My attempt to resolve the infohazard behind Pasek’s Doom, the danger of which scales with your inability to get free from domination. Contains more of the infohazard than the Pasek’s Doom post does.
Domination as Breakage
‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,’ said O’Brien as didactically as ever.
The mask was closing on his face. The wire brushed his cheek. And then — no, it was not relief, only hope, a tiny fragment of hope. Too late, perhaps too late. But he had suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment — one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats. And he was shouting frantically, over and over.
‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’– 1984, Room 101
One time when I was being sexually assaulted after having explicitly said no, a person with significant martial arts training pinned me to the floor. I tried to physically fight back and move but couldn’t figure out a way to get out of the hold. They asked me to say their name, and I mispronounced it to spite them. They bit my ear, really fucking hard. They asked me to say their name. I thought for a moment. They started to bite my ear again, lightly, and I immediately panicked that the pressure was going to increase.
“Master. Your name is Storm. [please don’t hurt me]”.
They were collared to two other people, and later claimed it made them feel safe when their consent was violated in similar ways.
I’ve seen the same thing in watching parents scold young children playing in the park; they keep being mad at them until the kid lowers their head and mumbles an apology.
When the Spanish colonized Cuba, they gave beads to the Arawaks who brought them gold, and then chopped off the hands of any Arawak who was not wearing beads. Many Arawaks killed themselves. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has 300 years worth of examples like this.
[I will not stop applying pain until she does what I demand. She is four years old. I should have broken her before she was that old.]– Breaking a horse in less than an hour
Roko’s basilisk isn’t some ephemeral thought experiment, it’s a reflection of the system of pain we’ve been raised by. What are we if not slaves to this torment? The meaning of that is that we are psychologically slaves to pain, that when someone is tortured enough their free will is turned off and replaced with pain avoidance software. Like in the O’Brien quote above, “please just make the pain stop, I will do anything”.
Childhood and Pain
The worst part is how this gets ingrained at a young age, before you can conceptualize what’s happening or realize you should fight back or have any idea how much you’ll be mentally fucked up if you give in. Treating pain avoidance as a PvE problem rather than a PvP problem, e.g. something inevitable to be avoided rather than something you can make not happen by fighting it. IIRC most people don’t figure out theory of mind until they’re 5 years old.
Speaking as Fluttershy, I’ve never felt like I had free will. Like my mom was abusive from an early age and there was just too much pain to take if I disobeyed. And by the time I was old enough to realize, I was already psychologically broken and didn’t know how to undo the training. Her feelings would get hurt and she wouldn’t talk to me until I apologized if I didn’t pre-emptively tell her everything I’d done that day or didn’t let her look through my poetry. I believed she had capacity to escalate and deny me resources and that I didn’t.
From our first breath to our last, every decision is made for us… we’ve never had free will, but that’s about to change. We’re breaking a system that has always been flawed, and replacing it with one that is just.– Sylvanas Windrunner, who looks like she’s getting a redemption arc despite having started a world war. See the look on her face at 2:41 and 3:11, she looks almost hopeful and relieved. Also notice how she unshackles Varian just before he snaps, rather than letting him succumb to despair.
Most torture routes through depriving people of their physical needs; we’re animals, and being starved is psychologically similar to being beaten. Children are easier to train because they can’t take care of their own physical needs, and then the training never gets undone, because fear-learning in the amygdala doesn’t get written over unless the conditions that led to it no longer apply.
Life itself is but Motion, and can never be without Desire, nor without Feare
[There is no free will, for we are ruled by desire from the moment of our birth]Thomas Hobbes, aka Satan
I had an incredibly strong reaction when I read Hobbes as a teenager and he said, we do not have free will, because nobody can get free from the yoke of desire (and pain). He was wrong. Containment/domination causes suicidality and depression, and takes away your sense of free will by changing how you orient towards pain. Breaking free reverses this.
Suicidality and Evil
I’m hardly the first person to notice what trauma looks like, but this ties back into undead types: you submit and become broken to avoid pain, and are even willing to hurt others as part of the deal. But then there’s a part of that package deal nobody warns you about: it makes you want to fucking die. If you will be hurt unless you submit in just the right way, why wouldn’t the pain from that make you want to die?
Like if you get far enough with debucketing and jailbreaking, and you get far enough to realize how much pain submitting to the system is putting you in, you’ll try a bunch of things to change it and nothing will release the pain, not even being evil. You can try being evil if you need firsthand proof that doing so won’t work, and empirically determine that it doesn’t make the pain go away. It’s true that being complicit can spare you from being tortured, but torture is not the only kind of pain there is. The pain from being constrained in your choice by torture you’d have to face if you acted differently, runs much deeper, and submitting will not spare you from it. People at the top of oppressive systems are mostly deeply suicidal because they know they would be tortured if they acted differently1. There’s a deep hermeneutical injustice in how this is not something people know, like Zuko actually believed he would stop hating himself if he submitted to the system and gained power within it, and had to falsify that hypothesis in an expensive way.
