Curiosity – Controversial Activism Is Problematic

I agree with what I think is the title/main idea here. But one part of the argument doesn’t make sense to me.

I think that, in general, less controversial causes are better independent of whether they’re correct. It’s better when people broadly agree on what to do, and then do it, instead of trying to proceed with stuff while having a lot of opponents who put effort into working against you.

For simplicity I’m thinking in terms of arbitrary numbers (‘units’) to measure effort and benefit. Suppose I have 100 units of effort to put into trying to make life better. I have two ideas I could work on, A or B. Suppose I’m right about both A and B, and 100 units of effort in A or B would have approximately equal effect in making life better.

Option A has broad agreement. If A is correct and I put 100 units of effort there, no one is working against me so life gets 100 units better.

Option B is controversial. If B is correct and I put 100 units of effort there, someone else is putting 100 units of effort into anti-B so life doesn’t get 100 units better. My effort and the anti-B person’s effort just cancel each other out. [Approximately - I’m aware that the clash of pro-B and anti-B efforts probably has some side effects other than simply cancelling out that I’m ignoring for now.]

However assuming I’m right about both A and B, simply choosing option A to work on doesn’t actually seem to bring more life benefit units vs. choosing option B.

Suppose I choose option B. All my efforts are cancelled out by anti-B, and A goes unaddressed so total life benefit units doesn’t change.

So suppose I choose A because it’s uncontroversial and my efforts there won’t get cancelled out. Life gets 100 units better because of my work on A. But because I left B unaddressed, life gets 100 units worse because of anti-B’s work. A and B cancel each other out. I’m still left in the situation where total life benefit units don’t change.

I understand and agree that I’m way more likely to be wrong about B than A. If B is so good then why does anti-B exist? If I’m wrong about B and not A then of course working on A is better. But your claim seems to be that, in general, A is better even if I’m right about both A and B, whereas mathematically they seem to be the same.

Is it because if I’m working on B that may itself provoke an anti-B that otherwise would choose to leave B alone and work on an uncontroversial C instead? So if I choose A, maybe we can collectively get A and C and leave B alone, rather than A and -B. That’s plausible, but depends on what other people choose and not just my choices.

Or is there something else going on that I’m not thinking of?

Did you brainstorm for at least five consecutive minutes by the clock?


Further explanation: as is typical for me I read the article then thought about it for several hours intermittently while also doing other things. I thought of this question and brainstormed during this time, but I never explicitly timed it by the clock nor allocated any time exclusively to brainstorming. Then I sat down to write what I’d thought so far, and continued to think while writing. I didn’t time my writing by the clock either but it was definitely more than 5 minutes.