Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Roe vs. Wade Overturned

Roe vs Wade was overturned today. I haven't read any articles; I just saw headlines. I don't want to get drawn into politics a bunch, but I do want to share some comments today, including criticism of adoption.

I'm pro-abortion.

Overturning Roe vs. Wade is going to be messy and cause a bunch of suffering. This is going to be bad, not good.

The politicians and judges doing this have the money/resources not to personally worry – they can fly their daughters to other states for abortions if necessary.

Many teens, young adults and poor adults have limited access to travel. Some won't make it to another state. (Some states, like Texas, are quite large, btw. E.g. San Antonio to Alburquerque is a 10 hour drive. That's not the worst case scenario, and New Mexico might make anti-abortion laws too.) Some girls will take risks, like hitch hiking, to travel.

In the 2016 election, I didn't think a Republican winning would result in Roe vs. Wade being overturned. I was wrong.

There are so many political issues where stuff is broken and urgently needs improvement. But instead we get this.

My vague understanding is the Federalist Society has had a lot of influence of Republican judge selection. If you want to figure out who to blame, they're a lead for research.

Adoption Is Trauma

One of the groups that lobbies for anti-abortion laws is the adoption industry. They want more babies to profit off of. And a bunch of couples want more babies for sale, particularly white babies. They are hoping more young white girls will take babies to term and then put them up for adoption so they, the adoptive parents, can have what they want. Most adoptive parents are primarily trying to satisfy their own preferences, not trying to help a kid. They hope and pray for other people to have bad experiences so they can get something they want.

Adoption is trauma. It's trauma for the child and for the mother. Even newborns are familiar with their mother – in the womb they heard her talk, heard sounds from her home, got used to her heartbeat and walking gait, and more. (I give some sources and quotes below.) Babies who come out of the womb don't want to be taken away from the caregiver they're familiar with (older children also predominantly want to stay with their caregivers). Surrogacy is traumatic for the baby too (and usually for the surrogate, I imagine). Purposefully, unnecessarily denying the baby breastfeeding is also bad. Keeping a newborn baby in a hospital bed for a few nights without a compelling medical need is also bad and traumatic (it's still traumatic with a compelling medical need – having a good reason can't make the baby like it better).

Adopted and Foster Kids Have Worse Statistical Outcomes

On an aggregate, societal level, outcomes from adoption are statistically worse than outcomes from parenting one's own child. Parents treat adopted and foster kids worse including sometimes "rehoming" them – deciding not to be their parent anymore and giving them to some other adults. Some "rehoming" is done on unregulated Facebook groups. It seems suspiciously like human trafficking and some of it leads to physical and sexual abuse (which happens to adoptees at higher rates in general).

Some children are only put up for adoption because the parent doesn't have enough money. The adoptive family then spends $25,000 or some other large amount on the adoption. If they'd just donated that money to the parents, then the parents could have kept their kid. If their goal was to help the kid, that would generally be more effective.

Sometimes the U.S. government pays a bunch of money to put a kid in foster care. They will pay foster families with monthly checks. But the only reason they were taking the kid away from their family is because of poverty. The parents weren't abusive or anything; they just failed to provide the kid with good enough material circumstances to satisfy social services. If the government gave the same amount of money to the parents and let them keep their kid, that would be clearly better for the kid, let the parents buy the things social services wanted, and cost the same amount. Doing nothing would often be better for the kid, too – poor, non-abusive parents are usually better than foster parents and taking away kids from poor people is a human rights violation. Also, foster parents sometimes are poor or they deprive foster kids of resources that they could afford.

Some kids get sent to many different foster families and live in some kind of group home or orphanage in between. The lack of stability or continuity is awful and being exposed to a bunch of living environments dramatically raises the chance that at least one is abusive.

Information About Newborns

Relinquishment Trauma: The Forgotten Trauma

Research has shown that babies in utero learn their mother’s characteristics. Characteristics include the sound of their mother’s voice and her olfactory signatures from the pregnancy[5][6]. The newborn child may become easily frightened and overwhelmed when the caretaker is not their first mother. The greater discrepancies between the adoptee’s prenatal and early life (sound of the mother’s heartbeat, language, sounds, facial features, smells, the personal gait of walking, level of activity) the greater stress on the child. When a child is not with their first mother day after day, the newborn frequently becomes anxious and confused causing the infant’s body to release stress hormones. Even newborns that are placed with the adoptive parent within days of their birth can feel traumatized.

TED Talk: What we learn before we're born

A study published last year found that from birth, from the moment of birth, babies cry in the accent of their mother's native language. French babies cry on a rising note while German babies end on a falling note, imitating the melodic contours of those languages.

I first saw anti-adoption information on TikTok where the hashtag #adoptiontrauma has 47 million views.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Analyzing Dishonest Ads

I've been paying more attention to marketing messages because Critical Fallibilism (CF) could use better marketing. Keeping things short is really important. Unfortunately, one of the common tactics I've seen for short, snappy marketing is dishonesty.

For example, I saw two ads from Aimchess. They're short and small. They each communicate a feature that a chess video viewer might want. But are they true?


That sounds nice. But it's kind of vague. Enough for what? Also, is it actually true that every other chess trainer requires more than 10 minutes per day? What makes Aimchess so much faster? (Or just slightly faster? Do some competitors require 11 minutes per day?)

