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You Don't Matter

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

You don't matter. This should be entirely clear, yet I don't believe people actually get some of the implications of this idea. Your ideas aren't real. This, too, is something that everyone intuitively understands yet in practice seems to be not further extrapolated on. In this blog post I attempt to explain peoples' impact on the world, and peoples' ideas as it pertains to greater society. Note that I talk about my progressive culture because that is what I know. This is almost certainly the case (maybe even moreso) for other cultures around the world.

1.1. Morality is a Spook

People in my progressive culture are pretty quick to realize that their sense of morality is not "real", and that peoples' moral sensibilities may not always be in line with other people. In other words, it seems perfectly acceptable to say that morality is subjective, or that in some sense it does not pertain to the real world, and it is made up by people. This is a statement which seems to be true from an empirical standpoint, and even if you don't agree that it is, there seems to be truth in the statement seeing as how the term morality would seem to have no meaning without conscious beings, or, depending on your outlook on animals, morality would seem to be a useless term without humans.

Now, if you're a progressive and don't "believe in" any particular god, this subjective sense of morality seems to be quite viable. Given that morality is not real, it is still true that people in general have some in-built goals or desires. Now the question to what you "should do" in life remains clear. It seems perfectly clear that from your perspective, your goal in life is to try to achieve some in-built goals or desires. This could include being conventionally moral, or it could not. In either case, you decide.

Said in-built goals or desires are not permanently fixed. You can start caring about more things, or stop caring about other things. In other words, giving up on a goal achieves the same effect as achieving said goal with respect to fulfilling all your desires. In this sense, one should evaluate all goals as a cost-benefit analysis of giving up on them versus actually working on them and achieving them. In the future, when I tell you, the reader, that you "should do x", it is in this sense I mean it. I mean that it is likely that if you do the cost-benefit analysis for your own goals, it is probable that x will achieve your goals, either by way of giving up or by otherwise changing your circumstance, in the most "painless" way possible (takes the least time, least effort, basically the most efficient way to get to where you want to be). In this sense, "should" is highly tied to prescription which is tied to moral outlook (you "should" do x if and only if it is moral to do x, and it is moral to do x if and only if it is efficient towards the goal of achieving your needs). Let's take this idea and expand on it in several practical examples.

1.2. Your Ideas Aren't Real

Think about democracy. Is it a system which is moral in and of itself, or is it a system which is used to achieve some objectives? Many people would say the first, except if you take the previous section as fact it seems wildly incoherent to say that some idea, democracy, can have any inherent moral worth at all. Instead, it seems plausible to assume that what we mean by some statement like, "democracy is moral", is actually a proxy for some sort of cost-benefit analysis of the pros and cons of democracy existing totaling to it being a pro. Now let me ask a pretty obvious question: if you're an individual person, what does weighing the pros and cons of a system mean? Of course, the individual need not consider systems in order to simply achieve their goals in most cases, it is sufficient to just focus on your own life.

You could say you're weighing the pros and cons with respect to society. Okay, depending on your definition of society, it seems as though the definition of a statement like, "democracy is moral" has restored its meaning. Yet, I can point out something else that seems pretty obvious to say, which is that you are not society. In fact, you have little to no influence over broader society, and you make no significant portion of society. You may have friends that you can count on, as well as a family, but democracy is an idea that pertains, in many cases, to nation states.

Your ultimate goal in life could be that you want to influence society as much as possible. I am telling you that it shouldn't be. That is to say, it is a lot easier to have influence over your own actions than influence over society, so it is easier to give up on that ambition than to actually satisfy that ambition (I would argue that this is unambiguously true in almost all circumstances). If you're not convinced, there are most likely a couple million people in your society, and you're only one of them. The empirical probability that those millions of people should listen to you either directly or indirectly is objectively low (drops off proportional to 1/n), else you are delusional.

