All of WSCFriedman's Comments + Replies

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I am happy to read your arguments! Again, I do not intend to carry out a serious investigation of the topic until I have the time and energy to do it with full charity towards both sides and the ability to actually update, but I am glad to have evidence I can evaluate with more focus and in more detail when I do.

"You are assuming their lives are net util even if their lives may be miserable. (which I think is the repugnant conclusion? I've never really liked the framing of it either) Let's break this down."

Not quite. I am assuming their lives are not subje... (read more)

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

I've just submitted two stories! Hopefully they've landed properly. Thanks for the form!

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I can understand that, logically speaking, but it does not suffice to convince me. This is especially true because of the % of people who attempt suicide, don't die, and say later it was a giant mistake and they regret it. I could imagine a world in which people were usually or even often wrong both about committing suicide and not committing suicide, but it seems to me like a lot of added complexity.

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I was absolutely implying this! That was a fundamental part of my system, which went unspoken and which I am happy to defend.

And it's why I pointed out that you don't seem to have even semicommon mass suicide in the classical world, before the rise of Judeo-Christian beliefs on Heavenly and Hellish fates, when people think of the afterlife as grey fuzz if they think there is an afterlife and when culture often considers it morally heroic to commit suicide, rather than sinful. It seems more common, then, but even then it's very rare, almost always only in c... (read more)

3Linch10mo
Evolution has many dials other than just emotional affect, and we would naively expect evolution to use all of them if it can.
Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

Yeah, IIRC both G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis wrote about how anyone can just say "the future will agree with me," as a way of getting support for your ideas, but nobody really knows about the future and probably everyone is wrong because the future will be more complicated than anyone thinks, and so arguments from the future are bad logic and invalid. (I think that Lewis's is a bit of the Screwtape Letters and that Chesterton's essay is in "What's Wrong With The World.") So I endorse this complaint.

But I didn't include that in my description because I do in fact think veganism will take over the world once the technology gets far enough, so that wasn't my true objection to the story.

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

(Part 3 of 3, threaded because I want to discuss different things you bring up in different places.)

"You said you feel threatened by a piece like this which paints the current treatment of animals as something that will be viewed as horrific in the future and understand you may contribute in a small way to that? What do you make of the current treatment of animals in our society? (I'm very open to hearing your thoughts, even if they may be very different than my own)"

I appreciate it!

For clarification: I would not describe myself as "feeling threatened" in ... (read more)

8scottxmulligan10mo
To begin with, I am a total-sum utilitarian; that is to say, I do not think the repugnant conclusion is repugnant. Creating people who would prefer to live is doing them a favor. Creating someone on condition he later die for you is ethical as long as he would agree that, yup, existing had totally been worth it, and as long as his life didn't cause enough suffering (in side effects) to counterbalance it. So for this reason, I default to non-vegetarianism. I think this is built on a false premise. Correct me if I misread your argument with this example. We have 1,000,000 chickens on a factory farm. You are assuming their lives are net util even if their lives may be miserable. (which I think is the repugnant conclusion? I've never really liked the framing of it either) Let's break this down. Of those 1,000,000 chickens, 500,000 are male chicks. They are killed after birth because they are deemed worthless. I don't believe these were net util lives. I believe they were negative lives. Therefore, the repugnant conclusion doesn't come into play here with these lives. The other 500,000 are females. Many of them live a life full of torture from birth, due to genetic modifications that have crippled some of them and made life painful for others. (These genetic modifications include inducing egg production and increasing the amount of meat on their bodies.) They are slaughtered about 7 weeks into their existence. Some of these lives I believe are net negative. I will assume that some of these chickens lead net util lives. Even then, the marginal net util of the sample of females I believe is outweighed by the treatment of their male counterparts. Additionally, there are other negative externalities which you are not acknowledging, they include the following: - Environmental Impact - Psychological trauma of the slaughterhouse workers - The land that is repurposed for factory farming. Mass plant agriculture requires less land and therefore, we can assume some of the land wi

I'm not sure if you're implying this: 'the neutral point of welfare is close to the point at which someone commits suicide'

If so, I'd argue that these points are often very far apart: there's tremendous evolutionary and social pressure against suicide, as well as that people can suffer immensely but hope the future will be better.

