Drive-By Low-Effort Criticism

by lionhearted 2 min read31st Jul 201961 comments


I'd like to point out a phenomenon that has predictable consequences, that people are seemingly unaware of:

The Drive-By Low-Effort Criticism.

To illustrate, we'll use:

The Relationship Between the Village and the Mission

That was a recent post by Raemon on here that, as far as I can tell, (1) took an incredible amount of work to make, (2) was incredibly pro-social, (3) was incredibly well-intentioned, and (4) is the class of thing that has massively high-upside if it works. It might not work, but it's the type of thing that should be encouraged.

To further break this down, the post was:

-> 5,444 words (!)

-> Deep-linked/cited 26 other posts (!)

-> Had analysis, context, tradeoffs, anticipation of likely questions or objections, actionable ideas, etc

-> Was nicely formatted for readability with headlines, appropriate bold and italics, etc etc.

-> Offered to do real-world things at author's time and expense to improve the real-world rationality community (!!!)

-> It even contained a motherfuckin' Venn diagram (!!!)

In any event, I think we can clearly say it was a high effort post. How many hours did it take? Jeez. More than 2 hours, for sure. More than 5 hours, very likely. More than 10 hours, probably. More than 20 hours? 30? Probably under a hundred hours, but heck, maybe not if you consider all the time thinking about the concepts.

Regardless — hours. Not minutes. High effort.

And this is clearly someone who cares immensely about what he's doing. And it's clearly well-intentioned. And it's humble. And it's... it's just great. Hats off to Raemon.

Now, it might not work. It might be unfeasible. But he's certainly putting in a big effort to see if something good is possible.

What is his top comment? Here's how the first one starts —

[ comment copied from Facebook / I didn't read the full article before making this comment ]
i am somewhat anti-"Mission-centered Village."

Wait, you didn't read the full article before making a drive-by low-effort criticism of the concept?

Okay. Deep breath. What's the second top-level comment?

Here is my brain dump: I have mostly given up on the Berkeley rationality community as a possible village. I think the people who showed up here were mostly selected for being bad at villaging, and that the awful shit that's been happening around here lately is downstream of that.


Raemon spent hours and hours making that post. He's working hard to do it.

The top two ranked replies are... well, that's what they are.

They elaborate a bit more — but even if both comments are correct, you know that has a huge adverse effect on people's willingness to post and contribute ideas, right? Right? You already know that, don't you? Don't you?

I mean, at the risk of overstating the case, I think this sort of behavior borders on criminal.

I know it doesn't feel malevolent, but the predictable end result is getting less contributions like that.

When a person takes a huge amount of time to attempt to make a contribution to a community, I think criticism should spend at least some time getting fully oriented around the idea, understanding and respecting the author's perspective, and looking to engage in dialog that'd be appreciated by the author.

That is, if you care about high-effort thoughtful pro-social contributions.

The Drive-By Low-Effort Criticism is easy to do.

It's easy to spot a potential hole in someone's argument.

It's easy to raise an objection.

It's easy to spout off whatever first comes to mind.

It's much harder to fully understand the author's point of view, their end goals, the amount of time they put in to do the work, to respect and acknowledge that effort, and to look to post something that rewards, encourages, and promotes that sort of behavior.

In fairness, both of those commentors had more to say, and are no doubt smart people. But, like, some basics of empathy, politeness, constructiveness, acknowledgement, and such is essential — if you care about getting high-effort contributions in the future.

It straight-up sucks for people to make a ton of work and the first thing they see in reply is negative and fast. Not fully edited. Not acknowledging the whole picture. Not a single word of respect or acknowledgement of all the work. Heck, not even written with proper punctuation. Worse yet, not even having read the full piece !

I know the counterarguments. Having weighed all of them, I still think is essentially stupid and short-sighted behavior, and will result in a worse world.

Drive-By Low-Effort Criticism does damage. Think about it.