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fubarobfusco comments on What is Evil about creating House Elves? - Less Wrong

16 [deleted] 13 December 2010 01:57PM

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Comment author: fubarobfusco 13 December 2010 05:39:48PM *  38 points [-]

The evil in creating house-elves is not that they like doing chores -- it is that they suffer and cannot do anything about it.

They are capable of feeling pain (and psychological anguish) but are incapable of defending themselves, avenging wrongs done to them, or even demanding better treatment. They are entirely dependent on specific humans (their house's family) for any happiness or satisfaction they might receive. They do not have the choice of leaving.

As such, they are perfect victims for abusers. Like human abuse victims, they can be provoked to self-blame and self-harm; but they do not (as far as we are told) have even the option of suicide. Their only possible hopes are to be inherited by a kind master or to entirely unintentionally dissatisfy their masters so much that they are freed -- and even this latter appears to cause significant psychological damage in some cases.

Creating house-elves (as they are presented in the novels) is not like creating servile robots. It is not like creating a being that enjoys the thought of being killed and eaten. It is like imbuing a punching-bag with the ability not only to feel pain, but to contemplate the horror of its lot in life.

Comment author: Eneasz 13 December 2010 06:54:57PM 4 points [-]

Huh. This line of thinking hadn't even occurred to me. Very insightful, and it actually changed my mind. I wish I could vote it up more than once.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 December 2010 09:51:01PM *  1 point [-]

Presumably, the mythical sentient pain-feeling creature would merely assign high utility to serving its master. Given enough pain/dis-utility, it would move on to a different master. As long as this were allowed, your horrifying, sentient, pain-feeling punching bag would not arise.

Edit: But I see what you mean: canon house-elves are sentient punching bags.