Enough of something means you're satisfied. It means your goals are achieved. The dictionary says "as much or as many of something as required" which leaves open the question: required for what? For some goal. Typically that's either your goal or a goal specified in the sentence. Like "I don't have enough gas to get home" specifies the goal within the sentence. "Enough" is often modified with a prepositional phrase to tell us enough "for" what or enough "to" what.

So what goals is 10 minutes a day with Aimchess trainer claiming to be enough for? Your chess goals. They have to be reasonable, realistic goals. If you want to be the world's best player tomorrow, that isn't Aimchess' problem. But the advertised claim should work for people who are being reasonable.

What is a reasonable chess goal? One reasonable goal is something you could achieve using a different trainer, self-study or playing online practice games. If you can get a result using one of those other methods for an hour a day for a month, you should be able to get a similar result with Aimchess.

How fast should Aimchess deliver the same result? If they could do it in two months instead of one, they're still 3x faster in terms of total time spent. That's pretty good and seems reasonable.

If Aimchess needs six months instead of one, for the same total time spent, then I'd say they failed at their marketing promise. They were implying that you'd save time and reach your goal without waiting unreasonably long.

Where's the cutoff? That's hard to say precisely. If Aimchess needs three months instead of one, and half the total time spent training, that's actually a good product, but the ad would seem misleading to me.

Does Aimchess live up to their promise? No way. Tons of people have reasonable, achievable chess goals that they will not achieve using Aimchess for 10 minutes a day (plus playing chess however much you normally do, but no other training or study, and no extra practice games).

Is Aimchess fundamentally better than other trainers so you learn way faster? No. Is saying so fraud? Probably not. You're allowed to exaggerate in ads, like saying you have the "world's best burger". I'm not saying it's illegal false advertising or anything like that. But it's still somewhat dishonest. Or put another way, it's not maximizing honesty. They could be more honest if they tried.

And I'm not actually sure the ad is or should be legal. If you advertised that you were "the only burger joint with a value menu" you'd probably get sued by McDonalds. If you delete the word "only" from the ad then it'd be more normal exaggeration. With "only" it seems like it's lying about competitors (who do in fact make products that you can use for just 10 minutes a day to improve at chess).

Aimchess isn't being dishonest enough to stand out to most people. It's pretty normal. But I think people ought to improve their skill at noticing dishonesty. I think people would benefit from more critical thinking, more skepticism, more analysis of marketing messages, and more attention to what is honest or not. I wrote an article on lying and this article is also meant to help educate people about honesty.

That sort of exaggeration or relatively mild dishonesty is unsuitable for marketing CF philosophy because CF values getting details right and being extremely honest (much more than is typical). Most companies have no particular connection to honesty, so being mildly dishonest doesn't make them hypocrites. CF strongly advocates honesty so its marketing needs to very honest. CF's marketing shouldn't contradict its ideas.


I saw this second ad from Aimchess later in the same video. Is this true? I don't think so. I think I know what feature they're talking about and how it works. If I'm right, it's misleading to call it personalized lessons.

Chess software (called "engines") is significantly better at chess than humans are. After you play a game, you can put it into an engine and find out what better moves you and your opponent missed. You can go to a hard position and find out what you should have done. It's really useful (despite basically being the sort of predictive oracle criticized in The Fabric of Reality – chess engines do not provide conceptual explanations of why moves are good, they only say moves and numeric evaluations of who is winning by how much in a chess position).

This is great but it's readily available without paying for a chess trainer, and I doubt Aimchess is offering something subtantively more personalized than this. They might offer some extra features like finding patterns in your mistakes across multiple games (e.g. you make the most mistakes in the opening), but I wouldn't consider summary statistics a "lesson".

I think they're trying to make it sound similar to getting personal attention from a human teacher who teaches you lessons. But the product is actually just an impersonal algorithm.

Again this is pretty normal but there is some dishonesty here. Or in other words, they could definitely make it more accurate, non-misleading and honest if they tried. There's clearly some room to be more scrupulously honest.

I wrote the above without visiting Aimchess' website. Now I've checked the website. The website confirms that the product works how I thought it did. They're selling software, not attention from coaches. They say their software is better than studying with a chess engine because they have an algorithm that looks at summary statistics over multiple games. Their website has some more statements that are pretty similar to the ads, and some other statements that are clearer, but nothing super clear. They don't come out and directly say things like "you're buying software; no human will review your games" but there is some information that lets me be more confident it's just sofware. They say "we do X" or "Aimchess does Y" but they avoid saying "our software does X". Both "we" and "Aimchess" are terms that sound like they refer to people not software.

I also saw this which particularly stood out to me:

Why isn’t Aimchess Premium free?

Downloading all of your games and analyzing them with a high-depth engine isn’t cheap, so we have to charge you to pay for our costs. You can always use our standard free service to get lower-depth 40-game reports for free.

They're claiming the reason their service isn't free is because the compute power needed for it is expensive. They're trying to sound like they're a non-profit that's just charging enough to break even. They're lying. They look like a typical SaaS website (software as a service) charging a monthly subscription fee that's very high relative to the price of computing power. They're charging this money because they (reasonably) want to get paid for their work. What's expensive isn't the computations. It's having programmers write the software, as well as making the website, marketing the product, and doing customer service.

If they were charging to cover their costs, they wouldn't be able to give you a 40% discount for an annual subscription. Either the annual subscription is too low to cover their costs, or the monthly subscription is way higher than their costs. Realistically, the annual subscription price is way above their computing costs.

