The Value of Selectivity in Dating, Discussions, and Comment Moderation

Being a guy with a lot of female friends on dating websites, you hear a lot of stories. You hear about the guys who write first messages with just “Hey”, or “Hey, sexy!” (I’m being generous about their spelling and grammar), etc. You hear about the guys who write first messages suggesting that the recipient move across the country to live with them immediately. You hear about the guys who write creepy messages, and you hear about the guys who write creepy messages and then get incredibly angry when women write them back explaining that their message was creepy.

One of the strangest ones to hear about, for me, is the guys who respond to rejection with some variation on “Just give me a chance, you don’t want to miss out on a really good thing!”. On a very surface level, it makes sense. If only a small minority of people are going to be a good match, then giving more people chances means more chances to meet a person in that small minority of People Who Are Good Matches For You.

The problem with the “Just give me a chance, you might be missing out on a good thing!” logic (well, one of the problems) is that taking a chance on someone requires time and energy, and time and energy are finite resources. You can only go on so many dates over the course of your life, so it makes sense to be discriminating about who you go on them with. Taking a chance on someone who doesn’t seem like a good match means not taking a chance on someone else who might be more likely to be a good match.

It doesn’t make sense to go on a date with everyone who asks for the same reason it doesn’t make sense to buy lottery tickets – just because there’s a chance it might work out well for you doesn’t mean it’s remotely likely that it will work out well for you. It is, in point of fact, a much better idea to never buy lottery tickets, and to refuse to go on dates with people who seem like really bad matches. Not buying lottery tickets means you have more money to spend on good investments, and not going on dates with bad matches means you have more time to spend going on dates with potentially good matches.

This logic is pretty simple, and I think pretty intuitive for most people. Now let’s talk about a different, but similar type of thing: people who argue that moderating comments on the Internet means you’re a bad skeptic, because you’re missing out on exposing yourself to all of the available ideas about a topic.

These people are making exactly the same mistake.

I have developed a more and more heavy-handed policy on comment moderation over time, thanks almost entirely to my post about Schrödinger’s rapist. I’m pretty comfortable these days with blocking people at the first sign that they aren’t going to contribute any ideas of value to the discussion. Not only am I comfortable with it, I think it raises the likelihood that I will have opportunities to be exposed to new ideas. I think it makes me a better skeptic.

I have a finite amount of time and energy to spend reading about and engaging with people’s ideas. On account of that, in the same sense that it is in the best interest of people on dating websites to be selective about who they go on dates with, I believe that it is in my best interest to be selective about who I allow to contribute to discussions on my blog. I believe that being selective makes it more likely I will be exposed to interesting ideas that may change my opinion, not less.

Let’s say, as a hypothetical, that my blog was all about math. “I think 2+2 = 5” and “I think I have a solution to this millennium prize problem” are not equally valuable contributions to a discussion about math. They are both ideas, but they do not both contribute equally. If one commenter were to regularly assert that 2+2 was equal to five, I would ban them quickly, because they would be contributing nothing to the discussion. I would much prefer to have the discussion about solving millennium prize problems.

By the same token, if I had a blog that was all about studying climate change, I would probably block climate change deniers. Blocking a particular climate change denier does, obviously, prevent me from being exposed to their input. However, I wouldn’t consider this a loss for two reasons: first, because their input isn’t new or novel — it isn’t just wrong, it’s redundant — and second, because it is trivially easy to look up the arguments and opinions of client change deniers anyway. If they ever were to come up with a new, interesting idea, it wouldn’t be hard to find.

Blocking those people would mean I had more time and energy to engage with people who have thoughtful, nuanced opinions about the topics under discussion. It absolutely does deprive me of access to those people’s opinions in the same way that not going on a date with that person who pleads “Just give me a chance!” would deprive me of the miniscule chance that they would turn out to be a good match, but ultimately it leaves me with more time to engage with ideas of value.

That’s why I am 100% for comment moderation. Not all ideas are created equal, and valuing ideas that are interesting, nuanced, and not redundant means creating a space where more interesting and valuable ideas can be addressed. I contend that in the same way that going on dates with everyone who asked would lower the quality of your love life, listening to the ideas of everyone with an idea regardless of whether the ideas were interesting or valuable lowers the quality of your discourse — it means less time is spent on the valuable, nuanced ideas that are worth discussing, and more time is spent on the “2+2 = 5” ideas that contribute  nothing.

This is why I heavily moderate comments on my Schrödinger’s rapist post. This is why I really don’t care if I am repressing the kinds of ideas that are being satirized in this post – they are not new or interesting, they are so redundant that an entire post was written about them that felt so familiar to most feminists that it was, at times, rather depressingly hilarious.

I moderate comments because I want to be a better skeptic by exposing myself to ideas that are new, different, and nuanced instead of continuing to expose myself to the same litany of ideas that are old, the same, and born out of ignorance and a lack of nuance. My time and energy for addressing ideas is finite, so I judge it far better to spend that time and energy addressing ideas that constitute a valuable use of my time.

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