Re: META: To my fellow Extropians

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Apr 26 2001 - 12:02:54 MDT

Jim Fehlinger wrote:
> In off-list correspondence, I recently commented to someone how grateful
> I was to Max for not slapping me down for some of my more off-the-wall
> posts to the Extropians.

Jim, *I* wouldn't have slapped you down. If you were on SL4, and you told
me you were considering leaving because the post quality was getting too
low, I would panic. If you posted a message tomorrow saying that you were
leaving the Extropians list, I would have followed up with a message
saying: "Well, now we've lost Jim Fehlinger!"

> I'm a little dismayed by your control-freaky attitude, Eliezer -- if
> nothing else, it's a waste of energy. You already have a little
> corner of the Internet where you can be god-emperor -- your SL4 and
> Singularitarians' lists. You sound like a print magazine editor
> two or three times your age harrumphing about competition from
> "irresponsible" journalists on the Web (like the editors of some
> hi-fi magazines I read).

Well, the Singularitarians list is low-volume... but the SL4 list - where
I am, as you put it, the god-emperor, or rather merely moderator - has a
hell of a lot higher post quality than the Extropian list. It takes being
on a young, growing list to appreciate how this list is dying. There are
plenty of opinions on SL4 opposed to mine. They are simply, by and large,
correctly spelled. There are no (or very few) one-liner "me too"
postings. When an issue arises that has been previously discussed, the
poster is referred to the list archives; we may have only a fourth as many
messages as Extropians, but the messages are *all* new and unexplored
territory. In short, it's a lot like the Extropians list circa 1996,
although higher-quality and lower-volume.

But the Extropians list is much higher-profile. As such, it performs a
function within the transhumanist community, one from which I have
benefited in the past, and it concerns me if that functionality seems to
be being lost. And since the Extropians list is higher-profile, it
sincerely concerns me that more real-world things seem to be happening on
SL4 than on Extropians. Imagine how much a high-profile list like this
one could accomplish! If it weren't driving away all the new subscribers.

> And again the broadly-directed elitist swipe -- this business about
> "cherished subscribers ... with major identities outside [the list]".
> What the hell does that mean? They have Nobels, Pulitzers? They've
> been on the cover of _Time_? They've been interviewed by Barbara
> Walters? Damien Broderick has a substantial presence in the
> memesphere outside this list, but he's never used it as an excuse
> to intimidate or bully anybody, and he's willing to deal with
> people on the basis of the content of their posts **to this list**,
> without sniffing around to see Who's Who. You know, the real
> Somebodies of the world probably don't have a lot of time to spend
> on the Internet, and the ones that do either have to do it anonymously
> (can you imagine Bill Gates posting to this list under his own name?)
> or by means of forums with the requisite amount of privacy and
> exclusivity (like your own Singularitarians' list, n'est-ce pas?).

One of the most valuable functions of a living, breathing mailing list is
the ability for real-world things to happen as a result of what goes on
there - for there to be real-world consequences, not just endless
complaining and "someone ought to" and project proposals that never go
anywhere. And for that to happen, it is necessary that the list
environment be liveable for a person who is extremely busy, because at
least one person who is extremely busy is usually a necessary component
for any real-world operation.

A list needs them both - the Who's Whos and the brilliant
seventeen-year-olds and everyone on the spectrum in between. My point is
that a huge volume of babbling isn't just tragic because it drives away
that set of smart people who have limited time, but because the smart
people who have limited time are necessary to one of the most important
functionalities of the list. Losing *any* smart person for whatever
reason is a tragedy, but it's an individual tragedy, a tragedy a list can

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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