Dispatches from Weird Platonic Spherical Cow Perfect Rationality Outside View World

Right Is The New Left

[Content warning: some ideas that might make you feel anxious about your political beliefs. Epistemic status: very speculative and not necessarily endorsed. This post is less something I will defend to the death and more a form of self-therapy.]

I.

Let’s explain fashion using cellular automata. This isn’t going to be cringe-inducingly nerdy at all!

We’ll start with a one-dimensional vertical “world” a single cell thick and however many cells we want tall. Cells can be in one of two states, “black” or “white”. We start with the top cell “black” and all the other cells white, and the world changes with granular time (“ticks”) according to the following rules:

1. On each tick, a cell tries to be the same color that the cell above it was last tick.
2. On each tick, a cell tries NOT to be the same color that the cell below it was last tick.
3. If they ever conflict, Rule 1 takes precedence over Rule 2.
4. If none of these rules apply, a cell stays as it is.

Here’s what we get with a world four cells tall.

And here’s what we get with a world ten cells tall.

It looks like what we’re getting is a “setup period” as the column fills, followed by a “sandwich effect” of two-cell-tall black rectangles separated by two-cell-tall white rectangles gradually moving down the column. Although this isn’t really what happens, it also looks like rectangles that fall off the bottom reappear on the top. The overall effect is sort of like a barber pole.

Okay, now let’s get to the fashion.

Consider a group of people separated by some ranked attribute. Let’s call it “class”. There are four classes: the upper class, the middle class, the lower class, and, uh, the underclass.

Everyone wants to look like they are a member of a higher class than they actually are. But everyone also wants to avoid getting mistaken for a member of a poorer class. So for example, the middle-class wants to look upper-class, but also wants to make sure no one accidentally mistakes them for lower-class.

But there is a limit both to people’s ambition and to their fear. No one has any hopes of getting mistaken for a class two levels higher than their own: a lower-class person may hope to appear middle-class, but their mannerisms, accent, appearance, peer group, and whatever make it permanently impossible for them to appear upper-class. Likewise, a member of the upper-class may worry about being mistaken for middle-class, but there is no way they will ever get mistaken for lower-class, let alone underclass.

So suppose we start off with a country in which everyone wears identical white togas. One day the upper-class is at one of their fancy upper-class parties, and one of them suggests that they all wear black togas instead, so everyone can recognize them and know that they’re better than everyone else. This idea goes over well, and the upper class starts wearing black.

After a year, the middle class notices what’s going on. They want to pass for upper-class, and they expect to be able to pull it off, so they start wearing black too. The lower- and underclasses have no hope of passing for upper-class, so they don’t bother.

After two years, the lower-class notices the middle-class is mostly wearing black now, and they start wearing black to pass as middle-class. But the upper-class is very upset, because their gambit of wearing black to differentiate themselves from the middle-class has failed – both uppers and middles now wear identical black togas. So they conceive an ingenious plan to switch back to white togas. They don’t worry about being confused with the white-togaed underclass – no one could ever confuse an upper with a lower or under – but they will successfully differentiate themselves from the middles. Now the upper-class and underclass wear white, and the middle and lower classes wear black.

It’s easy to see that this is the n = 4 version of the cellular automaton we just discussed.

Before I go on, an obvious objection – in a real world that doesn’t work on “ticks”, how do classes coordinate like this? Like, even if someone in the upper-class sent a super-secret message by butler to every single other member of the upper class saying “Tomorrow we all start wearing black, don’t tell anyone else”, within a day the rest of the world would notice, and the upper-class’ advantage would be lost. And surely in our real world, where the upper-class has no way of distributing secret messages to every single cool person, this would be even harder. They’d have to announce their plan publicly, which would make the signal worthless.

There are some technical solutions to the problem. Upper class people are richer, and so can afford to about-face very quickly and buy an entirely new wardrobe. Upper class people have upper class friends, so it’s easier for them to notice that black is ‘in’ and switch accordingly.

But I think the major solution is that there aren’t only four classes, and no one is entirely sure what classes they can or can’t pass for. The richest, trendiest person around wears something new, and either she is so hip that her friends immediately embrace it as a new trend, or she gets laughed at for going out in black when everyone knows all the cool people wear white. Her friends are either sufficiently hip that they then adopt the new trend and help it grow, or so unsure of themselves that they decide to stick with something safe, or so un-hip that when they adopt the new trend everyone laughs at them for being so clueless they think they can pull off being one of the cool people.

Or – you can’t just copy someone else’s outfit. That would be crass. So you have to understand the spirit of the fashion. But this is hard to get right if you’re not familiar with it. The less exposure you have to the values and individuals who generated it, the more likely you’ll get it wrong and end up looking like an idiot.

In other words, new trends carry social risk, and only people sufficiently clued-in and trendy can be sure the benefits outweigh the risks. But as the trend catches on, it becomes less risky, until eventually you see your Aunt Gladys wearing it because she saw something about it in a supermarket tabloid, and then all the hip people have to find a new trend.

There’s another solution to this problem too: the upper class copies trends from the underclass. We saw this happen naturally on the 5th tick of the four-cell world, but it might be a more stable configuration than that model suggests. If the rich deliberately dress like the poor, then the middle-class have nowhere to go – if they try to ape the rich, they will probably just end up looking poor instead. It is only the rich, who are at no risk of ever being mistaken for the poor, who can pull this off.

Why do I like this model? It explains a lot of otherwise mysterious things about fashion.

Why does fashion change so darned often? Why can’t people just figure out what’s pretty, then stick to that?

Why is wearing last year’s fashion such a faux pas? Shouldn’t the response be “That person is wearing the second most fashionable outfit ever discovered; that’s still pretty good”?

Why does fashion so often copy the outfits of the lower class (eg “ghetto chic”?) Why, if you are shopping for men’s shirts, are there so many that literally say “GHETTO” on them in graffiti-like lettering?

And I don’t think I’m a random nerd coming in here and telling fashion people that I understand them better than they understand themselves. This seems to be how fashion people really think. Just look at the word “poser” (or possibly “poseur”). The thrust seems to be: “A person who is not of the group that is cool enough to wear this fashion is trying to wear this fashion! Get ’em!”

The big complication is that there is not one ladder of coolness going from “upper class” down to “underclass”. There are businesspeople, intellectuals, punks, Goths – all of whom are trying to signal something different. And there’s more than just white or black – hundreds of different colors, styles, and whatever.

But I think this is the fundamental generator that makes it all tick. In fact, I think this principle – counter-signaling hierarchies – is the fundamental generator that makes a lot of things tick.

II.

In the past two months I have inexplicably and very very suddenly become much more conservative.

This isn’t the type of conservativism where I agree with any conservative policies, mind you. Those still seem totally wrong-headed to me. It’s the sort of conservativism where, even though conservatives seem to be wrong about everything, often in horrible or hateful ways, they seem like probably mostly decent people deep down, whereas I have to physically restrain myself from going on Glenn Beck style rants about how much I hate leftists and how much they are ruining everything. Even though I mostly agree with the leftists whenever they say something.

(In fact, it seems like an important observation that there is a state of mind in which, no matter what your intelligence or rationality level, Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh-style rants against The Left seem justifiable and fun to listen to. I cannot communicate this state of mind and don’t know why it occurs.)

At first I didn’t notice this, because way back when I was a teenager and very leftist, I made a conscious decision that in order to counter my natural biases I should try to be as understanding and friendly to conservatives as possible. I gradually got better and better at this and didn’t notice that I was getting too good at it until it suddenly started to explode.

And now I am trying to figure out why that is.

Like all of you, my first thought was of course the pathogen stress theory of values. If conservative values are fueled by fear of contamination based on an inbuilt evolutionary reaction to the observed level of pathogen exposure, then my current work on an internal medicine hospital team – which is pretty heavy on the death and disease even for a doctor – would turn me super-conservative very quickly. But this hypothesis should mean that all doctors should be very conservative, which doesn’t seem to be true. So scratch that.

Perhaps it’s a natural effect of settling down, having a stable job, living in my own house, and being in a long-term relationship. But again, a lot of people seem to do all those things without becoming conservative. And none of that has changed in the past few months.

I do admit that, although I try to base my reasoned opinions on The Greater Good, a lot of my political emotions are based on fear, especially fear for my personal safety. I don’t feel remotely threatened from the right – even when I meet anti-Semites who think all Jews should die, my feelings are mostly benevolent bemusement. I know if it ever came to any conflict between me and them, then short of them killing me instantly I would have everyone in the world on my side, and the possibility of it ending in any way other than with them in jail and me a hero who gets praised for his bravery in confronting them is practically zero. On the other hand, I feel massively threatened from the left, since the few times I got in a fight with them ended with me getting death threats and harrassment and feeling like everyone was on their side and I was totally alone. But nothing new of this sort has happened in the past two months. That was probably a risk factor, but it can’t have been the trigger.

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately – nothing serious, just very busy days at work with pretty much no free time (writing blog entries doesn’t require free time. They just appear.) It wouldn’t really surprise me if stress were related to conservativism. But I’ve been much more stressed in the past without this effect. Maybe work-related stress has some special ability to cause this effect? That would explain why so many working-class people with crappy jobs end up conservative.

The Left has been doing an unusual number of bad things in the past two months. I remember especially noticing the Eich incident and invasion of the Dartmouth administration building and related threats and demands. And then there was that thing with the national debate championships that is so horrible I still refuse to believe it and hold out hope against hope it turns out to be some absurdly irresponsible reporting or maybe a very very late April Fools’ joke. But I feel like these sorts of things probably go on all the time, and my increased conservativism is the cause, and not the effect, of me noticing them. And I notice I don’t feel the same level of cosmic horror when conservatives do something equally outrageous.

The explanation I like least is that it comes from reading too much neoreaction. I originally rejected this hypothesis because I don’t believe most what I read. But I’m starting to worry that there are memes that, like Bohr’s horseshoe, affect you whether you believe them or not: memes that crystallize the wrong pattern, or close the wrong feedback loop. I have long suspected social justice contains some of these. Now I worry neoreaction contains others.

In particular I worry about the neoreactionary assumption that leftism always increases with time, and that today’s leftism confined to a few fringe idiots whom nobody really supports today becomes tomorrow’s mainstream left and the day after tomorrow’s “you will be fired if you disagree with them”. Without me ever really evaluating its truth-value it has wormed its way into my brain and started haunting my nightmares.

Certain versions of it are certainly plausible. In 1960, only a handful of low status people were arguing that “sodomy laws” should be repealed, and they were all insisting that c’mon, obviously it would never go as far as gay marriage, we’re just saying you shouldn’t be put in jail for it. Meanwhile, fifty years later people are enforcing a rule that if you’re not on board with gay marriage, you shouldn’t be allowed to hold a high-status job.

Of course, many leftist views, even leftist social views, don’t spiral out of control like this. Support for abortion and gun control have stayed pretty stable for decades, radical feminism seems to have leveled off, and aside from global warming environmentalism has kind of faded into the background. But it’s impossible to predict which ones are going to spiral – to a 1960s conservative homosexuality would have seemed just about the least likely thing to catch on.

So now every time I read an article about horrible conservatives – like that South Carolina mayor – I can dismiss it as a couple of people doing dumb things and probably the system will take care of it. If it doesn’t take care of it by punishing him personally, it’ll take care of it by making people like him obsolete and judged poorly by posterity.

But every time I read an article about horrible leftists – like the one with the debate club – part of me freaks out and thinks – in twenty years, those are the people who are going to be getting me fired for disagreeing with them.

And every time I want to talk about it, I freak out and worry that soon they’ll start firing people for disagreeing with the idea that you should be able to fire people for disagreeing with ideas. Like, this could go uncomfortably far.

And so there is a dark and unpleasant Orwellian part of my brain that tells me: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a hack misjudging a college debate – forever.”

III.

But like I said, that’s the explanation I like least. My favorite involves those cellular automata from before.

A friend recently pointed out that conservatives aren’t, on average, very smart. He illustrated this with a graph of IQ vs. political belief which confirms that the left has a significant advantage.

But I look at my Facebook feed, and here is what I observe.

I see my high school classmates – a mostly unselected group of the general suburban California population – posting angry left stuff like “Ohmigod I just heard about that mayor in South Carolina WHAT A FUCKING BIGGOT!!!”

I see the people I think of as my intellectual equals posting things that are conspicuously nuanced – “Oh, I heard about that guy in South Carolina. Instead of knee-jerk condemnation, let’s try to form some general principles out of it and see what it teaches us about civil society.”

And I see the people I think of as the level above me posting extremely bizarre libertarian-conservative screeds making use of advanced mathematics that I can barely understand: “The left keeps saying that marriage as an institution isn’t important. But actually, if we look at this from a game theoretic perspective, marriage and social trust and forager values are all in this complicated six-dimensional antifragile network, and it emergently coheres into a beneficial equilibrium if and only if the government doesn’t try to shift the position of any of the nodes. Just as three eighteenth-century Frenchmen and a renegade Brazilian Marxist philosopher predicted. SO HOW COME THE IDIOTS ON THE LEFT KEEPS TRYING TO MAKE GOVERNMENT SHIFT THE POSITION OF THE NODES ALL THE TIME???!”

(I will proceed to describe this level extensionally: Jonathan Haidt, Bowling Alone, time discounting, public choice theory, the Hajnal line, contract law, Ross Douthat, incentives, polycentric anything, unschooling, exit rights)

And, I mean, I know the reason I get so many people trying to come up with bizarre mathematizations of politics is because those are the sorts of people I select as my friends. The part I don’t get is why so many of them end up weird libertarian-conservative. Certainly not because I selected them for that. I don’t even think they were weird libertarian-conservatives a few years ago when I met a lot of them. It just seems to have caught on.

And my theory is that in a world where the upper class wears black and the lower class wears white, they’re the people who have noticed that the middle class is wearing black as well, and have decided to wear white to differentiate themselves.

It’s the reverse of the 1950s. Assume you’re a hip young intellectual in the 1950s. You see all these stodgy conservatives around you – I don’t even know what “stodgy” means, I just know I’m legally obligated to use it to describe 1950s conservatives. You see Mrs. Grundy, chattering to her grundy friends about how scandalous it is that some people read books about sex, lecturing to the school board on how they had better enforce her values on the children or she will have some very harsh words to say to them.

And you think “Whatever else I am, I’m not going to be a mediocrity like Mrs. Grundy. I’m not going to conform.” Which, in the 1950s, meant you became a leftist, and talked about how stodgy society was fundamentally oppressive, and how you were going to value different things, and screw what Mrs. Grundy thought.

And gradually this became sufficiently hip that even the slightly less hip intellectuals caught on and started making fun of Mrs. Grundy, and then people even less hip than that, until it became a big pileup on poor Mrs. Grundy and anyone who wanted even the slightest claim to intellectual independence or personal integrity has to prove themselves by giving long dissertations on how terrible Mrs. Grundy is.

But when Mrs. Grundy herself joins the party, what then?

I mean, take that article on Dartmouth. A group of angry people, stopping just short of violence, invade a school building and make threats against the president unless he meets their demands. Every student must be forced to attend moral instruction classes inculcating their (the protesters’) values. Offensive terms must be removed from the library. And the school must take care to admit people of the right race. When was the last time you could hear a story like that and have it be even slightly probably that the mob was rightist?

It’s hard to argue that Mrs. Grundy is not a proud leftist by now, still chattering about how scandalous it is that people read books with the wrong values, still giving her terminally uncool speeches to the school board about how they had better enforce her values on the children (and if she can get the debate society on board as well, so much the better).

There must be overwhelming temptation among hip intellectuals to differentiate themselves from Mrs. Grundy by shifting rightward.

And perhaps so far this has been kept in check by the second rule of our cellular automaton – you can’t take a position that would get you plausibly confused for a person of lower class than you.

I was tickled by a conversation between two doctors I recently heard in a hospital hallway:

Doctor 1: My daughter just got a full scholarship into a really good university in Georgia.
Doctor 2: Congratulations!
Doctor 1: Thanks! But I’m hoping she’ll choose somewhere closer to home.
Doctor 2: Why? Because you want to be able to visit her more?
Doctor 1: There’s that. But the other problem is that the South is full of those people.
Doctor 2: So? Colleges are like their own world. Your daughter probably won’t even encounter many of them.
Doctor 1: I know. But I keep worrying that just by being there, she’ll make friends with them, and then end up bringing one home as a boyfriend.

“Those people” is my replacement, not the original term used by the doctor involved. The doctor involved said a much less polite word.

She said “fundies”.

Fundies – in all of their Bible-beating gun-owning cousin-marrying stereotypicalness – have so far served as the Lower Class With Which One Must Not Allow One’s Self To Be Confused. But I think that’s changing. Sorting mechanisms are starting to work so well that, at the top, the fundies just aren’t plausible. In our model, people from class N can be confused with class N-1, but never with class N-2. But as the barber-pole movement of fashion creeps downward, fundies are starting to become two classes below certain people at the top, and those people no longer risk misidentification.

I notice that, no matter how many long rants against feminism I write, everyone continues to assume I am a feminist. It’s like, “He doesn’t make too many spelling errors, his writing isn’t peppered with racial slurs – he’s got to be a feminist. He probably just forgot the word ‘not’ in each of his last 228 sentences.”

And I wonder if maybe the reason why I am outraged by the debate team but not by the South Carolina mayor isn’t that I feel a greater threat from the debate team, but because I feel like there is a greater threat of me being mistaken for the debate team. If impotent expressions of outrage divorced from any effort to change things are ways of saying “I’m not like this! I promise!” And I get less outraged than some other people about South Carolina because I feel confident enough in my intelligence that I don’t worry anyone will mistake me for a fundie. But I feel less confident no one could mistake me for the sort of person who judged those debate championships, so I need to shout at them to show I’m Not Like That. This would actually explain a lot.

If some intellectuals no longer need to worry about being mistaken for fundies, that frees them to finally breath a sigh of relief and start making fun of Mrs. Grundy again. And that means they’ve got to become conservatives, or libertarians, or anything, anything at all, except for leftists.

So far it is just a few early adopters – the intellectual equivalent of the very trendy people who start wearing some outrageous fashion and no one knows if it is going to catch on or whether they will be soundly mocked for it.

And they are having a really difficult time, because a lot of conservative ideas aren’t that great. Like, reality leaves you a lot of degrees of freedom when you’re deciding your political self-presentation, but it doesn’t leave you an infinite number of degrees of freedom, and the project of creating something that is both anti-leftist enough to serve as a fashion statement but reality-based enough not to be dumb is still going on. The reactionaries are doing an excellent job maximizing the “anti-leftist” criterion. The “reality-based” criterion is a harder egg to crack, but it makes me think of Drew Summitt, Athrelon, and some of SarahC’s more political moments.

As the Commissioner puts it, “Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.”

When I put it like this, I realize I’m not becoming more conservative at all. I’m becoming anti-leftist. Actually, put that way a lot of people seem to be anti-leftist. I can’t think of a single specific policy proposal supported by Glenn Beck. Can you?

And I think the best explanation is that all my hip friends who I want to be like are starting to be conservative or weird-libertarian or some variety of non-leftist, and Mrs. Grundy is starting to become very obviously leftist and getting grundier by the day, and so the fashion-conscious part of my brain, the much-abused and rarely-heeded part that tells me “No, you can’t go to work in sweatpants, even though it would be much more comfortable”, is telling me “QUICK, DISENGAGE FROM UNCOOL PEOPLE AND START ACTING LIKE COOL PEOPLE RIGHT NOW.”

And I said this is my favorite of all the explanations. Why?

Because if it’s true, and it spreads beyond a couple of little subcultures, it means my worst fears are misplaced. The future isn’t a foot stamping on the face of a a college debate team forever. It’s people – or at least some people – rolling their eyes at those people and making fake vomiting noises. And then going too far, until other people have to roll their eyes at those people. And so on. Instead of a death spiral we get a pendulum, swinging back and forth.

But I would hope for something even better than that. Like, at each swing of the pendulum, people learn a little. I was really impressed with how many smart and decent people thought that the Eich thing was wrong (…and wore kilts, and played bagpipes…shut up). Fashion does not accrete, but maybe reality does. And I would like to think that the rationalist movement is a part of that. And if that’s true, that’s a way in which reality will eventually come to overpower fashion and the arc of the universe might tend toward justice after all.

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485 Responses to Right Is The New Left

1. blacktrance says:

My first reaction to this post was “Wow, what a bad reason to change your attitudes.”

My reaction upon reflection was to notice that I was a leftish neoliberal in my conservative Bible Belt high school, and in my left-wing liberal arts college I became more libertarian, but also more culturally radical so no one could confuse me for one of those Lew Rockwell-type conservative libertarians. But these were more changes in what parts of my beliefs I emphasized and less of my views actually changing (though that happened too). So now I’m wondering to what extent this applies to me.

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2. Tom Hunt says:

This is an interesting thought.

I notice that it seems to more or less encompass the generation-cyclical/”pendulum” theory of shifting political values, which is reasonably common to come across in analysis of long-term political trends. And there’s some reasonable deductive reasons to find that idea reasonable a priori. However, that theory would also tend to suggest that the long-term trend in political values is vaguely sinusoidal, or at least periodic. And while there may be some periodic components, that’s really not the long-term trend we can see; since at least 1700 or so, the trend is firmly unidirectional. There is certainly something to the periodic hypothesis, and I’m not willing to throw it out entirely; however, it seems more likely to me that the trend is, to use an inexact mathematical analogy, the sum of a sinusoidal and a constant term, and that over any reasonably long timeframe the constant term will dominate.

There is also the fact that, while meta-level analyses such as these can be useful and enlightening, it cannot be forgotten that there is an actual truth underneath, and forever investigating features of the debate without reference to the object level risks losing sight of it. In its more pernicious incarnations, this tendency becomes another method for one side in the object-level debate to club the other, by explaining away their position as arising from something other than reason or truth. This, too, can be valid; however, it seems a dangerous technique, embodying as it does the unbecoming epistemic arrogance of the assumption that one side in the political debate necessarily holds the Truth, and that the other’s positions are akin to psychological pathologies which require clinical analysis. In this dilemma, then, I incline to err on the side of more object-level rather than more meta-level thinking.

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• Nornagest says:

If I had to pin down a period for cycles of political values in the post-WWII era, I’d place it such that a swing happens about every half-generation — eight to twelve years. The Nineties were pretty liberal; the Eighties were pretty conservative. The Sixties and Seventies were both liberal at least as seen through modern pop culture, but the tie-dye-and-Rolling-Stones Sixties didn’t really kick off until midway through the decade.

There’s arguably a secular leftward trend superimposed on this cycle, but I’m a little skeptical of that, since the political arguments I’ve read from more than a century ago are, often as not, not so much right of my Overton window as completely irrelevant to my politics. There was an Anti-Masonic Party at one point, for example. An important one!

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• Tom Hunt says:

I submit that this may be an illusion generated by the fact that, due to the secular leftward shift, the issues which were in play more than a century ago have all been cemented firmly in the leftward direction (example: the gold standard, which is now in the realm where its proponents sound like kooks), and the issues which are in play now were then cemented firmly rightward (examples: gay marriage, segregation).

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• Nornagest says:

This is testable by looking back more than a century and seeing how many of the issues back then were won by the right and then proceeded to fossilize on that side of the Overton window.

It’s a little problematic because it requires definitions of “left” and “right” that map to things that aren’t currently politicized, though. How would you classify alcohol prohibition, for example? Many of the people pushing for it were highly religious, and it was a purity-oriented issue, but at the same time it was super interventionist and enjoyed wide support among the suffragist set.

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• Tom Hunt says:

In reply to Nornagest, since we’ve run into the recursion limit.

The reactionary analysis would be to model the mainline Protestant tradition as the left side, and its opponents as right. This seems to produce reasonable continuity in the sides, such that the factions on the ‘left’ side of any issue are qualitatively similar. By that standard, Prohibition would be a definitely leftist initiative (in keeping with its association with suffragists).

Of course, Prohibition itself was repealed, and its modern equivalents with respect to other drugs are unmistakeably rightist issues. I don’t know nearly so much about the circumstances of its repeal as of its passage, and so can’t really comment on how that event fits into the narrative of the secular shift leftward. I have heard, but cannot evaluate for correctness, the theory that the increase in government presence for the purpose of enforcing Prohibition was a causative influence on the later institution of New Deal programs, in which case some important part of the consequences of Prohibition did last past its repeal.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

> Of course, Prohibition itself was repealed, and its modern equivalents with respect to other drugs are unmistakeably rightist issues.

Except tobacco for some reason.

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• Anthony says:

“Of course, Prohibition itself was repealed, and its modern equivalents with respect to other drugs are unmistakably rightist issues.”

Drugs issues have gotten unmoored from the left-right axis, at least among the intellectual and political elites. While people near the left end of the “acceptable” spectrum are generally in favor of more legalization, particularly as a form of social welfare (“medical marijuana”, minimizing harm among addicts, etc.) and/or to capture tax revenue, there are a number of prominent rightists who aren’t otherwise near the right end of the spectrum who have argued in favor of greater legalization, often as a crime-reduction measure, or just for its own sake.

Voters in general still generally cleave to the left=legalize/right=ban pattern, but that’s changing, too, as more and more people know people who use drugs without destroying their lives.

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• Zathille says:

I must say I’ve felt vaguely the same way about this post when it comes to meta-analysis, it’s also something that tends to annoy me, perhaps duo to it sounding vaguely like an ‘argument from my opponent believes something’.

I am aware that the truth value of the beliefs in question is orthogonal to the point of this post, but I must say I find the swipes at conservatism and reaction to be a tad troublesome and muddysome [is that even a word?], it sounds to me like unnecessary and distracting signalling, to say the least.

