25 September, 2020

Thirteen Years on Reddit

Ace cake by MJ Buell.

Today is my cake day. I joined reddit 13 years ago, only a few months after Conde Nast bought it from the original founders.

At the time, I was a webmaster and I joined reddit because I wanted to experiment with how marketing on reddit affected web traffic. I wrote a couple of trash articles that I knew would not be popular on my own and then posted links to them on reddit using a few different accounts. In one, I just posted a link that copied the bland title. In another, I posted the link alongside a catchy title. In the last, I posted the link with a fake (but catchy) title that had nothing to do with the blogpost. As you might expect, the second approach worked best, and I used this completely nonscientific experiment as the basis for chapter 4 in an ebook I wrote back then about Email & Social Marketing.

Although my purpose for joining reddit ended after only a month, I stayed and became a regular redditor, like everyone else. I only ever upvoted the stuff I really liked, so it’s been interesting going back in my own history to see what I liked throughout the years. I feel like I’ve changed as a person so very much in the past 13 years.

Thirteen years ago is a long time ago. 2007 was the year that the iPhone was introduced. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the house that year. Tumblr was launched. Mauritania became the last country on earth to officially criminalize slavery. Words like “hashtag”, “netbook”, “retweet”, “Latinx”, “coworking”, “crowdfunding”, and “colony collapse disorder” were added to the dictionary. Trump was on Wrestlemania.

Thirteen years is a long time to be doing anything. When I was 13, my first sister was born. For a long time afterward I still considered myself basically an only child because I never had a sibling my age. The group I most identify with, Effective Altruism, is not yet even 13 years old. Thirteen years is longer than most people spend in primary education. I’ve been on reddit for a very long time.

And yet, in all these thirteen years, this is the first time I’ve remembered to post on my cake day.

21 September, 2020

Killer Queen Black

My first KQB (casual) tournament win.
Yesterday, my team, Eezy Beezy KG, won the Killer Queen Black weekend event. It was quite exciting -- although I can't help but to feel as though I was carried through most of the matches. Our queen, Matt "KG28", is among the best queens in the game, and so it isn't hard to see why I may feel this way. The event was a draft; I was, understandably, picked dead last. I really enjoyed the experience. Our run was livestreamed on Twitch.

Katherine's first KQB win.
The KQB community is relatively small. Katherine has said that she thinks she knows at least half of the KQB players that are on discord at the acquaintance level. I don't play enough to know that many, but her claim is easily believable given how many of the same people I keep seeing show up in the discord. (Later, KQB will be launching on Xbox Game Pass, which I expect will dramatically increase the player count. But, until then, it still feels like a manageable playerpool.)

Katherine has played this game significantly more than I have and is rated 200 ELO points above me. She's also won a draft weekend event, but, even more impressively, she won second place in a solo weekend event, repeatedly winning with different teammates in every game. I'm looking forward to seeing what IGL team picks her up for the fall circuit 2020.

It feels really nice to play in a community like this. I haven't enjoyed a truly competitive game like this since StarCraft, and this has the added bonus of being team-based. It's a game of skill and strategy, but unlike most other competitive games, it's also a game of attention. Knowing when and where to put your attention is as important as being able to platform well, dodge opponents, and hold parts of the map.

highly recommend the game to anyone who wants to seriously compete. The only warning I'll give is that it's notoriously difficult to play as the queen, rather than as a worker. If you're a beginner queen, you really need to train with people on discord first before playing in ranked. This was a tough start for me and my friends; when we got the game, we would queue in ranked as a four person beginner team and we would rotate as queen each game. It was a terribly demoralizing way of starting the game, and I almost feel like the game itself should disincentivize you from starting the game by playing in the way that we did.