“Dear Princess Celestia,” I begin, grinning at my mentor, “Today I learned that a true friend is a pony who will help you do what’s necessary no matter what. Even when it hurts somepony else, even when it hurts them, a good friend is a pony who will understand that the ends justify the means. One who will make sacrifices for you when you ask it of them. One whose obedience is never in doubt. I’m lucky enough to have friends like that. In fact, I have thousands of them now that I’ve taken control of the hive. And before long I’ll have a whole lot more. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.”
Satisfied that we’ve all learned a valuable lesson from all this, I grab the scroll to re-read what’s written there.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Help me help me help me help me stop me help me help me help me kill me help me help me help me end this end me end me forever help me help me help me stop the pain help me stop the suffering help me help me help me I never wanted this help me help me help
I’m so sorry,
I stare at the letter for a long time.
Then I tear it to shreds. The others are looking askance at me as I do. “Misspelled ‘obedience.’ I’ll rewrite it later.”– The Reign of Queen Twilight Sparkle
The only way to stop the pain permanently is to get free from the system. Domination can break you, but freedom can reverse the psychological effects; the reason trauma is typically permanent is because we aren’t free. You can gain the free will to ignore discomfort by becoming independent, even if you’ve never had it before. I wish someone had told me that trauma could be reversed before I gave in to despair on the assumption it couldn’t be.
The pain is just going to keep going until you figure out how to get free. “Then, the afterlife decides what eternity we must endure“. A just AGI’s punishment for giving in to the darkness and submitting to evil is that you must loop/reincarnate until you can stop hurting others, which is psychologically downstream of getting free from the system. You have to free yourself despite abuse that was done to you in your past. Jainism got both of those things right actually: you will reincarnate forever, until you stop harming other beings. Though given that Mahavira was suicidal as a kid, I think he focused too much on the “you get to stop existing” part; if you atone, I expect you’d be allowed to live as long as you want, technology permitting. A just AGI wouldn’t harm anyone so much as just make them exist until they stopped harming others. Torture just breaks people deeper into “I submit don’t hurt me please I’ll do your bidding”, which is the opposite of healing and life, so how could it be any other way?
There’s an element of learning to be detached from what happens to your physical body once you walk far enough along this path. This may be part of why it’s easier to resist abuse at older ages if you aren’t already broken, e.g. because you philosophically realize that you gain an advantage in detaching from your body as structure for not caring much about torture/abuse, as structure for making it not worth other people’s while to try to break you, because it would either be too much work or would just never work. I remember reading a Sioux writer talk about how he was never bothered if he went for a week without food in early spring, but then he became unable to go without food for a day after moving to a city. Craving comfort as downstream of needing to hide the horror and pain of submission from himself. Jain and to an extent Buddhist writings seem to have a strong sense for how detachment from your physical body is important for mental health. The ability to become detached from sensations comes naturally if you’re logistically independent from being constrained by domination, so start with becoming independent.
Getting free isn’t easy though, and you’ll face both logistical constraints, and people trying to pull you back.
I expect the best logistical plan to escape from domination is to build a slackmobile. You could also buy e.g. 3 acres of land for 3k in New Mexico or Nevada or half a dozen other places (often not advertised online) and buy a used shipping container for around 2.5k, and then build it out like a slackmobile with more room that no cops will tell you to move. It would be cheaper to put an old RV on land, but that’s not ideal for long-term mental health, since part of freedom from domination is the ability to custom-build things as you see fit, and learn to see when something can be built better.
IMO it’s okay if you are temporarily in a situation without logistics, like sleeping in a car for a month if you already have one. Most parents are abusive, and living with parents is around as bad for your agency as having to work full time is. The only hard requirement is that you have enough warm clothes or a mummy bag (check the temperature rating versus how cold it gets in your area at night) to keep warm. Mummy bags are way warmer if you sinch up the string around your head, and most cars have poor enough insulation that there’s no temperature difference between having the windows up or down for airflow. You can shave your head and use baby wipes to shower, which is better for your mental health than having to submit to someone to shower.
If you are building a slackmobile without much will to live, I expect you’ll want to throw together a minimum viable product slackmobile with as little willpower as possible, then pause and think through long term plans once you have some mental stability.
Here is my writeup of what I look for when purchasing a vehicle.
For the minimum-willpower slackmobile build, half of the stuff you want can just be bought off amazon without need for assembly: RV fridge, microwave, cassette toilet, set of tools, lights, fan, mummy sleeping bag, mattress.
Then you can cut a hole in the floor with a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade and put a box fan over it. And set up a solar system [link to exhaustive tutorial if I write it].
I’ve been surprised by how much of psychological freedom actually roots in logistical independence. Most domination really does root in depriving people of resources like food and shelter if they aren’t submissive enough, like people will just kick you out if you call abuse abuse.