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3. Nornagest says:

I don’t even know what “stodgy” means, I just know I’m legally obligated to use it to describe 1950s conservatives.

Square. Unhip. Militantly boring. Old-fashioned, but with connotations of being deliberately and stubbornly so.

Most of the cast of Mad Men (at least in early seasons; I haven’t seen late ones) is conservative but not stodgy. My grandparents (Berkeleyites for most of their lives) are stodgy but not conservative.

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• peterdjones says:

If you have been exposed to traditional Britishncookery, you know what stodgy means…

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4. Patrick says:

Self interest. Norms against political disputation affecting employment serve you well as an employee of a Catholic hospital. Feminist efforts at changing society via application of social opprobrium have harmed you in the past. The issues on which you most seem to split from the political left are all ones where the left position would leave you less socially and economically secure.

Meanwhile conservative politics also screw you over pretty hard, so you’re not a fan of those either, but its less important for you to oppose them publicly because they’re weaker in your political milieu.

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• Oligopsony says:

Plus NRx being identity politics for most of Scott’s identities.

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5. Fnord says:

This seems to be pretty related to the ideas in your meta-contrarian post. But when talking about meta-contrarians, you pointed out that the community that’s producing metac-contrarianism does so because of the specific (contrarian) nature of the community. I suspect that, in generalizing things here, you’re underestimating the importance of the multi-dimensionality of fashion (both intellectual and sartorial).

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6. Alexander Stanislaw says:

The illustration at the beginner was really cool. I have no idea why you claim that you’re not good at math if you came up with it.

Was any of this inspired by Freakanomics? Because this is how names evolve over generations. The old upper class names get picked up by the new middle class and the new upper class has to distinguish themselves by giving their babies different names. Source

I just realized that almost every one of my comments has a hyperlink. Not sure if this is a bad habit.

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• Me says:

> I just realized that almost every one of my comments has a hyperlink. Not sure if this is a bad habit.

They are invariably citations, which is a very good habit indeed. Much better to have your points cited than to be making bare assertions simply because you feel it wrong to include hyperlinks.

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The internet. I think we should blame the internet. Blame Reddit, Metafilter, the New York Times, Upworthy. They’re pushing this sorta naive progressivism and making these unsophisticated arguments and, when I read them, I can’t stop throwing up. (And then these arguments receive popular acclaim!)

Like yesterday when Krugman argues that conservatives hate solar power because liberals like it, plus this completely serious quote: “even motherhood and apple pie are fair targets if it turns out that liberals happen to like apple pie.”

And I read this sorta thing, every day — how tech is filled with nerdy white guys oppressing women, about cultural appropriation, about how global warming is the worst thing ever and what’s global catastrophic risk? On top of the constant blare of gay rights, gay rights, gay rights, like some sort of demented siren. If critical thought were food I would starve.

And you ask: How can someone who leans left end up hating the left?

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• Scott Alexander says:

Is the solar power thing wrong? I haven’t heard a good explanation for why people are pushing laws to prevent people from selling solar power back to the grid.

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• suntzuanime says:

The argument is that they’re currently required by law to overpay for solar power since the price of electricity covers not just electricity but also the creation and maintenance of the electric grid. So a solar customer who gives back as much energy as he takes still costs the power company money but does not provide any revenue.

Disclaimer: I have no idea if this argument is actually a reasonable description of the facts on the ground. It sort of smells like it might be bullshit.

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• Anonymous says:

Actually just heard a presentation today from a CEO of an energy collective. He said that there are laws that force the energy companies to buy back the power at the same rates that they sell (so in other words overpaying as you say). Then this cost is passed on to the people who don’t have solar panels (ie the less wealthy).

Also he claimed that because of California’s stringent environmental laws power companies there can’t actually meet the targets for renewable energy and so build a bunch of useless wind turbines and dump the cheap energy onto neighboring states’ markets. I probably should have clarified how this works..maybe the neighboring states/energy companies are forced to buy it by the federal govmt?

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• Eugine_Nier says:

They aren’t. They’re pushing to repeal laws that require the electric company to buy the power. If buying solar power actually saved money as Krugman claims, electricity companies would be willing to buy it without being forced to.

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• suntzuanime says:

There might be strategic reasons why you might want to smother a new technology that makes your entire business model near-obsolete in its cradle.

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• Tom Hunt says:

My understanding is that absent major technological breakthroughs in storage, neither photovoltaics nor wind turbines are capable of providing the backbone of a power grid; that requires a significant proportion of command-dialable sources, to react to fluctuating demand. Hence, buyback power from distributed rooftop panels is inherently less valuable than power from the large central turbines, if only due to supply and demand. (If you have enormous solar capacity, then you have abundant power during the day, and so the price of daytime power drops. But you can only sell power from your solar cells during the day….) If anything were to threaten making the power companies’ business model obsolete, it’d be the spread of a lot of small distributed nuclear plants, but this, of course, is not happening and not likely to happen.

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• Vilhelm S says:

This Hacker News thread seems plausible. The current pricing model benefits households over industry, so it is politically hard to change it.

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• Anthony says:
• EoT says:

That reminds me of PZ Myers. Every time I read something by him, I feel a powerful urge to reject it just because his argumentation is so hostile and shrill.

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8. Kaminiwa says:

I’m curious which particular bit of the national debate championship link upset you? (I feel sort of awkward asking, since you described it as obviously horrible ^^;)

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• Said Achmiz says:

Actually, I second this. I skimmed it, it did seem to be full of silly, but I too am curious which part(s) provoked such an apparently visceral reaction of horror from Scott.

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• Ravioli says:

I do policy debate, and it’s not nearly as silly as it sounds, either. Critical arguments in policy debates are usually of the form ‘the way we’re framing this problem makes it impossible to solve it’. They’re required to prove that

1) the way we’re framing the problem is causing concrete harm in some way

2) there’s a reasonable alternative that reduces that harm and

3) we can’t achieve any of the benefits we might claim from affirming the resolution until we’ve done that alternative.

So, if the topic was military intervention abroad, the team might argue “As long as inequalities in policing and imprisonment are so acute in the United States, we lack the moral authority to effect meaningful nation-building abroad.” Then they propose an alternative, something like using the round to have a debate about sentencing guidelines and state violence. Then they argue that, once we’ve done that, we’ll be successful in using state violence to achieve nation-building abroad.

A competent opponent will argue that we have, in the past, achieved successful nation-building abroad while committing far worse abuses at home, that ‘state violence’ isn’t a good category to group racialized policing and the War in Afghanistan, and that a conversation about state violence in the debate room won’t possibly change enough to make anything better afterwards.

A /fun/ opponent will say ‘sure, I’ll take you up on that. Let’s /have/ a conversation about state violence at home, but we disagree with several fundamental premises in the way you tried to start that conversation.’

Anecdote, being useful for persuasion, is frequently employed here; you’ll get a conversation about state violence in the form of the debaters talking about dead friends or how the atmosphere in their community was affected by the Trayvon Martin saga. This is one of the rhetorical skills debate is intended to teach, and I imagine the winners were damn good.

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• Also, scream “Fuck the time!” Oh wait, that was the losers. The winners brought up “What is an ‘authentic nigga?’ ” Sure, that fits right in with Good Ol’ Fashioned White Debate.

Four hours of it and don’t let me near a pistol.

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• Tyrrell McAllister says:

I too didn’t see what the big deal was at first. Debate competitions, as Robin Hanson might say, isn’t about the truth. The criteria by which competitors “win” never seemed to me to be especially truth-tracking. So, to my eyes, the article looked at first like it was just about a group of debaters who wanted to replace one set of non-truth-tracking criteria by another.

However, I started to get where Scott was coming from when the article got to the point where people were accusing other people of racism for wanting to start an alternative tournament that played by the “traditional rules”.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

My impression was that the old criteria were an attempt to track truth subject to the constraint that you can’t choose the side you’ll be arguing for. As such it taught skills, like finding the best argument for a position you may not support, that were useful for truth-seeking.

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• Said Achmiz says:

people were accusing other people of racism for wanting to start an alternative tournament that played by the “traditional rules”.

Ah. I missed that part. Yeah, that’s definitely horrifying and disgusting.

@Eugine_Nier:
It seems like debates teach the skill of finding persuasive arguments, which is not the same as teaching how to figure out the truth.

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• Kaminiwa says:

Once you’ve conceded that the new winners are in fact practicing debate and not “ruining” the sport on any fundamental level, it seems like there’s ONLY suspect motives for wanting a new debate team.

Whether the new debate team is because white people are used to a culture where everyone “acts white” and don’t want to deal with people “acting black”; or they’re just upset because poor colleges are beating their rich colleges; or they’re having trouble handling the diversity of opposing arguments and can no longer fall back on “tried and true” techniques…

I can’t come up with a motive that *isn’t* the old guard trying to defend it’s “privileged” position. So while it might not actually be racism, it certainly does look like that’s actually a pretty reasonable candidate, and the alternatives don’t really paint the old guard in a significantly better light.

(And, just to clarify, they don’t want “traditional rules” – they want to codify tradition INTO rules. The article was pretty explicit that except for some “inappropriate language”, the new guard is playing entirely within the rules. That’s… kinda *why* the old guard has to create a new league, instead of just enforcing existing rules :))

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• Douglas Knight says:

The article was pretty explicit that except for some “inappropriate language”, the new guard is playing entirely within the rules.

Could you quote a specific passage?

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• Anonymous says:

@Kaminiwa

Once you’ve conceded that the new winners are in fact practicing debate and not “ruining” the sport on any fundamental level, it seems like there’s ONLY suspect motives for wanting a new debate team.

I think that I’m missing your point.

Consider an abstract scenario where one group wants to play Sport A, and another group wants to play Sport B, which is similar to Sport A but has somewhat different rules.

I can imagine lots of non-suspect reasons why the B-players might prefer to play Sport B rather than Sport A. I can imagine this being the case even if preference for B over A tends to fall along cultural lines.

So, you are somehow getting more information about the specifics of the policy-debate case, and this information somehow seems to eliminate all non-suspect reasons why anyone might prefer B over A.

What is this additional information, and why does it seem to eliminate all other possibilities? (Did you put real effort into finding other possibilities besides the ones that were immediately obvious to you?)

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• Tyrrell McAllister says:

Sorry, I was Anonymous @ April 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

> (And, just to clarify, they don’t want “traditional rules” – they want to codify tradition INTO rules. The article was pretty explicit that except for some “inappropriate language”, the new guard is playing entirely within the rules. That’s… kinda *why* the old guard has to create a new league, instead of just enforcing existing rules :))

And time limits, for example. Also the problem as I understand it is a combination of the judges refusing to enforce existing rules and refusing to judge debates by the criteria that they were traditionally judged by.

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• It gets worse when integrating class war politics that considers truth to be ownable and framing to be God.

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• Desertopa says:

This is well after the initial conversation here, but

Once you’ve conceded that the new winners are in fact practicing debate and not “ruining” the sport on any fundamental level, it seems like there’s ONLY suspect motives for wanting a new debate team.

I think it’s less the case that the people trying to start the new debate league have “conceded” that the people who’re shifting the rules are practicing debate than that they were trying to sidestep having to make the accusation that they aren’t, out of fear that such an accusation would itself be interpreted as racism, which fear I think would be completely justified. If they think that the shift is harmful to the debate culture, then in what way could they have expressed that which would not have led to such accusations?

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• White says:

Severely edited, but still revealing video from the debate event(s) was just posted to reddit. Here’s the youtube source

To me, this just sounds like word salad completely disconnected from any coherent argument. I’m curious what others took from it, though.

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9. Oligopsony says:

Interestingly, Bill Buckley had a roughly similar analysis of you, though his empirical assessment of the particulars was reversed: he said in an interview a few years ago that he originally adopted conservatism to be contrarian, and that if he were that age today he would probably have glommed onto socialism or communism.

Jumping up from anecdote to Big Ol’ Study, Randal Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies finds that intellectuals tend to gravitate towards the maximally contrarian thinkable position, but that this tends towards a stable group of a few big viewpoints in the absence of external shocks, rather than cyclic behavior or progress in any particular direction (except towards greater levels of abstraction, at least under certain conditions.)

(Perhaps worth noting that your explanation here is incompatible, or at least in tension, with the object-level fear of the Cathedral teleologically pushing things leftward and leftward.)

I will repeat my own hobbyhorse that your using “leftist” to refer to liberals almost certainly means that you’re not reading many leftists.

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I will repeat my own hobbyhorse that your using “leftist” to refer to liberals almost certainly means that you’re not reading many leftists.

This is about the only thing that I disliked throughout the post.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

The word “liberal” means different things in different parts of the western world.

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Even with that, there are still people in America who think that e.g. Matthew Yglesias’ policy preferences are too right wing.

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• suntzuanime says:

That just makes them extreme leftists that think a moderate leftist isn’t far left enough???

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• Oligopsony says:

That just makes them extreme leftists that think a moderate leftist isn’t far left enough???

No. Doug Henwood, the folks over at Jacobin, and Carl Davidson are moderate leftists that someone like me doesn’t think go far enough. Matthew Yglesias is not a moderate leftist any more than George Will is a moderate monarchist or I am a moderate Ankharist.

I realize this is Insisting On Definitions, which is always the least productive conversation to have, but this grouping is counterproductive for the same reasons as “demotist” is, except moreso, because while “demotist” doesn’t have any other uses “leftist” does.

(The obvious, cynical, and probably true explanation of my insistence here is that liberals constitute the vast majority of dumb politics around me, such that I am particularly keen to distinguish myself from them by unproductive semantic debates, productive calls for reactionary sympathizers like Scott to be reëducated in Alaskan work camps, &c. But my motivations are different from the truth content of the claims themselves.)

((Also, I’m a Yank, if that means anything, while IIRC Multiheaded is Ruski.))

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• James James says:

“the folks over at Jacobin… are moderate leftists”
No, they are extreme.

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No, they are extreme.

Sigh, that’s exactly what Oligopsony’s talking about. An extreme leftist, to him, is a moderate Stalinist/Maoist. They are demonstrably neither.

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• Randy M says:

@ James^2: I don’t read the site, but I was going to remark on the seeming irony of ‘Jacobins’ being ‘moderate leftists’.

Also, I wonder just how Oligopsony measures the productivity of his re-eduation campaign?

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• ozymandias says:

Yeah like… I agree with about 80% of what the Dartmouth students list in their Freedom Budget and agree that sit-ins are a reasonable tactic to obtain this, and I am definitely not a leftist. I like capitalism! I like America! I like men! I think violence is wrong!

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• Oligopsony says:

Also, I wonder just how Oligopsony measures the productivity of his re-eduation campaign?

Well in this case I was calling it out as the sort of stupid thing I’d say just to épater la bourgeoisie, so I guess if you think it’s crazy I succeeded. More seriously it seems that the optimal level of political repression is tricky, in part precisely because its effects are hard to measure. (This is a practical challenge that every regime faces, of course.)

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• Randy M says:

No problem, I was just worried I missed an appointment with the Brainwave Scanner.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

> I agree with about 80% of what the Dartmouth students list in their Freedom Budget (..) and I am definitely not a leftist.

Unless the reporting that I’ve seen on the contents of the “freedom budget” was vastly non-representative, the above two statements appear to contradict each other.

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• Oligopsony says:

Unless the reporting that I’ve seen on the contents of the “freedom budget” was vastly non-representative, the above two statements appear to contradict each other.

We, the Concerned Asian, Black, Latin@, Native, Undocumented, Queer, and Differently-Abled students at Dartmouth College, seek to eradicate systems of oppression as they affect marginalized communities on this campus. These systems–which include racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism–are
deployed at Dartmouth and beyond as forms of institutional violence. We demand that Dartmouth
challenge these systems by redistributing power and resources in a way that is radically equitable.

…is indeed quite leftist-sounding (also very written-by-committee, but I suppose that’s the nature of a budget proposal); though certainly less than 20% of the content, and the actual program seems to basically consist of affirmative action, ethnic studies programs, &c. But’s short; feel free to decide for yourself.

(If your definition of “leftism” is basically compatible with liking capitalism, America, men, nonviolence, apple pie, &c., though, then this is probably just an unproductive semantic dispute. I mean, I guess we’re all in agreement that Ozy, and the DFB, are ScottEugene!leftist and not OligoMultiheadOzy!leftist, right?)

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• Anonymous says:

I am in awe of this bullet point from Dartmouth:

Eradicate internal judicial processes for students that break laws, those crimes will be reported directly to police.

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• Sarah says:

The Democratic Party is “left” relative to the Republican Party. But we still need a word for people who are more radically left-wing than any American elected officials.

The (US) terminology as of the 60’s was that “liberal” referred to a center-left moderate (like a Democrat) and “radical” or “left” referred to someone to the left of the Democratic party. Which I think is a fine way to draw the distinction.

When I need a catch-all word for “moderate liberals *and* radical leftists,” basically all the people who support wealth redistribution of some kind, I use “progressives.”

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• Scott Alexander says:

I’m trying not to use “liberal” because http://liberalismunrelinquished.net/ . I’m not sure what better term to use.

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• Oligopsony says:

Actually, that’s a good point; “liberal” has at least three distinct but overlapping meanings (though which one means is usually contextually obvious.) “Liberal in the broad sense,” “classical liberal,” and “left-liberal” or “American liberal” seem to work as more specific substitutions. In the context of the original post “progressive” could work, because it elides between the latter kind of liberal and radicals (i.e., leftists,) who agree with the latter kind of liberal about triggering you but reject liberalism in the broad sense.

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• Troy says:

I use “progressive.” I don’t think it’s intrinsically offensive or pejorative, but I think it also accurately describes much of what I object to on the left side of the political spectrum (i.e., “progress” for progress’s sake).

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10. James Babcock says:

> I can’t think of a single specific policy proposal supported by Glenn Beck. Can you?

I don’t think that this sort of signaling is what he’s thinking about. Rather, I’m pretty sure that Glenn Beck thinks in terms of a liberal-to-conservative scale with an Overton window, and says extreme things on the theory that this will cause the window to shift. I’m pretty sure this is what he does because I have his book here, conveniently titled “The Overton Window”, in which he explains:

The Overton Window concept is that only the few scenarios that currently sit inside an established window of acceptable debate will be taken seriously by the public. To move the Window toward their ultimate goal, those pushing an agenda have to introduce radical ideas that fall outside of the current comfort zone. While those fringe ideas will normally be dismissed, the Window will also be subtly nudged in their direction. This allows ideas that would’ve previously seemed unthinkable to be introduced and, eventually, even seriously considered as solutions. (p418)

So for example, when he auctioned a statue of Obama immersed in piss, it’s because he things this will make encourage borderline-acceptable but definitely-more-acceptable-than-that forms of political opposition to Obama.

I see the same strategy is being used – in some cases explicitly – by the Social Justice movement.

And I hate this technique. Every time I see someone try to do this, I want to reverse-engineer their true, moderate position, and attack that, regardless of whether it’s reasonable, because the technique is just so obnoxious and destructive to the discourse.

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• Zathille says:

I’ve heard a lot about the Overton Window, though I admit not reading much actual specialized literature on the subject. Is the Window’s amplitude fixed? By that, I mean, when it shifts into one direction, does it necessarily make the extreme of the other direction ‘untenable’ as a consequence?

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• misha says:

no: The narrowing and expanding of the overton window is a thing as well. Consider the range of beliefs from “Blacks should be enslaved for their own good.” to “Blacks are inferior to whites but still people and it’s wrong to enslave them” to “All men are created equal”. At one point in history all these views were being simultaneously held in the public eye.

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• suntzuanime says:

I hadn’t heard about Pissbama. That’s a genuinely great troll and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of admiring Glenn Beck.

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• nydwracu says:

Nah. He’s a conservative; he can’t go far enough to make it really work. He should’ve done Piss MLK.

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• Oligopsony says:

On that note, I have to hand it to you guys; this was a genuinely great troll.

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• suntzuanime says:

See, that’s just sort of cruel. Pissbama isn’t spoiling anybody’s Easter who doesn’t deserve to have their Easter spoiled. Please troll responsibly.

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• a person says:

It’s especially funny because it’s a parody of Piss Christ, a publicly funded artwork of a Jesus figurine in a jar of urine. During the controversy regarding this work, the general right response was “it’s offensive, that’s Jesus”, the general left response was “come on, it’s art”. So it would show a lot of hypocrisy if the left decided that “Obama in Pee Pee” was offensive. Is Obama really more sacred of an icon than Jesus?

Unfortunately, I can’t find evidence that anyone actually fell for this troll.

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• AJD says:

The left’s position isn’t that Piss Christ isn’t offensive. It’s obviously offensive. The left’s position is that its offensiveness is not an argument against funding it.

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• Randy M says:

No, their position is that offensiveness is actually a reason *to* fund it, because art requires transgression.
In fact, it seems like transgression is all that is required, since if there is no taboo left to break, the very forms of the medium can themselves be transgressed against, redering all other forms of critique than torquing off the squares moot.

When one remembers where that funding comes from–that is, the government is taking money from people to pay artists to produce art that has the sole function of offending the majority culture–it reads like a rather sick form of paternalism, rubbing the rubes’ faces in their folly, from the elites point of view.

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• pwyll says:

As a troll, Pissbama doesn’t rise nearly to the level that Piss Christ did… not only would you have to pick a similarly “Sainted” figure like MLK (as nydwracu suggests), but you’d have to figure out how to get the piece to be publicly funded, (perhaps by some arts commission in AZ?) as Piss Christ was.

Even in that case, I’m not sure you’d have the same thing, as asymmetries between left and right make it hard to compare. For example, trying to shock “normal” people using art is something done almost entirely by the left. (My favorite example, “interior semiotics”: (NSFW) http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/interior-semiotics )

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• Eugine_Nier says:

> So for example, when he auctioned a statue of Obama immersed in piss, it’s because he things this will make encourage borderline-acceptable but definitely-more-acceptable-than-that forms of political opposition to Obama.

You do realize that’s a reaction to/parody of Piss Christ?

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• hf says:

You do realize Piss Christ is standard Christian doctrine – that Christ taking on a body (ie getting urine on his skin) is in fact the core of the religion?

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• suntzuanime says:

The urine in Pissbama represents the political compromise necessary to get Obamacare passed.

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• Erik says:

You’re equivocating.

Christ taking on a human body, hung up as a traditional blood sacrifice for our sins is at the core of Christianity, but that’s hardly the same as Piss Christ.

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• Randy M says:

I’ve never seen an “ie” stretch so far and miss so much.

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• hf says:

No, Randy, those two are equivalent. And no, y’all are missing a big part of Piss Christ – it’s a visually beautiful representation of Christian dogma. Just like the Catholic bullies who criticized it proved they care more about social status than they do about theology. They didn’t even try to combine the two: compare, “It’s a rather pretty illustration of what we believe, but of course it’s nothing new.”

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• Douglas Knight says:

hf, if Piss Christ is about the Incarnation, why is it part of a series that includes the Madonna, Moses, and the Discobolus?

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• Randy M says:

I’ll elaborate my disagreement, then. Bodily functions inherant in being a human being are certainly a part of the incarnation–but these are quite beyond the point of it, or rather fall well short on their own, inasmuch as they fall in the same category as simple urination. Man, and Christ as man, is more than an animal that eats and excretes, and saying that the urination–not the temptation to sin; not the community and fellowship with other people; not the duty to love and obey God; not the toil and struggle to provide for oneself and produce value for one’s fellows; not the simple joy of a good meal; not the bloodsoaked brow of unjust violence–not any of that, but saying the getting of urine on skin is the core, the centrality of Christian doctrine is simplification to the extreme of deliberate pig-headed stupidity, and the thought that there is any reverence, or even insight, or even mere coherence in trying to represent this by the ‘artist’ taking a piss on a crucifix fails completely at the attempt to appear to be saying something paradoxically wise. In short, I reject your gotcha entirely.

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• ozymandias says:

IIRC the creator of Piss Christ deliberately left it up to the interpreter, but I have seen things along the lines of hf’s interpretation. Also that it’s about consumerism.

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• Scott Alexander says:

This confuses me. Neither selling the statue of piss Obama, nor more reasonable criticisms of Obama, seem outside the Overton Window. So where is he trying to shift the window to?

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• nydwracu says:

I’m guessing that what he was trying to do was prove a point about the perception of Piss Christ / the existence of purity norms among progressives by coming up with something that would hit progressive atheists where Piss Christ hit Christians.

But it misfired: it was an obvious troll, so people weren’t as inclined to take it seriously, and besides, Glenn Beck is a conservative, so he can’t completely reject the progressive frame, so he can’t go far enough to make it work. Obama isn’t Jesus—not even close.

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11. ShardPhoenix says:

I’ve been on pretty much the exact same trajectory as you over the last year or so, including being more anti-Left than pro-Right. Emotionally it feels like a reaction (heh) to overreach by the Left, but I think there might well be something to the fashion/meta-contrarian hypothesis too.

What I might really want is a rationalist politics that embraces evidence even-handedly (instead of cherry-picking what to believe as both the Left and Right do) and explicitly gives up moralizing in favour of game-theoretical negotiation. But good luck getting the average person to even understand something like that, let alone agree with it.

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• Oligopsony says:

Most moralizing is either purely tactical rhetoric or approximating game-theoretical negotiation with TDT. (At least if I understand your use of “moralism” correctly.) (Also there’s an obvious reflexivity joke here, but that would be cheap, not to mention meta-reflexive.)

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• ShardPhoenix says:

I agree to some extent, but being more clear and explicit about it could help focus more on getting to the point and less on shouting. Maybe that’s naive.

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• ozymandias says:

Shouting is a way of punishing defectors or people who credibly signal that they want to defect.