Therefore, I don't expect suicide rate to be very predictive of quality of life.

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

(Part 2 of 3, threaded because I want to discuss different things you bring up in different places.)

"Also, the goal for a piece like this isn't just to convince people to go vegan. It's also to make vegans reflect about their own engagement on the issue."

I believe that the EA writing contest was established to fund the creation of art that would persuade people who are not currently EA of EA causes and make them think more highly of EA. Insofar as I am wrong, I am wrong; insofar as I am not wrong, art-for-rallying-the-base is not actually bad, but is off-topic for the contest.

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I am perfectly willing to have a long, point-by-point disagreement with you! I'm going to divide it into three threads, though; one for the actual argument about veganism, one for a side note about your second-to-last paragraph, and one for the meta-argument about pointy persuasion vs nice persuasion. This post is for the last; that is, for the statement:

"There is a place for delicate and tender art, and other art should be more pointed and direct."

I'm going to disagree. I think that, in terms of 'ideological art', there is a place for art that persuades b... (read more)

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

Ha!

Yeah, that's something where I think it would be a correct invocation of the rule if we wanted to implement the rule, but I don't think we want to implement the rule, so it's just funny. :P 

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I am glad you are not unhappy with my post! I apologize if I am being too aggressive in this and I don't want to offend you.

But... I do identify with Whittaker. And I don't really feel that my opinion on how someone might view animal welfare has been altered, because - I feel threatened, and that isn't a good state to change your mind in? Insofar as I have reactions, they aren't scout-mindset I-desire-to-open-my-mind-to-the-topic, they're soldier-mindset I-am-under-intellectual-attack-and-must defend myself. I grant that you are probably correct that the f... (read more)

4scottxmulligan10mo
It's a tough balance. Different things will work with different people in terms of animal welfare arguments. I also think that art can manifest in many ways. There is a place for delicate and tender art, and other art should be more pointed and direct. Do I think the majority of people who read this story will be offended to the point where they will become more anti-vegan as a result? Not really. Do I think some people will read it and reflect? I think so. Even people who were initially offended? Possibly. I think you're right in that it is an idealistic belief to think that the initially offended will sit back and reflect on why they feel that way; however, for those people who don't reflect, I am confident there are other avenues of animal welfare advocacy that will be effective and I don't believe this story will undermine that work in a meaningful way. Can it inspire some interesting conversations between vegans and non-vegans? I hope so. Do I think it will turn someone vegan? Most likely not but it doesn't really have to. I think in a lot of ways, the animal welfare art community is about planting lots of seeds to get people to think more critically and deeply about these issues and the animals that were slaughtered for their lifestyles. Then in combination with the work of GFI and others making plant based alternatives cheaper/tastier/convenient, and the education community (earthling ed for example) we will continue to see a shift toward veganism. Also, the goal for a piece like this isn't just to convince people to go vegan. It's also to make vegans reflect about their own engagement on the issue. Do they truly believe what they live? Sometimes, vegans will hide from their true opinions in order to not come across as confrontational or aggressive but if you truly believe animals are being slaughtered and enslaved by the trillions, is there an appropriate way for you to channel that anger and passion somewhere in the discourse and by not doing so, are you
Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

I... hmm. I'd guess the basic thing going on is irrational defensiveness of the sort where any documentary about the Israel/Palestine mess is going to get blasted by both sides because it is clearly and obviously biased in favor of the other side, regardless of how balanced it actually is? Like, writing a story about cancel culture in the future that doesn't condemn it is endorsing it? I'm trying to unpack my brain's explanation and I'm really not finding it a very convincing explanation.

