Moved from Moloch's Toolbox: Discussion re style of latest Eliezer sequence

by habryka2 min read5th Nov 20171 comment


Writing (communication method)Distillation & Pedagogy
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Habryka: I considered moving this thread to meta, since I think it's highest value to separate the presentational conversation from the object-level conversation. I asked Hypothesis whether he would be fine with it, he said yes, and seemed to be more on board after I pointed out that Eliezer does in fact have an editor.

Comment by Hypothesis on Moloch's Toolbox:

Eliezer, this might come off as just another one of those five hundred screaming indignant people unreasonably asking for your assistance, but please listen to me.

Get an editor. Get a steely eyed, combative editor that will prevent you from putting sentences like this into your writing:

And if I named more than three supercategories, you wouldn’t be able to remember them due to computational limitations (which aren’t on the list anywhere, and I’m not going to add them).

Right now, this post is a beautiful esoteric summary of some of the most wrong things in the world, the forces and factors behind the civilizational Alzheimer's which seems to progress continually. A disease that steamrolls fake tanned demagogues who are barely even capable of understanding the horror of what they're up against. And with it you're preaching to the choir, the people who need to hear your message are not the ones you'll reach with these essays.

I do not have a baby that is dying because doctors can't buy the right formula. I am not on the committee of a central bank. Your post seems to be written to me but also tells me I am not in a position to fix the problems you outline. I detect a hint of the sentiment in John 15:19:

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.

And that's strange to me. You previously wrote that rationality is systemized winning, but then shy away from acknowledging the world comes as it is and must be fought in some way on its terms.

If you think every institution is locked into stupid incentives and the only thing that sometimes gets stuff changed is public outrage, well I'm not the one that controls that. And your writing isn't targeted at the people who are, in fact I'm not sure who it's targeted at besides maybe someone who already understands the situation. The people who control this world are of the world Eliezer, and if you want to appeal to them you must write in some kind of language they can understand. I would feel uncomfortable sharing this essay with an intelligent friend because it's just inscrutable unless you already have a fairly decent grasp of what it's trying to convey. I sincerely believe what you're writing about is the most important thing in the world, and it'll all be a waste unless you write it differently.


Raemon: I used to think approximately this (i.e. "why can't we just have the Sequences without Eliezer saying all the sorts of things he says that annoy people").

This still might be the right call but I'm a lot less sure of it. The Eliezer-things-that-Annoy-people are part of an overall package that makes it more evocative, which makes it a) appeal to certain types of people, b) by being somewhat controversial, reach more people (sometimes by highly appealing to certain subsections of the population, sometimes by people responding negatively to it which also attracts more attention.

Eliezer has not written the most reasonable sounding things that I've read, but the most reasonable sounding things that I've read are not as popular.

Insofar as we need versions of Eliezer-things that don't turn off people the way his style turns some people off, the solution is not just editing those things out, but replacing them with a whole differentstyle that a different set of people will love and hate.

Habryka: (posted here from a private chat with Hypothesis after he asked me what I thought about the content of the above comment, crossposted by request of Hypothesis)

Eliezer's stuff is fairly heavily edited. And I am generally quite happy with his edits.

And his writing style has also proven to be very popular, so I don't think naive optimization is going to get you many places.

Since I don't share the emotional experience of finding the writing confusing or esoteric, it doesn't really resonate with me. The section you highlighted was actually one of my favorite sentences out of the whole post.

(clarification: By Eliezer's stuff I mean specifically this sequence. In general I don't think his stuff goes through that much additional editing, which I think is mostly good)

(Response to Habryka) FeepingCreature:

Yeah but you're preselected.

The relevant question if you think this content is important is - what prevents it from spreading to the people who need to hear it? I think style is a heavy part of that.

Rob Bensinger:

If you think every institution is locked into stupid incentives and the only thing that sometimes gets stuff changed is public outrage

Why do you think Eliezer thinks this? Lots of things change the world other than public outrage.

(Response to Rob Bensinger) Hypothesis:

I'll be completely honest and admit that the post was too hard for me to parse complete meaning from, so I guessed.


I endorse and second this sentiment.


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I interpret the Inadequate Equilibrium as being a long-form of defining the problem.

Now that we have a larger and more stable community with shared information, it seems like a good time to go back to fundamental motivations and take advantage of the higher sanity waterline. It is not preaching to the choir so much as to other preachers.

I fully expect we will do this dance yet again, once we get enough progress that it seems worthwhile. Each time, it will target the community using the tools the community has developed.