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• roystgnr says:

Even if shouting turns out to be a decent punishment, there’s probably something to be said for trying to formalize the question of who we should shout at and how much. I just read Scott Aaronson’s new article on randomness yesterday, and his discussion on the benefits of replacing metaphysical questions with mathematical questions comes readily to mind.

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12. Kaminiwa says:

It occurs to me that there’s certain common threads when the pendulum “swings too far” – people want to suppress dissident voices, and are entirely willing to engage in an “us vs them” enemy mentality. Whether this is 2010s radicals seizing control of a debate club to ensure the “right race” is let in, or racists in the 1960s making sure people used the drinking fountain “appropriate to their race.” Whether it’s trying to ban KKK pamphlets or pro-homosexuality pamphlets. Whether it’s burning Lovecraft for being racist, or sexual education books for corrupting the youth.

So, I mean, it seems to me that one could also just assume there’s a group, let us call them “jerks”, who will happily wear whatever the popular trappings are, because it lets them get away with this.

Or we could assume a pendulum model, and as society drifts too far in any direction, the jerks become more and more obvious and people become more and more discontent with them.

I know I’m being naively optimistic, but I always kinda wished society could focus on “don’t be a jerk” writ large, rather than getting caught up in saying that only one side is approved to be a jerk at any given time. It’s always felt like a cycle of abuse – just like kids get abused, then grow up to abuse their kids. Society gets abuse from one political side, then society “grows up” and embraces that perspective, shifting the abuse back to the other political side.

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• Me says:

You make some very good points. I strongly agree with you.

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• I always kinda wished society could focus on “don’t be a jerk” writ large

Careful. Next you’ll be proposing a model of individual rights that are immoral to be violated by the majority and people will consider you a right-wing libertarian or something.

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13. Vaniver says:

A friend recently pointed out that conservatives aren’t, on average, very smart. He illustrated this with a graph of IQ vs. political belief which confirms that the left has a significant advantage.

What? On average, conservatives have average intelligence. Same with liberals; their averages are basically the same. It sounds to me like you’re interested in the ratios among the 9s and the 10s, where the liberals have an edge.

In particular, that graph nicely shows that conservatives are basically the same as the average of the entire group (more 8s, less 4s and 3s), people of middling intellect are more likely to consider themselves ‘moderate’, and liberals are more variable on both tails.

Like, at each swing of the pendulum, people learn a little.

It’s not obvious to me this is the case. There seem to be lots of examples of things that were well-designed, then it was fashionable for them to be poorly designed, and then it didn’t swing back around. The claim that, on average, the total amount of good design accumulates (when talking about social organizations and beliefs, at least) seems hard to support.

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• Said Achmiz says:

There seem to be lots of examples of things that were well-designed, then it was fashionable for them to be poorly designed, and then it didn’t swing back around.

What are some examples of this?

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Oh, but this is totally forbidden taboo knowledge that everyone present would be horribly mind-killed about! Why, you should be shocked just thinking about thinking about it! Draw your own inferences, and conceal them from the mob!

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• Steve Johnson says:

People pay huge premiums to live in pre-war apartments in Manhattan.

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• Said Achmiz says:

Is this fashion, or shifting economic incentives?

Alternate response: If I asked a housing contractor “Hey, why don’t they build apartment buildings like they did back then”, what would they say?

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• peterdjones says:

You can generally upgrade the parts of old buildings that don’t work, getting the best of both worlds.

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• Anthony says:

Said Achmiz –

In northeast and California cities, the main factor is the amount of money that the developer must pay in carrying costs between paying for the land and beginning construction (construction also takes a little longer), which is a much longer process than in the 1920s.

In the middle of the country, where those delays (and the price of land) aren’t so high, the market is much more competitive, and builders who build more solid houses or apartments will be priced out of the market, except in uncommon cases.

There are some ways in which new housing is much better constructed than in the 1920s, but most of those don’t soundproof the units, so people don’t “feel” them.

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• It can be hard to find After War buildings built in an Anno Domini style.

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• Deiseach says:

A friend recently pointed out that conservatives aren’t, on average, very smart. He illustrated this with a graph of IQ vs. political belief which confirms that the left has a significant advantage.

How nice to know that I must be Officially Stupid. It’s SCIENCE (with graphs!) so it must be true!

Here in Ireland, the majority of our political parties are jostling each other in order to occupy what is called ‘the centre’. The two largest are centre-right, and even our surviving party of the Left is moving centre-wards as fast as it can shed principles.

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• Anthony says:

Here in Ireland, the majority of our political parties are jostling each other in order to occupy what is called ‘the centre’. The two largest are centre-right, and even our surviving party of the Left is moving centre-wards as fast as it can shed principles.

That’s generally true everywhere – the bulk of the voters are, almost definitionally, in The Centre (except in the U.S., where they’re in The Center). The U.S. system of partisan primary elections provides some countervailing influence, and once in a while you have a politician like Reagan who convinces a chunk of the center that they believe something much less centrist than they previously did, thus shifting the center. (This is possible because the center generally believes a mass of contradictory things, and emphasis on one set of principles by a charismatic speaker can strengthen those principles relative to the others in people’s minds.)

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• Randy M says:

“liberals are more variable on both tails.”

I think such data would support Scott’s notion of the shiting fashions of politics down the social ladder, assuming the somewhat-illiberal notion that upper class also coresponds to upper IQ.

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• Eli says:

That assumption isn’t just illiberal, it’s outright bunk. The economy is so imperfectly meritocratic that I simply see no reason to believe p(smart | rich) is all that high, even if p(well-off | smart) is at a reasonable level.

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• Randy M says:

I am glad no one has pointed out my meaning-altering typo.

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• pwyll says:

To be precise, Republicans are more intelligent than Democrats… but Liberals are more intelligent than Conservatives. All the differences are quite small though. http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2008/11/politics-and-iq-conservative-democrats.html

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14. chauvinistic celestial-undefined hetero-elitist bigot says:

Again, you don’t apply your grand theory to what you started out saying, and you’re using your assumption (that leftism doesn’t always increase) to prove itself.

To generalize the fashion oscillation to political intellectual fashions, you have to show that before the French Revolution that things had been slowly getting more and more rightist.

Pleas draw some graphs of the oscillation between leftism and rightism.

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To generalize the fashion oscillation to political intellectual fashions, you have to show that before the French Revolution that things had been slowly getting more and more rightist.

Well, racism and wealth inequality in Europe certainly increased from, say, 1400 to 1800, and there are (more complicated) arguments that so did patriarchy…

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• Didn’t the Enlightenment initially make some aspects of (upper-class?) patriarchy worse?

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As far as I know, this is the scholarly consensus, but I can’t think of a single good write-up on the idea (paging Ozy!); people seem to have started to realize this in the 60s.

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15. Doug S. says:

I don’t feel remotely threatened from the right – even when I meet anti-Semites who think all Jews should die, my feelings are mostly benevolent bemusement. I know if it ever came to any conflict between me and them, then short of them killing me instantly I would have everyone in the world on my side, and the possibility of it ending in any way other than with them in jail and me a hero who gets praised for his bravery in confronting them is practically zero.

Consider yourself fortunate that there’s an ocean between you and the Muslim world, then…

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• ShardPhoenix says:

Fundamentalist Muslims are hardly what a westerner means by “the Right”.

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Scott did include them in his past definitions of “the Right”, AFAIK.

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• Eugine_Nier says:

On the other hand, they seem to be basically the Islamic version of Calvinists. And one of the core neo-reactionary claims is that (Christian) Calvinists are the ancestors of the modern leftists.

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• nydwracu says:

Moldbug’s grasp of historical theology is questionable at best. Sometimes he blames the Quakers, sometimes he blames the Unitarians, and sometimes he blames the Calvinists—but, as far as I can tell, the Quakers and the Unitarians were opposed to Calvinism.

Then again, if Calvinism leads to Unitarianism… (Is Moldbug a crypto-Catholic pretending to be a crypto-Calvinist? Hell, I’ve been accused of that.)

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• Douglas Knight says:

Nydwracu, I don’t understand what your complaint is about Moldbug’s take on Calvinists and Unitarians. The Unitarians are the Puritans: circa 1800, they split into the Unitarians and the Congregationalists. MM is quite clear that he is mainly talking about descent of people and ideas. And I think he is quite careful about saying that they had different explicit theologies, but sometimes points out the similarities, identifying secular beliefs of Unitarians with the theological beliefs of their ancestors. This is hardly a new idea: Weber talks about Franklin being a secular embodiment of the Spirit of Capitalism that he inherited from his Puritan parents.

As for Quakers, yes, they are separate lineage, in addition to seemingly quite different theology and Moldbug is usually sloppy about this. In a post I can’t link to because Scott’s blog thinks I’m a spammer, he admits the issue:

(All the American Protestant sects, or at least all the Northern ones, became heavily Quakerized during the 19th century. But that’s a different discussion.)

But I don’t know if he ever spelled out anything.

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• Doug S. says:

Whether you consider them part of “the right” or not, there’s an awful lot of people who wouldn’t be particularly upset to see a major Israeli city blown up by a nuclear bomb. (You know what derogatory term the Iraqis used for the occupying U.S. forces? “The Jews.”)

Oh, and there’s this, which that guy who wrote that “anti-racialism Q&A” you linked to has discussed. (He’s very much anti-Islam, having been on the wrong end of Muslim persecution of Christians in Africa.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism_in_Sweden#Situation_in_Malm.C3.B6

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• Randy M says:

And also, I hope the rumors about certain parts of Michagin are overblown.

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16. Trevor says:

Posting because I stumbled on this old OB post just today.

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/09/politics-isnt-a.html

High school students are easily engaged to elect class presidents, even though they have little idea what if any policies a class president might influence. Instead such elections are usually described as “popularity contests.” That is, these elections are about which school social factions are to have higher social status. If a jock wins, jocks have higher status. If your girlfriend’s brother wins, you have higher status, etc. And the fact that you have a vote says that others should take you into account when forming coalitions – you are somebody.

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• blacktrance says:

That doesn’t sound like any high school election I’ve ever heard about in real life. From what I remember from high school, elections were a minor contest between “popular kids” who were in the same social group, and the prize was putting something like “class president” on their college applications, and no one ever got higher status from one of their friends winning.

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• a person says:

That’s not what a popularity contest means, or at least that’s never the way I saw it. When a high school election is a popularity contest, it usually means that the positions aren’t really that important, no one knows what they entail, and no one knows who would be good at them, so people naturally just vote on who they like the most.

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• valhar2000 says:

In the only high-school I ever participated in, my class almost unanimously voted for the guy we all thought was the least qualified candidate, as a joke. Thinking back on it now, I think it was because we all implicitly believed that the position of class president was, ultimately, meaningless, so we could treat it flippantly with no adverse consequences. And, indeed, there were none.

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• peterdjones says:

I was that guy…

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• University elections also are subject to this.

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• pwyll says:

“Real” elections suffer from the same problem, which is why politicians have had to surrender much of their power to the bureaucracy. (an ugly hack, but better than the alternative.)

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17. nydwracu says:

An interesting argument on the whole, but I think there is a much more object-level explaination; you are a sensitive person who greatly dislikes when liberals attack your particular identity politics – which they have been doing, in America, as a backlash to the policy preferences of the people who share your identity.

Now, I’d argue that 1) there has never been a “better” or “more tolerant” identity-politics center-left, and that the most that might’ve happened is them shifting fire from less sensitive identity-groups (“rich white old men”) to the more sensitive (“introverted non-neurotypical young tech geeks”), and that 2) rightists can only ever afford to seem more tolerant because they make use of different mechanisms of repression – just like how most white-on-black violence is done by the police and not skinhead gangs.

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• a person says:

I’m really not sensitive at all and I’m not really a “tech geek” but I’ve been experiencing the same phenomenon Scott is describing.

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• I think that modern leftism is… more pluralistic, by a huge margin, but not more tolerant. In the old days, you had the Great Communist Party. Now, most leftism at least notices ID politics, which forces some degree of pluralism and awareness, but it isn’t actually more tolerant, and is possibly more able to join culture wars since there is so much more stuff to care about. Note how the new leftists seem to be a mix of sympathetic elites and oppressed-but-not-sufficiently poor, compared to The Masses.

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I think that modern leftism is… more pluralistic, by a huge margin, but not more tolerant.

I think it looks this way because old leftism always focused on bashing the people who, barring an unlikely individual conversion, could not and would not join any leftist faction in the first place. Now they’re focusing on the heretics and the lukewarm while letting many actual infidels slide, which sounds like it might be effective – see MLK on “the white moderate” – but is very disappointing in practice and might harm movements by undermining a clear narrative. If Tumblr and Twitter were populated by old-style commie sympathizers, we would’ve probably had way more invective against corporations and individual government officials instead of homophobe-bashing and #cancelcolbert.

Re: The Masses – yeah, the problem is that there’s a lot of theoretical work and reframing key ideas pre-requisite to much outreach; leftists in the 1st (and, looking around, 2nd) world seem to have zero consensus on how to engage with “problematic” mass movements, resolve intersectional contradictions (immigration, Islam…), challenge right-wing populism, etc… The Old Left would’ve cut through many Gordian knots here, but one might argue that this was how it met a dead-end by 1968. At least there’s talk of a labour revival

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19. Jai says:

Maybe taboo “leftist”. The fashion analogy makes sense, but I think the pendulum analogy is a misleading map-doesn’t-match-the-territory crystallization (note to self: mix more metaphors).

To add to the analogy pool: I think you pointed out that different levels of contrarians tend to be nested within the n-1 contrariness group. It probably follows that there can be more than one contrarian group at the same level, with its own recursive sub-contrarians.

More popular groups are generally going to have louder, dumber people. Not just because they’re more numerous, but because there’s a lower social penalty for lighting up applause lights. Within your social sphere, SJers are a very popular group – and hence account for most of the loudness, aggression, and general unpleasantness you experience in your peer environment. But I think you’re slipping into the Typical Peer Fallacy (I just made up the term, but I’m sure there’s an established proper name for the concept somewhere).

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20. Lemminkainen says:

I’m suspicious of his binarization of the political system, though. “Right” and “left” are categories which each can contain an enormous variety of beliefs. David Graeber, James Scott, Eric Hobsbawm, Joseph Stalin, and Audre Lorde are all leftists, and all of them except maybe Scott could get called “extreme” from that viewpoint. But their actual views vary enormously. Of course, ordinary people might conflate them, but most intellectual types secretly or not-so-secretly don’t care so much about what ordinary people think. A leftist who wants to not be confused with other leftists who she thinks are idiots has plenty of options to choose from other than libertarian-conservativism.

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• peterdjones says:

In first past the post voting systems, you tend to end up with two large parties, but that is an outcome of the system, not a map of mindspace. .PR systems generate half a dozen ,medium-small parties.

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• There’s a big change around WWII, where deconstructive leftism fissioned off of the revolutionary stock, and the remaining authoritarian part faded away. Non-revolutionary leftism was always there.

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21. Harvey says:

Totally worth reading for the “Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.” reference.

In related news, there is a Civilization: Beyond Earth game announced recently that promises to be quite SMAClike, transcending ending and all.

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• ShardPhoenix says:

The political connotations of the new victory conditions (Purity vs. Harmony vs. Supremacy) also match well with Conservatism vs. Liberalism vs. Techno-Libertarianism.

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Meh. I don’t expect it to be as interesting as the story behind Planet and its 7 factions.

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• valhar2000 says:

Far as I can tell, it’s exactly the same thing but with Civ 5 graphics.

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• Oligopsony says:

Agreed. They seem to be going with goofy made-up ideologies rather than parodies of existing ones, which is precisely why 6/7 of the original factions were better than 6/7 of the SMAX ones.

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Which is the first exception, the University?

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• Oligopsony says:

The Human Hive, which has a goofy made-up ideology but one that’s saved by how cool all of Yang’s quotes are. U of P is a perfect parody of LessWrong and its friends throughout the ages.

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Oligopsony: Ah it was goofy and made up in 1999. In 2014 it is goofy and not made up. The game ages well.

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I can’t see what you mean, unless you’re attempting to once more spin your pathetic little neo-reaction into something it can’t honestly claim to have ever dreamt of being. Add to this the fact that Yang is such a self-contradictory Frankenstein’s monster, as Oligopsony rightly implies.

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• Oligopsony says:

I think he means that the Cathedral has progressed towards HH levels of absurd evil, but I don’t want to put words into his mouth.

In any event, I’m not sure that Yang’s ideology is contradictory, at least beyond the minimal level of contradiction required to be interesting. It is a pretty goofy melange of red scare, yellow peril, and transhumanism, but I kind of like it in spite of its Problematic…ness.

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I think he means that the Cathedral has progressed towards HH levels of absurd evil, but I don’t want to put words into his mouth.

Nah, he has put it on record before that he thinks Yang is awesome… although such a dramatic exaggeration of an overstatement of a hyperbole does sound sadly believable attributed to him… Yeah, he might’ve been gulping down the kool-aid a little too quickly.

In any event, I’m not sure that Yang’s ideology is contradictory, at least beyond the minimal level of contradiction required to be interesting.

If gene-jacks, why not invest more into the individual citizen? If highly effective indoctrination, why all the nerve-stapling and the punishment spheres? They could’ve upped the evil creepiness in a more intelligent way, by going into more detail about the totalitarianism or the transhumanism, I think. Although they might’ve been saving the latter for the Consciousness and then didn’t care to develop it.

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Oh no I wasn’t talking about the Cathedral or Neoreaction for that matter. I’ve been developing a Yang inspired ideology as a thought experiment in my spare time.

The Yellow Peril aspect meshes nicely with the Red Scare one if you take a close look at the Legalists and then try to update it to the modern era.

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• Andy says:

I always figured Yang and the HH was the end result of Mao and the Cultural Revolution/Great Leap Forward. Not familiar with the Legalists, is this accurate?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(Chinese_philosophy)
I see some interesting parallels with Moldbug’s notions of cryptographic controls on weapons and the parable of Fnargl, but that might be just me. I haven’t read near enough NRx to be confident.
Edit: Now y’all are making me want to play SMAC instead of writing papers. You bad, bad people! *shakes fist, grins*

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• Anonymous says:

Can’t be bothered to offer a detailed argument, but actually existing Maoism feels like the opposite of Legalism to me in many important ways, once you get past the simplified orientalist gut reaction. I’ve read The Book of Lord Shang and accounts of Mao’s regime, and while the latter (somewhat) fits a colloquial understanding of totalitarianism[1], it’s a very different totalitarianism. Yang is totalitarian and anti-Confucian, but his Nietzscheanism also feels like it contradicts the soul(lessness) of Legalism.

[1] Hannah Arendt – writing in the late 50s, before the Cultural Revolution – considered China not to be totalitarian like Stalinism and Nazism.

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• Error says:

I do hope they retain the custom unit builder.

I’ve noticed that I get a massive kick out of catching obscure geek references. The fewer people I think will catch it, the more I laugh. There is probably some unpleasant status-related explanation for that.

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• Andy says:

The custom unit builder was the bee’s knees. Clean units were fricking awesome. And being able to build an army to match a doctrine, rather than building a doctrine to suit a choice of units, felt very right in a way I haven’t found in a lot of strategy games.

I suspect the status-related explanation is perhaps connected somehow to myth. Thinking of all the white young men who I knew in community college attached a great deal of status to being a libertarian and defying authority, and many of them attached a great deal of cachet to acting like they were the only one standing up against the collectivist machine. The “Me Against The World” myth-something is very powerful, if you’re of a contrarian mindset.

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• vaniver says:

I know everyone loves the custom unit builder, but it strikes me as the least important part of SMAC to conserve. The primary impact it had was that it was easy to divorce defensive strength and offensive strength (but does that really make sense, that if my armor is much better than your weapons, I can destroy you, regardless of how my weapons compare to your armor?) and that special abilities were built into units, rather than promotions you selected, and that special abilities could be divorced from morale. (In Civ IV and Civ V, as units level up they don’t get more combat strength by default, but instead promotions that you can use to increase their combat strength or do other things.)

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• Error says:

I would upvote this for the “building an army to match a doctrine rather than vice-versa” part if the comment system allowed it.

Being able to produce creative combinations on individual units was fun as hell, too, although admittedly there were only so many possibilities. I think the canonical example is mounting colony pods on needlejets. I also liked putting SAM batteries on units that wouldn’t normally have them, like rovers.

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• Scott Alexander says:

I agree with the other commenters here. Losing the story is a disaster. The three-value system looks hokey to me and without the ideological sophistication of the original. But my basic worry is that I don’t trust Firaxis until someone there says”Oh my god, Civ 5 was terrible, we must do everything we can to never fail that badly again”

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I felt dirty buying Civ 5 to play with my friends.

Did any of the expansions make it better? Civ 4: BtS is the best version of regular civ imo. Civilization 2 was beautiful in its simplicity, Call To Power had good ideas but bad execution. Civ 3 was a prototype for Civ4.

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Its conspiratorial framing was funny (abolitionists and telemarketers inevitably exist only to undermine hostile empires!), but the 20-year turn felt absolutely infuriating, at least aesthetically.

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• Randy M says:

That reminds me of (warning: gratuitious nerd cred attempt) a discussion in the playtest forum for Civ4:BtS about calling environmentalists ‘crusading’ in one of the event pop-ups.

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• Oligopsony says:

BNW is a definite improvement.

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• blacktrance says:

The expansions make it better, but still not as good as III or IV, IMO.

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• Tuna says:

It’s no longer horribly broken, but it’s still not necessarily a very good game.

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• Tab Atkins says:

Did you stop at Civ 5’s release? If so, the general bugginess and imbalance went away completely with the expansions, and the additional systems added made the game a lot better.

Talking to other people who both love and hate it, though, it seems that there’s some personal taste that leads some people to just vastly prefer Civ 4. I don’t understand it, personally; I abandoned Civ 4 as fast as possible for the Fall From Heaven 2 mod. Most of Civ 5’s changes make the game objectively better, especially the 1-unit-per-tile. Deathstacks were nonsense and bullshit, because they concentrated an empire’s entire offensive power into a single indestructible column. You’d pick off individual wandering units and feel good about yourself until you realized the AI was just saving up units for the deathstack, and rolled you. New stuff means you can *see* when there’s a big army, and it feels real.

Not everything is perfect (the AI could still use plenty of help in defensive pathing for their armies), but it’s still a far cry better than Civ 4 to me.

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• jaimeastorga2000 says:

Deathstacks were nonsense and bullshit, because they concentrated an empire’s entire offensive power into a single indestructible column. You’d pick off individual wandering units and feel good about yourself until you realized the AI was just saving up units for the deathstack, and rolled you.

They solved the “Stack of Doom” problem in CIV IV by making siege units deal collateral damage. A few kamikaze catapults/cannons/artilleries will shred an enemy stack to bits and allow your other units to finish them off. And that’s on top of the fact that a few specialized units could hold a city pretty much indefinitely against enemy stacks unless the A.I. had a truly prodigious technological lead on you (otherwise, you could simple beeline or trade for techs that enabled better defenders).

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22. Kaminiwa says:

My very first thought, lost in the confusion of the rest of the post, was simply… people tend to share stupid stuff on Facebook. If your friends are liberal, you’ll get stupid liberal propaganda. If your friends are conservative, you’ll get stupid conservative propaganda.

You offset this by going and looking for counter-propaganda, but by and large you’re going to gravitate towards the smart, well-written stuff. You don’t want to constantly read silly straw man “LOL they think gays are people”; that’s why your friends on Facebook are all liberals.

So you keep hearing stupid ideas from liberals, and smart ideas from conservatives.

And eventually, on a subconscious level, your brain’s neural net adapts: Liberal ideas are 90% likely to be stupid, whereas conservatives, even when they’re wrong, are 90% likely to be *smart* about it.

So while conservatives might get it wrong from time to time, at least they’re not *stupid*.

And, not being stupid yourself, you’d rather self-identify with all this nice, smart philosophy

(No clue if it fits, but it struck me as the obvious and simple solution right up front, before I’d read more than half the article :))

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• Oligopsony says:

The natural counterbalance to this (though the cure may be worse than the disease) is that one of the commonest low-quality blue stuff that gets shared is “look at this low-quality green stuff!” But that may depend on how mean your friends are.

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• Jai says:

In my experience, it’s pretty easy to block stuff. Like, I had absolutely no awareness of any of the current events mentioned in this post barring the Eich thing. Sometimes I see an obviously terrible argument on my news feed, and I just select “do not show me this” and go about my business.

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• Alejandro says:

I made this same diagnosis. And the obvious cure would be to start reading more of smart, thoughtful leftist writers, and stop completely paying attention to all the silly SJW stuff. Especially given that you have said a lot of it “triggers” you, I have no idea why you keep reading it.

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• Meredith L. Patterson says:

It can be a bit difficult to ignore, in much the same way that it’s a bit difficult to ignore the knees of the 6’6″ person sitting behind you in economy class. I’ve blocked or unfollowed everyone on my social media feeds who parrots punch-in-the-face-inducing SJW propaganda, including actual friends who are kind enough to not behave that way in person, and still enough of it shows up thanks to the 24-hour outrage cycle (“who’s the X-ist of the day today?”) that I find myself avoiding social media.

Granted I should probably be spending less time on social media anyway, but it annoys me that the factor leading me to this outcome is avoidance rather than an informed choice about spending my time more usefully.

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• Alejandro says:

But why do you know “who’s the X-ist of the day today?” I usually have no idea, unless it becomes national news like the Eich case. And I do read a fairly large amount of political blogs, many of them liberal or leftist; its just that they are blogs uninterested in these ephemeral outrages.

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• ozymandias says:

I’m on *tumblr* and I’ve managed to mostly avoid outrage-of-the-day stuff thanks to a combination of aggressive pruning, Tumblr Savior, and Tumblr Hate.