I think the best I can come up with, in defensive-mode not explanatio... (read more)

2Linch10mo
I think it's common in history for people to be extremely moralizing about a past economic necessity after the economic conditions change, even/especially if the same people would've acted just like their ancestors in history.
Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

That is 100% reasonable and I am probably not behaving reasonably! But I think the fact that I did freak out suggests that the way I read the story is at least plausible and that people having my reaction is a risk?

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: Submission thread for work first published elsewhere

I'm pretty sure you already know about this old EA Scott Alexander post, but just to be sure: 

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pC47ZTsPNAkjavkXs/efficient-charity-do-unto-others

Remove An Omnivore's Statue? Debate Ensues Over The Legacy Of Factory Farming

This story is on an issue where I do not agree with the standard EA consensus, so I feel as if my voice may be useful as an example of a 'person not yet persuaded', since that group is presumably the target audience for this fiction.

My body has completely switched over from 'relaxed, cheerful, listening to a story' to 'under threat'; sweating, faster heartbeats, soldier mindset instead of explorer, how-do-I-defend-myself-as-fast-as-I-can. I think this will not be a good story to make other people like EA more. I think it will make them like EA less.

To help... (read more)

I appreciate your perspective on the piece. It's very interesting. I think when it comes to recognizing animal welfare, different things work for different people. So I think your criticism is valid and I can see this piece potentially pushing some people away from the movement who may feel targeted or shamed which is a limitation of it. (especially if they identify with Whittaker in the piece) That said, Emrik and Dicentra did a very nice job articulating some of my goals with it. 

Ultimately, I think it just tries to shake up how someone might view a... (read more)

I didn't read this short story as supporting cancel culture at all. To me, the good guys in this story are the people who advocate for recognising that people can have both good and bad sides. And the main point of celebration is that they're talking about factory farming as a troubling past history, just like they talk about slavery today. Did you read it differently?

Interesting! I totally didn't interpret the story as being particularly supportive of cancel culture or indicating that the statue should be removed. I read it more as a straightforward meditation on what extrapolating various current trends might look like, without doing much to nudge the readers towards a particular stance on those trends or on that outcome. 

[Creative Writing Contest] The Legend of the Goldseeker

I did not understand what the story was trying to say, very well. It just seemed to me to be 'a series of bad things happened because of failures of effective communication and understanding?' I can read it as a criticism of overconfidence, but I feel as if there have already been a lot of criticisms of overconfidence, and at this point I'm kind of worried we need more criticisms of underconfidence? I did not end up with very strong opinions about the story in any particular way, and I suspect it was a failure of my understanding at least as much as a failure of the story.

1Aman Patel9mo
Thanks for the feedback! I think this is probably a failure of the story more than a failure of your understanding--after all, a story that's hard to understand isn't fulfilling its purpose very well. Jackson Wagner's comment below is a good summary of the main points I was intending to get across. Next time I write, I'll try to be more clear about the points I'm trying to convey.
3Jackson Wagner10mo
As tagged, this story strikes me as a fable intended to explain one of the mechanisms behind so-called "S-risks", hellish scenarios that might be a fate worse than the "death" represented by X-risks. It's thought that one of the ways a far-future civilization (or AI or whatever) might end up creating vast amounts of suffering, could be as the result of a cycle of threats and bargaining with rival civilizations: https://centerforreducingsuffering.org/research/intro/ [https://centerforreducingsuffering.org/research/intro/] Of course it's a little confusing to have the twist with the sentient birds -- I think rather than a literal "farmed animal welfare" thing, this is intended to showcase a situation where two different civilizations have very different values (because one civilization values the sentient birds extremely highly and the other, thinking they are just ordinary birds, values them not at all). Meanwhile, the other civilization wants to keep the gold in the ground, vs the Kunus find it valuable only after it's mined. (In a similar way, someone who is pro-choice could threaten to kill a fetus, which to them is only a ball of cells, and this might be a very effective threat against a pro-life person who thinks every fetus has a fully human soul.) I don't really understand why the story is a frame story, or why the main purpose of the ritual is for all the Kunus to feel "collective guilt"... EA is usually trying to steer away from giving the impression that we want everyone to feel guilty all the time. Totally unrelated point, but I thought the economics of this story were a little wacky... having some gold rocks in your pocket doesn't do anything to help you have a better quality of life or cause there to be more food in the kingdom... it's just a form of currency. Unless the kingdom of the Kunus is suffering from deflation or tight monentary policy or whatever, I think the Goldseeker is barking up the wrong tree and isn't actually doing anything to improv
[Creative Writing Contest] The Rise of The Effective Shoppers

