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I Don’t Want a Non-Public Discussion with You

People send me non-public messages on various platforms. This is fine. If you want to give me feedback on my work by email, I’ll take it. You can reply to any Critical Fallibilism article which you receive by email and tell me your comments. If you want to say something else to me, you may.

I call the messages non-public because the public can’t see them. But they’re not private either. If you contact a stranger on the internet, you shouldn’t expect privacy. I don’t usually share non-public messages, but I think sharing them is permissible. I didn’t agree to keep your secrets. Don’t send me anything secret. (I’ve never actually had a stranger send me their secrets, but I have had people argue that I owe complete 100% privacy to anyone who sends me an email. I disagree. If you don’t like my opinion, feel free not to contact me non-publicly.)

If you contact me non-publicly, the chance that I reply is lower than in public. If I do reply, my reply is likely to be shorter. And if you try to initiate a discussion, I’m going to tell you to use my discussion forum instead of having the discussion non-publicly.

I read the messages people send me, but I’m busy and I’m much more likely to give a substantial reply (like a few paragraphs of explanation) on my forum. A lot of people get discouraged if I don’t reply, or if I give only a brief reply. If that’s you, you’re better off using the forum, so you’re less likely to get discouraged. And if someone else replies, that may prevent discouragement too.

Why do I want you to use my forum? Mainly because I want my writing to be readable by my whole audience, not by one person. I want to share my ideas with the world. I’m more willing to write for many people – for the public – than for you personally. I want to help more people, explain ideas to more people, and have the possibility of feedback from more people.

Lots of people want to talk with me, and I've already had a huge number of conversations with people. I still have conversations but I need to take steps to manage the conversation requests and reduce repetition. Asking people to use my forum is one of the main ways I do that. I then prioritize people who listen. (I also do other things more now like linking people to existing writing instead of writing new things.)

I also want my writing and conversations to be easy to bring up in future conversations. I want to be able to reuse quotes and examples. That works best if I discuss somewhere on the internet which is readable at a permanent link that will still work in the future.

If you ask me questions or make arguments, sometimes other people besides me know the answer. One of my audience members might be willing to answer. If someone else gives a good answer, that saves me time. And you’ll get more answers in a public discussion since I won’t answer everything but someone else might talk.

If you have a question, it’s likely that someone else had the same question. If you ask it in public and I answer in public, then it’s answered for other people too. I don’t want to repeat myself more due to people contacting me non-publicly.

If you want help learning in private, hire me as a tutor. If you don’t want to pay me, the best way to get some help from me anyway is by using my discussion forum. And the more my fans help each other instead of relying on me, the better.

Some people seem to want (free) personal attention from me, but don’t want to talk to anyone else in my audience. I don’t appreciate that attitude. If you want help beyond my articles and videos, you need to use the available resources including other people. And you should participate in creating resources that can help others. If you make a public forum topic where you learn something, that’s now a resource that others can learn from too. If you don’t like something about the forum, feel free to post criticism or help make it better by participating in positive ways.

Some people think using my forum doesn’t matter because they’re just asking a small question and there isn’t going to be a long discussion. But often they make a mistake or bring up an interesting topic, and either way there’s a lot that could be said.

If you think it’s fine to non-publicly ask me a question because that’s just a question not a discussion, think again. Even if it’s only a very short discussion, I don’t want to answer everyone’s questions individually. I want each answer I give to answer the question for many people. I don’t want to give people free, non-public help just because it’s short; if you want a small amount of free help, I might be willing to give it to you but one of the things I want in return is that you use my forum.

Even if i could answer your question in one sentence, other people probably have the same question, so I’d rather do it where they can see the answer. That saves me time so I answer the same question fewer times. Also, a lot of people with a question won’t ask it and will never get an answer unless they see someone else ask it and be answered.

Another problem with having a non-public discussion with people who contact me is they are usually pretty repetitive in the early stages of the discussion, and then usually stop participating later. Most people and flakey and busy, and only dabble in philosophy. I actually want long, deep discussions and debates related to philosophy, but I find that other people usually don’t, so trying to get a substantial conversation is a risk. Risky things need to be gated by some barriers to entry such as making the effort to use my forum (other things help too such as putting 20 articles on a blog, which shows you’re actually willing and able to write a bunch).

What about public places other than my forum? They’re better than DMs or emails, but worse than my forum. They’re a middle ground. If you use my YouTube comments, the majority of my audience will never see that. And it will be hard for me to find later. It won’t show up when searching my forum. I prefer to keep discussion in one place so it’s more organized. Also, if the discussion starts to get more long or interesting, YouTube is actually a bad place to have it, so we’d have to move mid-discussion. My forum uses the Discourse software which has much better discussion features than YouTube. I don’t want to discourage YouTube comments (or even emails). You’re welcome to send them. I read them but I’m unlikely to write substantial replies.

If you post on my forum then:

  • Others can read the discussion (this benefits my audience, which I want)
  • Others can answer your questions or arguments (this saves my time)
  • Others can share thoughts and comments (this benefits me)
  • Everything I say is exposed to public criticism (so if I make a mistake, I have a better chance at receiving a correction)
  • If you stop discussing, someone else might take over your side of the discussion (I want the possibility of long, deep discussions)
  • The forum software has better discussion features
  • And I can use forum discussions in the future:
    • I can reuse an argument, example or idea without rewriting it
    • I can link or cite things from the discussion
    • I can use quotes from the discussion
    • I can point to something from the discussion as an example
    • I can respond to the discussion with further thoughts, even years later

To summarize, non-publicly sharing comments and feedback with me, about my work, is fine. I prefer comments are shared publicly but if you prefer non-public, go ahead; I still want the comments and it doesn’t make a big difference. But if you want discussion or replies, then I strongly prefer using my public forum so that others can read and participate. You can send me non-public stuff for my benefit, but if you want a benefit for you then, in exchange, I ask that you use my forum.

Join my discussion forum at https://discuss.criticalfallibilism.com. The ability to post costs a one-time $20. That’s not aimed at profit; it’s to help filter out low quality participants. I don’t want people to use the forum who value it less than $20 (and I don’t want non-public discussions with those people either). Also, to be clear, while I do participate at my forum more than most intellectual writers participate in their community discussions, I don’t guarantee replies or personal attention. Signing up doesn’t buy my time.

Remember, I’m busy. I have lots of things to do like writing more articles, making more videos, reading, and developing new ideas (which I do largely unpaid, and which I share with the world primarily out of generosity and good will).

Elliot Temple on August 8, 2022


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