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• Nornagest says:

Pruning’s the only thing that’s worked for me on Tumblr. I tried leaning on Tumblr Savior for a while, and between reaction .gifs, bad tag discipline, and basic creativity most of the stuff that pissed me off still ended up slipping through the cracks.

I’ll have to look into Tumblr Hate.

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• Randy M says:

Are *you* that person who puts her seat back and crushes my knees?

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• ozymandias says:

Nornagest: Tumblr Hate lets you block particular posts from showing up on your dash. Unfortunately, you have to see the annoying post *once*, but if you can quickly identify annoying political stuff and hit the hate button it keeps you from seeing it more than once.

Also a lot of Tumblr people are okay with tagging their political shit so you can savior it, esp. if you’re personal friends. For the more SJWy ones you may wish to phrase it as “I use Tumblr as an escape from the oppression I face in my daily life and I don’t want to see it here too” rather than “your dumb arguments make me angry.”

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• Sniffnoy says:

For the more SJWy ones you may wish to phrase it as “I use Tumblr as an escape from the oppression I face in my daily life and I don’t want to see it here too” rather than “your dumb arguments make me angry.”

This is funny, but seems less than helpful if you’re not in one of their designated oppressed groups.

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• No one special says:

I feel the need to say that I have had similar (but lesser) concerns to Scott, and your post is such an accurate summary of my conclusions that I have nothing to say but “me too.”

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• George says:

I dunno about that. I grew up in one of the most conservative parts of the South, have mostly conservative Facebook friends, and still feel the same way as Scott.

Liberals and conservatives just don’t share things in the same way. For one, my conservative friends aren’t nearly as vocal as my liberal ones. My liberal friends are activists, but my conservative friends just want everything to stay the same and people to leave them alone. I think this fundamental difference in presentation is what makes many of us react so viscerally to stupid leftist memes.

To use the fashion analogy: initially everyone is wearing a white toga, but some people start to defect and wear black ones. The rightist response is usually something like “Why can’t you just wear a white toga like the rest of us?”, “There oughtta be a law to keep our kids from this black toga wearing nonsense!”, or “I remember when everyone wore a white toga and didn’t complain. Those were the days!”

The leftist response is usually something like “OMG I can’t believe people are still wearing white togas in 2014!” or “I’m glad I got away from all those unhip white toga wearers in my hometown — they have no fashion sense!”

To most moderate liberals like myself the conservative response usually comes off as just behind-the-times, or uninformed in a “isn’t that quaint” kind of way. But the liberal responses come off as smug, overt status-seeking. It’s like their Facebook feeds are filled with selfies of them wearing black togas.

After a while it gets quite annoying. Because as we know, people with truly high-status don’t have to shout from the rooftops. Perhaps that’s why others like Scott prefer don’t like the shouting. They’d much rather people just notice the color of their toga on their own.

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• Anthony says:

Now I want to change my facebook profile picture to me wearing a white toga.

Or maybe a black one.

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23. Noah Smith says:

Politics, shmolitics.

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24. J. Quinton says:

I think I’ve noticed something similar with the atheist/skeptic movement. When I first got into it, I was presented with some high quality material; at least, high quality to me. But as atheism has seemed to get more popular, it seems that more and more unsophisticated arguments are popping up as representative of atheism. And it’s getting to the point where I don’t want to be associated with the unsophisticated version. I doubt very much that I’d get convinced by a sophisticated argument for the existence of a god, but I could see if someone were more undecided and encountered a sophisticated theist and contrasted them with an unsophisticated atheist (assuming the continued expansion of atheism/secularism until it becomes a majority) they might side with theism.

Oddly enough, the same sort of thing has happened to me with the glut of unsophisticated feminism. And the mixing of the two… by Jove!

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• Jai says:

There might be a here-are-the-best-arguments-for-X niche waiting to be filled by some website.

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• Same here. First all the stuff about sexism came out, and everybody who wasn’t on Freethought Blogs fell from grace. Then the major posters on Freethought Blogs lived long enough to see themselves become the villians. I still read one of them — who doesn’t usu. post about atheism.

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25. Aaron says:

It also seems maybe fair to say that young intellectuals dislike ideologies that make relatively reasonable-seeming positions dangerous to have, and as such tend to be opposed to whatever the most likely source of popular extreme ideological action is.

This is pretty close to your point that young intellectuals don’t want to be mistaken for people who just do whatever is popular, but I think explains it in a not-directly-status-motivated way, that I think is more like what it feels from the inside. (Not wanting things that you think are reasonable to be fought against might just be a status-preservation motivation, but still.)

Liberals can say that they’re against oppression (which is what it looks like when Far Right-wing groups are in power), and Conservatives can say that the masses are crazy (what it looks like when Far Left-wing groups are in power).

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26. ozymandias says:

Having all your writing about feminism be extremely long rants about how feminists are Doing It Wrong has never disqualified anyone from being a feminist. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Other Feminists Are Doing It Wrong is the most popular topic for feminist theory.

Also since when is unschooling a conservative thing (even a really really smart contrarian conservative thing)? Unschooling is a hippie thing.

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It is. This isn’t suprising since hatred of the school system and rants on its terribleness and in-humaneness are pretty common on reactionary twitter (I’ve since left it) and among the people I correspond with.

And the Cathedral designed the education SYSTEM to BRAINWASH you man! Know the truth, the TRUTH. Most praise LSD to help you get that. Weed is a popular relaxation after a hard day of reevaluating all values among many, but the debate on the best drug for Neoreaction is still on. Also have you read that article on building houses out of stone? I think that would be a really good idea once move to the wilderness. Don’t forget the Russians are actually our friends, America is the biggest imperialist, screw the wars!

#newhippies

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• ozymandias says:

Gosh, you guys really *are* Satanist progs.

I mean I am not remotely surprised that homeschooling is a neoreactionary thing– that’s been a far-right thing for ages. I am very surprised that unschooling is, because the entire philosophy of unschooling reads as extremely proggy to me. (I’m a fan.) Like… are you guys sure you don’t just want to be into A Beka?

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“Gosh, you guys really *are* Satanist progs.”

But we do this in a self-aware and not ironically ironic way. 😉

“are you guys sure you don’t just want to be into A Beka?”

Fundie indoctrination of a less insane religion (like one that believes the world is 5000 years old) would be a step up for society, but the school system as currently practice is atrocious regardless of its content.

The cult of childhood has chained them unnecessarily. They don’t need to be quarantined away from society in day prisons.

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I hold the radical belief that children are people and deserve more agency in their lives than they are given in the modern world.

Also I believe people can be owned.

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• Eli says:

Mind, I’m a dirty Marxist hippie who tried to unschool himself when in high school. Since I’m currently a graduate student at an elite research university hoping to get the hell out so I can study and research the Friendly AI problem, I think it went horribly right.

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• peterdjones says:

You mean they rant about how terrible something is without ever going into details?

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• Sniffnoy says:

Indeed, I’m pretty sure Other Feminists Are Doing It Wrong is the most popular topic for feminist theory.

If only they would notice this means that perhaps they should put down the hammers, rather than just swinging it at each other in addition to the opposition.

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• ozymandias says:

Comrade, are you suggesting we disarm ourselves against our archnemeses the People’s Front of Judea?

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• Oligopsony says:

I should hope not. Agonism is how we get new ideas and refine old ones.

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• Andy says:

As I said to a teammate in a co-operative homebrew strategy RPG: “I’d much rather have you shoot holes in my plans than have the enemy shoot holes in my units.” I think I was paraphrasing a David Weber novel there, but I can’t find the line.
Anyhoo, I suspect intellectualism would be much better served by this kind of truth-seeking – poking holes in an ally’s arguments being seen as a form of help, rather than a backstabbing attack.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Oh, I agree entirely that pitting one’s ideas against the opposition is how one refines them and makes them sensible! I suppose then that I failed at clarity, because that wasn’t what I was referring to when I talked about “swinging the hammer”.

Rather by “swinging the hammer” I meant all the shouting at each other and such that substitutes for and even prevents ideas from truly being pitted against one another. The basic form of which is, all decent people agree with me; if you disagree you must be a bad person. Attempting to guilt people into agreeing with you rather than convincing them.

This shuts down debate on both sides. Since your opponents are not decent people, you don’t need to listen to them. Meanwhile, if the attempt succeeds, your opponent ends up just adopting your position wholesale, and there’s nobody to point out the holes in it.

This is how you can get issues like the one that Scott talked about in his “Meditations” series, or that Hugh Ristik describes here. If feminism causes a problem for those who have been guilted into accepting it without question, you’re rarely going to hear about it, because the people affected by it are, well, those who have been successfully guilted into not questioning it!

And that’s just when you imagine a unified “feminism” swinging the hammer. With 10 disagreeing factions all swinging the hammer at whoever disagrees with them, oftentimes, the only permissible action becomes inaction, since anything you do will draw the ire of at least one of them, but you’re required to abide by the rules of all of them. (Inaction may be impermissible as well, but at least it won’t draw their attention. Eliezer Yudkowsky has commented on this here.)

This is why I find the cries of “Feminism isn’t a monolith!” and “Well, I can’t speak for all women” whenever they’re criticized to be less than honest. Certainly, both are true statements — and yet each faction continues to behave as if it’s unquestionably right and has the support of all decent people and certainly all non-brainwashed women. By doing so, they are implicitly presuming to speak for all women and behaving like they are, in fact, a monolith. I say, you don’t get to swing the hammer of moral authority unless you actually have some sort of authority. (And, y’know, even then I’d really prefer if you would convince people rather than guilting them.) When you consist of 10 squabbling factions and most of them don’t necessarily agree with the statement you just made, you don’t have that sort of authority.

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• Walter says:

“Having all your writing about feminism be extremely long rants about how feminists are Doing It Wrong has never disqualified anyone from being a feminist. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Other Feminists Are Doing It Wrong is the most popular topic for feminist theory.”

There’s no “like” button, so I’m commenting to express my agreement with this statement.

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• Sam Rosen says:

“Having all your writing about feminism be extremely long rants about how feminists are Doing It Wrong has never disqualified anyone from being a feminist. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Other Feminists Are Doing It Wrong is the most popular topic for feminist theory.”

But most criticism of feminism by other feminists is of the “we need fifty Stalins” variety. Scott isn’t doing that.

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• Sniffnoy says:
• blacktrance says:

There are different ways “we need fifty Stalins” can go. For example, some feminists say that feminism is about choice and freedom and the fifty Stalins we need are more of that. Other feminists say that this is playing into the hands of patriarchal capitalism and the fifty Stalins we need is more stigma against pornography, etc.

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• Scott Alexander says:

If you’re opposing “home schooling” to “unschooling”, I may be using the term “unschooling” wrong. I meant more “the modern education system is horrible and mostly brainwashes or destroys children without teaching them very much of use”

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• somnicule says:

Unschooling generally refers to a kind of home schooling where kids do their own thing, with support from their parents. Harry’s pre-Hogwarts schooling in HPMoR is what it looks like when it all goes perfectly. It’s one group of people who object to mainstream education, and generally has been a bit of a lefty thing.

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• Randy M says:

Unschooling done wrong was shown on one episode of that show where the families swap moms and sell their eccentricities to a bored and voyueristic society (that last bit might not have been from the TV guide description) where one mother had late (elementary?) school age children who did whatever they want and was like “I don’t care if they learn to read, whatever.”

Done well it would be “What are you interesting in now, son? Dinosaurs? Okay, let’s structure a curriculum around dinosaurs!”

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27. I notice that, no matter how many long rants against feminism I write, everyone continues to assume I am a feminist. It’s like, “He doesn’t make too many spelling errors, his writing isn’t peppered with racial slurs – he’s got to be a feminist. He probably just forgot the word ‘not’ in each of his last 228 sentences.”

Isn’t this because you’re differing on definitions of “feminist” here? e.g. a lot of people will just define a feminist as anyone who believes in equal rights and opportunities for women, which unless I’ve wildly misjudged you seem pretty on board with (though I can imagine you disagreeing over a lot of interpretations of what that actually means). Even with more specific definitions you generally seem to have pretty feminist compatible views of gender issues (for example, if you’re not a feminist, you’re one of the very few non-feminists I know of who very carefully ask about peoples’ preferred pronouns. Though for all I know this could be because I only hang out on the fringes of Less Wrong and it’s totally common in there).

I’d guess the reason you’re saying you’re not a feminist is that you don’t want to be identified with the group of people who self-describe as feminist as you dislike/vehemently disagree with a lot of their behaviour. This feels a little like the noncentral fallacy to me though – “I’m not a feminist because feminists do (awful thing I disapprove of) and I don’t do that”.

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• lmm says:

Asking about pronouns implies support for transsexuals and nonbinaries, which would seem opposed to feminism (though as you say, that’s a matter of definitions)

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• ???

The vast majority of feminism I’ve encountered (which admittedly is a biased sample and not representative of feminism as a whole, but it’s if anything skewed hard in the direction of the “social justice warrior” camp Scott tends to object to) is extremely trans-friendly to the degree that it has specific derogatory terms for feminists who are transphobic.

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• To make my reasoning more specific/bayesian:

In the broad sense of “feminist” defined above I would put P(feminist|supportive of trans people) vanishingly close to 1, and I’d guesstimate that P(supportive of trans people|feminist) was ~ 0.5 but have much lower confidence in that part than I do of the first estimate (amongst my sample it’s much higher, but I have weak ability to judge the bias of my sample).

I only don’t put the former estimate at precisely 1 because a) probability 1 events are pathological and b) people can have some downright weird beliefs. I would definitely consider combining the bundle of beliefs around gender that are required to be trans-supportive with the belief that women shouldn’t have equal rights/opportunities to be incredibly strange.

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• Anonymous says:

There’s a somewhat significant minority branch of feminism which holds that trans people are, basically, traitors to their gender. These people generally won’t be found in the same circles with social justice feminists.

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• Yeah, I’m aware of this (I alluded to it a bit above). My impression is that numerically it’s quite a small minority (and that there’s a somewhat larger minority of feminists who are merely no-better-than-background on trans issues). My reasoning definitely goes “good on trans issues” implies “probably a feminist” rather than the other way round.

(all of these estimates may be a mix of social filters and optimism though)

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• lmm says:

> I would definitely consider combining the bundle of beliefs around gender that are required to be trans-supportive with the belief that women shouldn’t have equal rights/opportunities to be incredibly strange.

There seems to me to be a coherent view that goes something like: gender roles are good from a practical PoV; it is good for society to consist of couples with one earner and one supporter, and it is right that we discourage people from trying to play both roles (and e.g. discriminate when hiring). But obviously people should have a free choice of which role they take and the rest of us should respect that choice.

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• Sure, it’s coherent, I’d just find someone actually holding it to be quite surprising.

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• ozymandias says:

Iran is fairly trans-positive and has state-funded transition surgeries. They are also very very sexist. In America, trans-positive generally implies feminist, but this is not true worldwide.

IME the vast majority of mainstream feminist blogs– talking about things like Feministing, Feministe, Shakesville, the things you get on the front page of Google when you search “feminist”– are extremely trans-positive.

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• Andy says:

Iran is fairly trans-positive and has state-funded transition surgeries. They are also very very sexist. In America, trans-positive generally implies feminist, but this is not true worldwide.

My Geography of the Middle East and North Africa teacher described this policy as “easier to change the body than to change the brain,” and the Iranian government offers them not just to trans people but to people who manifest homosexual behavior, whether they’re cis or trans. Somewhat Missing The Point there, but they mean well? Kinda-Sorta?

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• Anthony says:

Iranian government offers them not just to trans people but to people who manifest homosexual behavior

Offer? Is it an offer they can refuse?

I’m asking semi-facetiously, but I actually am interested in knowing. After all, that’s the sort of thing that has happened in the West not all that long ago, and it’s almost the exact inverse of an idea promulgated by some folks – that trans folks should get therapy to accept that they’re homosexual rather than surgery to change their body.

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• Andy says:

Offer? Is it an offer they can refuse?

I’m asking semi-facetiously, but I actually am interested in knowing. After all, that’s the sort of thing that has happened in the West not all that long ago, and it’s almost the exact inverse of an idea promulgated by some folks – that trans folks should get therapy to accept that they’re homosexual rather than surgery to change their body.

It is a bit of a reversal, and Iranian culture doesn’t quite make the same distinction between a homosexual or a transgender person. As she understands it, they can refuse, but there’s such a stigma against being a more effeminate man that many feel it is an easier option. Which suggests (though I have no anecdotal evidence one way or the other) that there are some who in the West would be considered effeminate cis men (like me) who undergo sex-changes because it’s easier than being themselves.
So would someone in that situation (cis male undergoes sex change) then become a closeted transman in a female body?
Gender is weird.

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• Tab Atkins says:

This hits the “there’s lots of things that happen to use the word ‘feminism’ in their name” thing; most likely, you’re referring to “radical feminism”, which is a radical offshoot of second-wave feminism, which was anti-sex and very gender essentialist. They hate trans people because they think of them as either men trying to infiltrate women’s spaces (PATRIARCHY NEVER RESTS, ALWAYS STEALING SHIT FROM WOMEN), or as self-loathing lesbians who hate their sexuality so much they mutilate their body to be “straight”. (I’m not sure how they reconcile the existence of gay trans people.)

RadFem is *bugfuck nutzo*. It’s “feminism” in the same way that the Quiverfull movement is “Christian” – yeah, sure, they come from the same source, and there are still some common threads in the ideology, but they went in a crazy crazy direction and believe all sorts of insane things. It’s *possible* to claim that anyone who calls themselves Christian represents Christianity, and there’s always shades of No True Scotsman when someone defends Christianity by excluding the crazy groups, but still, there is such a thing as mainline Christianity and sophisticated Christianity. Same with feminism.

Ignoring the bugfuck nutzos and the clueless teen SJWs on Tumblr, feminism is superficially about equality for women, and more broadly about equality for all, including “privileged” groups like “white cis het male”, who do definitely still get the short end of the stick in some important ways. “Modern” feminism is an outgrowth of third-wave feminism, which is much more sex-positive and “gender is a social construct”-y.

In other words, yes, as far as I can tell Scott is a great feminist. He believes in strong gender equality, he’s aware of and against various unconscious biases, he’s trans-friendly and sex-friendly and lots of other things in that vein, etc. He’s just gotten an eyeful of the crazier subsets and mistaken them for something closer to mainline, and his history with SJ makes talk of prejudice and privilege give him the heebie-jeebies even when it’s reasonable, so he doesn’t want to apply the title to himself.

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• peterdjones says:

Maybe we should have small-f feminist and big-f Feminist.
A modest proposal.

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• Hainish says:

A less modest proposal: Make anti-feminism a position that needs to be identified, rather than feminism.

I think the hair-splitting between non-anti-feminists is not really useful or informative.

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• Andy says:

anti-feminism is as much an umbrella as feminism, IMO. But the easiest branch for me to identify is pretty much straight patriarchy- see James Donald’s comments on this blog for what I label as pro-patriarchy stances – women naturally inferior, emotional, and can never and should never display traits like courage or mathematical skill or the ability to fly an airplane.
OTOH, that’s a big fat low-hanging target, so I may be being lazy in my identification.

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• peterdjones says:

I thought there was clear blue sky between feminism (equal pay) and Feminism (PIV is always rape).

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• Hainish says:

Andy, there are very few outright antifeminists (vs. people like Scott, who accept all the major tenets of feminism but still distinguish themselves from groups that actively identify as/promote feminism.

I don’t think it’s that big of an umbrella.

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• suntzuanime says:

There’s at least three types: egalitarian feminism, advancement of women feminism, and batshit social philosophy feminism. I think ordinary feminism is type two, while its detractors pretend it’s type three and its defenders pretend it’s type one. The reason Scott says he’s not a feminist is he’s only a type one feminist, and he’s not believing the claims of the type twos to be type ones anymore.

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• ozymandias says:

I am not sure what you mean by “advancement of women feminists” and “egalitarian feminists.” Feminists believe that women are more disadvantaged by sexism than men are. (There are some feminists that believe that men are also disadvantaged by sexism but less so than women, and I *guess* I could imagine a gender abolitionist who thinks that all genders are disadvantaged by gender roles that I would be willing to call a feminist, but in practice I’ve never met one and I am comfortable with “feminists think women have it worse than men do.”) Given that they believe that women are more disadvantaged by sexism, it seems pretty reasonable for feminists to concentrate their attention on women, for much the same reason that Give Directly doesn’t give money to a random middle-class French person. So I think it is totally possible to think of yourself as egalitarian *and* in favor of the advancement of women, and most feminists are in this category.

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• suntzuanime says:

An egalitarian is interested in removing gender bias from social institutions. A feminist is interested in improving the status of women with regard to social institutions. There are many social institutions biased towards men where egalitarian principles point in the same direction as feminist ones, but there are plenty that aren’t, which allows us to see inegalitarian feminists for what they are.

As feminists grow more and more successful in achieving their political aims, the gap between them and the egalitarians will grow.

I think it is totally possible to think of yourself as egalitarian *and* actually be inegalitarian, and most feminists are in this category.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Ooh, relevant old post by Scott!

Possibly helpful is this article I came across recently. Obviously, this is pushing a narrow definition of “feminism”, but, well, in my opinion, doing that together with saying “No, you don’t have to be a feminist”, as it does, is probably a good thing.

Anyway — let’s consider the chart. My response to the question “Who do you think is more disadvantaged by gender inequality?” is one not listed there: “Sure, if you demand an answer, the answer to the question is women. But the question is mostly irrelevant. I don’t think that adding up individual inequities to form some sort of ‘overall balance of power’ is really meaningful, for most purposes. Individual inequities should be addressed individually.” (I think this is more or less the same answer the people at Feminist Critics would give.)

I’m not going to say it’s entirely meaningless. In particular, there is a potential failure mode that I have a suspicion feminists may be (at least implicitly) afraid of — if we don’t explicitly focus our discussion on women’s problems, then since everyone naturally focuses more on men, things would eventually drift to focusing only on men’s problems, and this would just reinforce men’s advantage, and that would be bad. And despite saying that “balance of power” is mostly meaningless, I do agree that this would be a bad thing; I’m just not sold on its plausibility of occurring.

But it goes further than that — I’ll posit that the refusal to address men’s problems can stymie efforts to solve women’s problems. Because, after all, these problems are frequently related to one another, just being the two sides of an awful system of gender norms. And sometimes the direct approach is best, but sometimes the easiest way to solve the problem is to attack it form the other side. And sometimes there’s no way to solve the problem without a comprehensive effort to eradicate all sides at once, because any one side if left alive can revive the others. But if you conceive of any effort to solve men’s problems as just cementing men’s advantage, such action becomes impermissible. (I’m glad to see that Emer O’Toole, at least, is pushing against the idea that such things need be prohibited.)

This, by the way, is why I am uneasy when I hear feminists declaring “Patriarchy hurts men too!”. It’s undeniably a true statement; but it seems to be only used as an expression of their co-opt/kill-off strategy for dealing with anyone who wants to address men’s problems. (I’d say “embrace, extend, extinguish”, but there isn’t really any “extend” step.) “Ah, you want to solve men’s problems? Well, we’re working on fighting the system that causes these problems! Come join us!” And they are working on fighting that system — but only through a restricted set of methods, that only permits addressing women’s problems directly. And again, sometimes the easiest way to solve a men’s problem may be to solve a women’s problem, but sometimes… well, I said this already. I say, the patriarchy (I don’t like that word, but I’ll use it here) needs to be attacked from all sides, often simultaneously! But as best I can tell, the feminists try to stop anyone who isn’t attacking the problem from their preferred side. If, like the MRAs, they refuse to be co-opted, well, then they’ll just be tagged as bad people and fought directly, even when the two groups should obviously be working together. (Not that the MRAs are great either; they seem to have copied the awful parts of feminism as well as the good parts.)

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• Sarah says:

Yeah.
I have never been able to decide whether I’m a feminist or not. I disagree with a lot of feminists. But I take “women are people” as a given. If somebody tells me he’s not a feminist, I don’t know if that means “yay! someone who sees the flaws in social-justice dogmatism!” or “oh shit it literally hasn’t occurred to him that I am sentient.”

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• misha says:

Now I’m picturing a scifi verse where most of a gender is NOT sentient and how the few members that are have to deal with this, and how the other gender reacts.

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• Anthony says:

Larry Niven’s Kzinti, and there’s one story (or a scene in a larger work – don’t remember now) where a modern Kzin warrior has to deal with semi-sentient females. But that’s told from the POV of the male. It’s possible that the theme has been dealt with in the various “Man-Kzin Wars” collections; I haven’t read them all.

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28. Michael Mouse says:

The obvious hypothesis to explain your movement here is the well-attested rightward shift in political views with age. This has been a well-known phenomenon for ages – hence the multiply-misattributed canard “if you are not a {leftist} at {20}, you have no heart; if you are not a {rightist} at {40}, you have no head”.

Although the Churchill attribution is ubiquitous, I particularly like the French version, attributed, inter alia, to Clemenceau – “N’être pas républicain à vingt ans est preuve d’un manque de cœur; l’être après trente ans est preuve d’un manque de tête.” (To not be républican at 20 years old is proof of a lack of heart; to be it after 30 is proof of a lack of head.) – since that has républican=leftist.

I don’t subscribe to it myself, but I believe it exists as a folk explanation of a well-known phenomenon that seems at least worthy of consideration as a hypothesis for your personal experience, alongside the others.

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• James Scott says:

“The obvious hypothesis to explain your movement here is the well-attested rightward shift in political views with age. ”

Attested by whom, exactly, and with what data to back them up? While older voters are more conservative in the US now, that doesn’t mean that individual people became more conservative as time went on.

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This is an offtopic post, not sure if I can post it here: You said you’d rather get comments than emails or PMs? Maybe do open threads every month or so?