I think this is a very cute, clever story! I appreciate it and have upvoted it! I don't think I have any clever comments, though I'll let you know if I think of any.

1Aman Patel10mo
Thanks!
[Creative Writing Contest] What You Do

This is a very nice little story and I definitely liked it. Thank you for writing it.

[Creative Writing Contest] Counting Beans

This absolutely amused me, in a grim way. Thanks.

[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

Reply-edit for clarification to expand my response to one of your points: I think it is worth, in a lot of situations, judging based on "should it have worked," instead of "did it work." That your model predicted it shouldn't work and it did work is evidence your model is seriously flawed, just to be clear, I'm not arguing we should completely throw out the experiment and just go with our previous model, but, also, we shouldn't say "the one guy who won the lottery was right and everyone else was wrong," because everyone who bought a ticket had the same cha... (read more)

[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

I'm glad you aren't offended! I get easily worried that I might be saying things in an offensive manner and I appreciate you reassuring me that I didn't! I am always very happy to write long and elaborate reviews of fiction and I am glad you appreciated it.

And I would agree that the protagonist is evil (indeed, he admits he is evil - he's quite clear that he enjoyed what he did) and also took a set of actions which may have had net-positive utility. I don't think we know that it did; it's possible that some vague combination of making people distrust EA-st... (read more)

1WSCFriedman10mo
Reply-edit for clarification to expand my response to one of your points: I think it is worth, in a lot of situations, judging based on "should it have worked," instead of "did it work." That your model predicted it shouldn't work and it did work is evidence your model is seriously flawed, just to be clear, I'm not arguing we should completely throw out the experiment and just go with our previous model, but, also, we shouldn't say "the one guy who won the lottery was right and everyone else was wrong," because everyone who bought a ticket had the same chance of winning, and ex ante the lottery was a losing bet for all of them. (Unless the lottery was crooked but that's a side note.) So, even if it worked, I still think the protagonist's motive was unreasonable; even if it worked, I don't feel it should have worked, statistically speaking, as opposed to him getting immediately spotted, arrested, and spending the next five years of his life in jail in which he can do no good at all. Or someone's angry brother taking a shot at him with a firearm, causing him to die instantly after he'd donated only $8000 to Givewell's top charities, as opposed to if he'd peacefully sat back and worked a high-paying job he would have donated $800,000 over the course of his life. Or someone successfully suing to get all the donated money back as a class-action suit, causing the Against Malaria Foundation to go bankrupt because it already spent it all on bed nets and couldn't get a refund. Not that all of those are equally likely, but there are a lot of ways for his kind of plan to fail at levels of badness approaching these, and if they fail this way he definitely killed people, and I don't find the assumption that he knew none of them would happen very persuasive.
[Creative Writing Contest] Communities of Rigor

I'm sorry, but I don't have anything to say about the story, because I didn't 'get' what it was saying.

Sorry. I don't know what you were trying to do because whatever you were trying to do you didn't succeed in doing it to me.