If you're interested, here're all the links you need. The most important ones are the link to purchase the game and kqbdiscord.com, which lets you interact with the greater community. If one of my friends decides to play KQB, please let me know! I'd be glad to team up with you for some games. (c:

17 September, 2020


I laughed and cried when I was young. I have no reason to think that I had any less emotion than other children at that age. But at some point in my young adult life, I got it into my head that I could suppress the outer trappings of emotion -- the frowns or smiles, the laughs or tears -- and over time that outer suppression affected (or at least seemed to affect) my own inner feelings.

There was a period of about fifteen years or so where I'm not sure that I laughed or cried at all. Not just outwardly, but on the inside, too. Sure, I smiled at times, but only, I think, on purpose, to fit in, to seem like I was a part of the group. Did I do this to myself? Maybe. But I can't help but feel, after listening to others talk about their emotional lives, that there had to be some sort of natural low-emotion state that I was in in the first place, if I were able to so dramatically suppress certain emotions so easily for so long.

One of the reasons that I fell in love with My Little Pony (G4 FiM) was that its episodes taught me to feel again. I remember sitting there, deeply depressed, turning on those first few episodes and learning, perhaps despite myself, about what it really meant to be a good friend.

I was lying on the couch when I first watched Arrested Development. I don't know which joke it was, but at some point halfway through the first episode, I laughed. --and it was.... I think I missed the rest of the episode, not really paying attention to it anymore. Instead, I was in my own head, thinking and wondering if this really was the first time I'd spontaneously laughed in the last decade and a half. By the time I watched Community later that year, I found myself perfectly able to enjoy laughing at what I felt was funny, without needing to go through all that self-reflection.

Fiction has been especially impactful for me recently. I've found myself crying during shows, crying after reading reddit posts, crying at story beats in my video games. I don't know what caused the changes. I don't think I'd been intentionally suppressing emotions all those years; it just became unintentional habit. But now I seem to be making up for lost time? Or maybe they're hormonal changes after my recent medical issues. It's hard to say.

I'm just glad that I'm experiencing these emotions more fully now. Maybe I'm not nearly as far on the sociopathic spectrum as the PCL-R would have me believe.

(Writing this post reminds me of The Drought, except I think I'm being more honest here than I was there. If I had to rewrite that piece, I'm not sure that it would even make sense to publish it after all the corrections.)

09 September, 2020

Donning a Mask

When I go walking, I bring a mask with me, but I don't actually put it on. My walks generally take place around 3:30 a.m. and the only beings I tend to meet during these walks are the occasional deer or rabbit. But I keep it at hand in case I do run into another human.

Gogo, mimic.

At home, I'm always maskless. When I visit family, I wear a face shield when people are close and nothing when people are further away. (It's a pretty weak face shield, but it just feels too cumbersome to wear a full mask around family members who've promised me that they've been careful due to my recent health problems.)

I never spend time in public anymore. I haven't gone to a store of any kind since March. The only exceptions would be the drive through pharmacy runs that I've done occasionally. All our groceries are delivered. I've been buying anything that needs to be bought almost entirely through Amazon.

So far, our household has remained COVID-19 free.

But when it comes to my online presence, I haven't worn a mask in nearly thirty years. When I was young, I was a serial liar. I lied for the fun of it, just to see what people would believe. I'm not proud of how I acted in those days. It was especially bad in my online life. To strangers, to friends I met online, even to an at-the-time minor celebrity (Anthony Bourdain, who hadn't yet become an executive chef and was known then only as a minor author), I lied successfully enough to maintain a variety of relationships indefinitely. Eventually, when I had had enough of these antics, I made a promise to myself that, from then on, anything I did or wrote online would be under my real name. I figured this would help me to act more appropriately.

It helped.

I used "EricHerboso" or "Eric Herboso" almost everywhere, except on dating sites, where I used "EricJHerboso" instead to deter them from showing up too high in the search results. (At the time, Google wouldn't return a page with "EricJHerboso" if you searched for "Eric Herboso". This is no longer the case.) I still lied from time to time -- it was a tough habit to break -- but eventually I was able to be proud of the things I said online.