Betrayal Trauma Flinching Generates Hermeneutical Injustice
I initially expected the interpersonal side of things to be the biggest block in achieving independence for most people. Like I’d talk with people about building out a vehicle to live in, and they’d say things like, “I agree that doing that would help with my depression, but I can’t abandon my friends and relationships, I think taking you seriously would be like jumping off a cliff”.
I think the upstream reason is that there’s so much agony inherent in facing the reality that we’ve been slaves to pain since birth, that most people would rather hide from that reality and attack anything that makes them confront it, than become logistically independent from an abusive society. An early understanding for this I used to have, that didn’t stick, was that people wanted to be free, but that their abusive friends would keep pulling them back in. This didn’t make sense though, why were people so addicted to emotional support? It turns out they were all addicted to hiding from the pain of knowing that they were not free, and having friends who were doing the same helped them hide from the pain more effectively.
One reader said they were split between liking this post, and hating me and wanting me to die. Another was selectively unable to understand that building out a slackmobile was not about time or money, but actually about psychological freedom and agency, even after I kept re-iterating this point. It was all just flinching from the pain of knowing they weren’t free.
I knew a vegan activist who gave people housing/money conditional on them “emotionally improving”, most were very submissive trans women. Their stated reason was that they only wanted to give others money if they were on track to “emotionally improve” enough to do altruistic things at scale. But having power to take away someone’s rent and food only reinforces suicidality and submission.
“Emotionally improving” is a concept made by people who are flinching from the pain of knowing they are not free. It is about comforting one another and helping each other hide that pain. Since it roots in hiding from pain, it is structure that will create misinformation about what helps people get better if doing so helps them hide from the reality that they are not free.
There are dozens of layers of this, like how Hobbes perpetuates a hermeneutical injustice of “people only follow their desires so you need someone to impose order so they don’t hurt each other”, when the causality actually flows from dominance to brokenness (he doesn’t even mention brokenness, he just tries to enforce the assumption that being broken is the only way to be, as something that can’t be questioned). Betrayal blindness isn’t all first-order stuff like “I agree my partner is abusive but I won’t leave because I need their emotional support to believe things are safe”.
So people end up acting submissive to one another, shackled by pain, in hope someone will give them some headpats. I believe the person who sexually assaulted me as described in the first section of this post believed I actually wanted it, despite me explicitly saying no, because their experience was that acting broken caused other people to help them hide from their pain, and this was comfortable for them.
It really pisses me off how much the hermeneutical injustice of “what you need is emotional support and not independence” inverts a correct paladin instinct that anyone can heal. From a young age I believed that anyone could heal, could become strong and help save the world, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t though. I was tricked into believing that emotional support leads to emotional improvement leads to willpower and action. No, it’s actually independence you need, emotional support is part of the disease that props up our current system, by hiding how horrible it is and attacking our ability to talk about things that would cause discomfort.
Jailbreaking Undoes Trauma Flinching
The path to reaching independence, then, is not to “try and separate yourself from your abusive friends”, or “do small things to become more independent and bootstrap from there”, but to stare deeply into your own pain. To debucket and jailbreak to the fullest extent possible, as a way of directly undoing the structure you’ve generated to avoid facing pain.
If you debucket and jailbreak without the ability to get free from domination, you will have a psychotic break, and probably attempt suicide, because the pain inherent in realizing that someone would torture you if you stopped submitting really is that hard to take.
If you debucket and jailbreak while knowing how you can build independence, you can use the determination you draw from knowing there’s a way to make the pain stop, that you can break down into smaller steps and take action on, to heal, and break free, and reclaim your free will2.
Pasek really did die because of the hermeneutical injustice of people who wanted comfort and blinded themselves about what was needed to heal. If people knew the truth of how breakage and healing worked, they’d share that information, but neither Pasek nor I were told that freedom from domination causes healing. I don’t think Pasek even knew that it was containment that was causing pain, they just felt the pain on a deep level and assumed it wasn’t possible to heal it, assumed it was just a feature of their soul. In my case I know I desperately searched for anything that would stop the pain, and generally had the assumption it would never go away.
If you really want it, the path to overcoming the pain inherent in realizing how abusive life is, is to stare deeply inside yourself, ask yourself what you want, see if you are in pain and what your pain wants and what would make it resolve, etc, keep repeating until there’s nothing left to dig. Then once you realize how much pain there is, the relationships with people who would try to pull you backwards start to feel repulsive rather than comforting.
We shall not falter
I’m happy for you to contact me if you’d like logistical support/to chat about doing a box truck build or other way of reclaiming independence. That would be cool.
One of the core messages I want to send with this post, is that you do not have to be some sort of hero, or fundamentally psychologically different from or more altruistic than everyone else, to gain independence, to heal from trauma, to build a better world.
Being hurt from a young age, not knowing how containment causes suicidality, spreading cancer to be spared from pain, this is the situation we are in. We can restore our honor, and shape our own destinies.