The Maximum Vindictiveness Strategy
I’ve recently been thinking about what the appropriate response to someone fucking with you should be.
On the one hand, you have the “roll over and submit” strategy, favored by, for instance, Scott Aaronson, being apologetic even after being trod over, or by Aaron Schwartz killing himself. On the other extreme, you have the “maximum vindictiveness strategy”, implemented by, for instance, Peter Thiel, who—acting within the bounds of legality—utterly destroyed Gawker.
In the middle you’d have Scott Alexander, which didn’t react quite so passively to Cade Metz threatening to dox him. Scott Alexander wrote about his plight, deleted his blog, and drove some proportion of the rationalist/EA spheres to unsubscribe from the NYT, but stopped far from the maximum legally allowed amount of vindictiveness. For instance, he could have created a cademetzisanasshole.com page, or publicly warned people from taking interviews with him, etc.
One consideration here is that:
- Implementing the maximum vindictiveness strategy could dissuade malicious actors from targetting you
- But it has a cost once you are targetted: Peter Thiel could just hire some really badass lawyers, but for me to have a close to comparable effect, I’d have to spend 5-10% of my hours awake implementing revenge.
Ultimately, I think that I am the sort of person that would choose the maximum vindictiveness response when the dice rolls that way. In particular, because of its cost after-the-fact, maximum vindictiveness is probably an under-provided public good.