I strongly recommend reading the following Lovecraft piece, the author really surprised me with its quality:

I don’t know what Karl will dig up for his later points, so I can’t endorse those yet, but I strongly recommend the following paragraphs:

-Trial of the Century
-Cosmic Perspective
-Reality Check
-Nordic Supremacy

Excellent quotes. As far as I can tell my worldview literally is Lovecraftian. Having only ever read Lovecraft’s fiction and not very much else, I expected some overlap but not this much. The lost and alien 20th century reveals new surprises.

I should describe mine own nature as tripartite, my interests consisting of three parallel and dissociated groups — (a) Love of the strange and the fantastic. (b) Love of the abstract truth and of scientific logick. (c) Love of the ancient and the permanent. Sundry combinations of these three strains will probably account for all my odd tastes and eccentricities. [I.110]

I never take offence at any genuine effort to wrest the truth or deduce a rational set of values from the confused phenomena of the external world. It never occurs to me to look for personal factors in the age-long battle for truth. I assume that all hands are really trying to achieve the same main object — the discovery of sound facts and the rejection of fallacies — and it strikes me as only a minor matter that different strivers may happen to see a different perspective now and then. And in matters of mere preference, as distinguished from those involving the question of truth versus fallacy, I do not see any ground whatever for acrimonious feeling. Knowing the capriciousness and complexity of the various biological and psychological factors determining likes, dislikes, interests, indifferences, and so on, one can only be astonished that any two persons have even approximately similar tastes. To resent another’s different likes and interests is the summit of illogical absurdity.

It is very easy to distinguish a sincere, impersonal difference of opinion and tastes from the arbitrary, ill-motivated, and irrational belittlement which springs from a hostile desire to push another down and which constitutes real offensiveness. I have no tolerance for such real offensiveness — but I greatly enjoy debating questions of truth and value with persons as sincere and devoid of malice as I am. Such debate is really a highly valuable — almost indispensable — ingredient of life; because it enables us to test our own opinions and amend them if we find them in any way erroneous or unjustified.

One who never debates lacks a valuable chart or compass in his voyage for truth — for he is likely to cherish many false opinions along with sounds ones for want of an opportunity to see each opinion viewed from every possible angle. I have modified many opinions of mine in the course of debate, and have been intensely grateful for the chance of so doing.

In a cosmos without absolute values, we have to rely on the relative values affecting our daily sense of comfort, pleasure, & emotional satisfaction. What gives us relative painlessness & contentment we may arbitrarily call “good,” & vice versa. This local nomenclature is necessary to give us that benign illusion of placement, direction, & stable background on which the still more important illusions of “worthwhileness,” dramatic significance in events, & interest in life depend. Now what gives one person or race or age relative painlessness & contentment often disagrees sharply on the psychological side from what gives these same boons to another person or race or age. Therefore “good” is a relative & variable quality, depending on ancestry, chronology, geography, nationality, & individual temperament. Amidst this variability there is only one anchor of fixity which we can seize upon as the working pseudo-standard of “values” which we need in order to feel settled & contented — & that anchor is tradition, the potent emotional legacy bequeathed to us by the massed experience of our ancestors, individual or national, biological or cultural. Tradition means nothing cosmically, but it means everything locally & pragmatically because we have nothing else to shield us from a devastating sense of “lostness” in endless time & space.

Thus I am, whilst utterly radical in such departments of sheer intellect as science and philosophy, thoroughly and cynically conservative — even reactionary — in social and political matters; a Tory, Czarist, Junker, patrician, Fascist, oligarchist, nationalist, militarist, and whatever else of the sort you can find in Webster’s Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus!

Have I ever objected to personal bias so long as it does not colour one’s perception of the external world? Haven’t I confessed to strong prejudices & enthusiasms in a dozen odd directions here & there? Didn’t I freely say that I think Anglo-Saxon culture is worth fighting for, that I’m intensely fond of cats, that ancient Rome arouses my enthusiasm, that India gives me a pain in the neck, & so on, & so on? Hell! Everybody has his personal likes & dislikes — but the point is, that a man of sense doesn’t let these things make him believe what ain’t so, & disbelieve what is so! There’s where I try to be impartial.

One of us! One of us!

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• Said Achmiz says:

That is a really interesting post. Recommendation seconded.

I didn’t know I agree with Lovecraft on so many things! Should I read his fiction maybe?

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• Scott Alexander says:

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• CaptainBooshi says:

It does seem interesting, but I’m going to have give it a try on another day. In the first few paragraphs, I just bounced way too hard off of how whiny the author is. I can usually deal with that (otherwise I’d avoid most of the internet forever), but I’m just not in the mood today.

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• Oligopsony says:

Fourthed. I had just been dwelling on this trend; Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Haeckel are obvious examples of reactionary cosmic pessimism as well. Some of the explanation here is geneaological, some perhaps mortality salience, but the most explicit proponents of optimistic cosmopolitics are reactionary as well.

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• Nick T says:

Tradition means nothing cosmically, but it means everything locally & pragmatically because we have nothing else to shield us from a devastating sense of “lostness” in endless time & space.

Do neoreactionaries argue for tradition this way? It seems to be Lovecraft’s primary argument, but the NRs I’ve seen seem to care primarily about practical survival value and secondarily about more object-level psychological values (non-atomization etc).

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30. Eli says:

My response got long enough that I had to go separate it into a post on my own blog.

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• somnicule says:

I think we’re more or less on the same page here. Debate policy, not ideology. Look at what works, use that. Be careful to distinguish terminal and instrumental values. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

Mix it up with identity too much and you start missing the point, whatever identity it is you choose.

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• rkj says:

This is a dangerous, and increasingly common, point of view. In the past few years, there’s been an upswell in this technocratic attempt to separate decision-making from values/morals. (see FiveThirtyEight for that spirit.)

But we can’t determine what government should do by analyzing policy to ‘look at what works, use that’. Any important decision involves both analysis of facts/outcomes and analysis of morals/values.

You’re right that you have to look at the potential outcomes of any policy, but then you have to weigh how important those outcomes are to you. For example, just looking at tax revenue collected from legalizing marijuana and expected changes in crime rates and expected cost of enforcement (etc.) isn’t enough to tell you whether marijuana should be legal. What sort of society do you want to live in? What freedoms should we have? How much are those freedoms worth to us?

A discussion/debate that ignores morals/values misses half of what’s important.

(How much agreement we can come to on those questions is another matter, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.)

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• David Simon says:

I’m gonna bite this bullet: No, I think that “looking at tax revenue collected from legalizing marijuana and expected changes in crime rates and expected cost of enforcement (etc.)” is very definitely enough.

When was the last time a discussion or debate about morals and values was productive?

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• ozymandias says:

There are non-zero times where someone’s true rejection is “this is incompatible with my values” rather than “I believe this is factually incorrect.” For instance, I believe that we should include animals in our utility calculations, and other people do not. If I and the latter person are discussing regulation of farms to improve the living conditions of animals, we are probably going to get different answers *even if* we agree on all the facts and the tradeoffs and so on.

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• somnicule says:

Maybe. It does feel, to me at least, that discussions that aren’t grounded in specific policies and their outcomes are less productive and more argumentative. Debate whether we want an outcome or not while we’re looking at the same thing, not while we have wildly disparate ideas as to what it is we’re taking about. And that can bring real differences in values to the surface in a much clearer way.

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• rkj says:

David,

Ok. So let’s say you look at all that data. Lets say it says tax revenue goes up, but not by as much as expected. Crime rates are similar, and cost of enforcement falls. “Great,” you say, “a clear win.”

But then a bunch of other people say, “we’re more than willing to pay that extra cost to prevent the ‘stoner culture’ from entering our state. Raise taxes to offset it if you want- we’d be happy to pay.” What do you say to them? You’ve prevented yourself from discussing paternalism or freedom, so you don’t have that defense.

Your second point is a great one, and what I was alluding to above when I said, “How much agreement we can come to on those questions is another matter”. Morals/values aren’t really a product of rational proof- they are much more a matter of belief. I believe X is good, you believe X is bad. That gives political debates the pointless feel that you often experience when debating religion.

Even if we can’t change each other’s beliefs about morals/values, we can certainly have a much deeper understanding of our conclusions and how we arrive at them. You have implicit assumptions about what’s good/bad or right/wrong and those are probably different than mine. If we discuss thoughtfully, we’re both better off. And others watching us might get even closer to truth than either of us are.

In addition, careful discussion about morals/values can occasionally expose flaws and inconsistencies in our beliefs. A minority of thoughtful people are bothered by those flaws and revise their views as a result.

Of course, most people don’t. So, the bigger issue is what I said before- while discussing these things can feel pointless, every worthwhile decision you make requires them, so you can’t avoid it.

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• rkj says:

somnicule,

i totally agree.

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• David Simon says:

Okay, I’m more in agreement with you now. I’ve certainly had a lot of productive conversations with people about differences in terminal values. From the context of the grandparent comment, I had thought you were talking more about identity than value, particularly since the word “morality” often gets tied more to the former than the latter.

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• rkj says:

David,

Got it. As an observation, it does seem that for many people, ‘identity’ and ‘morality’ and ‘values’ get all wrapped up together. I find that talking about it can help unravel that a bit.

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31. propater says:

Fashion-wise, it fits with the 30-ish year cycle we can observe. Ten years ago, the trend was rediscovering the 60’s and early 70’s (bright colors, printed patterns,…). Now the late 70’s-early 80’s are all the rage (combinaisons, headbands, black leather, wool pull-over with reindeers (thankfuly short-lived), long flowing robes,…).

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32. Hainish says:

It may be possible that it would help things if, when first encountering a seemingly-horrible leftist meme, you dig at least deeply enough to at least be able to honestly describe it. (Yes, I’m thinking of cross-dressed Hawkeye . . . whose purpose is not to make men appear silly.)

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• malpollyon says:

Seconding this. Over the last few months of this blog I’ve noticed a steady drop in Scott’s ability to accurately describe the positions to his “left”. It’s especially notable compared to the level of steelmanning he offers neoreactionary positions.

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• Hainish says:

I’m glad it’s not just me!

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• coffeespoons says:

Yes, I read Scott’s criticisms of feminism back on livejournal in 2012 (the meditations). I was fairly social justicy beforehand, and his criticisms of SJ feminism did pretty much convince me. I’ve been more wary of SJ since.

However, recently it feels as though Scott’s not really trying to convince feminists/other progressives any more. It feels as though his intended audience is the right. It makes me sad.

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• Scott Alexander says:

Cross-dressed Hawkeye? What?

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• ozymandias says:

The Hawkeye Initiative. [Content warning: it is dumb. It is so, so dumb.]

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• Sniffnoy says:

OK, I honestly don’t understand why this is being called dumb (or horrible)? I mean, the quality of the drawings is not very good, the same basic idea has been done before and better by other people, but I don’t understand what’s supposed to be dumb or horrible about it?

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• ozymandias says:

Aesthetically: the art is awful and it’s repeating a dumb one-note joke over and over again. Seriously, guys, this kind of shit is why people think feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

Politically: I think presenting “look! It’s a guy! In sexualized clothing!” as hilarious is sexist as hell. I think presenting a guy in lipstick and a skirt as hilarious is even more sexist, which they definitely have done although that seems to be less of a thing atm. And I am endlessly annoyed at a feminist movement that will mobilize to protest the outfits of women in comics and not… literally any other issue.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Aesthetically: the art is awful and it’s repeating a dumb one-note joke over and over again.

Agreed…

Seriously, guys, this kind of shit is why people think feminists don’t have a sense of humor.

…no it isn’t? Or at least, my understanding was that the “humorless feminist” stereotype comes from them finding things offensive rather than funny, not from making jokes that are terrible?

(…why do I get the distinct feeling that I just replied to a joke seriously?)

Politically: I think presenting “look! It’s a guy! In sexualized clothing!” as hilarious is sexist as hell. I think presenting a guy in lipstick and a skirt as hilarious is even more sexist […]

OK, the latter I certainly agree with, but the former I don’t understand. I’d give something close to the standard feminist argument as for why doing this makes sense — I don’t think I’d agree with the standard argument as such, but it can be easily modified so that I would — but I expect you’re already familiar with it. So do you mind if I don’t actually attempt to argue against your point and just ask you to expand on it?

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• Anthony says:

The point is supposed to be that “Male (humanish) character in sexualized-for-female outfits/poses is hilarious because it’s grotesque”.

And it usually is grotesque, because visually sexualizing men isn’t done the same way as visually sexualizing women. However, some of those look like they could be fan art done by young gay men who really are sexualizing the character.

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• ozymandias says:

Sniffnoy: Yes, that’s a joke.

I feel like the intended message is “we see men as people and women as sex objects, putting people in sex object outfits is hilarious.” But I think it edges too close to “we see men as non-sexy and women as sexy, putting non-sexy people in sexy outfits is hilarious” and I am not comfortable with that. I think this reinforces the male gaze (and is hella unfair to men, who can be just as sexy as anyone else). I would *probably* be less picky about a bit of humor that is not attempting to pass itself off as feminist, but I have high standards for things that claim to be feminist activism.

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• Sniffnoy says:

OK, that’s an interesting argument I would not have expected! Well, actually, I don’t understand why you claim it’s reinforcing the male gaze (naïvely it would seem to be pointing it out and inverting it?), but I guess that’s a separate argument.

It’s interesting that the argument depends on the boundary between “sexy” and “sex object” being either unclear or less-than-universal. (Because they see it the latter way and you see it the former way.) Because unsurprisingly (given how much I harp on Scott’s Meditations series and… you can fill in the rest at this point) I consider feminism’s failure to elucidate that boundary[0] a serious problem. But then, based on your previous writings, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you already agreed about that? Do you know of anyone who’s tried to answer this in a reality-based manner, with like minimal contrasting pairs or something close to that?

[0]Assuming that that boundary makes sense, anyway. I would probably say, yes, the examples feminists give of bad things are indeed bad, but “objectification” is the wrong generalization, because every attempt to define it I’ve seen is almost certainly overbroad, including things that I am doubtful that most sensible people would regard as bad. (Or you can discard the idea that objectification is in general bad — that’s a solution I’ve seen — but then why are we talking about it?) So, y’know, the boundary once “objectification” is replaced by a better abstraction.

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• Oligopsony says:

Have you read Nussbaum’s take on it? It’s probably the most prominent feminist account of the subject, and I found it clear, pleasurable, and insightful (though I perhaps just have a weakness for extended treatments of literary smut.)

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• Sniffnoy says:

I haven’t, I admit. But — if you don’t mind the preempt — I notice that’s one of the two sources that Luke Muelhauser drew on for and responded to in this post. And, at least, if I trust his reading of it, it doesn’t pass the Muddy People test. (Unless we want to bite the bullet and claim that yes, the Muddy People photo really is morally wrong.) So already I’m wary that it’s going to meet my criterion of being “reality-based”. (By which I mean, having been through a good cycle of searching for counterexamples, testing, and refining to account for them — not just having the initial idea based in reality, that’s a pretty trivial condition!)

Although I notice that Luke kind of ignored the whole “some of these are not necessarily bad” part, so it’s possible it doesn’t actually fail the Muddy People test as hard as he suggests it does. Crap, I’m going to have to actually read this now, amn’t I?

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• ozymandias says:

Eh, I think the argument in the *particular* case still holds if you ignore the concept of “objectification.” For instance: “women in comics are typically drawn in an unrealistically and physics-defyingly sexy way which appeals to men. This drives away female readers because it is a giant THIS THING IS FOR MEN sign, so if you want more female readers you should probably stop doing that. Also it makes some women feel bad about their bodies and so on.” My argument is that while it is *trying* to point out that unrealistic and physics-defyingly sexy outfits and positions are absurd, it slips into saying that sexy men are absurd, and that is not a very feminist position.

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• ozymandias says:

Eh, I think the argument in the *particular* case still holds if you ignore the concept of “objectification.” For instance: “women in comics are typically drawn in an unrealistically and physics-defyingly sexy way which appeals to men. This drives away female readers because it is a giant THIS THING IS FOR MEN sign, so if you want more female readers you should probably stop doing that. Also it makes some women feel bad about their bodies and so on.” My argument is that while it is *trying* to point out that unrealistic and physics-defyingly sexy outfits and positions are absurd, it slips into saying that sexy men are absurd, and that is not a very feminist position.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Eh, I think the argument in the *particular* case still holds if you ignore the concept of “objectification.” For instance: “women in comics are typically drawn in an unrealistically and physics-defyingly sexy way which appeals to men. This drives away female readers because it is a giant THIS THING IS FOR MEN sign, so if you want more female readers you should probably stop doing that. Also it makes some women feel bad about their bodies and so on.”

Right, and I would more or less agree with this — this is why I said I wouldn’t agree with the standard argument as such, but it could be easily modified so that I would.

Edit: This or some argument like this; maybe not this particular argument.

My argument is that while it is *trying* to point out that unrealistic and physics-defyingly sexy outfits and positions are absurd, it slips into saying that sexy men are absurd, and that is not a very feminist position.

Which still leaves the key question of, how do you tell where it slips into that?

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• Tab Atkins says:

I feel like the intended message is “we see men as people and women as sex objects, putting people in sex object outfits is hilarious.” But I think it edges too close to “we see men as non-sexy and women as sexy, putting non-sexy people in sexy outfits is hilarious” and I am not comfortable with that. I think this reinforces the male gaze (and is hella unfair to men, who can be just as sexy as anyone else). I would *probably* be less picky about a bit of humor that is not attempting to pass itself off as feminist, but I have high standards for things that claim to be feminist activism.

I can see how you can read it that way, but I think it’s a little too surface of a reading. The pictures that get the Hawkeye treatment are not just those that are sexy, but those that are hilariously oversexualized in the particular way that lots of comics tend to do, where bodies are often biology/physics defying in an attempt to show off some combination of butts/boobs/crotch at the same time while unrealistically striking some combat pose.

Example. That’s not a “sexy pose”, that’s a “that’s not how women’s bodies work”/”why would anyone strike a pose like that” thing. By redrawing it with Wolverine, they *remove* the male gaze effect making it seem kinda reasonable, and highlight just how insane it is.

Believe me, the kind of people that like drawing sexy Hawkeye are the kind of people who like drawing sexy Hawkeye. They’re not anti-sexy male at all. They’re just anti-“ridiculously oversexed to the point of infeasibility” female.

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33. ThePrussian says:

Well, speaking as a right wing Atheist, my own tack on all this is that left wing irrationality is more dangerous precisely because it is coming from a group with higher verbal intelligence. It’s more subtle.

Case in point – fundamentalists have been banging on about Darwin since forever. What difference has that made? But environmentalist obstruction of GM crops has gotten people killed, and not a few people either – eight million in east Asia, mainly children. The so-called “peace” movement mainly made sure that nothing was done about Darfur.

And so on.

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• Hainish says:

I’m not sure that I agree with the premise that leftists (placeholder term) used their high verbal intelligence to subtly put one over on everybody else in order to get millions of children and innocent people killed.

It would seem to require that leftists hold getting children and people killed as a goal, which seems somewhat dubious.

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• ThePrussian says:

What is one thing that high verbal intelligence can be used for? A better ability to rationalize something away. That’s why Orwell had that line that there were some ideas so stupid only intellectuals could hold them; common people could never hold them.

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• suntzuanime says:

“Children and people”? This is why I need youth rights advocacy.

They used their high verbal intelligence to score social points over their rivals. Getting innocent people killed was just a side-effect that nobody was really all that concerned about.

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• Hainish says:

See, this is a really good example. I should have written “children and civilians.” But, you take my sloppy phrasing as evidence of some sort of subtle anti-child sentiment made possible by my high verbal intelligence. Which is more likely: I’m secretly an evil genius out to diminish the value and agency of children everywhere, or I’m just not as articulate as I’d like to be?

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• Oligopsony says:

“Children and civilians?” I can only conclude that you’re an evil genius out to classify children as legitimate combatants.

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• suntzuanime says:

I promise you Hainish, I do not think you used high verbal intelligence to construct subtle anti-child sentiment.

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• Hainish says:

That’s . . . what you’re going with.

O.K.

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• peterdjones says:

Concerns about GMOs are actually very parallel to concerns about (U)FAIs. Opponents are concerned that there will be unforseeable and disastrous consequences.

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• lmm says:

I took the argument as more “when an effective person is wrong, that’s more dangerous than when an ineffective person is wrong”

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• peterdjones says:

8 million is the number of children estimated to have died from vitamin A efficiency. You are tacitly and improbably assuming that Golden Rice would have saved 100%of them.

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• nydwracu says:

If golden rice would have saved only one out of eight of them, that’s still a million people killed by environmentalist obstruction of GMOs.

Which means that environmentalism (and therefore liberal purity in Haidt’s sense) has killed more people than Fascism.

(If you ignore war casualties, which seems to be standard practice—Hitler was bad because of the twelve million Holocaust deaths, not the… I have to look this up, and I have a good memory for this sort of thing; that shows how infrequently it’s mentioned… 24 million Soviet deaths—Mussolini’s regime killed fewer than ten thousand people, and most of that death count is as a result of Mussolini’s alliance with the Nazis. So environmentalism [and liberal purity] is several orders of magnitude worse than Fascism, but a lot of things are several orders worse than Fascism by that metric, including cars, the British Empire, and FDR. But the comparison makes good rhetoric.)

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• Said Achmiz says:

I had to reread your comment several times, thinking that there was some supremely bizarre math going on…

… before it occurred to me that I’m used to “fascism” being used to describe Nazi Germany as well (because that’s how the word — фашизм — is used in the Russian-speaking world). I don’t think I ever realized that “fascism” in English applies only to what Italy had going on, not Germany. Is this actually standard usage?

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• Randy M says:

You want to know the standard usage of “fascist” in English/America? Oh…
Let’s just say it’s a quite contraversial topic, but most commonly used as “political party I’m not, and Hitler, because they’re so similar!”
(Minor exaggeration. Maybe)

More seriously, I think it’s perhaps considered that Musilini was Fascist, and Hitler was Fascist + something else that is not integral to fascism and may account for the genocidal nature, so it may not be fair to account the deaths to fascism. Not sure I’d buy that myself.

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• blacktrance says:

Usually Hitler is described as “Nazi” rather than “fascist”, although sometimes “fascist” is used to mean “Nazi-like” as well.

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• peterdjones says:

And that still does t mean that anti GMO people want to kill anybody. They may have reasons to believe that GMOs will kill more than they save. Like .AI.

And you have really walked into an anti capitalist argument here. It is uncomtroversisl that the world produces enough food to feed e everyone. Millions, many more than your 1 or 8 million, die of starvation. The left can say that the lack of a world governent that distributed all food equally is causing that.

Things are generally more or complex than T shir slogans suggest.

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• nydwracu says:

Small-f fascism is anything the speaker doesn’t like. Capital-F Fascism usually refers to the movements in 20th-century Europe, but the specifics vary across authors. I use capital-F Fascism to refer only to Italian Fascism.

I don’t think it makes sense to group Fascism in with the other pre-WW2 rightist movements in Europe—insofar as there are similarities, they’re all motivated by the conditions to which they were responding: the perceived failure of democracy, opposition to Communism, the utility of nationalism as a strategy, the desire to hold onto or acquire an empire to boost international prestige and so on. Besides, the cladistics are all different: Franco, Salazar, Codreanu and so on were ultra-Catholics, Nazism had a whole different thing going on, and Fascism was a convergence of a few separate things, of which the most influential was Mussolini’s cladistically socialist (and hopelessly stupid—Mussolini was a good writer, but he was a fucking idiot in all other regards, and everything that the Fascist regime didn’t hopelessly bungle was scavenged from D’Annunzio—who actually tried to stop Mussolini from allying with Hitler) attempt to resolve class conflict through war.

Fascism converged with Nazism over time, yes, but that’s because Mussolini turned Italy into a puppet state of Germany—and even during that process, he tried to retain some degree of distance from it, which is why he brought in Evola to write the Fascist race doctrine.

I’m not sure what the cladistics of National Socialism were, other than the influence of crazy völkisch occultism from Lanz, List, Wiligut, and so on. But I haven’t seen any evidence for influence from Sorel or Marinetti.

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• Randy M says:

“The left can say that the lack of a world governent that distributed all food equally is causing that.”

Oh, wow. Sure, they can *say* that…
Please chart starvations deaths and economic freedom.
Well, maybe this time they’ll be able to find the perfect uncorruptable man to lead us into this utopia.

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• Andrew G. says:

Using “fascist” or “fascism” (lower case) to refer to Mussolini’s regime but not Hitler’s is absolutely not standard usage in English, neither in everyday language nor in academia as far as I know. Using “Fascism” (capitalized) to refer to the Italian party exclusively is something I’ve seen in academic work (with appropriate footnotes), but to do that in general discussion would be deceptive.

As for lowercase “fascism”, the use of the term as nothing more than an abusive epithet does not negate the fact that it has a useful real meaning: there is an actual cluster of political attitudes and behaviours which has manifested in many places and times other than Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy; those two are merely the only cases where a fascist movement reached a position of unchallenged power.

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• nydwracu says:

What are the traits of that cluster?

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• BenSix says:

The so-called “peace” movement mainly made sure that nothing was done about Darfur.

(A) There wasn’t much that could be done.
(B) If Western powers had wanted to have a go regardless they would have done. Even if we give them Syria, peace movements have a remarkably bad record of preventing interventions.

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• MugaSofer says:

I actually agree with most of these points. Leftist policies tend to evolve because they’re great for signalling morality, and leftist/democratic regimes gain power by being persuasive.

Buuuut…

“Case in point – fundamentalists have been banging on about Darwin since forever. What difference has that made?”

Well, they’ve made the US education system into a bit of a joke, for a start. That’s a difference.

