Legitimacy fee

Earlier this week a friend casually asked: “what does this work mean for you?” I answered: “well, it’s just a job, I trade my labor for money.”

The friend then challenged me: “if what you say is true, why do you seem to do so many things at work for others that are not part of your job description?”

I was stumped—and I could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.


The explanation, it turns out, is that I am paying what I will henceforth call a legitimacy fee.

It goes as follows:

  1. when I am my authentic self, I do not conform to social norms and others reject me: I experience ostracism.
  2. when I mask to hide my abnormality and also perform unasked favors to others, they get “addicted” to my presence: they get free excess value from it and desire more of it due to the benefits it brings them.
  3. after this addiction is in place, I am safe(r) to sometimes drop my mask and be my authentic self: I bought the tolerance of others with excess favors.


In How do we treat unique talents, David nailed it:

The cost of interacting with [the mathematician Paul] Erdős might have been high, but the benefit was that you got to work with Erdős. For many mathematicians, this was obviously a good trade. […] Erdős “got away” with being who he was because interacting with him was so unambiguously worth it. What if it hadn’t been?


This legitimacy fee is expensive for me personally: its cost is near-constant exhaustion.

It stunts my ability to invest in relationships, into hobbies, into family.


The legitimacy fee is also expensive for my allistic co-workers and the entire industry: all the extra labor that I deliver as part of this fee are valuable to the workplace, but it is not compensated.

The net effect is that the overall monetary price of this labor (e.g. per hour) decreases as a result.

By bowing to the necessity to pay this legitimacy fee, I am depressing the wages of everyone else—or setting the expectation that they should work overtime to reach equal compensation.

This creates resentment. I am aware of this dynamic, but what should I do?


In an ideal world, we’d take this to heart (same source as above):

The way we interact with such people is a fascinating exercise in doublethink. “Yes, it’s good that you do these useful things”, we ask, “but couldn’t you do them while also being a good person?”

And the answer is no, they could not, because the thing that makes them useful to us is precisely the thing that causes us to judge them as bad. Achieving the desired outcome ethically is hard, and few people are managing it, so we instead free ride off the bad behaviour of others and judge them for it to feel better about ourselves.

I feel like at a broader level we do the same with the weird. We’ve constructed a civilisation which is happy to take advantage of individual oddities, but is unwilling to support them, and barely willing to tolerate them.


Modern organizations claim that they are committed to “diversity” and equal opportunity. Hypocrisy!

As long as I am under the risk of receiving warnings and threats of contract termination [1] when I do not mask heavily and pay exorbitant legitimacy fees, “commitment to diversity” will mean nothing to me.

[1]it already happened before, and yes I am very resentful about it; this is partly what led me to write autism as disability of trust