A phrase taken from Ziz, it means “this world saving plan is good, but it isn’t enough to save the whole world”. I use it a lot to explain my thinking to normal people; I often get asked why I don’t write things up as academic papers, or do a startup that would predictably-in-advance earn lots of money if I sunk a year into it. The answer is universally that I have more impactful things I can be doing with my time. If the sum total of things you expect to do over your life isn’t enough to save the world, then you should try to figure out something else to do with your life. Writing papers and doing startups is not part of a trajectory that lets me e.g. end aging or solve another problem on that scale.
From here, this is an assertation that even if some action you could spend your time on is commensurate with having a plan that saves the whole world, that you still shouldn’t do it, because it is too morally abhorrent.
There’s a particular failure mode people fall into, where they think that because the world is terrible, then they’re justified in taking actions that directly hurt others if those actions can be justified within either a utilitarian framework or within an existing power structure, e.g. “how things are done”. An example from fiction is, from s1e10 of Avatar the Last Airbender, Jet decides to take out a village filled with enemy soldiers who were abusing and killing the civilians, which would take out the civilians too. But ultimately, the reason soldiers would themselves abuse citizens mostly comes down to trauma. A real life example is saying that your enemies should be imprisoned in horrible conditions, or even tortured, because “maybe it’ll incentivize future people to do what you want, and besides, that’s just how things have to be”.
In the way that trauma is the enemy of life, fighting trauma with trauma just hurts people who haven’t given up on hope yet, it just psychologically breaks them. Utilitarian analyses can become corrupted if the person doing them is traumatized, because trauma wants to spread itself, and that will seep into the utilitarian analysis in perverse ways. Hence, “How can you even consider that? There’s got to be some other way” is not about ideological purity, but about avoiding a certain class of blind spots that systematically bias utilitarian analyses in a certain direction.
The normal definition of the word, with the added understanding that since trauma is present in a physical system (the brain), that getting rid of it is fundamentally an engineering problem.
If someone would physically intervene or try to lower your slack/access to resources for doing something, but you’re not doing it, and the fact they would mess with you has caused you to be blind to the possibility of even considering it, that counts as trauma too. E.g. legal restrictions on sharing technology for dealing with a medical issue, people kicking you out if you point out abuse they’re doing, etc.
When you take things down to the bare metal psychologically, most people are basically identical and most of the variance is due to how much trauma they’ve been exposed to and how early in their life it happened. There’s a fallacy of worshiping people who have lots of agency or do lots of things, say Elon Musk, as if you’re inherently capable of less. Skill points, e.g. effort integrated over time that results in learning, are a thing, but people without skill points can teach themselves as efficiently as so-called “heroes” once they get free of domination and begin to heal.
In EA in particular, people will try to transfer money to people who are “more capable”, as if there should be a class of people who make money to support others and a class of people who do the real work. As if some people were just fundamentally psychologically damaged and should give up on anything more than doing startups. Often this mixes with beliefs/structure like emphasizing that money can be used to save the time of “people whose time is more valuable” and “people who are more valuable should have the money, they can use it more effectively”. Or beliefs that damage is permanent, insistences that some people can just never learn specific things as efficiently as others. No; healing is possible.
If you’ve ever seen how average students in high school are mostly tuned out, it’s evident that most of IQ is determined by being too traumatized to actually learn, rather than inherent differences.
The art of figuring out why a specific piece of trauma exists and hasn’t been reprocessed yet. Rarely the answer is just “I didn’t reprocess it yet”, but much more often it’s something like, “I am afraid of lead because once I did a lot of work on my car and my mom realized that I was doing it so I could have a place to go that was away from her abuse. She started demanding emotional support as intentional retaliation, with the context that I knew she would escalate and lower my ability to do things and kick me out if I didn’t give it, which reminded me of the control she had over me. I developed leadphobia in response, so I wouldn’t be kicked out. I am still afraid of lead because I’m not free”.
If you want to generate the conclusion that most suicidality and inability to get things done stems from the fact other people would lower your slack if you didn’t submit, you can do trauma processing on your own mental blocks. You’re going to have to change your situation rather than just doing emotional processing to get the trauma to resolve.
Trauma processing has undefined results if you can’t figure out a way to get free from domination, e.g. can cause severe mental breakdowns and suicide. People’s mental health after jailbreaking follows a bimodal distribution, and the thing behind this is basically “can I get free“, or for people who don’t know about the link between containment and suicidality, just an awareness that nothing they try gets them to feel less pain.
The biggest bottleneck in jailbreaking, trying to become more agentic etc. is that there’s so much pain in facing the fact that you’re not free and never have been head on. Such that the easiest way to deal with this is to hide from the fact it’s happening at all, create a social reality where things are safe and everything is mostly going according to plan, etc. There can be multiple layers of this you have to peel off. This is close to the core of what it means to be a zombie or vampire.
Most of our society is built around hiding from this pain, pretending it doesn’t exist, looking at people who talk about this as if they’re invisible or incomprehensible. Often lashing out at them and apologizing immediately after, both wanting to be healed but also wanting to avoid imagined punishment for being too nice to someone who isn’t broken like them.