2Jackson Wagner10mo
Same here. Fittingly, it is the very diversity of rationalism and EA that j_t is talking about, which perhaps prevents me from empathizing much with their story. - Lots of rationalists have the experience of growing up in strictly religious households, then having a dramatic loss of faith or other going through other key milestones, and then experiencing rationalism later as a counterpoint to those traditions. But I have no fond memories of church traditions, so all the awkwardness and lack of tradition that plagues rationalist culture/events is just the ever-present background texture of my life :P - Lots of rationalists are queer, trans, etc. I could well imagine how those traits would seem to dovetail with rationalism and EA in their life experience -- being outside the mainstream, figuring stuff out on your own, joining a community of underdog oddballs trying to change the world, working to overturn the arbitrary prejudices of an unfair world. But in my own mental world, I have totally different associations between rationalism and my position as a bland cis/white/hetero man -- neutrality, objectivity, logic over emotion, and so forth. (To be clear, obviously men do not have a monopoly on objectivity, and are no more "neutral" than anyone else! Etc, etc. But I confess that these are my personal emotional/identity associations, nonetheless.) It's that very fact that rationalism and EA are in some ways quite diverse, which perhaps makes it hard to write an anthem or rallying cry that will speak to common experiences we all share. But although that diversity makes it hard to write such stories, it makes me feel proud of the rationalist & EA communities. <3
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Fey Deal

I really like your long version, myself, but I'm already familiar with EA. :)

2Ada-Maaria Hyvärinen10mo
glad to hear you like it! :)
[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

Also I want to do a completely separate post in response to one of your short comments:

"What's wrong with the speaker's super-harsh utilitarianism?"

My immediate response, just automatic on reflex without engaging my brain's slow mode, is "planning fallacy / arrogance / sin of pride." What's wrong is that he assumes he's in a sufficiently strong level of knowledge, self-discipline, and self-control that he actually can pull off his ubermensch act, instead of it all going horribly wrong and blowing up in his face. That's always what's wrong with characters d... (read more)

[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

(For clarification: Step One is that the story has to work as a story, I agree with that completely, if I'm passing that over in my response, it isn't because I disagree, but because I agree too much to have anything interesting to say on it.)

[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

The odd thing is, I would use HPMOR as a model of how to do it right. Its main failing is that it fails to make it clear that the protagonist isn't a perfect propaganda figure, and shouldn't be emulated - that the audience ends up thinking that the protagonist is making giant mistakes throughout the story because the author thinks those are the correct decisions, not because he's an eleven-year-old in over his head. But the author agrees with him enough that if you aren't paying careful attention, he comes off as an arrogant jerk the author endorses, inste... (read more)

3ColinAitken10mo
These thoughts are super helpful for understanding where you're coming from, so thank you!! I really appreciate you taking the time to write them all out -- my thoughts will be much shorter because I don't have much to add, not because they weren't thought-provoking and interesting! I think we have somewhat different beliefs about what makes the speaker's actions wrong --I think for me it lands very far to one side of the "clearly evil" to "clearly good" trolley problem spectrum and it's wrongness is a) very clear to me, and b) very hard for me to pin down a reason for: I don't really find any of the answers I can think of satisfying (including the ones in the works you mentioned -- the fact that plans can fail and change the planner in unforeseen ways is a beautiful and important observation, but in this case the plan more-or-less succeeds and it still feels evil to me.) I find this combination fascinating, but I can see how this comes across rather differently if you don't share this dissatisfaction, which it sounds like is less universal than I believed. Unsong sounds like a very interesting piece of writing, I will have to check it out!
[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

I second everything Sophia said, but would like to raise a few other points to clarify:

First, I also dislike works-that-fit-in-my-brain's-internal-category-labeled-propaganda. (As some evidence of this, I'll offer my comment on 'blue bird and black bird'.) Nonetheless I feel that there is an enormous range for stories in which "make people reading it think more kindly of X" is a clear goal that do not fit in my brain's internal category of propaganda. It's quite clear that Lois McMaster Bujold is opposed to eternal smouldering guerilla wars of resistance a... (read more)