(I am not an expert in the US education system – quite the opposite, really – so it’s possible this is a purely reputational issue.)

“But environmentalist obstruction of GM crops has gotten people killed, and not a few people either – eight million in east Asia, mainly children.”

It’s far from clear that the 8 million would have been saved under GM – obviously, as is annoyingly common in politics, we can’t perform a controlled experiment. Indeed, it’s conceivable that in the absence of these anti-GM movements, more would have died due to GM.

In general, of course, deaths due to food distribution are due to – well – food distribution, not food production. So I have serious concerns about assuming the market, in the absence of anti-GM regulations, would not have failed – considering it failed in the only case we can actually observe. This double-standard is annoyingly common, and likely contributes to the continuing existence of such failures, which are instead blamed on Political Point #4567.

“The so-called “peace” movement mainly made sure that nothing was done about Darfur.”

I’m less familiar with this issue than the other commenters, but even regarding those who explicitly protested intervention in Darfur on those grounds – as you’re well aware, one can be in favour of a thing in the abstract while opposing the USG’s inevitably incompetent attempt at providing it.

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34. Walter says:

Thank you for pointing out that the debate team article was terrifying. I thought I was the only one who recoiled in horror when they read that. Phew!

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• Scott Alexander says:

See the comment by anon a little bit down the thread, which takes some of the sting out of it.

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35. Deiseach says:

Re: fashion, I have no idea how it works either. The idea that “Next season, chartreuse will be the in colour” just seems ludicrous to me, but people somehow manage to earn livings from this kind of prognostication.

As to how the upper classes can enforce who wears what, there were two methods: (a) in the past, sumptuary laws (b) nowadays (though perhaps not so much) the application of snobbery as in Alan Clark’s diary entry:

He quoted Michael Jopling — referring to [Michael] Heseltine, deputy P[rime]
M[inister] at the time – as saying “The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture” and judged it “Snobby, but cutting”.

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• eeuuah says:

There is actually a commercial group who picks the color of the year. High level designers go with it so that they aren’t the only one out, and no one really objects to the system because it works as a simple coordination mechanism.

The rest of fashion coalesces as a combination of what designers have been thinking about among themselves combined with what gets executed well. The most successful stuff from the avant-garde designers trickles down into more mainstream fashion. By the time you see it in your local department store it looks like it’s been carefully orchestrated, but mostly it’s just been filtered a number of times.

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• nydwracu says:

There is actually a commercial group who picks the color of the year.

I try not to be surprised by things, but this surprised me. There’s such a thing as a color of the year? The color of the year is important enough that it demands coordination mechanisms? Why is there a color of the year?

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• anon1 says:

Pantone, a company that sells a proprietary color reference system, does select a color of the year. This year’s color is “Radiant Orchid”; I’ve seen a bit of explicit advertising based on this (a flier above the purple paint at the hardware store and an online sale of purple things) but people don’t seem to be actually wearing more purple this year than last. Seems more like trying to remind people that their company exists than a serious coordination effort.

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• totalesturns says:

Yep. It’s called the Color Marketing Group:

On average, 400 members gather at CMG’s semi-annual Conferences, to work with fellow professionals on producing a Color Mandate.

There was a fascinating (and unfortunately paywalled) New Yorker article on the inner workings of the CMG several years ago.

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36. ThePrussian says:

Could I suggest the following?
“I fell in with bad company while I was on a story in Oslo last week:
American conservative journalists. I am glad to say confirmed the public’s stereotype of reporters by enjoying their drink. (They make it their first task after landing in a new city to find
the best bar, an example that should inspire us all.) But they bore no resemblance to the European stereotype of the ignorant, right-wing yank. They were cosmopolitans who were at ease in Europe.
They were well read. Although they would hate the label, they were also crusading journalists, who had made the cause of the dissident opposition to Putin and Lukashenko their own. They had no time
for social conservatives, who wanted to police private morals — but, I told them, they had ended up in the same political camp with know-nothings who thought that dinosaurs roamed the Garden
of Eden and conspiracy theorists who thought that Barack Obama was a secret member of the Mau-Mau.

How could they stand to spend a minute in such company?

The viciousness of the American left drove intelligent men and women rightwards, they replied. They arrived at American campuses with standard left-wing beliefs. The illiberalism of allegedly
liberal academics so shocked them, they left as conservatives.”

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/nick-cohen/2012/05/beware-the-ferretfaced-heresy-hunters/

Or if I may be forgiven a little self-promotion, I wrote about Arguing Like Stalin, which has this effect.

In the U.S., the centre-left is the establishment, but no establishment lasts forever. One order falls, another rises. As the time for the establishment to fall arises, it becomes ever more hysterical and vicious in its attempts to hold on to power. This is natural and inevitable.

For what it’s worth, I like this blog, and speaking for my comrades, we could use a mind like yours, and our door is always open.

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• peterdjones says:

If I may be allowed to harp again on my usual theme: if only there were a centre for Nick Cohen’s American friends to be driven to…

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37. FredR says:

The thing about cultural status signaling is that the signals are not, as everybody for some reason assumes, arbitrary. Norbert Elias, in “The Civilizing Process” ably demonstrates how even random seeming cultural trends like not eating with a big knife are actually inextricably linked to a widespread desire to signal that you’re not a violent person. It’s important not to lose sight of the real sub-structure of cultural signals when discussing their value in status-games. It’s not a question of reality overpowering fashion, but of fashion successfully self-improving. That is to say, fashion does accrete, in that you can trace ‘civilized signals’ building up from very basic signals and practices about not raping and murdering to more and more refined methods of making manifest your more and more civilized personality.

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• Scott Alexander says:

This may be true for certain examples like the knife. When I think of fashion, I think of different colors of clothes, different lengths of dresses, whether or not people wear hats, et cetera. Are there similar explanations for most of those things?

Also, I feel like wanting to signal “I am a less violent person” is itself a pretty undetermined signal. One could equally go the opposite way (large knife to signal decisiveness) or skew (large knife to signal I am out in the open and not going to stab you in the back)

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• FredR says:

There are a lot of contingent reasons why signaling might get diverted into specific channels among all the imaginable possibilities, but it’s a much more useful heuristic to start your model with “what real qualities does this signal require and demonstrate?” As for fashion, think, for instance, of the sober, dark, undemonstrative English suit that is now ubiquitous wherever people value and want to demonstrate discipline.

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38. johnwbh says:

There’s maybe a distinction be made between object level liberal (takes the liberal position on the issues of the day, for whatever reason) and meta-level/principled liberal (holds some political/moral philosophy that entails liberalism). You strike me as the latter.

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39. Lumifer says:

If I may make a suggestion to look outside of your own little bubble?

Look at the US government. What happened to it in the XXI century? In which directions it evolved? Which new parts did it grow? Where is it going?

That should be part and parcel of any discussion about shifts in ideologies. Laws and policies (enforced by people with guns) are more serious than online rants and political fashion at cocktail parties.

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40. Shmi Nux says:

Not sure how to best contact you, Scott, but here is a link you might find interesting:
http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2014/04/22/cmaj.131792 (no paywall)
They combine a non-central definition of child abuse (which includes being pushed) with a non-central definition of mental illness (which includes ADD), add some creative statistics and find a “robust association”.

Earlier research is described in http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cm-vee/csca-ecve/2008/index-eng.php

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41. anon says:

There aren’t any rules governing argumentation in college debate. All arguments are allowed and judges are supposed to check their preconceived notions at the door. Any position can be read in a debate round and many are. One can argue that the US military is evil, that patriarchy is good, or that the Time Cube is real and important, the only constraint is strategy and your own willingness to risk losing. The flexibility of this norm might not be optimal, but it’s something of a truce. It’s much better than allowing ideologically diverse judges to impose their own preconceived views onto the round, so almost everyone compromises by supporting this judging philosophy, to a greater or lesser degree.

(Some judges will intervene against any arguments they find morally offensive, like scientific racism or homophobia. Thresholds on what counts as offensive vary, and I oppose these judges views because of that. But still, in most cases most of the time for most people, judging is very neutral.)

One consequence of this tabula rasa judging is that teams who want the debate to focus on the topic must justify that perspective when faced with those who argue that the round should be about other things. Ideological diversity is the norm in debate and everyone knows it. Cases outside the topic are popular enough that everyone’s aware of them. If you fail to prepare for them it’s your own fault and no one else’s. It’s certainly not your opponents’ job to cater to your strengths.

I don’t like progressive debate, my views are very conservative. I think that cases outside the topic generally deserve to lose. But that’s a debate to be had within the round, and a fair one to initiate. The Atlantic article gives the impression that black performance teams are rudely abandoning the rules of debate, but that’s very misleading because debate hasn’t had a rulebook for decades and just about everyone likes it that way.

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• Scott Alexander says:

Thank you. I figured there was probably something similar to this going on. While it’s still dumb, it’s at least dumbness located a few levels back from this particular incident and existing in some kind of strategic equilibrium.

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42. There’ve always been left-libertarians and totalitarian leftists. The internet seems to make the latter more noticeable. Maybe they’re better for clickbait.

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Orwell would’ve laughed at the idea of the word eventually coming to encompass SJWs. Laughed with relief, maybe.

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• Its not like that.

In the ending days of Anno Domini, before the wars, there seemed to be the Revolutionary Leftists, who could be authoritarian or neutral, and the Liberal-leftists, who were the Democrats in the 1960s.

After the wars, the authoritarian part of the revolutionary leftists fizzled, and a (now dominant) semi-revolutionary deconstructive leftist faction appeared out of the Liberal-leftists and revolutionary leftists. You are a somewhat uncommon relic of neutral revolutionary leftism. Revolutionary leftism on the Internet is almost always deconstructive (Tumblr-tastic). Ozy Frantz seems to me like an unusual non-revolutionary deconstructive example.

The only recent authoritarian leftist I have ever heard of was this creepy romantic madman in my university, who was arrested after injuring himself trying to build a machine gun in the student machine shop.

Nonrevolutionary liberal-leftists are pretty much just plugging along, though lately they’ve been displaced from The Democrats, who are now mostly just a mix of liberal centrists and people of goodwill who recognize the evil of the Republicans.

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You are a somewhat uncommon relic of neutral revolutionary leftism.

Yes, except that really I feel like I’m an anti-non-revolutionary; I think that there is a strong case against drastic change to a fragile plan in theory, but a far stronger case regarding the folly of inaction and the horror of entropy surrounding us in practice. I find the legacy of previous revolutions contradictory and ambiguous (but often incredibly great), and the future darkly uncertain. Insufficiently strong measures seem pragmatically and ethically questionable.

P.S.: this INFP tendency of mine to imitate the people I’m trying to empathize with while responding to them is kind of funny.

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43. damn says:

This rings very true for me.

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44. Matthew says:

I think Scott has unduly narrowed the hypothesis-space by assuming that his increased hostility to the stupider elements to his left and his increased affinity for relatively smart elements to his right are aspects of a single process.

I’ve been feeling similarly more alarmed by the stupid left on a similar timescale (possibly because I’ve been more exposed to it from reading this blog), but unlike Scott, my feeling that Neoreaction is repulsive hasn’t diminished at all. It’s not at all obvious to me that the two sentiments should be causally linked.

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45. That the smart people are starting to laugh at the left, and differentiate themselves, is not inconsistent with the left ruling and that rule getting ever lefter.

Observe high art, which is the art of the ruling elite. It is an aids infected transvestite projectile vomiting over the audience. Compare Freedom tower with Burj Khalifa. Not only is Freedom Tower embarrassingly short, it is also unattractive.

The smart people are differentiating themselves, they saying “well, we may be out of power, but we are more intelligent, more civilized, and have better taste than those that are in power”

I don’t think feminism has maxed out – observe, for example, its ever more extreme and hostile application to our armed forces. Extrapolating, the end point is that the armed forces are entirely composed of gays, trannies, and women because every heterosexual male in the armed forces has been convicted of rape committed in other people’s dreams and sentenced to life without parole.

Affirmative action has maxed out and is being dismantled only the sense that it is being replaced by the eradication of disparate impact, which has even worse consequences.

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• Scott Alexander says:

You’re not extrapolating far enough. A real extrapolator would realize that soon the army will just be composed of X chromosomes suspended in a preservative gel.

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• Andy says:

the Army of the Future is a swarm of retroviruses that replace Y-chromosomes with X-chromosomes. Boom, war won.

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I, too, enjoy those /pol/ copypastas. No, seriously, these are eutopian as fuck. I’d love to live in such a bizzare and wonderful world.

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• chauvinistic celestial-undefined hetero-elitist bigot says:

There’s an entire subreddit for stuff like that, http://www.reddit.com/r/TalesofPrivilege/top?sort=top&t=all

Half is that dystopia, half is patriarchal revolution. There’s also the occasional reverse-dystopia for good measure. All are required reading.

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I have a bit of a problem with the second half, thank you very much.

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Not only is Freedom Tower embarrassingly short, it is also unattractive.

Is it Fascist Stereotypes Month already?

:cigar:

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• Doug S. says:
• Doug S. says:

It is an aids infected transvestite projectile vomiting over the audience.

Odd, projectile vomiting cross-dressers sound more like something you’d see in one of the endless Scary Movie sequels…

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• ozymandias says:

James is talking about an actual performance artist IIRC. I wish people would stop being offended at the idiotic shit performance artists get up to; they’re just feeding the trolls.

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• Randy M says:

Oh, I thought it was just an over the top metaphor. Does anyone take performace art seriously?

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• ozymandias says:

I’ve seen some performance art on Tumblr that was pretty cool, like a woman sitting in a chair perfectly still and letting strangers do whatever they like to her.

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• Randy M says:

I’m trying to articulate the appropriate amount of open mouth confusion. This is the same tumblr that often complains of ‘rape culture’ is it not?

I realize that tumblr is a platform, and not a single voice, and you don’t speak for any particular portion of it, but the way that is phrased…

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• Randy M says:

That sounds a bit rape culture-y to me.

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46. Jake says:

It seems to me that this article focuses a bit too much on the social aspects of leftism rather than the economic aspects – which have not only not been trending inexorably leftwards, but have actually been in a bit of a retreat for the last few decades.

Meanwhile look at the ideologies that your friends are adopting. Are any of them actually rejecting the left’s social progress? It’s true that there are some reactionaries who are just monstrous in rejecting the leftward social progress of the last few centuries in terms of accepting all humans as real people, but most of the trendy new libertarians I see accept social progress and focus on pushing economic policy even farther to the right.

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• most of the trendy new libertarians I see accept social progress and focus on pushing economic policy even farther to the right.

The proportion of people on means tested social programs has endlessly increased. The proportion of males working in the private sector has endlessly decreased. The proportion of fatherless families supported largely by the state has endlessly increased. The proportion of fathers has endlessly decreased.

The number of obamaphones has increased enormously.

Female employment has increased, but increasingly these are makework affirmative action jobs, for example human resources, a place to stuff women the company is forced to hire where they will not cause too much damage.

The deficit and public debt grows ever larger, as the proportion of private sector taxpayers grows ever smaller. Ever fewer people are pulling the cart, and ever more people sitting in the cart. Obamacare is a huge increase in means tested welfare, which radically reduces the return on work and upward mobility.

How is economic policy moving to the right?

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• suntzuanime says:

There’s some question regarding whether the social safety net counts as social policy or economic policy.

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• ozymandias says:

Is there any evidence that federal contractors (legally required to have affirmative action programs) are more likely to have large HR departments than firms which are not federal contractors? Also HR like… hires people… that seems pretty important IMO. Like I am not a CEO but I feel like if I were I would invest serious resources in the part of the job that involves hiring people.

… … … obamaphones?

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• Doug S. says:

Wow, apparently that’s a thing.

“Obamaphones” is (an urban legend based on) a real federal program to subsidize telephones for poor people which started covering cell phone services in 2008, but the program had nothing to do with Obama – it was signed into law by Clinton and expanded to include cell phones in the last year of the Bush administration.

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The most revolting and detestable thing about this aspect of welfare-baiting is the irrational sadism of it: unlike literally everyone else on the planet, The Poors don’t need cellphones because they need to exist on another plane entirely and be constantly reminded of it. Folks don’t care if it hurts everyone in the long run by taking away them Bootstraps, as long as the barrier between the lower-middle class and Those People is maintained.

This is one of my greatest reservations about democracy: the evil that right-wing propaganda can do by exploiting the lower classes’ desperate need to feel superior to the underclass. The economic elites might be more evil objectively, but nothing beats the sheer cruelty that fear, the politics of exclusion and the occasional dangled carrot arouse in the Ordinary Decent Hard-Working Man. (I know that some reactionaries hypocritically agree.)

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• Also HR like… hires people… that seems pretty important IMO.

As an engineer, pretty obvious to me that the only person competent to decide who should be hired fired for an engineering job is another engineer. It seems likely that something similar is true of most business activities. So, what is HR doing?

Mostly polishing their nails and getting up elaborate complicated girl games of which girls are in with other girls, and which girls are out, like the underutilized harem of an aging sultan.

To the extent that they do anything useful, it is that they interface with the labyrinthine federal bureaucracy that regulates hiring and firing, itself largely composed of women and minorities. The two bureaucracies service each other by manufacturing work for each other.

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• , but the program had nothing to do with Obama

Obamaphones have increased enormously under Obama, increased manyfold – not necessarily because of anything Obama did, perhaps merely because it is the nature of every federal program to expand enormously.

But because most of the underclass received their phones while Obama was in charge, they credit him, rather than George Bush. It is the underclass, not the right, that named them Obamaphones.

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• Randy M says:

“Also HR like… hires people… that seems pretty important IMO”
That seems quite superficial. You can argue that HR is delegated to making hiring decisions because the excutives or managers would not otherwise have the time, but really, how often are people hired? At my work, we have about 1-2% of the staff is HR (2-3 people) for hiring a person about once a month.

Otherwise, HR doesn’t decide another employee is needed, nor do they generate the funds to pay that employee, nor do they decide what they do day to day.
Now, if I were CEO, I’d certainly want people to make sure we complied with all the federal hiring regulations (or policies of the larger company), but having those regulations are a trade-off, trading the economic benefits that the company would reap with paying people in those jobs (or other work they would be doing) for whatever benefit those regulations bring.

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• Jake says:

\$2 Billion in subsidies for poor people to have phones. Yup, there goes civilization.

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• Anthony says:

Also HR like… hires people… that seems pretty important IMO.

In my experience, HR exists to administer benefits and prevent people from getting jobs.

I’ve gotten hired at many places, but I’ve always done so after being interviewed by an engineer, and have only every gotten an interview when I’ve submitted my resume to an engineer.

Outside of schools and other government employment, the only people I know who’ve gotten jobs after sending their resume to HR are HR specialists.

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• anodognosic says:

“\$2 Billion in subsidies for poor people to have phones. Yup, there goes civilization.”

Did you know that owning a cell phone is a prerequisite for a job at McDonald’s?

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• Jake says:

Right, so as I said there are some people who are just ridiculous conspiracy theorists whose ideas are obviously ridiculous and is just transparently motivated by hatred towards and prejudice against the poor, minorities, women, etc.

But one assumes (hopes?) that these are not the kind of people Scott is talking about when he says that he has lots of friends who are doing weird but intelligent things on the conservative end of the spectrum.

The problem is that the part of liberalism that seems to be inexorably advancing is also the part that you can’t be hugely against without showing yourself to be pretty awful. It says a lot about someone if they’re actually *less* tolerant than the society that they came from. It’s forgivable to share the prejudices that you were indoctrinated with – though of course admirable to rise above them. But to actually move in the other direction; to take a stand in favor of shrinking the circle of empathy? Dreadful.

On the other hand we have economic policy: since the 1980’s we’ve seen massive deregulation, reductions in top tax rates, increases in income inequality, etc. This is at least as important to our civilization as the social issues, and on this front there is not much evidence of a consistent move to the left. Now I disagree with people who are on the right economically just as much as I do with people who are on the right socially, but because economics is so much more complex than the simple morality of expanding the circle of empathy to our fellow humans that I’m more willing to accept that people who are conservative on economic issues can be coming from a place of good faith, if a misguided one.

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• ozymandias says:

I think it is a failure of principle of charity to say you can’t be socially conservative without having enormous failures of empathy. There are people who, for instance, think LGB people are called to celibacy by God and that institutionalizing gay marriage will have negative effects on society, but are still perfectly nice to any LGB people they actually know and acknowledge that this position is hard on actual LGB people.

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• Andy says:

Seconded, Ozy. I’d add to this many of the “pray away the gay” crowd, who seem to be honestly trying to help people they see as lost to sin. And many of the loud street preachers on my campus, if you see them as trying to save people from Hell. They’re just very ineffectual at it, and fail to respect metaphysical worldviews other than their own.
The one who yells “I hear a mouthy woman who needs to learn her place!” whenever a woman challenges him is not one of these, though.

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• nydwracu says:

The problem is that the part of liberalism that seems to be inexorably advancing is also the part that you can’t be hugely against without showing yourself to be pretty awful. It says a lot about someone if they’re actually *less* tolerant than the society that they came from. It’s forgivable to share the prejudices that you were indoctrinated with – though of course admirable to rise above them. But to actually move in the other direction; to take a stand in favor of shrinking the circle of empathy? Dreadful.

My god, pure ideology.

If legalization of gay marriage breaks the Schelling fence and creates the possibility for an attack on monogamy, and if monogamy is necessary social technology for building a civilization, or if legalization of gay marriage pushes the definition of marriage toward “legal recognition of romantic love” and away from “the joining of two people into a patriarchal unit for the purposes of raising a family”, and if the redefinition of marriage pushes the divorce rate and/or the rate of single parenthood through the roof, and if that has negative effects that outweigh the negative effects of not allowing the fraction of the homosexual population (which is already low, something like 3%—the average estimate is off by an order of magnitude), then prioritizing that fraction of 3% over the maintenance of civilization (which affects everyone) is a massive failure to, as you put it, widen the circle of empathy. And that’s just two examples! I’m sure you can come up with more.

Really, do you have any idea how much you’re assuming here? Opposition to progressivism can only be considered “shrinking the circle of empathy” if you assume all of progressivism. Which, as I hope you know, people who oppose progressivism don’t.

You have to assume that Christianity is false; you have to assume that Burke was wrong; you have to assume that you’ve found all the reasons why Chesterton’s fence was put up; you have to assume that these progressive proposals will generate so much added value for the small fraction of the population they’re targeted toward that it’s worth risking whatever negative effects they may have and providing justification to take the jackboot to whatever percentage of the population won’t get in line behind them… and you don’t seem to realize that all those things have to be assumed. Yes, opposing progressive proposals appears to be “shrinking the circle of empathy” if you assume progressivism—but the question isn’t what to do about the circle of empathy. The question is whether progressivism is true.

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…Nydwracu, you always sound a bit anxious to convince yourself.

(le lacan face)

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• Jake says:

I think people can just barely still get away with being anti-gay and not be totally motivated by hate – because that’s an issue where it’s not those people becoming less tolerant, it’s an issue of society rapidly becoming more tolerant around them. On the other hand, racial prejudice has gone beyond the pale, because the social climate has been pro-racial equality for decades now, so you have to be quite a bad dude to actually regress.

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• Jake says:

Responding to nydwracu:

Wow, what a chilling scenario! Wait, what if keeping gay marriage banned causes homosexuals to abandon monogamy, and then spread that culture of lack of monogamy to heterosexuals, to whatever disastrous effect you think would happen if we abandon monogamy. Or maybe we really need to abandon monogamy because it causes people to have more children and the population is too high as it is. Or maybe we can make up any ridiculous hypothetical in which making a change you don’t approve of will cause the downfall of civilization.

We don’t know every impact allowing gay marriage, or any other form of social progress will have on society. There could be unexpected positives or negatives, but we might as well default to giving people equal rights in the absence of truly compelling reasons not to.

Society isn’t Chesterton’s fence. Most aspects of our civilization weren’t carefully thought up and implemented, they evolved haphazardly out of the ideas and biases of earlier times. Sure we need to think carefully about making important changes, but if something has obvious benefits and no apparent downsides, we shouldn’t be so insanely cautious as to not change it out of fear it’ll be the little rock that gets dislodged and starts a civilization destroying avalanche.

I am absolutely comfortable starting an analysis of social science with the fact that Christianity is false. On the other hand, “taking the jackboot to whatever percentage of the population won’t get in line”? Really? Want to give some examples of when democracies have ‘taken the jackboot’ to their people in the name of tolerance and acceptance? The closest I can think of is sending in the national guard to enforce school integration. I guess you’d say that the only reason being forced to allow black children into the white school doesn’t seem like particularly horrible oppression to me is that I accept progressivism?

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• peppermint says:

the real problem is the word ‘homosexual’. What word did the Romans have for homosexual? They had a large and precise vocabulary for sex acts, but never felt the need to pathologize corruption and let people pretend that they choose gay sex because they were born to. The word homosexual appeared for this purpose in the 1920s.

As soon as the word homosexual was accepted, mainstream gay acceptance could not be denied, nor even gaymarriage.

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• ozymandias says:

Peppermint: While the word “homosexual” was created in the twenties, the concept of “invert” existed before. There is considerable scholarly debate about when the concept of a homosexual was invented, and most scholars AFAICT place it sometime in the nineteenth century. Also throughout history there were people who were exclusively interested in people of the same sex; it’s just that the idea that sexuality ought to be primarily organized on a heterosexual/homosexual binary is new. In addition, while I am primarily knowledgeable about the classics and a little about the Elizabethans, historically it seems like, in the absence of e.g. the death penalty for sodomy, abandoning the heterosexual/homosexual binary just makes people have more gay sex.