Also, if they were just trying to cover their cost from people's actual usage, why would they try to lock you into a year long contract? They're setting this up like gym memberships (and like other SaaSes) to try to make money from people who stop using their product but already paid in advance for many more months of service. In other words, they're trying to get paid by people when their cost of serving those people is zero since those people are not using the service anymore. If their goal was merely to pay for computing costs, they'd charge for actual usage or they'd let you cancel anytime.

I've seen this before where for-profit companies lie and try to sound like non-profits. They're doing it because non-profits and anti-capitalism are trendy. It's ironic because it exemplifies some of the common complaints against for-profit businesses: that they're short-sighted and dishonest. People hate X, so they lie and claim to be Y instead, but they're actually acting even more like X by doing that.

Hopefully this has been helpful for showing people an example of analyzing something from everyday life. I hope to inspire people to learn to notice and think about things like this routinely. I'd like people to go about life more thoughtfully and I try to teach skills to enable that. If you want to learn more from me, check out my Critical Fallibilism articles and videos.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Specialist Creators with Small Audiences

There are two basic ways that creators with small audiences get a larger audience that supports their work and provides significant value in return.

  1. They make stuff that appeals to a lot of people.
  2. They make stuff that super-appeals to a small audience.

For (2) to work, the audience has to care a lot more than for (1). They have to be happy that their niche is being served at all even though it isn’t very popular. It has to mean enough for them to take tangible actions and ignore minor negatives (e.g. typos, less professional audio quality, worse art, smaller community, the articles/videos impress their friends less, and worse marketing). Worse marketing means the audience has to do more work to see the value in stuff themselves instead of being told the value in words that are really easy for them to understand.

Fans in a small niche have to do stuff at much higher rates like:

  • share, promote
  • comment, discuss, engage
  • praise
  • pay money, donate
  • advocate for the creator
  • help with stuff (e.g. volunteer moderators, helping newbies, making a subreddit, making transcripts, making art)
  • ask questions
  • respond to polls, prompts or questions
  • click buttons such as like, favorite, subscribe, thumbs up, upvote
  • finish reading/watching articles/videos instead of stopping in the middle
  • read/watch older content instead of only paying attention to new releases
  • become invested in the creator and/or community
  • feel inspired and motivated without music, art, slogans or facecam

If they don’t do these things at higher rates, then the niche creator never gets a good deal (from other people, from the external world). He isn’t rewarded for serving that niche. He can’t get value from as many people, and he’s also not getting extra value per person. That means the people in that niche didn’t care all that much, even if they said they do.

For all creators, but especially niche creators, these positive behaviors are especially needed from early adopters. Getting started with little audience is hard and is helped by superfans who care a lot. As Ayn Rand put it in The Fountainhead:

Don’t despise the middleman. He’s necessary. Someone had to tell them. It takes two to make every great career: the man who is great, and the man—almost rarer—who is great enough to see greatness and say so.

If the early adopters for a creator serving a small niche don’t care much and don’t take action, then it doesn’t work. The niche can’t be profitably served, or it wants to be served in a different way. When people really highly value something that is not mass-produced and not readily available, then they act like it. If they don’t seem to care much, then they probably don’t really see much difference between the specialized content and some other more mainstream content, and they wouldn’t mind very much if they didn’t have the specialized content at all. Or they just don’t think this content is especially good. People often lie about how much they care because they like having the specialized content for free or very cheap, and they value it more than nothing. If they mislead a creator into thinking he’s more valued and appreciated than he is, so he expects rewards that don’t materialize, it can provide them with more opportunity to be leeches.

To be clear, lurkers are harmless; people who only care a little aren’t a problem; it’s people who lie that they care more than they do, and then take actions in conflict with their words, who are problematic.

As small, early audiences should have high rates of positive behaviors, they should also have have unusually low rates of negative behaviors. Negative behaviors include saying things that make the creator or his fans lose social status, being adversarial/hostile with the creator or with other fans, breaking rules, being toxic, being passive-aggressive, pushing discussion topics away from the creator’s niche, quitting/leaving, and breaking promises (e.g. implying you’ll follow up on a discussion topic, but then not doing it).

Some people don’t understand that content is specialized for a small niche audience, and what that means. Sometimes when they say they really love it, they mean they like it for an unspecialized thing, but they don’t actually like it much by the higher standards of a specialized thing. If you see it as slightly outcompeting mainstream content, that isn’t good enough – you aren’t a super fan or helpful early adopter. Creators for small niches cannot survive off being liked slightly more; that doesn’t make up for the downside of serving a small niche.

If an article or video gets 100k views, then if 99% of people do nothing that’s fine. 1% of people commenting or donating is 1k people. However, if it gets 100 views, it needs an engagement rate far above 1% or else the creator is simply being charitable. Small early-adopter audiences for specialist creators have to do things like share, donate, discuss, praise, help, etc., at much higher rates than audiences of popular creators do. If they don’t, they are signaling there’s no viable niche there, and that they shouldn’t be served.