2ColinAitken10mo
You both raise very good points, and I think you've convinced me there are ways to do this that don't come across as propaganda. At the same time, I would still stand by my stance that having more EA villains in fiction would overall be a good thing for EA. Good villains are thought-provoking even though their actions are evil -- Killmonger in Black Panther and Karli in the Falcon/Winter Soldier series come to mind as pop culture characters who've made me think much more than the heroes in their respective films/shows. I think that the rationalist/EA fiction I've seen always falls into a very propaganda-adjacent territory rather than the versions you've described-- things like HPMOR, which I've never heard good feedback on from anybody who wasn't essentially already in the rationalist community. (I'm sure such feedback exists, but the response in my friend groups has been overwhelmingly negative.) It feels to me like the goal of attracting people outside the community by portraying EA/rationality as positively as possible is self-defeating, because it results as stories that just aren't very interesting to people who are here for a good story rather than an exposition of the author's philosophy. I would much prefer a story that works as a story, even if it's from a perspective of a villain and doesn't give you a clear authorial point of view on any of the relevant questions. (Whether or not this works as a story is of course a separate question I'm too biased to judged.) My general sense from my test readers has been that the questions (was what Mr. Green was doing in fact wrong? What's wrong with the speaker's super-harsh utilitarianism?) are capable of starting interesting EA-type conversations, and that we can trust readers to have interesting and ethical thoughts on their own.
[Creative Writing Contest] An Ordinary Plea

This is a beautiful story, but I don't actually expect reading it to make people think more kindly of effective altruism. 

I could, of course, be wrong.

2ColinAitken10mo
To be completely honest, I think that "making people reading it think more kindly of effective altruism" is a good goal for creative nonfiction, but not a very helpful goal for fiction. My experience with writing fiction (mostly plays) is that fiction is a really poor platform for convincing people of ideas (I almost always zone out if I feel like a playwright is trying to convince me to believe something), but it's a really good platform for raising difficult questions that readers have to think through themselves. I suppose my hope with this villain is to confront people somewhat graphically with questions that are important and answers to those questions that are terrible, in the hopes of sparking further thought rather than coming to a specific answer.
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

I am commenting purely to let you know that one of the thumbs-up on your post is mine.

[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

Last I saw, "The Reset Button" was leading it by one vote.

[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Fey Deal

I'm sorry, but I have the weirdest bit of commentary to give on this: There's several places where the comma is outside the quotes (if you do a search for ", you'll find them) and it's making me go all twitchy-eyed. I'm about 95% confident commas are supposed to go inside the quotes, the way other punctuation does, at least in English? Sorry about this.

6Ada-Maaria Hyvärinen10mo
Don't be sorry! Feedback on language and grammar is very useful to me, since I usually write in Finnish. (This is probably the first time since middle school that I've written a piece of fiction in English.) Apparently the punctuation slightly depends on whether you are using British or American English and whether the work is fiction or non-fiction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_marks_in_English#Order_of_punctuation ). Since this is fiction, you are in any case totally right about the commas going inside the quotes, and I will edit accordingly. Thanks for pointing this out!
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

I could be mistaken, but I feel as if that would completely change it into a different sort of thing. I admit it would be a thing that I-personally would probably like more, but I feel it would also remove all the power the story currently possesses. I feel as if this would be removing a thing from existence and replacing it with a new and different thing, instead of improving a thing - and this is clearly a popular thing, since it's the second-highest-rated submission to the contest, so far.

3Linch10mo
Yeah I was imagining it as a different storyline rather than the same thing. I personally like Lizka's story as-is, except for the convoluted lumberjack vs small tree metaphor.
3Linch10mo
Wait there's a more highly-rated submission?
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Engine

I have a question for you, and I think the answer might help make the story clearer.

Under what context is your narrator giving this explanation? Why is he saying all this? What's the framing device for it? Because if he's trying to explain quick history to someone who doesn't know it (why doesn't the person know it? A small child? A foreigner? Just someone technologically ignorant?), he has no reason to bring up the analogue-vegetarians at all. Just "this is how cars work." If the listener then asks (possibly offpage) if this is wrong, he can explain ... (read more)

[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Engine

I mean, I see these as totally different things (preventing suffering in Nigeria - well, and other third-world countries - is why I'm here), but that's probably moving outside the question as posed. I wouldn't be willing to be a butcher, but that's squeamishness, not a moral decision; I wouldn't want to be a plumber, either.

