Unsurprisingly, I was rereading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality on the way back from Bayes Camp (specifically chapters 19 and 20). And, between that and the really bizarre and delightful Olympic opening ceremonies, I ended up wondering whether Canon!Voldemort or HPMOR!Voldemort was scarier.
That’s not the same question as which of them would win in a fight. It’s clearly the HPMOR version. I was wondering which of them would be more terrifying to live in the same world with. When I read Yudkowsky’s fic, the most frightening revelation about his Voldemort occurred at the end of chapter 20. (If you haven’t read the fic, pop off and read up to there, if you have, I’m referring to the thing Quirrelmort did that you probably used to pitch people on the fic).
The revelation I’m referring to (especially paired with the previous chapter) made it clear how terrifying intelligent and creative HPMOR!Voldemort was. Even though the Harry in the fic is fearsomely smart, a bit too ruthless for his own good, and has access to a lot more spheres of knowledge, I finished the chapter wondering how it could ever be possible for Harry to best his teacher.
In contrast, the scariest thing about Canon!Voldemort isn’t an act, it’s a line.
“Kill the spare.”
Canon!Voldemort’s plans and ambitions are a lot more muddled than those of HPMOR!Voldemort. So if your primary goal was self-preservation, you could try to stay out of HPMOR!Voldemort’s way or even be useful to his plans. But this wouldn’t be enough to protect you from Canon!Voldemort, who doesn’t have a clear enough want to stay clear of.
So, is this an endorsement of the crazy Dick Nixon strategy? Would HPMOR!Voldemort be more frightening if he was more erratic? Should he be envious of Canon!Voldemort’s irrationality? Almost certainly not.
HPMOR!Voldemort isn’t optimizing for scariness. After all, getting caught out in a freak storm is scary and you can’t negotiate with the wind, but trying to be a derecho instead of a Dark Lord seems like setting the bar a little low. Canon!Voldemort could be playing his cards right, if he just wants painful death to be slightly harder to avoid, but this seems like a pretty boring goal.
The most disappointing part of book seven (apart from the sudden introduction of three more quest objects, when we’d already had five dropped on us at the end of book six), was that Canon!Voldemort’s terror tactics didn’t seem to be in the service of anything very interesting. The totalitarian Ministry of Magic seems much more aligned with Umbridge’s petty evil than a once in a lifetime figure.
I’m not convinced that HPMOR!Voldemort wants to change the world, instead of just to protect himself from it’s stupidity (it’s possible he doesn’t think it deserves his attention), but if he did, I’d expect that the results would look a lot less like the endgame of every other megalomaniac. (This goes double for the very ambitious HPMOR!Harry).