Jake: Saying that homosexuality is a social construct does not mean that people exclusively attracted to members of the same sex don’t exist. Pretty much all cultures knew people exclusively attracted to members of the same sex existed. However, it is culturally contingent that we think this fact is *important*. One of my classics professors compares it to taste– we know people who don’t like spicy food exist, but not liking spicy food isn’t an *identity*. That’s the way that a lot of premodern cultures thought about exclusively preferring a single sex. I actually think the invention of heterosexuality as a concept was deeply harmful to human flourishing, although I understand that lots of people disagree with me on that one and it may just be me romanticizing the Greeks. 😛

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• nydwracu says:

Jake:

There could be unexpected positives or negatives, but we might as well default to giving people equal rights in the absence of truly compelling reasons not to.

Yes, if you assume progressivism, you get progressivism. The whole point is that some people think there are truly compelling reasons not to, and that some people think there’s something else that’s better to default to. I would say this is political theory 101 if I believed colleges to be even slightly competent at teaching political theory, but I went through both the philosophy and the political science programs of two different colleges and not once did I hear Burke mentioned.

It’s possible to come up with purely psychological reasons for why people believe things, but it’s very easy to turn that into a fully general counterargument, which is pretty much what you’ve done. And it ignores that people sometimes have reasons for believing things, reasons that logically lead to the conclusions they believe.

If you think the only reason anyone could possibly disagree with you is that they have some sort of mental defect, then, well… then you think the only reason anyone could possibly disagree with you is that they have some sort of mental defect.

As for the jackboot: Eich isn’t the only example. The guy who compiled the list—he called them “modern Test Acts”—seems to have deleted his WordPress, but the category was well-populated there long before Eich. Then there are those court cases…

Multiheaded: Aha, so that’s why I always got better grades in college on the papers I halfassed than on the ones I put effort into.

ozymandias: Agreed.

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• Jake says:

Ah yes, the fully generalized counter-argument of “you’re directly harming people because in the absence of evidence you’ve decided to go ahead and assume that stigmatizing this group of people is necessary for civilization to continue.”

I can see how using this argument really shuts down my ability to think clearly about these issues. Why, to change my mind you’d have to have some evidence in favor of your position! Clearly an unreasonable thing to ask about a topic that poses the kind of existential risk to western civilization that giving government recognition to same sex relationships does.

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• ozymandias says:

Jake, have you actually gone to *read* social conservatives’ arguments about why gay marriage will destroy civilization, or are you simply assuming they’re terrible because they’re your outgroup? For instance, do you know why the Catholic Church believes that gay marriage is unnatural, or are you going to respond to this comment with something along the lines of “but gay penguins!”?

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• peppermint says:

historically it seems like, in the absence of e.g. the death penalty for sodomy, abandoning the heterosexual/homosexual binary just makes people have more gay sex.

Fine by me. I hate lies and liars, not people who engage in gay sex.

The concept of homosexual is evil because it is a false statement about human nature that was invented to bring strife to the community and injury to its individuals. It’s so flagrantly wrong that it is not even held as a binary – there are also a community of real and imagined bisexuals. Somehow, the bisexuals are not seen as putting the lie to the whole charade, but rather proof of it. Bizarre.

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• ozymandias says:

Peppermint: I think “lie” is a little strong. There’s no evidence that e.g. Havelock Ellis wasn’t writing down honestly what he had observed. And there certainly are people who are attracted to people of one sex and not of another sex and have been for their entire lives and this is utterly immutable. And given our current cultural context there are probably many *more* of those people than there would be otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

As a bisexual person, ime it’s pretty clearly a heterosexual/homosexual binary, and people will try to stuff you in one section or another based on your romantic-sexual behavior and their preconceptions.

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• MugaSofer says:

Conjunctive fallacy, nydwracu. Each of those requirements makes it less likely, not more, that gay marriage is harmful.

@ozy:
“And there certainly are people who are attracted to people of one sex and not of another sex and have been for their entire lives and this is utterly immutable.”

I would quibble on “utterly immutable”. Human sexuality is fairly fluid. Indeed, “prison gays” are actually quite a common phenomenon.

But the “switch” flipped in early development is … probably immutable? To the best of our knowledge.

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• On the other hand we have economic policy: since the 1980′s we’ve seen massive deregulation, reductions in top tax rates, increases in income inequality, etc.

The foxes regulating the chickens is not deregulation. In the entire world, and all of human history, there was no business more regulated than MF Global, run by Jon Corzine, the man of many hats, regulator and regulated. By and large, the regulations had the effect of making it legal for MF Global to do things that a hundred years ago would have been violently illegal. That is not deregulation, but regulation, and proof of that is the MF Global was run by one of the worlds most influential regulators.

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• pwyll says:

Economic policy moving towards the right is not incompatible with advancing leftism. If the left was once poor, it makes sense for the left to loudly beat the drum for income redistribution. If the left then later becomes rich, it shouldn’t be surprising that they start to place less emphasis on the topic. (and proportionally more on other ways to cement their power and status.) I’m reminded of Orwell’s animals endlessly chanting “four legs good, two legs bad” until they take over and the slogan suddenly changes to “two legs BETTER”!

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• Douglas Knight says:

In particular, the baby boomers have become richer with age, but they have maintained a lock on power.

But Scott isn’t talking about actual policies produced by people in power, but the rhetoric of his friends, who are young and thus poor. Why would they be any less left on economics than a corresponding cohort from the past?

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• pwyll says:

@Douglas, I’d say because they recognize that the path to higher status is to ape the pet causes of the elite, which, for now, do not emphasize taking money from the rich as much as they used to.

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47. Anon says:

Let me propose something different: Left is the new Right.

Cthulhu swims towards abundance mentality, and away from scarcity mentality. For a specific time period, abundance corresponded to “Left” and scarcity corresponded to “Right” but this is not necessarily always true.

As a member of the intellectual elite, you’re riding on Cthulhu’s back…and you’re leaving “the Left” behind you.

Radical feminists supporting censorship, people who don’t want daughters to mix with “fundies”, etc…are behaving in scarcity mentality relative to you. Strong free speech norms are an abundance value. It’s EXTREMELY abundance-value for the dominant in-group who controls the Norm to uphold the free speech of other viewpoints, and most of what we call the “Left” simply has yet to follow Cthulhu that far.

Which is, of course, why people identify you as a progressive feminist type – because your style and opinions agree with them on the underlying sense that really matters – abundance mentality over scarcity mentality. I identify as a progressive leftist feminist type, and I have yet to seriously disagree with a single thing I’ve read from you. The fact that you’ve chosen one label and they’ve chosen another is irrelevant – the important thing is that you’re both closer to Cthulhu than the average person in the relevant circle.

(The reason I term these values “abundance values” rather than just “good values” is because they are NOT always good values. Sometimes you really DO achieve your goals via censorship, sometimes you really DO save yourself headache down the line by keeping your daughter away from cute fundie boys. But if you’re in a position of abundance and security, then following abundance-values in general does often lead to better outcomes.

Values is likely the wrong word. “Frame”, maybe.

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• Vanzetti says:

Cthulhu always swims toward abundance… an abundance of tasty humans.

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• Scott Alexander says:

So baaaasically you’re saying that, regardless of who uses the words “right” and “left”, I’m inevitably going to get everything I want and everyone who disagrees with me will be left on the dustbin of history?

Cool. I can get behind that.

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• Anon says:

Well, sort of… it’s certainly not *guaranteed* that general human well-being will keep increasing, but that does seem to be the trend.

But yes, I think so long as humanity moves in such a direction where people in general are more carefree, less afraid, and experience fewer negative emotions overall, the higher the threat-level they will tolerate (which means less censorship, less retaliation against real or perceived aggression, and more tolerance of deviance from cultural norms)

In internet circles, a normal conservative is the sort of person who believes in God, a normal liberal is what you’d expect most people you meet to be, and everyone who doesn’t fall into those categories (libertarians, reactionaries, whatever) is weird and perhaps cleverly non-conformist…but at the end of the day, abundance-mentality people of all stripes to tend to get along (whereas scarcity-mentality types will tend to gravitate more towards a homogeneous in-group). And now that “Left” is large enough to be the Gigantic In-Group, it’s going to draw more scarcity mentality people.

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• MugaSofer says:

“a normal conservative is the sort of person who believes in God, a normal liberal is what you’d expect most people you meet to be”

But … I would expect most people I meet to believe in God. Y’know, statistically. Paradox?

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48. Troy says:

One reason I’m skeptical of your explanation is that if you’re anything like me — and judging from what you say about your fear of getting fired, you are — then you’re often not comfortable expressing your conservative ideas publicly. But if your conservativism is supposed to be a way of signalling that you’re not like those silly lefties, it seems you shouldn’t be reticent to express it in this way.

I went to a conservative Christian college and while there began to identify myself as liberal/progressive. Then in graduate school I began to think of myself as more conservative. But I’ve noticed that since becoming conservative, I’m much more reticent to be open about my political views than I was when I was progressive — despite the fact that in both contexts, most of the people I knew disagreed with me. I think at least part of the reason is that I genuinely fear at the least significant social disapprobation and at the worst actual professional consequences for being open in this way (I’m a professor).

I’m willing to accept that part of the explanation for my views at different times is that I like being contrarian. I’m pretty open about my (many) contrarian views about non-political issues in my academic field, and I suspect that it does make me look smarter to many of my colleagues. But I’m not very open about my political views. Maybe they would make me look smarter, but they would also make me look bigoted to many people, and could seriously harm my career. I’m vain enough that I care about looking smart, but I don’t think I care more about looking smart than about looking non-bigoted (which I do care about) or about keeping my career. So I don’t think I’ve become more conservative because I think it’ll make me look smart.

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49. Leonard says:

The explanation I like least is that it comes from reading too much neoreaction. … In particular I worry about the neoreactionary assumption that leftism always increases with time… Without me ever really evaluating its truth-value… Certain versions of it are certainly plausible.

You protest too much. Do you believe it or not? I think you do. You have examples of leftist desires that have not progressed — much — with time. (I’d quibble with all of your examples. Is “radical feminism” not far more crazy now than it was 50 years ago?) But do you actually think that you have not evaluated the truth-value of the proposition that we are sliding left all the time? Do you have any examples of substantial evolution to the right? I don’t. Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus.

Let me offer a different explanation of this strange ability of neoreaction to get to you: it contains basic truths that you have been taught are evil falsehoods. Now, all basic truths have ramifications, which may be more or less obvious. This includes the particular truths that are getting to you. But your monkey-brains know that these ideas are low-status given the leftist domination of fashion and power. As such, socially speaking, believing them is nearly purely negative for you, and thus you attempt to not believe as much as possible: “I don’t believe most what I read”. Right.

I think you have accepted some of these basic truths, even though they run against your status instinct. But you don’t want them to ramify. “This isn’t the type of conservativism where I agree with any conservative policies, mind you.” Right. You have attempted to wall these truths off in your brain, preventing their otherwise natural ramification in your idea-space, which includes “policy”. Crimestop. This works to slow their ramification. In most men, I expect it would be sufficient to stop it entirely.

But crimestop does not work well for you. You are one of those sad men, found in every age, who care about the truth more than status. Once you believe A, and that A->B, eventually you will come to believe B, even if B is dangerously low status.

Your rational brain is set against your emotional/social brain. The process is highly uncomfortable. And this is why you find the stupid-Left so irritating right now: by acting with zealous conviction upon the basis of B, they are inadvertently pushing that process in your brain. By contrast, the stupid-Right does not annoy you because you are not attempting crimestop on any leftist memes. You’ve long-ago let them fully ramify.

The right is not high-status. Duh. Who’s the highest status neoreactionary? Moldbug? A nobody. Why, he’s not even a PhD, much less tenured! The Left is high-status. Duh. Who’s the highest-status leftist you can name? Barack Obama, world President. Yeah, the Left has got nuclear weapons.

You can certainly guess what will happen to you socially if you join the neoreaction. You will be reviled by the left and quite possibly lose your job. In the long run, my prediction is that won’t matter, and you will join us. Since you’re a non-anonymous person, I’d suggest that you keep it under wraps.

“He’s beginning to believe”

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Is “radical feminism” not far more crazy now than it was 50 years ago?

1) 50 years ago was the S.C.U.M. Manifesto. 2) You, like 99% of people, use the words “radical feminism” incorrectly; it refers to a specific set of theoretical propositions and not to being very loud and outspoken.

Who’s the highest-status leftist you can name? Barack Obama, world President.

…I got nothing.

Overall: SO BRAVE.

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• mranon says:

My impression is that a lot of these neoreactionary and dark enlightenment people have a lot of important insights on non-evaluative questions, but then display extraordinarily sloppy moral reasoning along with a basic assholishness that makes them unreliable on anything normative. I’m thinking of guys like Forney, Roissy, and yeah, even Moldbug.

Like, instead of thinking “Hey, now that we know all of these previously hidden ‘dark truths’, let’s use them to help the world!”, these dudes seem to want to make people feel bad about themselves, and don’t seem concerned with using their knowledge to help anyone other than themselves and other young, white men.

The main exception to this is Charles Murray — willing to accept verboten truths on the non-evaluative stuff, but then really wants to help the world. Maybe you can think of Daniel Patrick Moynihan like this, too, although he was more liberal than Murray is.

Maybe that’s why Scott “stops” where he does. There are very few models among the neoreactionaries of people putting their deep and interesting insights to good use.

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• Andy says:

Possibly because putting their insights to good use means doing things in the real world, where abstract theory runs aground on the gritty complicated shoals of reality. What I admire and fear about hard Marxists is that they’re willing to try out their ideas… and then sometimes ride the theory down in flames rather than adjust it to their results.

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The “Moynihan” known from the eponymous “Report” is not the real D.P. Moynihan, and the report never said half the things it said! It was strawmanned by liberals, and then rightists praised the strawman as sufficiently dark, edgy and racist.

Charles Murray

As part of the really rather ridiculous “expose” of him by the eXile crew, I’ve seen a mention of his involvement in a counterinsurgency/social engineering campaign in Thailand in his youth. I’m really rather deeply suspicious of his activities there, and would love to get my inquisitorial pliers on him. Metaphorically speaking. American “advisor” + 3rd world right-wing regime = possibility of skeletons in the closet.

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• pwyll says:

The reason why neoreaction has such a large percentage of jerks is that, if you’re not a jerk, you’re much less likely to be willing to buck the status quo. What are the benefits of being a neoreactionary? Pretty much none. So, you only have a good chance of becoming a neoreactionary if (a) you care about the search for truth more than social consequences of your beliefs or (b) you enjoy annoying people.
Or both.
Thus… neoreactionary jerks.
And this is how the proponents of a set of beliefs I believe to be largely true can also be extremely abrasive and/or unpleasant.
(Exhibit 1: James A. Donald blog.jim.com )

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• blacktrance says:

pwyll: If so, then people who buck the status quo in general would be disproportionately likely to be jerks. Not just neo-reactionaries, but SJWs, libertarians, LessWrongers, etc. Are they? My tentative estimate is that they’re not.

There’s also the factor that you’re more likely to look like a jerk if you’re anti-status quo even if you’re not actually a jerk.

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• Oligopsony says:

pwyll: If so, then people who buck the status quo in general would be disproportionately likely to be jerks. Not just neo-reactionaries, but SJWs, libertarians, LessWrongers, etc. Are they? My tentative estimate is that they’re not.

My personal experience is that they are, with the exception of LW types, who like most apolitical nerds are extremely nice to ingroup members. In particular the further left of liberalism you go the more likely people are to get into really acrimonious debates over obscure factual issues.

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• Pthagnar says:

I agree that contrarian political groups of all kinds — libertarians, anarchists, fascists and leftists [which I use in the sense which my former comrades are trying to get you to use, and which I still agree with them heartily about: no anti-commie like an ex-commie] are not only enriched in jerks, but that definitely at the more extreme ends, ‘jerk’ is more the default personality type, and that the role played by ‘jerks’ in more moderate groups comes to be played by ‘violently unstable lunatics’.

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• Anon says:

>If so, then people who buck the status quo in general would be disproportionately likely to be jerks

For certain definitions of “jerk”, maybe. They’d likely score lower on a Big-Five “agreeableness” scale.

I think a surprising amount of “being nice” is actually just social conformity, and often times blunt honesty is interpreted as jerk-ness.

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• nydwracu says:

“Society is set up in many ways that will hurt you and your demographic. People lack understanding of the true nature of things, stuck as they are with backwards beliefs inherited from religious fanatics. Direct political action against this is unlikely to succeed, or even exist, but it’s possible to get the word out: it does get better. Some places, some environments, are less oppressive than others; and strategies do exist to make your life better.”

That’s one way to describe PUAs.

There are three reasons that’s not a useful heuristic: first, pattern-matching; second, differing implications; and third, selection across psychology. (Listed in descending epistemic order, of course.)

There are certain patterns that people associate with altruism. Progressive idealism and so on. The hippies were altruists: they just wanted to help the world! (By, if the Frankfurt School hypothesis has any merit, trying to utterly destroy Western civilization.) But a monarchist who believes that democracy has been Khmer Rouge-scale disastrous and works in whatever limited ways are available to end that disaster isn’t seen as altruistic—internally, he totally is, but he doesn’t look like an altruist to the impartial [but actually progressive; pure ideology and so on] observer.

Some belief-systems don’t lend themselves well to altruism. If you believe in human neurological uniformity, well, there must be plenty that can be done to help Africa, since Africans have exactly the same potential as Americans. If you believe in racial differences in intelligence, you believe that Africa is going to be screwed until genetic engineering is cheap enough to solve those racial differences—so there’s less that can be done to help Africa. Especially if you’re not smart enough to work on genetic engineering, or you work elsewhere and are too old to get into the field, or you live in a culture where there aren’t many opportunities to get into it.

And if some belief-systems lend themselves better to altruism than others, it may be that people more inclined to altruism filter into them, and people less inclined to altruism filter into belief-systems less inclined to altruism—regardless of truth. If that’s the case, it’s entirely possible that altruism is bad! (I don’t like those psychologizing explanations, but lots of other people seem to.)

There’s also a fourth objection, related to the first: not all altruism is visible. If you believe that altruism is best practiced locally, rather than telescopically, your acts of altruism are less likely to go recognized. The same thing applies to talk vs. action. I used to volunteer in a soup kitchen, but that didn’t contribute in the slightest to my apparent altruism. If I had talked about effective altruism instead, even as a cynical status ploy and even if I donated very little or no money, I would have appeared more altruistic, but actually acted less altruistically. (Telescopic altruism can actually be worse than nothing, as with all those projects to build schools in Africa. It’s got a billion people and most of them make a penny a year; why the hell would it need free unskilled labor? But hey, the pictures look good on Facebook!)

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• Leonard says:

Overall: SO BRAVE.

Can you explain this? I know the reference but I do not understand your meaning.

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• Oligopsony says:

He’s saluting your brave ability to rise above the conformity of the sheeple! The Miley-loving masses may have swag, but they will never have class, and it takes a truly high-IQ gentleman to read his Orwell and recognize that fact. Truly, you were born in the wrong generation.

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• pwyll says:

@Leonard
Don’t know if what you wrote is true, but it sure was fun to read…

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50. Sarah says:

Thanks for the shout-out!

I’ve actually gotten *more* friendly to the left over time.

Part of that is being more focused on the world as it is rather than as I’d like it to be.

The world is going to be organized into nation-states for the foreseeable future, and I think it’s probably wiser to cheer when a government does a more-or-less good thing than to “helpfully” remind everyone that its authority is illegitimate. Opinions should be a meaningful signal, not a flat line.

Also, I’ve found that real businessmen often fall short of the ideal of the “honest capitalist.” I’m still very pro-commerce — that’s how you lift a billion people out of poverty — but I’m increasingly cynical about corruption in business.

Finally, the social justice movement has taught me one habit that I value, which is to always consider that a lot of people’s lives really suck, and to err on the side of being gentler and more circumspect because anybody may be shouldering an invisible burden.

I’ve found that, frankly, there are a lot more actively benevolent people on the “left” than the “right.” Want to find people who care about evidence-based medicine and fixing the healthcare system? Looking for people who are passionate about making life better for the disabled? People who start charitable organizations? A lot of them are going to be liberals. From a 40,000-foot view, the world isn’t so much divided into “left” and “right” as it is divided into “people who basically want to make the world better” and “people who enjoy being assholes.” I’m a libertarian, but I’m in the first category, and that means learning to find common ground with the left.

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• Troy says:

I’ve found that, frankly, there are a lot more actively benevolent people on the “left” than the “right.” Want to find people who care about evidence-based medicine and fixing the healthcare system? Looking for people who are passionate about making life better for the disabled? People who start charitable organizations? A lot of them are going to be liberals.

While I don’t for a minute deny that many and possibly most actively benevolent people are progressives, in my experience there are many people involved in charitable work who privately will express conservative opinions, but who in public will not speak up at all, because of the progressive environment they live in.

From a 40,000-foot view, the world isn’t so much divided into “left” and “right” as it is divided into “people who basically want to make the world better” and “people who enjoy being assholes.”

Sadly, I’m not sure these are mutually exclusive. On the Left in particular I know people who I think are genuinely committed to improving the world and who are even actively involved in worthwhile charitable work who are nevertheless incredibly disparaging and not at all “gentle” towards conservatives.

Another common problem is that people are concerned about helping others, but they’re also concerned about appearing to care about helping others, and oftentimes (in my opinion) progressive views fulfill the latter goal but hinder the former. What ultimately matters is not how good people’s intentions are, but how effective they are.

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• Sarah says:

So, to be fair: the stats do say that conservatives give more to charity than liberals.

I could be wrong and overgeneralizing from personal impressions.

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Probably not controlled for wealth.

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• Andy says:

2) Some on the far left and the far right think that the best and therefore “kindest” charity in terms of massively improving life outcomes is targeted direct giving of lead.

Though strictly speaking, the targeted direct giving of lead is much more effective when you can recruit more lead-givers, and this is effectively accomplished by giving charity/help to poor people as an inducement to motivate them to give lead later. This is a recruitment tool used by several leftist guerrilla groups I’ve surveyed (Black Panthers, Maoists) but not any Western rightist guerrilla groups. IIRc, it’s not mentioned in Anders Behring Breivik’s 2083 manifesto, but I have papers to work on and don’t want to go through all 1500 pages of that far-right lunacy. It is however a core strategy of Islamist groups that recruit through madrassas, which could count as rightist if you look through the right lens.

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• Oligopsony says:

Though strictly speaking, the targeted direct giving of lead is much more effective when you can recruit more lead-givers, and this is effectively accomplished by giving charity/help to poor people as an inducement to motivate them to give lead later. This is a recruitment tool used by several leftist guerrilla groups I’ve surveyed (Black Panthers, Maoists) but not any Western rightist guerrilla groups. IIRc, it’s not mentioned in Anders Behring Breivik’s 2083 manifesto, but I have papers to work on and don’t want to go through all 1500 pages of that far-right lunacy. It is however a core strategy of Islamist groups that recruit through madrassas, which could count as rightist if you look through the right lens.

The Golden Dawn in Greece engages in some charitable outlays for coethnics, as did the SA. I would imagine other nationalist paramilitaries as well.

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• Randy M says:

“Probably not controlled for wealth.”

C’mon, you really think no one else would have raised that objection on the way to publication?

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• Elissa says:

So, to be fair: the stats do say that conservatives give more to charity than liberals.

They do, and it is controlled for wealth, but they give mostly to their churches.

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• Oligopsony says:

They do, and it is controlled for wealth, but they give mostly to their churches.

IIRC they give more even to secular organizations, but that this disappears once you control for churchoing.

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• Oligopsony says:

My not-even-remotely scientific impression is that rightwardness is associated with niceness, but that this reverses once you control for religiosity.

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• Troy says:

This sounds plausible to me. Almost all of the actively benevolent conservatives I know are Christians. (On the other hand, my social circle in general is largely Christian.) I do think that the moral framework that Christianity provides can help to mitigate some of the nastier effects that accepting HBD and the like has on some people.

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• Andy says:

I do think that the moral framework that Christianity provides can help to mitigate some of the nastier effects that accepting HBD and the like has on some people.

Can, but not always does. Reading accounts of American slaves, especially Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” I was struck by the ways religion reinforced and legitimized the brutality of the slave system:
http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jacobs/jacobs.html
Page 107.

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

I see your point about modern religion ameliorating the unkinder aspects of HBD and the like, but depending on the message, it can also enable the unkindness. “Oh, those black people don’t know their God-given place! They can’t possibly have a legitimate complaint because we’re Such Good Christians, so the devil must be in them! Let us correct them with force as we would small rebellious children! For their own good!”
Put briefly: “An enemy might stab you in the back, but only a friend will tell you it’s for your own good.”
(This is my objection to many less-well-thought-out social-justice programs: Yes, Mr. College Freshman, I’m sure that abolishing money will end poverty! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? *eyeroll*)

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• blacktrance says:

Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I haven’t seen much of a correlation between religiosity and niceness. On one hand, there are the really nice people who are dedicated to their churches, give to charity, etc. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who use Christianity as a stick with which to whack other people.

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• MugaSofer says:

“I was struck by the ways religion reinforced and legitimized the brutality of the slave system”

I think it would be more accurate to say slavers created theological justifications, because otherwise their religion would have forced them to oppose slavery: witness the fact that anti-slavery campaigners were in large part religiously motivated – and the Catholic Church (which is, obviously, less subject to political pressures) has ALWAYS opposed slavery.

This is still an important point – which is probably why Jesus preached on it so extensively – religions like Christianity can too-easily have such benevolent teachings obscured in favour of complex legalistic justifications based on out-of-context quotes and motivated cognition. Witness all too much of modern Islam, for example.

Religion may be a moderating force, but we can’t rely on it to protect us.

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• Douglas Knight says:

What do you mean by “ALWAYS”? since before you were born?

