Yesterday I wrote a post, which currently stands at negative karma. I still stand by this post. Since it is short, I will quote it before saying what I have to say regarding it.

The Army of Jakoths is riding

They are riding to take your life, and mine

And everything and everyone you ever loved

The Army of Jakoths is a mile from your door

And the only thing your neighbor says is:

«I'm just as likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning

As by the sword of a Jakoth. What a fantasy!»

The Army of Jakoths is here any minute now

What will you do?

So why do I think this post got downvoted? Some reasons: (1) It's short (2) I didn't spell out what I meant (3) It has a "poetic" style, which seems to not be very popular on LW (4) It has a somewhat negative tone (5) Perhaps some people don't think the post adds anything (which would tie in to reason (2))

As far as each of these reasons, I stand by the post as it is written (which is not to say that it couldn't potentially have been optimized to be more likely to receive a non-negative karma, but I had my reasons for not trying doing that; that's a story for another time)

(1) The post is short. Would you rather I have wasted your time by saying more than needed to be said? Shorter is better, authors shouldn't be punished for choosing not to use a thousand words, when what they wanted to say can be said in eighty.

(2) I didn't spell out what I meant. First, I'll note that this isn't without precedent. Consider how Mark describes the way in which Jesus taught:

And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them

Now, he would then spell out to his inner circle what the metaphor means, but in his public discourse he left these metaphors unexplained, leaving it to people's own capacities to understand what was meant; and many of the metaphors that he was recorded as saying, do not have an accompanying explanation that was recorded.

Metaphor is a powerful way of communicating real dynamics. If a dynamic is at play in situation A, it is likely at play in other situations as well.

If •Alice knows that dynamic X is at play in situation B•, but this is not common knowledge; but it is common knowledge that dynamic X is at play in situation A, then it is useful for Alice to use metaphor to communicate this correspondence to Bob.

There are other, more explicit ways of saying this, but metaphor is a valid, widely understood way to say it.

As far as the subject of the metaphor, I expect it is obvious to the vast majority of LW's users what my metaphor is about, and its relevance to topics of interest to LW. But, if you don't understand the metaphor, feel free to DM me, I will be happy to spell it out.

By not explicitly spelling out the metaphor, a speaker encourages the listener to really think about the dynamic at play, which means at the end of the day they have a better ability to apply the same metaphor to other situations, which is valuable. And one you can't figure out what the metaphor is about, then one still has the dynamic that thet can apply to other situations, without having it apply to a situation where one disageees about the metaphor actually applying.

(3) The post has a "poetic" style (I put poetic in quotes, because it's not a poem, but is written with a similar format; I'm not referring to the indirectness of the post here, but e.g. the use of repetition, or the length of the lines.)

I feel poetic style is underappreciated here. Perhaps it's just how our generations relate to poetry (modern poetry tends to be quite bad and cringe, and I don't know many people who are truly inspired by poetry these days), or perhaps it's more specific to rationalist culture.

I guess poetry feels like it's trying to win points by using aesthetics that have nothing to do with the content and quality of the ideas, which makes it lower-status in a context where the quality of ideas is supposed to be the central factor. (To be clear "trying to win points" is not why I use 'poetic' style. I just enjoy writing that way).

But I will say, there's an underappreciated rationalist dynamic at play with poetry (not necessarily with this post):

People have a tendency to be dishonest, either by lying or withholding information. But the constraints of poetry, including meter, rhyme, and alliteration (and maybe even some of the stylistic choices present in the post I wrote) make it harder for you to say •the exact words you would want to say•, and force you to say it some other way. And because it's computationally costly to figure out how to say things within poetic constraints (and humans do not have unlimited computational power), it's harder to figure out how to say things without letting slip some information you'd have wanted to withhold or be dishonest about. This means the probability of •a piece of information which is disadvantageous to the speaker• being spoken is higher, which makes it •both epistemically and instrumentally rationally advantageous• to pay attention to poetry as a signal about reality. (If you don't find what I just said compelling, you probably have a much lower estimate of how much disinformation is in the world than I do; and I'd wager that my estimate is more correct)

(4) The post has a somewhat negative tone. If you know what the metaphor is about, then you likely know that the negative tone of the post is justified, since it mirrors the situation the metaphor is about.

(5) Perhaps some people don't think the post adds anything. I feel the post adds at least two things: 1) it adds a metaphor that is currently my best way of explaining an important facet of the current situation 2) it points out a silly thing that people are saying in regards to the thing that the Jakoths are a metaphor for.

«I'm just as likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning, as by the sword of a Jakoth. What a fantasy!» closely corresponds to what someone told me in the past week when I was discussing this topic (they said a meteor, not a lightning bolt; but a meteor doing what was done to the dinosaurs is even rarer than people being hit by lightning), and I have heard a similar sentiment expressed multiple times before. The post certainly doesn't debunk this misconception, but the metaphor helps illuminate the silliness of what they are saying.

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I don't think the post helps to illuminate the silliness of the naysayers at all.

