Re: Committee on Un-Extropian Activities (Was: Openness to Unpopular Ideas)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 00:38:51 MDT

Lee Corbin wrote:
> Eliezer Yudkowsky writes
> >
> > Discussions are moved forward, not by the ten thousand critics who are
> > wrong and clueless, but by the hundred critics who are wrong and smart,
> > and above all by the one critic who is smart and right.
> Let me guess who you think that one critic might be.

Mitchell Porter has managed to outguess me twice on major issues, an
assorted small group of people have managed it once, and now that I'm in
physical proximity to other Extropians I actually find people outguessing
me now and then on routine matters, which is an unusual and pleasant
experience compared to the previous years of my life.

There are a number of smart people on the list who disagree with various
aspects of the normal Extropian worldview. In fact, I can't think of any
smart person who agrees completely, except Max More, who gets away with it
only because he technically defines the standard.

The list environment has been degenerating because of the large number of
clueless questions drowning out the smart discussion of deep issues.

> > Seeking out that one critic requires that you be willing to tell
> > the ten thousand others to go do their repetitive babbling on some
> > other mailing list that's actually interested.
> As if that is going to achieve the desired goal.

When I say "tell to go elsewhere", I of course mean "politely ask to stop
posting, followed by forcible removal from the list".

> > The ten thousand useless critics, having vastly overestimated
> > their own intelligence, will insist that you are being
> > close-minded.
> Yes, it would be so good if we had an objective way to avoid
> overestimating our own capabilities.

You just have to be more objective than they are. Note that I don't say
you have to prove to them that you are objective.

> > Anyone want to revive the Committee on Un-Extropian Activities? I think
> > this list could really use it.
> Would you please clarify? I don't know if you are being sarcastic
> or not. The persecutorial nature of the old HUAC is well-known, of
> course; but since lists *really are* censored from time to time, and
> it's conceivable that some body of extropians might take this upon
> themselves, you might be serious. Was there really such a committee
> in the days before I joined the list, to your knowledge?

No, it's a running gag.

Well, a bit more than that. I once pointed out that in a physical
gathering, there's feedback when a group of people want the speaker to
shut up; they mumble among themselves, cough, glare, wander away... a
mailing list lacks that feedback. There's no intermediate level between
silence and the socially portentous act of actually posting a reply, which
on some level we think is equivalent to saying "Shut up!" to a speaker we
don't like. So perhaps a small band of Extropians should get together and
begin pointing out posts that are stupid, daring the social consequences,
since after all it's just a mailing list, and otherwise the quality will
keep going down. This group would be called the "Committee on
Un-Extropian Activities" by way of self-conscious irony and to remind
ourselves how dangerous such an endeavor can be... not that we really need
reminding of the danger per se, since it's blindingly obvious to any
Extropian; more that we acknowledge the danger and openly declare, as a
statement criticizable by smart but wrong critics, that we think we really
are that good.

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

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