Horrible Stories from Ray, Part 1

Ray is my nearest homeless neighbor, who I sometimes bring food and talk to. Ray tells me lots of stories (and has given me permission to share them here), but today was the most horrifying. To explain why, I have to explain a hierarchy of badness.

First are the stories of things people do for other reasons that happen to hurt him, like the street cleaning chemicals. No one is trying to hurt him, it’s just that they want the other thing more than they want him not hurt, or haven’t thought of him at all.

Second are the spontaneously malicious. His tent has been destroyed repeatedly. People fuck up his stuff a lot. Obviously this is terrible, but at least it’s running on id.

What he told me tonight are stories from the third category, the planned malicious. For example, someone gave him a bag of fried prawns, and mixed in fried feeder mice. That means the someone, somewhere, went and bought mice (or maybe had them around for their snake), went through the trouble to deep fry them, spent money on prawns, mixed them in, and then went looking for someone to accept them. Another person sliced up raw chicken to imitate sashimi and gave it to him in udon.  How terrible a person do you have to be to not, at any point in that process, stop and decide not to? Planned evil is so much worse than spontaneous evil.

5 thoughts on “Horrible Stories from Ray, Part 1”

  1. Having spent some time talking to homeless people, I default to taking their stories with a grain of salt. I’d consider alternate explanations for some of these. Perhaps someone gave Ray expired sashimi and he tasted it and thought it was raw chicken. If the story is true as he told it, maybe a restaurant owner didn’t like Ray hanging around outside their restaurant and was trying to get him to go away, e.g. by making him sick.

    In my experience, street people tend to be confident in their stories and explanations, even those that seem quite implausible. Sometimes they don’t even have a sense for why I would find their stories surprising. (“McDonald’s stores your laptop so you can use it whenever you go there? Really?”)

    One street person confidently told me that a lady in a shelter who kept repeating the same phrase over and over was part of a government plot.

    Another claimed to be an ex-academic who had solved an important open problem, but his solution had never been recognized by his colleagues. I would guess there were elements of truth to his story, but also some delusions of grandeur. He also suggested that he had learned some kind of spooky extradimensional information while on drugs, but acknowledge that the involvement of drugs meant the info was “deniable”. I got the impression that he was deliberately describing his experience in a mysterious way to get me asking questions about it.

    Maybe street life interprets uncertainty as a sign of weakness. Or maybe mental health is a high leverage intervention here. Probably moreso for the long-term homeless, or people who are homeless in areas where housing costs are low.

    1. It’s worth generalizing this point beyond homeless people: upper-middle-class people with jobs, houses, &c. might also be deeply confused and overconfident about the true causal explanations for some of their experiences. Psychology is about invalidating people’s identities, but you want to apply your skepticism of people’s narratives fairly (in accordance with all the evidence you have), not just against people who are lower-status than you.

      I, um, definitely do not recommend this, but having a severe mental health crisis of your own (in my case, from sleep deprivation) can be a very educational experience for helping distinguish what kinds of skepticism are justified, as you’re forced to cope with other people’s unjustified skepticism of your self-reports (after having been placed in the low-status social role of “crazy person”), while simultaneously having reasons to doubt your own thoughts, because (e.g.) sleep deprivation actually does mess with your perception and reasoning.

      A simple example: while in a “mentally-ill, paranoid” mental state and failing to find an item, one might be much more inclined than a “normal, sane” person to hypothesize that the item has been stolen, but an alternative hypothesis is that you simply misplaced the item and forgot where you put it. I think we don’t want to say that the “crazy” person is simply wrong on account of being crazy and the “sane” person is simply right, because theft and misplacement are both things that actually happened with missing items in the real world with some frequency.

      Rather, both mental states generate different anticipations of experience, and they should be scored based on the (logarithm of the) probability they assign to the correct answer. (And mind-states that predict theft will be better adapted to social environments with more theft!)

  2. Which is more likely:
    A: Somebody paid for mice, and prawns, probably from a separate location, has access to a deep fryer also probably unlikely to be where the prawns or mice came from if he’s cooking the mice (risking his job at a nearby fast food place where he can be traced back to by Ray/cops, or else improbably having extra accomplices willing to risk their jobs to cook mice?). He not only was evil enough to invent and then pursue such a plan unprovoked, but thought it a superior plan to the numerous alternatives, despite such obvious failure modes as being chased immediately after, recognized in future, or described to the police, and the fact that this slow plan (too slow and premeditated to do with buddies on a whim while drunk) would still be worthwhile even when the reaction couldn’t be observed. This improbable event happened not only to the very first randomly-chosen homeless guy you found, but a second time to the same victim! Either by a criminal quite dedicated to meat fraud (yet conveniently going unrecognized repeatedly), or else by a second improbable sadist living in such close proximity that there must be a national epidemic of this particular crime, yet the media is ravenous for such stories and we hear nothing.
    or,
    B: the homeless guy is delusional/lying to encourage your naive charity

    The fact that you provided no evidence, nor even any indication that you’d doubted him is also significant; if you aren’t inexplicably leaving the proof out of your post I would put the probability of A at less than 1%.

    This is “bubble” level trust, in need of major recalibration before you take any more self-sacrificing actions related to Ray or homeless people, or anything similar, but I look forward to Part 2 where Ray reveals his solution to the Fermi paradox by describing his encounter with those aliens who use the anal probes

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