It’s like how successful email newsletters have high rates of being opened and read early on (e.g. when they have 1k subscribers), and that goes down when they get to 100k subs. If you view a new, specialist creator as offering 10% higher value than a popular mainstream creator, then to a very rough approximation you will be 10% more likely to share links, post comments, etc., and 10% less likely to do negative behaviors. That isn’t even close to good enough. A new creator with a relatively small target audience needs positive behavior rates way above 1%. Getting 1.1% (from the average person liking it 10% more) won’t work – instead of 1.1% it needs to be more like 20%. Even a new creator with a huge target audience needs to start out with high positive behavior rates, e.g. 5%.

Good YouTube click through rates (CTR) provide another example:

  • Views below 1000 can have a CTR between 25% and 35%
  • Views between 10,000 to 20,000 can have a CTR between 18% and 25%
  • Views between 100,000 to 200,000 can have a CTR between 10% and 15%
  • Views above one Million can have a CTR between 2% and 5%

In other words, according to this article, videos below 1k views need roughly a 30% positive behavior rate to stand out and be successful. The drops to 22% by 15k views and 12% by 150k views. Past a million views, 2% can be mean things are working well. Those are good numbers that indicate success; average or typical numbers are lower.

These are loose numbers but the point is small/initial audiences should on average be significantly more positive than big audiences, and audiences for specialists should be significantly more positive, and with both at once (small audience and specialist content) there should be a lot more positivity. A fair amount of fans need to see a qualitative difference instead of just an incremental improvement. There need to be super fans and high rates of positive things in the broader audience too (excluding the super fans). If positivity rates are low early, there’s a big problem, because they are only going to get lower as the audience expands (early adopters are the best fit there’s going to be; growing the audience requires expanding to people whose preferences don’t fit the content as well).

Some audience members make excuses to themselves. One excuse is that they are busy – that almost always just means they are prioritizing other things, and don’t care all that much. If they don’t follow any other creators, don’t use social media, don’t play video games, and don’t read the news, maybe they really are busy. That’s rare. Broadly, everyone is pretty busy (even if they are busy watching YouTube rather than doing obligations), and creators have to compete for the attention of busy people. Every creator has audience members who are busy but choose to spend time on his stuff anyway.

Another excuse is people think they don’t know how to help with anything or they aren’t in a position to do anything. That’s not true. Anyone who appreciates stuff could leave positive comments regularly. They could also share stuff (basically everyone has friends and/or could figure out how join some relevant online communities that enable sharing like on Reddit, Facebook or Discord).

People also make excuses about barriers to entry. But if you highly value specialized stuff, then you would find ways to overcome barriers – happily, on your own initiative. If you don’t have initiative for anything then you just aren’t capable of highly valuing things. (Many people who are generally low-initiative suddenly do have some initiative when it’s actually very important to them – e.g. trying to get a spouse or job, or trying to fix some problem in their life that they regard as urgent.)

Another thing people do is: The creator makes X and Y. Some people say they like X a lot but act more like they like Y (e.g. they upvote it more). Often X is a more specialized thing (e.g. epistemology) and Y has broader appeal (e.g. political commentary) and is available elsewhere.

If an initial small audience has a bunch of excuses and isn’t engaged, then a larger audience in the future, if it ever happened, would be less engaged. But engagement wouldn’t have enough room to decline a normal amount with audience growth, and still exist. So basically a larger audience is impossible because if some growth somehow happens (e.g. using paid advertising) engagement would go down to near-zero and be too low for e.g. stuff to get shared enough. The bigger the audience you find, the less good the fit will be with them, and the more engagement and appreciation will drop.

Talking about these issues is unusual. It’s often counter-productive. People interpret it as desperation, as an admission of weakness and failure. And it leads to increased lying from moochers who are willing to pay with a few lies to try to get more “free” ice cream (usually this is done without conscious understanding of what they are doing or why, and without conscious knowledge that they have lied).

Some people exaggerate to try to flatter the creator in order to appease him, but don’t consider that dishonest.

Some people feel pressured and respond negatively (or short term superficially positively) – they don’t think they signed up to be asked to actually do anything so they resent it. But asking a public readership in general for something isn’t pressuring (e.g. if someone makes a GoFundMe, they aren’t pressuring you), and explaining a situation isn’t even asking.

Other people feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of trying to act like they value stuff (many people are bad at valuing anything and are unsuited to being early adopters or active members of a specialized community, but don’t admit that to themselves).

In general, if people highly value stuff, they will act that way naturally, without being asked/prompted. If you’re trying to explain to people what leaving positive comments on articles and videos is, and why to do it, then they just aren’t that into you (but those same people somtimes won’t admit to not being that into you). Having to ask (or bring it up without asking) is a bad sign and asking mostly doesn’t increase how much people genuinely value stuff.

Even though I’m a philosopher and writing about an issue like this is on-topic for me (unlike for most creators) – it’s the kind of thing I might write about even if it had zero relevance to my community – it still will be interpreted by some people (including some who deny it in their own minds) as low status, even though it’s an explanation not an ask (and a brief flurry of activity that dies off without explanation is not something I actually want anyone to do – I’m not asking for that; please don’t). Also a lot of rationalist people are like “I don’t care about status. Why are you even talking about status? Do you care about status? That is a you-problem.” But they do care a lot about status without realizing it, and it determines a lot of their behavior like whether they share links, buy stuff, spend time on stuff, etc.

Regarding my own community, I think a major problem is that most people (even of the relatively small group interested in rational philosophy) don’t actually want to put effort into improving themselves. The more I’ve moved to explaining pathways for progress – actions people can take to improve – the more I’ve seen people are mostly unwilling to actually do the work, practice stuff, and keep at it over time. And I think clarity about that drives people away, because some people liked to pretend to do that stuff, and it’s harder to pretend now.