The naysayers are saying things like "That isn't an army, it's a child's collection of toy soldiers", which in the case of an alleged army is either visibly right or visibly wrong, but in the case we're actually interested in it's not so obvious whether they're right.

And they're saying things like "You've been saying for the last ten years that the army is just around the corner, and we keep not getting murdered by Jakoths. I don't see this alleged army that's about to kill us.", which again in the case of an actual army alleged to be a mile away is pretty easy to evaluate; not so much in our case.

In the metaphorical scenario where we're dealing with an army allegedly just a mile away, everyone would be able to tell whether the claim is true or not, and everyone would agree that an army a mile away is a threat. Someone saying "I'm more likely to be struck by lightning" is either obviously right or obviously wrong. None of that applies to the real-world thing you're gesturing towards.

It tries to look like poetry, but is not a good poetry, IMHO.

This is indeed what I said in the post:

I put poetic in quotes, because it's not a poem, but is written with a similar format

People have a tendency to be dishonest, either by lying or withholding information. But the constraints of poetry, including meter, rhyme, and alliteration (and maybe even some of the stylistic choices present in the post I wrote) make it harder for you to say •the exact words you would want to say•, and force you to say it some other way. And because it's computationally costly to figure out how to say things within poetic constraints (and humans do not have unlimited computational power), it's harder to figure out how to say things without letting slip some information you'd have wanted to withhold or be dishonest about. This means the probability of •a piece of information which is disadvantageous to the speaker• being spoken is higher, which makes it •both epistemically and instrumentally rationally advantageous• to pay attention to poetry as a signal about reality. (If you don't find what I just said compelling, you probably have a much lower estimate of how much disinformation is in the world than I do; and I'd wager that my estimate is more correct)

You seem to imply that things that are true are easier to write than things that are false. 

I don't see why this would be true, and you don't justify it either. Some wrong theories are very easy to write/say, while the much more complex reality would require a long explanation.

(2) I didn't spell out what I meant. First, I'll note that this isn't without precedent. Consider how Mark describes the way in which Jesus taught:

Are you arguing that the precedent of doing things like Jesus supposedly did should be guiding for a rationality forum like LessWrong?

So why do I think this post got downvoted?

The key reason is that its reader didn't find it valuable. To get upvoted you need to write posts that readers find valuable. 

True[1] but unhelpful, like "your party lost the election because people didn't vote for it" and "this species was evolutionarily successful because organisms of this species produced plenty of descendants-of-descendants-of-descendants". I'm not very convinced by MikkW's list of possible issues, but at least it makes some attempt to engage with why readers didn't find the post valuable.

[1] Or at least true-ish. Some posts might get downvoted by, e.g., politically motivated people who downvote everything that looks like it disagrees with their politics, and a sufficiently determined group of highly-politicized downvoters could wipe out the effect of upvotes from people who found a post helpful. (So far as I know, LW doesn't currently suffer from this specific problem. There might be others of similar shape. I am not claiming that they actually are, just adding a necessary qualification.)

but at least it makes some attempt to engage with why readers didn't find the post valuable.

I don't think so. To me, his list sounds like trying to understand reasons why the post is judged negatively. 

People get trained in school and university to write without any considerations for whether or not their writing is valuable and get graded in a way that's independent of the value provided by an essay. The essay gets read by the teacher because the teacher is paid to read it and not because it provides them with other value. 

On the other hand, when writing posts on LessWrong it matters whether or not the reader gets value from reading it. 

 Larry McEnerney does a good job at laying out the difference:

I'm not very convinced by MikkW's list of possible issues, but at least it makes some attempt to engage with why readers didn't find the post valuable.

I would be interested to hear if there are any issues with the «Army of Jakoths» post that I didn't identify here

A few that come to mind. I'm describing rather than endorsing here but these are all issues that I think it would be at least reasonable for a reader to have.

  • "It's just not very well written". A reader might have no problem with poetic or pseudopoetic style but might think you haven't done a good job. (Cf. Viliam's comment.)
  • "Specifically, it's trying to look like poetry without in any useful sense being poetry". (Cf. Viliam's comment, again.)
  • "It's making an analogy but the analogy isn't actually a good match". (E.g., because, as I pointed out in a comment, it's not so hard to tell whether there's an actual invading army that's about to loot your home and massacre your family. Or because it conflates hostility with indifference and one might reasonably feel differently about someone who hates you and wants you dead, versus someone/something that has merely noticed that "you are used of atoms it can use for something else".)
  • "The foolish neighbour is a straw man". A reader might consider that AI doom naysayers typically have less silly things to say than just "it's absurdly improbable". (I have less sympathy for this one than for the others, because I do frequently hear people dismissing AI doom on grounds I can't distinguish from "this obviously seems silly to me".)
  • "It's incorrectly written". (Complaining about punctuation and grammar.)

A general pattern here: you listed a number of issues and it seems like you conspicuously avoided ones of the form "readers found the post to be of low quality", as opposed to "readers had an irrational dislike to one of the reasonable stylistic choices made in writing the post".