this by saying "well then, the obvious-implications-of-EA-thinking must be wrong", or "I guess maybe I don't need to live healthily".

But, like, the world is on fire and you can do something about it and you do obviously need to be healthy. And part of being healthy is not just saying things like "okay, I guess I can indulge things like not spending 100% of my resources on saving the world in order to remain healthy but it's a necessary evil that I feel guilty about."

AFAICT, the only viable, sane approach is to acknowledge all the truths at once, and then apply a crude patch that says "I'm just going to not think about this too hard, try generally to be healthy, put whatever bit of resources towards having the world not-be-on-fire that I can do safely.

Then, maybe check out Nate Soare's writing and see if you're able to integrate it in a more sane way, if you are the sort of person who is interested in doing that, and if so, carefully go from there.


...pause for "I'm not sure if Zvi considers that first chunk unobjectionable, and acknowledge that I can imagine it being objectionable, but it's only Part A and taking that as a given for now, here's..."

Point B: What Should A Movement Trying To Have the World Not Be On Fire Do?

The approach in Point A seems sane and fine to me. I think it is in fact good to try to help the world not be on fire, and that the correct sane response is to proactively look for ways to do so that are sustainable and do not harm yourself.

I think this is generally the mindset held by EA leadership.

It is not out-of-the-question that EA leadership in fact really wants everyone to Give Their All and that it's better to err on the side of pushing harder for that even if that means some people end up doing unhealthy things. And the only reason they say things like Point A is as a ploy to get people to give their all.

But, since I believe Point A is quite sane, and most of the leadership I see is basically saying Point A, and I'm in a community that prioritizes saying true things even if they're inconvenient, I'm willing to assume the leadership is saying Part A because it is true as opposed to for Secret Manipulative Reasons.

This still leaves us with some issues:

1) Getting to the point where you're on board with Point A the way I meant Point A to be interpreted requires going through some awkward and maybe unhealthy stages where you haven't fully integrated everything, which means you are believing some false things and perhaps doing harm to yourself.

Even if you read a series of lengthy posts before taking any actions, even if the Giving What We Can Pledge began with "we really think you should read some detailed blogposts about the psychology of this before you commit" (this may be a good idea), reading the blogposts wouldn't actually be enough to really understand everything.

So, people who are still in the process of grappling with everything end up on EA forum and EA Facebook and EA Tumblr saying things like "if you live off more than $20k a year that's basically murder". (And also, you have people on Dank EA Memes saying all of this ironically except maybe not except maybe it's fine who knows?)

And stopping all this from happening would be pretty time consuming.

2) The world is in fact on fire, and people disagree on what the priorities should be on what are acceptable things to do in order for that to be less the case. And while the Official Party Line is something like Point A, tahere's still a fair number of prominent people hanging around who do earnestly lean towards "it's okay to make costs hidden, it's okay to not be as dedicated to truth as Zvi or Ben Hoffman or Sarah Constantin would like, because it is Worth It."

And present_day_Raemon thinks those people are wrong, but not obviously so wrong that it's not worth talking about and taking seriously as a consideration.

So. That's where I am pre-reading-Out-To-Get-You.

But, like, the world is on fire and you can do something about it and you do obviously need to be healthy. And part of being healthy is not just saying things like "okay, I guess I can indulge things like not spending 100% of my resources on saving the world in order to remain healthy but it's a necessary evil that I feel guilty about."

AFAICT, the only viable, sane approach is to acknowledge all the truths at once, and then apply a crude patch that says "I'm just going to not think about this too hard, try generally to be healthy, put whatever bit of resources towards having the world not-be-on-fire that I can do safely.

My view is that there is indeed a principled resolution, which should be pursued by people aspiring to be more lawful and coherent. But the resolution requires nontrivial skills to implement. The key insight is that certain gut reactions should be viewed as policy-level choices, instead of correct, primitive moral evaluations of the situation.

Many people are deeply confused about their feelings, and what they're "for"—should they be modified? Are feelings reflections of ground-truth morality? In particular, if I feel guilty about spending money on myself, does that mean it is reflectively-correct to feel that way?

The answer, of course, is a resounding No!.

Unfortunately, this can be hard to see, since our motivational systems are not well-typed—expected-utility and utility feel the same from the inside, and executed-heuristic versus reflectively-consistent-judgement are not primitive internal observables.