I also started outclassing people at debate too much and they don’t actually value losing debates in clear, conclusive ways (that’s something I value highly but have nowhere to get).

I’ve also put long term effort into suppressing tribalist political posting and other tribalist behaviors, but lots of people want ingroups and outgroups to be biased about. There are various reasons for this like wanting to feel accepted/sanctioned (whereas I suggest they should actually put effort into learning stuff instead of expecting immediate praise just for joining the group). And having an outgroup gives people a way to write safe comments that won’t be wrong/refuted/unpopular (if they do get attacked, they’re likely to be defended by others, since they’re saying what most of the group thinks). One of the reasons people don’t post much at my forums is they don’t know what they can say without a risk of receiving criticism.

They also are unwilling to say they don’t want criticism and thereby appear irrational. Some people want me to sacrifice my integrity for them – pretend to do unbounded criticism while actually holding back most criticism, so they can appear highly rational. That’s a common mutual arrangement among “intellectuals”, but it’s bad, and I actually want to receive more criticism not less, so both parts of the arrangement are bad for me.

Anyway, a lot of people treat philosophy as entertainment or as a source of clever things to say (usually without giving adequate credit for where they got it), but they don’t really want to examine their life and put work into improving much. Also they see a lot of life in terms of social status without realizing it.

One solution to a bad early audience is to give up and make something else. Serve a niche that there’s more demand for. Another option is to find a different source of initial audience members to use (e.g. go recruit Goldratt fans). Another is to change how the content is presented and communicated (there could be misunderstandings). It’s possible with a small sample size that having a bad audience is bad luck, and things will improve by themselves over time as some new members join, but that’s uncommon.

Another option is just to ignore the audience – get money in a different way and create stuff as a (charitable) hobby (I’ve done a lot of this). Another option is to keep creating the same stuff but don’t share it publicly – just send it to friends or keep it for just yourself (I’ve done a lot of this too, e.g. I wrote a few books worth of material privately before I started posting regularly to the CF website).

I think my basic problem is that people don’t want rationality. There isn’t demand for it. But I’d rather do it anyway than change niches. I don’t think better marketing could fix this. It could bring in more people who claim to want rationality, but I think that would just lead to problems. The more I put effort into communicating clearly and offering practical, accessible actions people could take, the more I’d be in conflict with my own audience that wants to posture about rationality, and gain rationality-related social status, but doesn’t actually want rationality. I think I’m serving a niche that lacks demand but which people are particularly dishonest about.

Is that plausible? Consider the lack of any other creators or communities that are very rational. There’s no one else who has an audience I want if only I could somehow get their attention. No one else is having success at this (though a few pretend to). There’s no forum I can join to interact with other people with interests and values similar to mine. As usual, of course, these claims are open to debate and criticism – but note the non-existence of any website with high quality rational debates happening. While that is a thing many people say they want, there is no company or creator which has been able to serve that niche successfully.

See also Demand For Intellectual Discussion and the lack of productive discussion of Popper, Rand or Goldratt online. Or search the web for terms like debate online – none of the results appear to be both very rational and very successful (usually neither). And I’ve been asking people for leads on this kind of thing for years in case someone else had found something good, and none of my fans (or the groups or non-fans who I’ve asked) have ever shared anything good. It’s uncommon that anyone has even claimed to know of something good except sometimes the venue I’m asking at (e.g. at Less Wrong a lot of people think Less Wrong is good (including associated stuff like EA or SSC) but think everything else online is bad – and Less Wrong is actually bad). When people do claim to know of something good, it’s usually something I’m already familiar with and they (or any other advocate of it) don’t want to discuss or debate the flaws I identified with it.

I think community dynamics is an interesting topic and that these concepts are worth understanding like small early adopter audiences, rates of positive behaviors, and specialized niche content. It’s unintuitive to some people that specialized content require more demand (higher prices and other more positive reactions) to be viable. It doesn’t have to exist and be available at all (if it does exist, either some people value it highly and treat it as special, or its existence is charity). It’s similar to custom, hand-crafted physical products, which people often want at mass-production prices (they don’t seem to understand that that’s impossible – they have to be willing to pay a lot extra or they aren’t actually a viable customer base). The sellers often don’t understand this either, have the prices of mass-produced products anchored in their minds, and set prices too low (and often go out of business). To justify the existence of custom products that can’t be mass-produced and mass-marketed, there has to be enough demand for them at much higher prices than the typical mass-produced, mass-marketed products which people are familiar with. People who (economically) demand custom niche products at mass-market or slightly higher prices, but not at way higher prices, are not actually fans of those products, and are not the sort of customers who can keep the seller in business, though they sometimes don’t know this.

For a simple hypothetical example, if you’d be willing to buy my book for $10 (a normal mass-market price) but not $100 (a perfectly reasonable premium for a niche product) then you aren’t really my fan – you are not providing customer demand for my stuff at relevant price points. You don’t value my stuff enough for it to exist. A good fan would be not just willing but very happy to buy a book from me for $100 – the value to him is much higher than that and he’d be thrilled that the book exists at all.

I find it helpful to think about how I treat people I’m a fan of, and then compare behaviors of my fans to that. I was a superfan of David Deutsch and, at that time, I would have viewed a new book by him (or video courses or other format of his choice) as pretty much priceless. I also shared and promoted his work a huge amount, and gave a huge amount of feedback/replies.