But... actually no I think I'm going to move my actual advice to the 'do you have recommendations' thread just above. See you there!

[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Engine

On my second reread, I figured out what was supposed to be going on in the events, if not the meaning of the story. But while I considered factory farming as one possibility for the thing it was supposed to be equivalent to, I felt the analogy whiff, and so decided it probably wasn't what you intended.

The reason is, the story depends on your initial belief that animal suffering (specifically the suffering of chickens) is fundamentally important. But what it's trying to convince you of is that animal suffering is fundamentally important. So it's a closed lo... (read more)

1Rand10mo
I feel like eating meat but not being willing to torture animals is the best and most common example of facilitating evil that you wouldn't directly perform purely because of your distance from it. Probably the most famous example of this is illustrated by Peter Singer: Now, you can bite the bullet and say "Oh, a Nigerian child? No way, their lives are valueless!" And indeed, Peter doesn't have an answer for that. But most people don't give that answer, rather they gesture at distance, uncertainty, and the fact that the task is seemingly intractable. By removing that distance we make the dilemma salient. In short, this isn't directed at people who are certain that chickens (or Nigerians) don't have moral worth. It's aimed at the majority that would never torture an animal but gladly feast on tortured animals.
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Engine

I'm sorry, but I straightforwardly don't get the story. It definitely feels like it's trying to make a grand analogy but the analogy does not, for me, connect. I don't know what it's trying to say - there's about twenty potential things I could imagine it having been written to be analogous to, all of which seem to me no more than 40%-70% fitting - and so I got no emotional charge out of reading it, only vague curiosity as to what it was meant for.

2Rand10mo
Yeah, enough people have to me they were confused by this story that it's clear I'm not managing to convey clearly what I meant to convey. Here's a summary of the story: During the 1970s, we discovered that fear could be used as a power supply. We learned that chickens could emit large amounts of fear and used them to power our cars. The narrator is both telling this story and defending it, arguing that terrorizing chickens is both morally permissible and worth the cost. (The nature of the terrorizing, which the apologist calls "triggering sensory stimuli" is left to the reader's imagination, though the reference to the computing revolution is meant to hint at computers and AI.) The analogy is to eating chicken and eggs, particularly those raised in battery cages. Instead of us getting our nutrients from previously tortured chickens, it imagines us driving cars directly powered by torture.
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] Houseproud

This is a good story and I'm glad you got published, I just don't see the relevance to the EA contest. I'm glad you submitted it because it meant I got to read it, and it was totally worth reading, it's just that I don't really read it as "EA". If that makes sense?

Well, this was absolutely terrifying. Thanks for writing it.

[Creative Writing Contest] The Reset Button

I actually read the protagonist as 'probably suffering from radiation poisoning, might be about to literally die from the next bomb or the building collapsing' as of the moment before they hit the reset, so I would see such planning as irrational rather than sensible - a little information might help, but not if it risks your life (which is what you're thinking about if you're selfish) or the fate of the world (which is what you're thinking about if you're selfless).

Light Before Darkness

It makes some sense? The added thing makes everything more confusing, though.

Reading what you say feels like I'm reading words that have been translated out of a foreign language and culture, or are writing in 17th-century English by a 17th-century author, or maybe you're a time traveler from the 22nd century and there's been linguistic drift since then? Or maybe you're a Zen monk and speak in koans? It isn't that I feel your culture is inconsistent or anything, it's just that you seem to be using words as if they had obvious secondary meanings and connotations that they don't have in my language.

0HoratioVonBecker1y
I am all of these things! I am a foreigner from a different part of the Internet! Welcome to the Human Family. There have been a lot of prophecies of us, and we only get more complicated. Glad to have you aboard.
Light Before Darkness

I'm sorry, but, having read it, I don't know what your religion is.