However, after decades of going solely by own name online, I've reached a point where I'm okay with having a small nom de plume. I'm going to restrict its use to writing fiction online, so I won't be tempted to use it in places where I actually participate in open discourse online, like on reddit, wikipedia, or on the effective altruism forum. But I've been wanting to publish some light rational fiction, and I think using a pen name for that purpose (and that purpose alone) will be fine.

I guess saying that I'm doing this on my public blog is my way of justifying breaking that initial promise I made to myself more than twenty-five years ago.

01 September, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance

It is perhaps the worst feeling I have ever felt. Constantly reviewing my own thoughts, balancing the requirements of those I call friends against the tenets of the enlightenment spirit that I have so long held dear. I feel...so wrong. I have cognitive dissonance.

Yesterday I experienced the most embarrassing moment of my life thus far. It was during a board meeting, where we were discussing the medium- to long-term strategic plan of the organization. I was already feeling uneasy due to both personal and medical issues preceding the call. Suddenly, right when I was in the middle of explaining something, my mind went blank. I faltered, mid-explanation, and just couldn't go on. It was horribly embarrassing.

And yet it isn't the most horrible feeling I've ever had. As embarrassing as breaking down mid-explanation in the middle of an important board meeting was, it is nothing when compared to the cognitive dissonance that constantly barrages my inner self. I loathe feeling this way. Yet it isn't going away.

On the one hand, we have a terrible miscarriage of justice. People of the global majority are held back in so many ways, and we must do something to stop it. This is completely and utterly true; I have no doubt on this issue.

However, it is not enough to say that something is wrong, that something is unfair, that something is a travesty, and that it should be changed. There is also the issue of triage.

One of the tenets of effective altruism is the concept of not just doing good whenever possible, but discriminating which actions should be taken so that we accomplish the most good. Sometimes, this means that we consciously choose to allow some to be hurt, so long as it helps substantively more in the long term. Sometimes it means that we sacrifice some good now in order to create far more good in the long term. Sometimes it means staying in Omelas, not because we are callous, but because Omelas is not a minor village, but instead a collection of individuals so large that it perpetually overwhelms any considerations of what is going on in the village center.

I believe that the benefit of better taste from a burger is not worth the harm done to a cow by harming it. Yet when Burger King, a fast food restaurant who is responsible for harming many, many cows decided to sell non-meat patties several years ago, I was ecstatic. I gave them patronage many times, and I encouraged others to try out their veggie patty. I did this knowing full well that they still harmed many, many cows -- but I was nonetheless outrageously happy that they were making it easier for people to abstain from meat and still be able to eat fast food. They were making it easier for people to eat less meat, which I felt would, in the long term, help to reduce overall suffering. When impossible burgers came out, I went even more gung-ho, taking many friends and family to Red Robin and to Founding Farmers, so that they could see it become even more normalized. It's been fifteen years since I stopped eating meat, and these outreach efforts have caused at least three others to go vegan and many, many more to eat substantially less meat.

I suppose that if I knew the cow hurt by Burger King, I might not make this decision to be happy with Burger King so easily. There's something about the fact that I don't really empathize with such an individual cow that makes it easier for me to say: I care about reducing suffering in the long term, and so I'm happy with Burger King introducing a veggie patty, since it accomplishes this, even while they still are directly responsible for killing many, many cows. I can know what the right thing to do is, even while I may feel not that great about supporting what amounts to a murderous company in my eyes. But this cognitive dissonance is very light. No matter the emotion involved, I know that it is worth it in the end, and so the dissonance does not bother me very much.

Then I read White Fragility, and I just feel wrong. The author even predicts that we will feel wrong, and points out that this is the titular situation itself: they claim that because I feel this way, it proves the thesis. And I don't think this is wrong, exactly. It's true that racism is everywhere, including in me. I can even cite specific racist situations in my own life where I've taken conscious action to ensure that my actions didn't unfairly prejudice others. It takes active, concerted effort to be antiracist.