Recently, I’ve promoted much more mainstream and popular creators than myself (like Stark, Stoller, Pueyo, Yglesias and various YouTubers) much more than any of my fans promote me. They aren’t perfect but they make some things that I think are good enough to share. And they do a somewhat reasonable job of not pretending to be something they aren’t; flaws are much more tolerable when they aren’t denied or lied about. Another example: there are plenty of people who know more about politics and economics than Asmongold does, but Asmongold is more tolerable to listen to than many more knowledgeable people because he’s more humble – he’s pretty reasonable and open, instead of dishonest, about his limited knowledge.

I know I’m particularly willing and able to take actions at all. Partly I share more because I’m much more energetic than the average person. Directly comparing myself to fans isn’t perfect. But I’m a person with pretty non-mainstream tastes, and I’m really happy when I find things somewhat suitable to my tastes (despite major imperfections, e.g. I’d prefer philosophy over politics but I read some politics anyway due to the severe shortage of readable/watchable philosophy content). There’s a comparison there to fans who don’t really act very excited to have me. If it’s actually because they do value me but they’re passive in their whole life … that’s not that different than not really liking me … it doesn’t particularly matter. The outcome is the same.

Most people aren’t very good good at valuing things and taking actions. Perhaps that’s an even bigger bottleneck than people wanting specialist content. Popular mainstream stuff has the social status, community frameworks and other resources to get regular, passive people to take some positive actions – whereas a tiny niche community can’t offer all that social/community/institutional support to help address people’s passivity for them.

It’s similar to how a lot of people need school classes because they’re too passive to just go online and learn, even though the internet has better content at lower prices in more convenient formats. “Passive” isn’t the exact issue btw, it’s just an approximation.

To summarize/conclude, you can be pretty passive when you’re a fan of mass-market stuff and it’s fine. But when you’re a fan of a new/unpopular creator serving a small/specialized niche, you need to do more positive behaviors (and fewer negative behaviors) or else you’re relying on other fans to do that and/or relying on the creator’s charity.

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Harassment Campaign Update for May 2022

I’m going to share four incidents that occurred after my last update on David Deutsch’s harassment campaign. This is with my blog comments disabled and my forum paywalled; otherwise it’d be much worse. And, again, none of these people have taken any steps to improve the situation, reduce harassment or negotiate a solution.

I received information about a CritRat leader. They:

  • Privately trash talked me.
  • Tried to turn a CF community member against me.
  • Encouraged doing things to me that the CritRat believed would trigger me.
  • Encouraged knowingly, intentionally doing things that I regard as seriously mistreating me.
  • Encouraged adopting a mindset of blaming things on me and viewing me as malicious.
  • Suggested that if you have any negative emotions related to Elliot, you should trust them and act on them.
  • Pushed the idea that if Elliot could maybe be in the wrong, you should assume he is, reject all alternatives, and stop thinking about it. They said basically that it’s bad to even consider Elliot’s side of the story because he’s a bad faith actor. (They apparently don’t understand fallibilism or rationality.)

The overall message was that praise, acceptance, friendship and rewards are available to people who join the harassment campaign.

And the CritRat leader said this to someone who they were suspicious of! They must say much worse to people who they trust not to tell me anything. It seems that trying to cause harassment is such a habit that they can’t fully turn it off even when trying to be on good behavior.

The CritRats do this stuff routinely. They want to continue and escalate their harassment campaign, and they are putting ongoing effort into that goal. I usually don’t find much out, besides the downstream consequences (the harassment itself), because they work in the shadows and punish people who provide me with any information.

A long time DD/TCS fan paid $20 on a credit card in order to make an account on my paywalled forum in order to harass me there. They’ve been banned from all my stuff for years but are unwilling to leave me alone.

This harassment is linked to the CritRat community. The harasser and her close associate have been tweeting with multiple CritRats and trying to get their attention. (I don’t know how much success they’ve had because the CritRats have a lot of private conversations, plus I just skimmed through a couple things without really investigating.) They both believe that attacking me is a way to get friendliness and social acceptance from CritRats. A CritRat leader publicly tweeted back to the harasser a week before this harassment incident. This harasser is a person the CritRat leader is highly familiar with from past events, and has reason to fear, so their public encouragement of the harasser was knowing and intentional (and stupid).

A CritRat leader brought me up and then his conversation partner, another CritRat, harassed me on Twitter using an anonymous account.

A CritRat contacted me repeatedly without disclosing he was a CritRat and he exploited a misconfigured forum setting in order to post and violate my forum’s terms of service. When I found out he was a CritRat and confronted him, he refused to say that he thinks harassment is bad, even in principle or in general. He claims the harassment issue is too boring to look into. He claimed to be neutral, but if you’re going to hang out with the CritRats and refuse to address the harassment issue, do not contact me. If you’re a CritRat and won’t leave me alone, you are violating my consent and harassing me.

Here’s some text I wrote to try to explain the problem to him:

Please condemn the harassment and the people who refuse to say they are opposed to harassment. Alternatively, push for people to participate in conflict resolution and condemn those who refuse. If you won’t, and you continue to have friendly interactions with them, then you’re encouraging them to think their harassment (plus refusal of all conflict resolution) is OK, in which case you wouldn’t be welcome to contact me.

