Irreconcilable Values

Added September 2019.

So, here’s a new concept: sometimes, when you’re trying to do what you want, you’ll end up bouncing back and forth between two things. And like, not in the way that happens when you’re just new to trying the “do what you want” thing.

My basic advice for this, is to just go with it, and try to satisfy whichever desire seems internally louder.

Let’s talk about when this tends to happen, and how not to mess it up.

On how not to mess it up: If you go, “I want to study, but this subagent just wants to get a snack from the fridge, must be different values”, you are 100% doing it wrong. Why? Because wanting to study is not a value you came to by listening to all your emotions and acting on them. It was a default path you fell into. Probably you do not have emotional experiences of euphoria while you’re studying because it’s so cool. Unless you do, and studying is very intrinsically rewarding for you in this moment, in which case, congrats on doing what you want.

I think the above example falls into the more general case of, procrastination. Gaming, reading fanfic, snacking, reddit, you know the deal. Don’t fight this feeling directly, ever. It’s just a sign that you’re not doing what one part of you wants.

When I was first experimenting with this, it seemed like I had two subagents that wanted different things: one, that was all super-utilitarian and altruistic, and one that literally just valued being lazy and procrastinating. Wrong. Procrastination means you’re (probably inadvertently) censoring a part of yourself, and that that part of yourself shut you off in response. Long story short, it turns out my two subagents are, “utilitarian-altruist”, and “wants friends/romance/to not be homeless”. And the procrastination stopped once I begun spending significant amounts of time on finding friends.

Why am I making such a big deal about this? It’s because of the irreconcilable values part. Doing good and having friends are different goals, and there’s opportunity costs here. It’s legitimately hard to balance these. Given that the penalty for not balancing them seems to be that one subagent makes you feel meh and procrastinate, I actually advocate a firefighting approach. If one subagent really wants a thing, they’ll make a bigger fuss about it, and if you’re trying to maximize willpower, then you want to take care of the bigger blocks first, so just let whichever subagent seems to want something more urgently do the steering.

As for feeling out what each subagent wants: I’m new enough to all this that generalizing what I did seems somewhat hard, but basically, you can try talking to a subagent out loud, you can try mindfulness, but ultimately, for me, there was one day where, after unsuccessfully trying to figure it out for a while, I just suddenly realized, “oh, this subagent really just wants me to have friends”.

What if your experience is that you have more than two subagents?

Well, I assert that most of them will collapse in on each other, once you do enough mindfulness meditation. Like, people don’t have that many different irreconcilable values, so if you have one subagent that’s basically altruistic and one that’s selfish and a third that’s in-between, I’d expect the third one to split itself up and for its respective parts to fuse with your first and second subagents, respectively.

When you do the fusing subagents thing right, it’s sort of like, you realize they were both had the same goals the whole time. Like, a part of you that was in emotional pain was trying to protect you from being hurt, but then you did mindfulness meditation, and came to process through the legit reasons for having that pain, and take their lesson seriously while being able to learn better than them.

Since the stuff in this post is at the cutting edge of where I’m at personally, it’s harder to give advice, but I’d be very careful about just assuming that willpower problems are due to subagents having different values until you’ve been practicing the skills in Part II for a few months. The much more likely explanation, is that you thought you were doing what you wanted, but that you actually need to step back and reassess what it is that you want.

So, to recap: if you’re doing what you want and you suddenly stop having hella willpower anyways, stop and try to see what you really want. Especially if you’re split between altruistic and selfish stuff, I buy that that’s the main or maybe only clash of irreconcilable values that happens in people who have processed through most of their emotions already. If you’re split on what you want to do, don’t try to make explicit compromises between subagents about who gets control of you when (I tried, it always fails), just follow your desire which seems most urgent or powerful.

I get that this post is more poorly-defined than usual, and I definitely need more data points of people who have made it this far and how stuff worked for them, so write in if you have a question on if you’re doing things right.