Or, In Defense of Telling People to Shut Up.

Being able to extend/exercise the principle of charity is a privilege. Specifically, the ability comes from the privilege of mostly interacting with reasonable people, or at least people with interesting and varied arguments. It’s easier to take time to engage with people when there are relatively few people engaging with you.

It’s tempting to think, “but I’m reasonable and intelligent! people should listen to me!” There are two problems with that: (1) due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, you should always doubt yourself when you think things like that; and (2) even if you’re right, that fact is not immediately obvious to your interlocutee. You are Schrödinger’s Idiot.

Even if you do not deserve to be dismissed, the person dismissing you is still right to do so, in the sense that they are responding rationally, ethically, and morally to their situation.

If you want to criticize someone usefully (usefully to them, not just for the benefit of bystanders), then you must first and separately earn their attention. This is harder than you think, even after you take into account this statement.

Sorting through respondents takes real effort, drains finite resources that very likely could be better spent elsewhere. Even if it’s incredibly easy to distinguish junk comments from good ones.

(Which it often isn’t. And a rougher distinguishing algorithm is cheaper than a more accurate one, and engaging a bad comment is usually more costly than missing a good one…)

“But they’re ignoring criticism! They’re refusing to change your mind!” No. They’re judging that, on an expected-value basis, the benefit of the good comments divided by the cost of sifting through to find them is less than the benefit/cost ratio available through other activities.

Just because they’re ignoring you doesn’t mean they’re ignoring everyone. There are more places to encounter contrary ideas than your favorite internet nattering point.

“Then I’ll send them email / PM on another forum / etc. !” NO NO NO NO NO. If someone is ignoring you in a particular internet venue, then switching to another venue in order to get their attention? Is the action of a stalker. Not that you’re necessarily being a stalker; but they can’t readily distinguish you from one, which necessarily makes you Creepy whether you deserve it or not. (There’s that Schrödinger again.)

If it helps, imagine that you’re courting them romantically instead of intellectually. That should help put the whole “signs of disinterest”/”deserving attention”/”why are you so cold to me” thing in proper perspective.

And, speaking of perspective, remember that you are only one of lots of people they interact with. Your interaction with them is not symmetrical. You are less important to them than they are to you.