After I told him personally “do not contact me again”, he said “Ok”, but then a few weeks later sent me a very nasty email to harass me. He purposefully violated the no contact request and my consent. In that email, he communicated that when he said he was neutral earlier he was lying, and he actually hates me and thinks I’m badly wrong about the harassment issues that he supposedly finds too boring to read about. He claims I should have somehow already known that he despises me, even though it’s different than everything he said to me before when he was pretending to be neutral because he wanted free philosophy help from me. He also claimed that I was coercing him by ordering him to stop emailing me, which I guess is his justification for violating my no contact request (he’s fighting my coercion that consists of the no contact request itself). The reason he thinks reading my explanations about the harassment would be boring is because he has a predetermined conclusion that I’m wrong, so the only things he could learn are how badly I’m wrong and in what ways I’m wrong (he communicated that). He also purposefully used something else that he believed would trigger me in order to falsely attack me – he chose that unconventional, atypical attack specifically because he thinks it’s something I care about and could be triggered by. He purposefully broke a no contact request to try to hurt me.

I suspect he was aware of my generic no contact request to all CritRats like him, which is on my blog, before he contacted me several times while hiding being a CritRat. I suspect he was already purposefully violating a no contact request at the time I individually, personally asked him not to contact me (which he agreed to before breaking his word). But it’s hard to know.

They won’t leave me alone and they’ve never been willing to discuss any conflict resolution. I don’t do anything like this to them.


Do you think they’re doing something bad? Tell them, particularly their leader, David Deutsch. Demand that he answer for what he’s doing. Bring it up and ask challenging questions. Expose him. Please help. Besides defaming me, he has too many loyal fans willing to attack people he signals should be harassed. It’s a nightmare. Supporting messages to me are also appreciated.

After Deutsch turned against me, I left him alone and didn’t complain about him (like my posts about his harassment campaign) for over 5 years but he grew more hateful over time not less. I tried ignoring the problem for over 5 years and that didn’t work; he seems to have a lifelong obsession with me; there’s no option for me where I could simply be left alone going forward. (I think he’s scared that I could critique and refute anything he publishes about philosophy, and he uses that as an excuse for not writing much, so year after year, in his mind, he blames me for his lack of productivity. Using me as a scapegoat is my best understanding of why he won’t move on. In other words, he feels like I never leave him alone because whenever he considers publishing philosophy he remembers that I could potentially write a rebuttal. I got this idea from Lulie Tanett, who told me about it based on her personal conversations with Deutsch, and it makes sense to me.)

Similarly, part of why the CritRats won’t just forget about me is that a bunch of them think I’m a great intellectual, so they keep reading my stuff and trying to learn from me (and sometimes plagiarizing me). It’s partly a love/hate relationship they have with me, not just a hate relationship. I wish they’d stop reading my stuff, stop watching my videos, and stop remembering that I exist, but I have no way to get rid of them while sharing ideas with the public. The combination of trying to get value from me, while being so nasty to me, is really screwed up.

If people stand up to Deutsch, he’s likely to back off. He’s only able to harass me so much due to the lack of attention it gets and the lack of pushback. If thousands of people were watching and judging him, I’m pretty sure he’d mostly stop. He cares deeply about his reputation and what people think of him. Please try to raise awareness and to show him that people actually care and disapprove of his actions.

I want to be able to reopen my blog comments and also have philosophy discussions on other websites without them being disrupted; is that too much to ask?

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Educational Product Price Reductions

I lowered the prices of most of my digital educational products. Check out my updated store.

List of changes:

  • Critical Fallibilism Course: 880 -> 400
  • Videos: Grammar and Analyzing Text: 250 -> 150
  • Fallible Ideas Bundle: 100 -> 75
  • Eli Goldratt Screencasts: 250 -> 100
  • Educational Videos: Reading George Reisman’s book on Marxism and Socialism: 150 -> 50
  • Videos: Objective Knowledge, by Karl Popper, Chapter 1: 100 -> 50

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Understanding Food

We can divide our food into plant, animal, other living and non-living. Plants get energy from the sun; animal energy comes from plants (directly by eating them, or indirectly by eating other animals). Humans, as animals, don’t get energy from the sun. We mostly eat parts of (formerly) living things, plus water and salt.

Other food from living sources, besides plants or animals, includes yeast, fungi (mushrooms) and mold (blue cheese). We also ingest a lot of bacteria when eating other foods, including fermented foods. The bacteria inside us affects our health even if we aren’t getting calories from it.

Non-living foods include water (all our drinks, including milk and juice, are mostly water) and minerals (salt). Water and minerals have no calories (no fat, protein or carbohydrates) and don’t necessarily count as “food”.

For animals, we can eat their meat, milk, eggs and sometimes other animal products (honey). Milk works because it’s evolutionarily designed to be food. Eggs work because they contain nutrients for reproducing a new animal. Honey works because it’s a food source (for bees, but they’re sufficiently evolutionary related to us).

For plants, what we eat most are seeds. We also eat a lot of fruits and can eat many other parts of plants. Examples:

leaves (lettuce), stem (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion) and flowers (broccoli). [source]

We can also get sap from plants, which we use in maple syrup.

