All of WSCFriedman's Comments + Replies

[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.

[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] The Fey Deal

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

2Ada-Maaria Hyvärinen2dglad 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)

[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)

2ColinAitken3dYou 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.

2ColinAitken4dTo 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.

3Ada-Maaria Hyvärinen7dDon'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 ( ). 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.

3Linch7dYeah 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.
3Linch7dWait there's a more highly-rated submission?
[Creative Writing Context] [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 Context] [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 Context] [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)

1Rand8dI 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 Context] [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.

2Rand9dYeah, 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.

1HoratioVonBecker22dI 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.

1HoratioVonBecker22dThe 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:
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:

3Aaron Gertler23dThanks 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)

0HoratioVonBecker23dHm. 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)

2Linch9dOne 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 [] " 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. 

[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

Aaargh I completely did! facepalm

Sorry about that.

8Lizka25dFor what it's worth, I highly enjoyed reading this interaction:) +1 to Dario and everyone else here.
[Creative Writing Contest] [Poetry] [Referral] "The Bell-Buoys"


I personally read it as part of Kipling's attempts to deliberately glorify those people who did socially necessary but low-status work, in exactly the same way as he did for soldiers and engineers. In this particular poem, he's anthropomorphizing the bell that does the needed, low-status work of warning ships away from the coast, contrasting it with the one in the church tower, that is considered high-status but isn't doing anything important.

It therefore felt appropriate for the EA contest. :)

[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

I am both glad and relieved that you are not greatly offended, as I admit I was worried you would be. If there's anything you can think of that I could say to contribute to the cause if improving the work, I would be happy to provide it. But so far the only things I've thought of, I've already said.

Either way, good luck!

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
7Aaron Gertler1moQuick notice that Dario isn't the author of the piece — your response indicated that you might have thought they were. Sorry if I misinterpreted your reply!
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

I'm sorry, but I really felt this was too preachy for me. I don't expect this will apply to everyone else, but my response was to flinch away from the work, rather than enjoy or embrace it.  It felt... I don't know. Trying to examine my feelings, I think it was that it felt like propaganda, not art? I know the point of this is to persuade more than to entertain, but this work of art also felt as if it was more to persuade than to explain; it triggered defense reactions that neither the overt ("Inflation") nor the more narrative ("The Reset Button") hi... (read more)

5Lizka25dThanks for the feedback! I definitely dislike propaganda, and would be curious to see which parts felt the most propaganda-y to you. Also, to echo Dario, below--- I appreciate your very kind delivery of the negative feedback. :) I don't know if I will ever end up spending much time improving the story, as my life is pretty hectic at the moment, but I would be interested in any specific improvements you suggest. (So far, I haven't really tried much, but I've considered ways of addressing the inadequacy of the oak sprout metaphor by e.g. replacing it with something flammable.)
8Dario Citrini1moTo me, this comment exemplifies what I have in mind when I emphasise that negative feedback should be honest but also delivered in a compassionate manner. :) And I also liked that you shared some of the investigation of your reaction to it!
[Creative Writing Contest] [Referral] [Poem] Akbar's Bridge

The bridge is real. The story is almost certainly fictional.

1Joshua Ingle1moThanks, I'm glad you liked it!
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Welcome! I'm happy to help.

If you're looking for a compromise solution, stories submitted to the Grantville Gazette Universe Annex (Baen's magazine) are submitted by being posted on a password-protected forum (Baen's Bar) that anyone can get an account for, where readers can critique them, then a subset of those are purchased and professionally published in the magazine. Posting a story on Baen's Bar is generally (some people say explicitly, and it appears to be the consensus unless I'm making a horrible mistake) not considered publication, and stories pos... (read more)

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

I completely understand your goal, which is very reasonable!

But most publishers consider 'was printed in an obscure magazine that sold ten copies and is now a collector's item, has never been printed since' to be 'printed'. Some people buying reprints are only interested in that kind of obscure thing, but even if it is 'already published obscurely', I still think you won't get much for the reprint.

So although that's an understandable try at a solution, I don't think it succeeds.

Thanks for the further feedback. I'll think more on whether we should open some kind of private submission option, and we may end up doing so. It would be really sad if authors were forced to sacrifice future opportunities in order to participate.

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

I actually have another question. I submitted a Kipling poem as a recommendation for the contest. (It's my first post, so it's currently awaiting moderation.) If I find more EA-themed Kipling poems (which, given the poet, would not be surprising), should I add them to the first post, submit them in batches or make individual posts for each of them?

2Aaron Gertler1moGood question. I'd say "one poem per post", unless the poems are quite short or linked in some way that makes it seem more natural to put multiple in one post. But it's up to you; hard to go too far wrong.
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Also, completely separate question: should I try to err on the side of submitting or not submitting a marginal work, written either by me or by someone else? How do you want to weight the tradeoff between 'deluged by irrelevant nonsense' and 'people whose work you might be interested in don't submit?'

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

So, I have multiple comments.

First, as an EA person, I want to thank you, because I think this is a great idea, and I very much approve. I think the amazing power of fiction to change people's minds has been an occasional but important force throughout history; the claim that Uncle Tom's Cabin got the abolitionist movement to the mainstream seems historically plausible enough to agree that this is, indeed, a useful thing for the EA movement to do, and one I highly approve of.

But the second is as a SF&F author who tries to get his stories published.

As f... (read more)

3Aaron Gertler15dWe've now added a form [] you can use to submit your work privately, and updated the post to mention it. Let me know if you see anything we should change about the form, and thanks for the suggestion!
4Aaron Gertler1moThanks for sharing this concern, which is very reasonable. One of the things that motivated us to run this contest was the desire to have a lot of interesting new content on the Forum — we want people checking in regularly to see new stories, commenting on submissions, and digging through the archives even after the contest is over. If we used a standard "read submissions in private, publish the best" model, we'd be missing out on that, even if we still achieved our other goal of "find a few really top-notch things to share". But I do acknowledge that this presents authors with a conundrum if they want to publish stories elsewhere. Would the following arrangement be fine? 1. Publish your entry on the Forum 2. If you win, you leave the post up 3. If you don't win, you move the post back to a draft (where Google won't find it) This seems like it opens up the chance to submit the story elsewhere again (since no one will be able to read it on the Forum anymore). And if it doesn't end up getting published elsewhere, you can just go back to your draft post and hit "publish". Would this work, or do you think something ever having been published, even if it disappeared again, would make it impossible to submit to some/many places?
[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] [Referral] A Common Sense Guide to Doing the Most Good, by Alexander Wales

While I like the story, I wouldn't recommend it for the contest, for spoilery reasons. Putting them into ROT13:

Vafgrnq bs bccbfvat Fhcrezna qverpgyl, Yrk Yhgube vasvygengrf gur znffvir RN nccnenghf ohvyg nebhaq hfvat Fhcrezna rssrpgviryl naq trgf n wbo nf Fhcrezna'f cflpuvngevfg, gurerol (nf orpbzrf pyrne va gur raq) nyybjvat uvz gb pbageby uvf jbefg rarzl gb qb uvf jvyy - n pevfvf gung jbhyqa'g unir rkvfgrq vs Fhcrezna unq fhpprffshyyl xrcg n frperg vqragvgl, be fgnlrq orybj gur enqne.

Vafbsne nf gur fgbel unf n zbeny, vg vf gung crbcyr jub qrfver cbjre jv... (read more)

8technicalities1moI'm actually pretty happy for this warning to spread; it's not a big problem now(?), but will be if growth continues. Vigilance is the way to make the critique untrue. OTOH you don't necessarily want to foreground it as the first theme of EA, or even the main thing to worry about.