So to recap, what does it mean to make a statement such as, "democracy is moral"? Well, it seems logical that it means something like, "it is better on average for society to have democracy than to not, weighing the pros and cons". Yet, this kind of statement is useless to say for nearly every individual who says it, if it isn't said for fun or for some goal which you should probably give up on anyways. Speaking of democracy, let's run a social experiment.

1.3. The Democracy Experiment

The gain of voting in an n player game involving two candidates and popular vote drops off at 1/n, but the time it takes to be informed and vote has a constant value. The decisions of individuals in this game most likely, in real life, at most influence the decision making of one or two other people (in total, from the whole chain reaction), so the effect of influence is not very significant (so you can't argue that you have an influence over the crowd to vote, because you don't). Given all these conditions, for a large n, voting should not be worth it for most people, because the choice of you voting is independent of everyone else voting. You voting or not voting has no bearing over the crowd. Yet, the common retort is, "if everyone thought like you…". This logic is dead on arrival, because not everyone's going to think like you. The character of the system is that other people irrationally vote regardless of if you do, and your decision to vote or not vote has no bearing over the crowd voting or not voting.

This simple fact is what I call IEEDI (if everyone else did it) syndrome; people are quick to conform rather than think about the personal cost-benefit analysis, even if the logic stops working for large societies.

1.3.1. Activism

Activism is another example of IEEDI syndrome where people irrationally calculate the cost-benefit analysis of going to protests, divesting, engaging in violence, etc… and go along with the crowd, even if it does not benefit them. Again, it is much easier to give up on the ambition of doing activism rather than incurring all the costs of doing activism, most likely. "If everyone thought like you, nothing would change" is another instance of IEEDI. You have no control over what others think.

1.4. Politics

When people say, "do you think we should do x", it is clear using this analysis that this means something like, "do you think the cost-benefit analysis for society weighs in favor of doing x?". It is worth pointing out whenever someone does this that your opinion on any analysis for broader society doesn't matter, as your opinion cannot change anything. People can get divided over political opinions even though it seems to literally not matter what political opinions you have from an impact perspective (even if someone is literally hitler, they can't do anything to change broader society in practice). One could argue that there are some personality traits that are associated with political opinions. For everyone inside the acceptable range of discourse right now, the personality trait differences are probably really low on average, even though they can be shown to exist. Anyways, if it's really the personality trait differences that matter, it seems irrational to comment on the politics of the person, because it's actually the personality traits that you're filtering for.

That is to say, despite how useless politics is in every day life, people irrationally commit a lot of their personal lives to it and operate suboptimally as a result. This is another case of IEEDI.

1.5. You Don't Matter

Perhaps a common theme in this blog post is that you don't matter. More accurately, you do matter to yourself and people around you, and you should try to maximize your life around that, if that is your goal, because it is an achievable goal. On the other hand, trying to influence society in any way, or treat society as something more real than you, is a lost cause, in the sense that in most cases you should either look to give up on your goals of influencing society, or you are making some category error that I've just demonstrated is irrational given the premises.

Another sense in which you don't matter is the sense in which your identity is malleable. You don't have to care about nearly anything, but there are some things which are hard not to care about, such as the people around you, your own well-being, and maybe one or two divine or ultimate purposes at a given point in time (I personally fulfill this by trying to get people around me and people on the internet to seriously consider opposing viewpoints, which I myself find satisfying). Note that there is nothing wrong with having such a purpose, so long as it is harder to get rid of than to fulfill, or it's just fun. In my case, it is pretty fun to do what I'm doing.

2. Conclusion

Unless you are a millionaire or a billionaire or are doing it for fun, it's pretty hard to have control over millions of other people, so you should probably give up. You don't matter, ideas aren't real, and morality is a spook. And I can't promise you anything: this advice disguised as a rant may help you, or it may hurt you in your case. If it helps you, I also can't promise your situation will become well after you take my advice. I can promise you that you'll start to actually improve your life.

Copyright © 2024 Preston Pan