An Open Letter To Would-Be Bullshitters

we don’t trust; we verify

photo by Leo Manjarrez, via Unsplash

Tumbling down the rabbit hole is hard. It’s disorienting. It’s uncomfortable. It requires genuine humility as you realize all the things you never really understood properly in the first place.

But it’s also fun. It’s a highly effective filter for the truly open-minded, curious, and disciplined. There is a good amount of arrogance and disagreeableness too, but that’s trade-offs for you. Nothing is perfect.

Economics and engineering alike give rise to hard choices and opportunity costs. If you don’t like the choices that have been made, that’s absolutely fine. Nobody is forcing you to be here. “Not forcing anybody” is kind of the whole point, actually. We would love to convince you to join us, but everybody must make that choice for themselves.

We will be perfectly nice to you if you are willing to listen and to learn. If you come with nothing but an open mind, we will likely go out of our way to help. We may be terrible teachers. If so, let us know; that’s extremely valuable feedback. We tend to be arrogant and disagreeable so it’s not like it will be a huge surprise. If you come with expertise in an adjacent field, we would love to hear about it, and we will happily sit back and listen. We may be terrible hosts. Let us know that too, please.

It’s bad enough when people are totally ignorant and immediately dismissive. But we are at least used to it. There’s a meme for that.

But if you instead try to tell us that your expertise invalidates ours; that you alone have figured out what needs to be fixed even though you haven’t actually fixed it; that this is but a minor subset of your complexity-laundering theory of everything, we will be more “toxic” than you can possibly imagine. We will not hesitate to slay our heroes. We might even turn it into an art form if we are pissed enough.

And it’s not because we’re inherently mean, closed-minded, zealous, jealous, or intolerant. It’s purely and simply because our experience has trained us to be hypersensitive to bullshit. We have seen the havoc it can cause. This is not an academic circle-jerk. This is amongst the most important engineering projects ever attempted, not to mention the biggest honey pot in history. Don’t be the guy who walks into the Air Force and tells them they need to think more about clouds.

The problem can be reduced to Brandolini’s Law: it takes an order of magnitude more energy to refute bullshit than to create it. We all have finite and limited time and energy with which to try to do some good. Your bullshit is not just annoying or amusing, it’s immoral. It might take 10 years and $10m to build a beautiful cathedral, but it only takes 10 seconds to destroy it with $1k worth of explosives. The truth is a cathedral. It takes years to build a working system and to understand all the trade-offs that had to be made, but mere minutes for you to confuse the audience by opining on why you could have done a better job.

You are destroying the product of useful work performed. You are forcing us to consume intellectual capital. You are a negative interest rate, not nearly as interesting as you seem to think.

So don’t be surprised that we’re not letting you near the cathedral, and that we’re not sorry about it either. We are entirely welcoming to the authentically curious and humble, with no knowledge or experience required whatsoever. But of you … we will be maximally suspicious until you prove your work.

We don’t trust. We verify. Act accordingly.

follow me on Twitter @allenf32.

but don’t bullshit.

maybe a squirrel. maybe not. views my own, not my employer’s.

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