Seeds have useful nutrients to enable reproduction; they’re like plant eggs. Fruits are also involved in reproduction. They’re often edible so that that animals will move seeds around. Fruits ripen but seeds don’t. Fruits contain seeds but not vice versa. Fruits have more water than seeds. Details: https://www.difference.wiki/fruit-vs-seed/ and https://pediaa.com/difference-between-fruit-and-seed/

“Vegetable” is a vague word, whereas words like fruit, seed, stem, leaf, root and flower have clearer meanings. Many “vegetables” are fruits (all the ones with seeds in them). We tend to count fruits as vegetables when they aren’t sweet. When we eat a part of a plant that isn’t a fruit or seed, we tend to call that a vegetable too. Apparently “vegetable” originally meant any edible part of a plant, but we later started excluding seeds and sweet fruits (and including mushrooms), which made the term somewhat arbitrary.

Grains are grass seeds, nuts are tree seeds, and beans are legume seeds. Legumes are seeds that come in pods like green beans, and include beans, peas and lentils (we often dry these foods out). There are also other uncategorized seeds like sunflower or pumpkin. Pits in fruits are protection around seeds to prevent the seeds from being eaten.

Above-ground plant stalks, stems and trunks need rigidity to stand up in the air. Underground doesn’t need as much rigidity because the earth supports it. We don’t eat a lot of really rigid parts of plants, besides seeds (which we often cook and may grind into flour). We also can’t eat a lot of tree leaves or grass stalks even though they aren’t rigid, but other animals often do eat those. Cows have multiple stomachs because it takes a lot of work to digest those foods. Not many animals eat extremely rigid plant parts like wood.

Many parts of plants, other than fruit, have defenses to discourage eating them. Defenses can include thorns, bitter flavor, poison, being underground, being high in the air, or hard layers (including bark, pits or shells).

A Grassy Trend in Human Ancestors' Diets says humans may have eaten food from grasses a million years before eating meat.

This isn’t exact but gives a rough idea of what kinds of food exist and why. It gives some broad conceptual categories to fit foods into. Corrections are welcome but I’m not very interested in terminological details like nuts vs. drupes or grasses vs. rushes vs. sedges.

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Ayn Rand's Honesty

Leonard Peikoff in My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir (epilogue of The Voice of Reason), talking (after her death) about conversations he had with Ayn Rand:

“You are suffering the fate of a genius trapped in a rotten culture,” I would begin. “My distinctive attribute,” she would retort, “is not genius, but intellectual honesty.” “That is part of it,” I would concede, “but after all I am intellectually honest, too, and it doesn’t make me the kind of epochal mind who can write Atlas Shrugged or discover Objectivism.”

I think the answer to this is simple: Peikoff should not assume that he's intellectually honest. He should take seriously that maybe Ayn Rand is right and that superior honesty sets her apart. It was dishonest of Peikoff not to consider that he might be dishonest compared to Rand. He might not even be aware of some of the ways she's honest that he isn't. He might not know about some types of honesty and how to judge whether he has them. He also might not know about some types of bias or dishonesty, and how to accurately judge whether he has them (it's common to be dishonest when evaluating your own honesty).

Soon after, Peikoff writes something relevant:

In order to be fully clear at this point, I want to make one more comment about Ayn Rand’s anger. Many times, as I have explained, it was thoroughly justified. But sometimes it was not justified. For instance, Ayn Rand not infrequently became angry at me over some philosophical statement I made that seemed for the moment to ally me with one of the intellectual movements she was fighting. On many such occasions, of course, she remained calm because she understood the cause of my statement : that I still had a great deal to learn. But other times she did not; she did not grasp fully the gulf that separates the historic master, to whom the truth is obvious, from the merely intelligent student. Since her mind immediately integrated a remark to the fundamentals it presupposes, she would project at once, almost automatically, the full, horrendous meaning of what I had uttered, and then she would be shocked at me. Once I explained that I had not understood the issue at all, her anger melted and she became intent on clarifying the truth for me. The anger she felt on such occasions was mistaken, but it was not irrational. Its root was her failure to appreciate her own intellectual uniqueness.

I don't think this account is fully honest. Peikoff isn't very self-aware. He should have taken more seriously that Rand's intuitions could be correct. Maybe she was getting angry for a reason. In other words, maybe Peikoff was doing something wrong. He could have considered that more. There are signs in both of these passages that he wasn't actually very deferential or respectful to Rand's judgment. He'd disagree with her and expect to be right, even though he won zero or near-zero debates with her.

Here's what I think Peikoff was doing wrong: he (on multiple occasions) made horrendous statements without knowing what he was talking about. That's not just an unavoidable accident. He could have asked questions or made more tentative or conditional statements. He could have spoken within the limits of his knowledge instead of trying to make claims about issues he didn't understand at all.

I actually talked about that in my essay on lying. See e.g. the section "If You Don’t Know, Say So" or in the section "Reasonable Expectations" where I wrote:

Communicating that you know more than you actually know is lying. If you speak confidently when you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re being dishonest. An honest person makes his words and tone match his thinking.

I don't think getting angry was the ideal reaction from Rand. (I'm not confident that Peikoff understood Rand's emotional states accurately, so I don't know if she really was angry.) But Peikoff was no innocent. Based on his own story, she was reacting negatively to him doing something wrong. And he still doesn't know what he did. And he doesn't respect Rand enough to assume that if she was angry then he did something bad that he shouldn't recount to the public (I don't think he wants to share his flaws, look bad, and tell Objectivists specifically about how his flaws and mistreatment of Rand drove her to anger).

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