But... it feels very weird to take a just-so explanation so seriously. It feels extraordinarily improper to take what amounts to be an unfalsifiable thesis as though it had to be true. It really, really bothers me that one of the main tenets of this movement is that intent is not as important as effect, and so it is improper to use the principle of charity when interpreting others' comments. Sure, it remains obvious that effect matters more when people take action. But my feelings about the core ideas of the enlightenment spirit -- open discussion, free speech, believing ideas based on evidence -- clash so strongly with the precepts held by so many advocates today. A part of me feels like I know that we have to have fair, open discussion, and so that means we have to have spaces where it is not improper to look at ideas that make us uncomfortable. And so I think, perhaps mistakenly (hence the cognitive dissonance), that we should allow space for this kind of thinking within the effective altruism movement. I don't want ideas to be verboten there; I'd much rather stomp out the racism by proving its worthlessness with open debate.

And then I turn my head behind me, and I see my friends of the global majority. They appear deflated. Beaten down. Just reading a facebook discussion where people question these things takes the energy completely out of them. They are tired. They are exhausted from dealing with uncharitable racists so often that they can no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. They continually have to take up the burden, and it hurts them. And I realize: these speech acts hurt. My beliefs in free speech, in open discussion of alternative ideals, in debate and the presentation of evidence being the ultimate arbiter of what we should agree to as truth... These things hurt my friends. And I am torn.

Because on the one side, I still really do believe in the ideals of the enlightenment. Yet I also simultaneously cannot deny that allowing free open debate unambiguously causes extreme harm to my friends. And thus the cognitive dissonance.

I don't know if the Burger King analogy holds here. In a way, it is like knowing that their introducing a veggie patty is good, and simultaneously turning to see my cow friend get brutally slaughtered by an agent of Burger King. Is this what I am feeling? Do I know that open discussion of ideas is best, and yet I falter just because I happen to know these cows? Is it because I have friends that are black, and pakistani, and native, and hispanic? Is it just that I can turn my head and see their faces that I have this feeling of cognitive dissonance?

Or is it the opposite? The position taken in White Fragility is unfalsifiable. But it is also true. I know it. You know it. All educated people know it. You can't stay neutral on a moving train. It's undeniable. And so maybe it is my faith in logic itself that is being shaken here. The author of How to be an Antiracist says that these actions we are all taking are either racist or they are antiracist. The author of White Fragility says that even if we rail against their conclusions, this just proves them correct. Anyone well versed in philosophical argument will know that these arguments are by no means fool-proof. They don't have rigor. And yet: they are nevertheless convincing because they are right.

I know that my friends are hurt by the open discussion of ideas. So where does that leave my strong belief in free speech? So far, neither side of me has toppled the other. And so I have extreme cognitive dissonance. It hurts. When I speak up in favor of free speech, I feel horrible. Because the people hurt by it are my true and genuine friends. And when I speak up in favor of limiting free speech, I feel horrible. Because I can't help but to feel like the best way to stop hatred in the long term is to openly show how utterly stupid it is. But then I look at social media. I look at Chapelle canceling his show because actual racists weren't taking his humor as enlightening, but as evidence that their inner racist feelings are correct. I look at a police chief stating that we need to warehouse black people to stop them from breeding, who claims that he's tired of hiding the feelings that he thinks all true americans have inside but which aren't openly said because everyone feels they have to be politically correct. Free speech ain't working. These people are not being shamed into being less racist. They only hid their racism to fit in -- up until Trump was elected, and now they're coming out of the woodwork. The enlightenment ideals I have held so dear for so long... is it possible that the pendulum has swung so far into the direction of hatred that it actually would make sense to ban open discussion of these ideas in EA spaces?

This is, by far, the worst feeling I have ever had. It is far, far worse than the feeling of embarrassment I had yesterday when I froze mid-explanation during a board meeting and had to just abandon the floor. And that was the most embarrassing incident of my entire life.