Notice that spending money on myself is not an intrinsic bad. Therefore, any guilt I feel must be the result of an instrumental value-function heuristic which fires when I take such actions, perhaps because "take selfish action while someone else needs your help" is (societally-, personally-)usually an action which leads to lower-value states, and—eventually—to outcomes with lower terminal utility.[1]

Since my guilt does not reflect an intrinsic bad, it is "up for grabs"—the "guilt" heuristic constitutes a cognitive strategy, which I can choose to execute or not, depending on its logical and causal effects. 

After all, I'm (basically) optimizing for outcomes. From the FDT standpoint, there is no need to have an angsty internal struggle over these facts, as if I were living out the script of a hero who is dutifully remorseful about daring purchase a luxury for themselves. I simply choose the way of being which works out best. The rest is noise.

(I know that from a certain inferential distance, the advice may seem trivial and laughably impractical, and if it does, I don't immediately see how to bridge the gap. And I describe the closer-to-ideal standard as I understand it. I have moved some good distance towards it, but I am not yet able to fluently interact with myself in this way.)

  1. ^

    I don't think people's desires are well-represented by utility functions, but I think the theory works fine in this situation. 


I appreciate the clarity there, and I also like the amount of bullet-biting and facing-up-to-big-issues. Well put.

[inspired by this comment, but not entirely a response; still relevant]

Assume utilitarianism and altruism. You're trying to help the world. There's a large pit of suffering that you could throw your entire life into and still not fill. So you do as much as you can. You maximize your positive impact on the world.

But argmax requires a set of possible actions. What are these actions? "Be a superhuman who needs no overhead to turn work into donations" is not a valid action. Given what you can do, taking into account physical and psychological limitations, you maximize positive impact. And this requires cutting corners. If you try your hardest to squeeze every last cent of your life into altruism, this has significant negative effects on you, and thus on your altruism. You might burn out. You might lose effectiveness. So to optimize to the fullest, don't optimize too hard.

So rational "optimize just for altruism" apparently destroys itself. To optimize for altruism, you have to do things that look like they're selfish.

Coming back a few months later, what did I even mean by "cutting corners"?

Somebody doesn't understand the difference between the thing and the appearance of the thing, and I can't tell whether it's my past self or the hypothetical EAs being discussed.

[+][comment deleted]10

I am really glad you posted this! It points at a precept of something I've been struggling to write about.

Meta: You've given simple, common phrases (get gone, get ready) specific, important meanings. To me, capitalizing your key terms created a sensation of quirky dialect more than it pointedly called to mind their contextual meaning (as quoting or underlining them might have).


I've been getting into the habit of using that capitalization in exactly that way, to highlight that the phrase is meant to represent a specific rationalist concept or trope, often the title of a past or future post. In this case I used it in the Get X structure because it felt natural; normally I am more stingy with the form. I don't think quoting or underlining would get at what I'm trying to do, but it's very possible I should have used this less. Worth It in particular I always capitalize (and it would be a link but I try not to link to that website to avoid creating time sinks).

How has this post been around for so long without any Death Grips reference?

Really though, thanks for this. Your post is why I registered at LessWrong.

Max loss is the price.

That's really interesting. By nature, I tend to flinch away from losing money harder than I flinch away from things like time/attention/etc. I think most people are like this. But you make a good point that the former is capped while the latter is often uncapped (in a sense). That alone isn't enough to make the latter scarier than the former, but it certainly gives it a nice push in that direction.

I am among those with a natural hatred of Getting Got. I needed to learn to relax and enjoy the show when the deal is Worth It. Getting Got imposes a large emotional cost for people like me. I have worked to put this aside when it’s time to Get Got, while preserving my instincts as a defense. That’s hard.

This reminds me of Chapter 19: Delayed Gratification of HPMoR.

This is the chapter where Harry learns to lose.

Professor Quirrell walked back to his desk and resumed leaning on it. "Sometimes we forget the most basic things, since it has been too long since we learned them. I realized I had done the same with my own lesson plan. You do not teach students to throw until you have taught them to fall. And I must not teach you to fight if you do not understand how to lose."


Great post, important concepts. Sharing it everywhere.

There was one piece, though, that I couldn't intuitively grasp, so maybe one of you could help me understand: What is it about video games that are out to get you? ("So do video games.") Elsewhere, Zvi speaks about F2P games, is it about this and their addiction-inducing skinner boxes? If it's about video games in general, I would love to learn how they are more out to get us than, say, novels.