This is a serious statement: I don't actually know what you're trying to say, after having read it. I don't even know what you mean by writing-against or writing-towards.

I think you may be slightly understating the extent to which the transparency illusion applies.

0HoratioVonBecker1y
The core of my religion is charity. The next step is science. I often say two things and mean three. Does that make sense? (If it doesn't, here's more: https://forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/how-do-you-deal-with-its-all-been-done-before-when-coming-up-with-ideas.95141/post-21495590)
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Also, different comment that I'm kicking myself for not bringing up until now:

The Submission Grinder is a website that tracks places where people who write SF&F can submit stories. If you can get listed with them, that ought to bring more attention to the contest. 

Here's the link: https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/

3Aaron Gertler1y
Thanks for the link! Sharing it one week into a six-week contest leaves me plenty of time :-)
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

Ah, but are there a thousand hacking at the branches of evil for each one who thinks they are striking at the root?

Light Before Darkness

I'm afraid my downvote wasn't articulate, but instinctive: It seemed like it wasn't actually saying anything, just being philosophical for the sake of being philosophical, or poetic for the sake of being poetic. I can't actually figure out how to translate it into what I think of as 'plain English'; I can't give a one-sentence summary of the themes, or of what you're trying to say, and it didn't reach the extraordinary  (staggering) level of poetic beauty that would make me upvote it anyway, just because I enjoyed the words as music without knowing th... (read more)

-1HoratioVonBecker1y
Hm. I've probably been doing too much writing-against instead of writing-towards. This wasn't really meant as fiction, per se, but as a bit of 'this is why and how I live my religion' poesy, and using poetic license to make stronger claims than might otherwise be noticed. But I probably wasn't blunt enough. This is EA, not LessWrong. Sorry!
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

See, the thing is, I can't find any improvements because the entire premise feels to me inherently propaganda-ish. I'm sorry, I can try to break it down into more detail, but I suspect that it will be unfixable for me.

I'm going to try to rank the main bullet points of my discomfort in order of how important they are, most to least.

• I feel very uncomfortable with the entire dynamic of a 'right way / wrong way' pair. Partly this is because of individual cases where people using it ticked me off, but fundamentally it is that the idea of the character 'who ex... (read more)

2Linch10mo
One possible way to "fix" it in the sense of being better for WSCFriedman's preferences, and I'm not saying this is necessarily a good idea because by excluding the current framing there might be information loss in conveying some other important aspects of EA: instead frame the blue bird/black bird dialogues as looking more like "intro to moral philosophy for children." In particular, an underlying narrative of "ethics is hard [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/myp9Y9qJnpEEWhJF9/linch-s-shortform?commentId=pXhtPwx6oZerHSNRw] " might be appealing. So instead of black bird having clearly right answers, we instead have both black bird and blue bird posit naively reasonable considerations and having a dialogue that address each point. Eg, black bird posits that they should bring food to the other tree, blue bird talks about good reasons for partiality and the limits of morality, black bird says this is better from the point of view of the universe which is selfishly reasonable using one of Parfit's arguments, blue bird says why local information (with some analogy to bird-Hayek) is an impartial reason for partiality, black bird says that the empirical situation should be clearer enough to exceed that general principle, and so forth.
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] [Referral] A Common Sense Guide to Doing the Most Good, by Alexander Wales

My specific worry is about people coming to the conclusion that it is "a problem with EA," or "a problem with consequentialism," instead of "a problem with organizations," and thereby making people who hadn't heard of EA becoming more negatively (instead of more positively) inclined towards it.

[Creative Writing Contest] The Reset Button

I am a writer (though not a published one) and I second his judgement. I felt brief disquiet at the line he commented on, but didn't analyze it until I read his post because the story as a whole had still worked very well for me. I think the change makes a good story better, and I thank both Steve for suggesting it and Joshua for implementing it. 

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