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• Troy says:

I see your point about modern religion ameliorating the unkinder aspects of HBD and the like, but depending on the message, it can also enable the unkindness.

Well, maybe, but I’d wager that it generally does more good than harm. I think that the moral framework that contemporary Christians have is not going to lead many of them to endorse slavery when they learn of HBD — even if some Christians in earlier centuries had a moral framework that did so lead them (although I’m sympathetic with MugaSofer’s skeptical remarks on this) — whereas the moral framework (or lack thereof) of contemporary non-Christians who come to accept HBD may lead them to endorse slavery or (more plausibly) other less abhorrent but still morally problematic practices.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that Christianity also mitigates some of the nastier effects of political progressivism. I know many “social justice” Christians, but in my experience they’re less likely to engage in the same kind of witch-hunting of conservatives as non-Christian progressives. Since (I speculate) their passion for social justice springs from a belief in Jesus’ ethic of love, they recognize that they’re also obligated to love conservatives much more often than secular progressives.

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• Oligopsony says:
April 24, 2014 at 12:43 pm

My not-even-remotely scientific impression is that rightwardness is associated with niceness, but that this reverses once you control for religiosity.

I think you are assuming that leftwing activities are inherently nice, and rightwing activities are inherently not nice.

Recall that song “We are the world, we are the children”, where a huge pile of famous people got together “To show we care”. They were industriously raising money for a terrorist totalitarian regime that murdered a significant fraction of the Ethiopian population, in substantial part by torturing people to death. They cared enough to show they cared, but not enough to bother finding out what their money was actually being used for.

Further, I am pretty sure that you would have classified anyone who pointed out that they raising money for mass murder and mass torture as very very not nice, because he was raining on the parade of all these very very nice people.

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• Oligopsony says:

I was thinking of nonpolitical activities, but it’s likely that my political preferences play into my folk-theoretic concept of “niceness,” sure.

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• Anthony says:

How actively benevolent is it to campaign for forcibly-integrated schools, when the results are negative, and spill over into negative effects well beyond education?

How actively benevolent is it to promote a sexual morality which rewards (male) jerks and assholes who push women’s boundaries, so long as they guess right, and punishes more respectful men and the socially inept (beyond the usual punishment of social ineptitude)?

How actively benevolent is it to campaign against both individual self-defense and effective collective self-defense? (The latter in the form of ludicrous unsubstantiated complaints about police brutality to foster unwarranted suspicion of the police and in the form of limiting the powers of the police to do their job

How actively benevolent is it to hound people from their jobs because of a political disagreement? The left used to hate this when it was leftists being hounded from their jobs. How is what happened to Phil Robertson or Brendan Eich any more justifiable than what happened to Dalton Trumbo and the rest of the Hollywood Ten?

How actively benevolent is it to convince people of the falsehood that children’s vaccines are dangerous, and to bring back measles and whooping cough to the United States?

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• MugaSofer says:

“From a 40,000-foot view, the world isn’t so much divided into “left” and “right” as it is divided into “people who basically want to make the world better” and “people who enjoy being assholes.””

Citation very much needed. I for one find this *incredibly* unlikely.

At a guess – and I’ll look pretty silly if I’m wrong, admittedly – you’re simply more inclined to view people from your metaphorical tribe as “basically wanting to make the world better” and more willing to assume the other guys are deliberately choosing the wrong position because they “just enjoy being assholes”. Look closer, and you may find people “on your side” of an issue do much the same objectionable things as the enemy; while the other side seems suspiciously as if they merely disagree with you on questions of fact, and are doing what seems to them like the right thing.

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51. Chris says:

The Left has been doing an unusual number of bad things in the past two months. I remember especially noticing the Eich incident [..]

I’m sorry to start a conversation you probably don’t want to have, but I’d be interested in hearing what was bad about the Eich incident.

As I understand it, he make a public donation that helped remove what are now constitutionally-protected rights from some of his employees. Some of Mozilla’s queer employees (but also a lot of people who are neither queer nor their employees) said that they thought not having any remorse for wanting to destroy his employees’ marriages made him unsuitable to be Mozilla’s CEO, and eventually he resigned.

It seems harsh to characterize this as liberals behaving badly, when the liberals are using critical speech and the conservative is using (admittedly popular) discriminatory changes to the law. What am I missing? What should the leftists have done instead?

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• Anonymous says:

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• Chris says:

Thanks, I’d missed that. It concentrates on OKCupid’s actions, which were a boycott rather than a criticism. (I’d be curious to know if there are complaints against the criticism, too.)

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• Randy M says:

Mostly that trying to change laws through the political process is different than trying to do so by making your opposition scared to voice their opinions for fear of their livlihood.

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• Anonymous says:

I just don’t like the idea that people’s suitability for jobs should be based on their privately-held opinions rather than on merit.

sounds like he’s criticizing the mozilla employees, not just okcupid.

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• Chris says:

I just don’t like the idea that people’s suitability for jobs should be based on their privately-held opinions rather than on merit.

Doesn’t seem applicable here — it was action rather than mere opinion, and public rather than private. His employees can’t pretend not to have found out that he’d rather their marriages didn’t exist.

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• Randy M says:

Scott has a post on this, call “my OKCupid profile” or such. Here is one way of looking at it: Eich was trying to use the political process to make law. A few employees of his and aligned social justice proponents agitated for his firing despite professional competance and demeaner (including in that treating gay employees perfectly well) in order to make oponents hesitant to engage the political process out of fear for their livlihoods.

That Eichs point of view was neither minority nor novel societally makes it more outrageous.

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I think the Eich episode is hard to classify as mean or as sound strategy because it feels just so damn silly above all. Like, it’s self evidently not SJ’s finest hour, but it feels as if by the very same token it’s stupid to have any emotional reaction to it.

Above all, as someone who just watched a round of literally “Free speech is the devil” on state TV re: a new Russian blog-suppressing law, the whole thing seems a mildly offensive First World Problem.

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• Scott Alexander says:

I feel like you can apply this to anything.

Boss supports the War on Drugs? Maybe some of his employees get arrested for drug use and rot in jail. How insensitive. That’s a firing.

Boss donates to an organization against (or for) gun control? He doesn’t care about his employees having to live in fear of getting shot! That’s a firing.

Boss donates to an atheist organization? He doesn’t care about his employees burning in Hell? That’s a firing.

Boss donates to a campaign against (or for) Obamacare? He doesn’t care if his employees die from treatable disease? That’s a firing.

Boss donates to a campaign for higher taxes? He doesn’t care about people literally stealing money from his employees? That’s a firing.

Boss supported Brendan Eich getting fired from Mozilla? What if some of his employees are anti-gay? Does he support them losing their livelihood? That’s a firing.

All political debates are about something that will in the end help or hurt real people. Some of those people will probably be your employees. If you penalize a boss for holding political views that hurt his employees, that’s the same as penalizing him for holding political views different than your own.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Well said!

I’d like to say also — as a general rule I get nervous when I hear people talking about “real people getting hurt” as a result of implementing or not implementing some policy, because it seems to be used a bunch as a “don’t think through the results of this too far, just look at the immediate effects”. E.g. I’ve seen it used to dismiss concerns about the welfare of future people (who apparently, unlike present people, are not “real”).

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• nydwracu says:

People will be hurt by any policy — the only questions are whether it’s worth it and whether the meta holds up. Pointing out that people would be hurt by a policy would be a fully general counterargument if not for the fact that people’s definition of “hurt” has more to do with simple, easily-trained pattern-matching than the actual potential to hurt.

The reason that it’s a salient characteristic of Prop 8 that people would have been hurt by it is that, when people look for the potential to hurt, they look for groups within the progressive faction losing things that are called rights. And then they stop. Simple, easily-trained pattern-matching.

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• Alejandro says:

While I agree with what you are saying, note that this response came immediately to you because you are instinctively a meta-level thinker, in the language of your political quiz.

An object-level thinker who is a leftist on all the issues you list might say consistently: “Firing bosses that are against gay marriage, against drug legalization, against gun control or against Obamacare, is fine because these bosses are supporting objectively harmful policies and it is good to discourage supporting of these policies. Firing bosses who are pro-atheist, pro-Obamacare or pro-tax increases is wrong because these political stances by the bosses are correct and shouldn’t be discouraged. End of story.” (And of course an object-level rightist might take the symmetrical position.)

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• Randy M says:

>”An object-level thinker who is a leftist on all the issues you list might say consistently”

one wouldn’t accuse them of being inconsistent; one would accuse them of hubris, short-sightedness, and disregarding collateral damage.

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• MugaSofer says:

… and that would be wrong.

Both sides could apply this logic, and harass everyone on the other side, and we’d get constant bitter fighting and ruin a lot of lives.

And at the end of the day, the other side would still be there and still be wrong – except now they’re getting your side fired, or worse.

(And of course, there’s a general chilling effect on free speech and dissenting – that is, outnumbered – opinions; if you care enough about being wrong for that to matter.)

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• nydwracu says:

It’s possible to formulate an argument against gaining power and crushing one’s enemies into oblivion. But it wouldn’t look like that — it would use the phrase “epistemic caution” a lot, after the section that talks about how you’d better be sure you’ve locked down power before you start crushing your enemies, because otherwise they could take power back and do the same to you.

Also general anti-totalitarianism, i.e. opposition to any one official idea that must rule over everything. I don’t see much difference except in degree and object-level content between workplace diversity seminars and pictures of Kim Il-sung in every office.

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• Oligopsony says:

All political debates are about something that will in the end help or hurt real people. Some of those people will probably be your employees. If you penalize a boss for holding political views that hurt his employees, that’s the same as penalizing him for holding political views different than your own.

There you go again: “holding political views.” But yes, and we substantively regulate the kinds of political action people can engage in all the time. If Eich had donated that money to al-Qaeda, he’d be in hotter water yet, and I don’t think you’d be complaining (perhaps you might complain about the particulars of his treatment if it were physically cruel, as would I.) So I don’t think your True Objection is at the level of abstraction that you present it at (though I don’t want to strawman you and I’m sure you can represent yourself.)

Is it that al-Qaeda seeks to accomplish its ends through violence? But any political campaign does the same.

Is it that al-Qaeda seeks to accomplish its ends through violence not sanctioned by the state? Whither this moral authority of the state?

Does it have to do with the particulars of the nature of al-Qaeda, that make its goals and methods at a lower level of abstraction than the above intolerable, that al-Qaeda and creatures like them cause great harm? Then oh, you thrice-damn’d object-level thinker!

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• Oligopsony says:

(Actually, I should lay my own True Objections on the table, which is that I prefer for society to be more politicized and antagonistic, both as a terminal value and because it would lead to better policy outcomes in the long term. Heighten the contradictions and all that. I don’t expect this to be persuasive, though since we have different policy preferences and values more generally.)

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• Douglas Knight says:

terminal? really?
Could you describe related things that you value?

The fact that it breaks down at the edge is no reason to doubt that the abstraction is his True Rejection. Nor would be his failure to know the location of the edge. Also, Scott has discussed the limits of his position.

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• Oligopsony says:

terminal? really?

I mean, I terminally value cat videos. These things can get pretty arbitrary and I don’t expect them to line up from person to person. One instrumental value that I would agree doesn’t works is that it’s a proxy for valuing principled behavior in general – of course someone who opposes politicization for “meta” reasons (i.e., an “object-level” commitment to liberalism) is also principled.

Of course in the case of Scott he’s also yelling and politicizing about it, which in itself is great, even though he’s wrong on the object-level question at hand.

The fact that it breaks down at the edge is no reason to doubt that the abstraction is his True Rejection. Nor would be his failure to know the location of the edge. Also, Scott has discussed the limits of his position.

These are correct and I fully concede this point.

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• MugaSofer says:

Well, al-Qaeda are a criminal organization, yes. There’s a major Schelling Fence between them and a political advocacy group pushing the same policies.

(And as for competition producing “better policy outcomes in the long term” – wouldn’t that apply to persuasive competition at best? I don’t see why “has a bigger stick” should be correlated with “has correct position on gay marriage” or “has correct position on racism”.)

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52. Mike Czech says:

In fact, I think this principle – counter-signaling hierarchies – is the fundamental generator that makes a lot of things tick.

However, a similar effect can be produced by floccinaucinihilipilification.

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• Anonymous says:

floccinaucinihilipilification: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless.
(If I had to look it up, its definition needed to be stated. Because obscure words are fun but annoying.)

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• David Simon says:

About 30% through that word my eyes start fuzzing out. I am literally having significant difficulty reading it.

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53. Viliam Búr says:

When a political movement gets popular, it attracts a lot of low-status people. Then you can signal higher status by joining an opposite movement.

But I think this is not only about status. The fact is that low-status people have also other traits, beyond mere status. For example, a lot of them are stupid. And then it’s not just “this idea is now associated with uncool people”. When the stupid people start repeating it, it is not the same idea anymore. It becomes a simplification, an exaggeration, a parody of the formerly interesting belief. Some of the people who would agree with the original idea will now oppose this new version, even for reasons unrelated to status.

As long as people remain stupid, any widely popular idea is doomed to create a parody of itself. You start with smart people giving mathematical arguments for left or right policy… and end with idiots screaming simplified slogans, and demanding to make disagreement with them illegal. And then the people who can think beyond simple slogans will be declared enemies by these screaming mobs, and will be pushed, sometimes against their will, to the opposing side. Until one day the opposing side becomes popular enough so that the mobs will adopt simplified versions of their ideas.

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54. Ialdabaoth says:

One of the things that cause me to continue to identify as Liberal (when I’m not in the midst of a vicious psychotic breakdown) is the fact that most things that get called Liberal in the united states are actually pretty solid conservative policies, by my understanding of what “conservativism” wants to believe about itself.

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55. Jake says:

First stage: Genuine intolerance – everybody is quite prejudiced
Second stage: Some people differentiate themselves by becoming more tolerant
Third stage: Tolerance spreads, and so people in relatively tolerant setting start to differentiate themselves with the sort of ‘intolerance of intolerance’ seen in the worse parts of the social justice movement.
Fourth stage (now): Tolerance has spread so much that a fringe of really crappy people are openly intolerant. People in environments where social justice ideas are dominant differentiate themselves by rejecting the language and obsession with avoiding offense of that movement, which they’re able to do because actual intolerance has become unacceptable in public life, so people won’t confuse a rationalist for a racist.

Of course tolerance levels are not even across different communities, so you can have parts of the country still just entering stage 1, while other parts are already entering stage 4.

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56. CaptainBooshi says:

Scott, you say “A group of angry people, stopping just short of violence, invade a school building and make threats against the president unless he meets their demands. Every student must be forced to attend moral instruction classes inculcating their (the protesters’) values. Offensive terms must be removed from the library. And the school must take care to admit people of the right race. When was the last time you could hear a story like that and have it be even slightly probably that the mob was rightist?”

Replace race in that sentence with something else like religion, and I would have absolutely no problem believing that it happened at some Christian university. I don’t see any reason that it would be particularly hard to believe, either. I can only think that this is once again one of those issues where your perspective is skewed because the people you know and places you frequent are not at all representative of the America as a whole.

In a similar vein, I remember you talking recently about what happened to you in college, and you always seem to refer to it as if it’s a leftist thing that happens only to people on the right, when it’s just as likely to happen to the other way around as well. To refer to a case I know you’ve examined before, look at what happened to Rebecca Watson. For what even you admit was an innocuous comment, she received daily rape and death threats for years, as well as attempts to ruin her career.

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• Scott Alexander says:

Christian universities ask for some of those things institutionally. I can’t imagine an angry Christian mob at a non-Christian university making those demands and expecting to be followed. And even the fact that Christian universities institutionalize some of those values seems closely related to how Christian universities are mocked and low-prestige compared to, say, the Ivy League.

I think you’re missing a bigger picture.

Yes, Rebecca Watson offended the right and got harassed by people. Specifically, by random blog trolls who would never dare use their real name and are held up as figures of universal loathing even now ten years later. Then she continued to be a professional Internet celebrity who lives off blogging income and speaking fees and gets all-expenses paid trips to international conferences where she is feted as a celebrity and everyone gives her large amounts of money to talk about how harrowing her experience was.

Meanwhile, Brendan Eich offends the left and the people who militate against him do it proudly, and under their real names, and no one blames them for it, and he loses his job. Same thing happens to a bunch of other people.

See above where I talk about why I’m not afraid of anti-Semites. I am so certain that the apparatus of society would be on my side that all they would do is offer me a free chance at celebrity as “that brave guy who stood up to evil fascist persecution”. Compare that to a Jew in czarist Russia, who has every reason to be afraid of anti-Semites. In both cases one could talk about “symmetry” (“Well, Jews hate anti-Semites, anti-Semites hate Jews, there you go”) but the balance of power would be a lot different.

Since we’re using a fashion metaphor, see also this Simpsons quote. Yes, conservatives can say “It’s the children who are wrong”, but that doesn’t actually make them fashionable.

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• Tab Atkins says:

I think you’re missing a bigger picture.

Yes, Rebecca Watson offended the right and got harassed by people. Specifically, by random blog trolls who would never dare use their real name and are held up as figures of universal loathing even now ten years later.

Urgh, I think you’re missing a really big picture. The way you state this makes it sound like you think it was no big deal; just some fucking trolls, ignore them and they don’t bother you, right?

You’re a dude. A white, cis, het dude. You have *never* experienced trolls like what Rebecca Watson has, or what nearly every woman who has opinions on the internet has. I’d wager you’re closer than most men – as an ethnic Jew who’s written anti-rightist screeds, you’re ticking a number of “will receive unhinged death threats” boxes.

But I’d also wager that you *don’t* receive tons of those per day, every day, for weeks, months, *years* after you’ve said something that offends the crazies. I’d wager you don’t have hateblogs where people obsess over what they’d like to do to you, or photoshop your head onto disgusting porn or dead people.

That sort of thing kills you a little bit every day. It’s a wearying grind that keeps you in high-alert stress *forever*.

You also talk about how Rebecca Watson still gets to do lots of talks and fly around and be famous; this appears to be implying that this is the normal “reward” for dealing with such pain. Rebecca Watson is an *extremely* rare example in this regard. Almost all women who speak up about something bad that a man has done receive this treatment, *and then go about their ordinary boring lives*, just quietly dealing with acidic bile spewed at them across every place they look on the internet. For nearly all women, there is no silver lining, there is no karmic reward (assuming for a moment that celebrity is worth that kind of stress).

I’ve followed your writings for a few years, so I find it kinda hard to square this kind of writing with what I’ve seen of you in the past. Am I reading you wrong, and you really mean something different? If not, I’m afraid you *have* gotten meme-polluted by your associations, because you’re no longer aware of how reality works in these situations. :/

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• A.N. Onymous says:

If I can put words in Scott’s mouth here, I’m pretty sure the point isn’t to diminish the suffering of people who are harassed for leftist views online but to point out that the risks are in fact wildly disproportionate. Compassion with a sense of perspective, or shutting up and multiplying if you prefer the LW jargon.

Now to be clear; harassment, especially sustained harassment, is a brutal psychological assault. My aunt was practically driven into hermitage for about two years after a catfight-slash-copyright law dispute escalated into stalking and threats by the other woman. And that was just one person and a few of her friends, not a full-scale online witchhunt. No-one should underestimate how much psychological damage people can inflict on one another through online channels.

On the other hand, being outed as having right wing views can easily mean losing your job, without legal recourse or the ability to get another. Or getting thrown out of school, again without legal recourse or acceptance to a new one. Or being ejected from your congregation, which happens even in supposedly conservative churches. Or being harassed by the police, audited by the IRS, even having your children taken away by social services. Or having your name smeared in the media, put on private and government watch-lists, or on flyers distributed around your campus home or workplace. Not to mention losing your friends and family as you become a radioactive pariah. And all of these carry their own psychological costs, as the people driven to suicide by these situations can attest.

I don’t think it needs to be said that these are not symmetrical risks, but I think it does need to be said that that isn’t an excuse to attack one group of victims or the other. Hopefully we’re not so poor in compassion that we can’t empathize with someone just because we acknowledge that another person is in a worse situation.

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• ozymandias says:

Um. You can totally be put on a government watchlist for having leftist views– there are lots of environmentalists and animal rights activists who get put on watchlists and have massive FBI files. I have an uncle who’s on the No Fly List, he believes because of (extremist, to be fair) environmental activism when he was younger.

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• Sniffnoy says:

So it looks like we have here an illustration of two differing points of view on what I like to call the question of “Does garbage stink?”. Side 1: Of course garbage stinks. It’s smelly. Side 2: Garbage can’t stink. It’s garbage. Sure, it may physically give off an odor, but this is irrelevant; it’s garbage! By putting something in the trash can you are declaring it irrelevant; whether it may physically stink or not is no longer of any concern.

Scott seems to be taking (like I tend to natively take) the “garbage doesn’t stink” point of view. These barbaric misogynistic types — they’re losers, they’re garbage, they’re outside the garden. Of course they’re going to say terrible things; they’re expected to. But none of that matters — nothing they say will be taken seriously by those inside the garden, so no matter how vile their rhetoric, none of it matters. You can just put them in the trash can and point and laugh and call them names; this will suffice to shield yourself and others against them.

(A good expression of this point of view at the end of this article — “I’m not upset that Ted Nugent called the president of the United States a ‘sub-human mongrel’, because Ted Nugent is an animal.”)

Whereas Tab seems to be taking (like feminists generally) the “garbage stinks” point of view. Garden? What’s all this about a garden? I don’t see any walls. I just see a bunch of people insisting that the garbage can’t actually stink — while they themselves sit upwind of it!

(Yes, I am mixing metaphors heavily here. Too bad.)

I don’t think there’s any “right” answer to this one — just different people finding different sorts of things to be problems. I’m not sure it’s really worth anyone’s time to argue over whose problems are worse. The feminists say garbage stinks? Well, maybe something should be done about it.

On the other hand, it would be nice if they could acknowledge that taking the “garbage doesn’t stink” point of view means there are now new things you have to worry about, that you don’t if you think garbage stinks. In particular, the thought of being kicked out of the garden, being thrown in the garbage — which is not a threat at all if you don’t recognize the existence of a garden — is now very scary. And just because you don’t recognize the existence of a garden, doesn’t mean you can’t get people kicked out of it, or constantly be implicitly threatening to do so.

Like, being shouted at by the enemy is not symmetric with being shouted at by the people who are notionally on your own side and are threatening to kick you out of it. Hell, it can feel good to be shouted at by the enemy. (“You’re a socialist!” “Damn right I am!”) But if you get kicked out of the garden, it seems like you’re going to be doomed to hang around with barbaric types for the rest of your days.

And really, I think all this shows the falsity of the common SJ meme that the oppressed understand the priveleged, but not vice versa. Maybe they understand the senseless shouty types, where there isn’t much to understand. But they don’t seem to understand the liberal white dude who is or wants to be on their side but finds them really scary. They don’t seem to understand the army of self-flagellants they’ve made. Ah, they say, they’re just afraid of losing their power to oppress! No. That just isn’t accurate.

So, it’s good that the feminists are trying to do something about all the trash. It’s not good that they are doing so in such a way that causes so much unecessary collateral damage to people who are or want to be on their side. (Such as… well, at this point, you know what problem I’m going to bring up.) Really — won’t sombeody think of the self-flagellants? It should not be impossible to solve both sets of problems simultaneously.

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• Tab Atkins says:

If I can put words in Scott’s mouth here, I’m pretty sure the point isn’t to diminish the suffering of people who are harassed for leftist views online but to point out that the risks are in fact wildly disproportionate.

If that’s not the point, then I don’t know what Scott is doing.

He explicitly set up a parallel structure in the two halves of his post, to invite comparisons between the two situations:

* Watson “offended the right”, while Eich “offends the left”, implying that their two offenses are symmetrical. In reality, Watson said “hey, it’s creepy to make sexual advances to a stranger at 2am in a confined space when there’s nobody else around”, while Eich donated money to a group trying to deny civil rights to a large group of people, and when challenged on it years later, stood firm in his belief that that group of people doesn’t deserve certain civil rights.

* Watson is harassed by “random blog trolls” who “never dare to use their real name” and are “held up as figures of universal loathing”. Eich is “militate[d] against” by people “under their real names”. This is meant to suggest that Watson’s harassment is something we all agree is wrong and bad, performed by subhumans, and thus we all naturally rally to Watson’s defense; Eich’s harassment is by proudly militant people lauded by society. It’s attempting to place “the public” as being FOR Watson, and AGAINST Eich, as a sympathy play. It’s also *completely fucking wrong* about anonymous blog trolls – tons of people threw hate under their real names, and while I’d like to avoid saying Scott’s statement there was an outright lie, it’s either that, or Scott just has a completely broken understanding of the entire situation.

* Watson’s experiences make her a “professional Internet celebrity” who gets “large amounts of money to talk about how harrowing her experience was”, while Eich’s experiences lost him his job. Watson is also the only person cited on the “offends the right” side, while Eich gets a link to a list of lots of people that “offend the left” and get punished.

This is the most dishonest part of the whole thing – it implies that experiences like Watson’s are rare, and when they happen, they are more than compensated by internet celebrity, while experiences like Eich’s are common and horrible. I’m not sure what you have to be smoking to think this is correct, but “woman receives hundreds of death and rape threats for talking on the internet” is a DAILY FUCKING OCCURRENCE. If you know a woman on the internet, high odds she’s received some level of harassment simply for existing; if she’s ever made a statement with a whiff of feminism or activism, it’s virtually *guaranteed* that she’s received plenty of threats to her life and body. The vast majority of women who receive this kind of abuse are normal people who you’ve never heard of, because they keep quiet about because speaking up about this kind of abuse is an excellent way to multiply the abuse ten-fold.

Scott’s framing here is blatantly dishonest, and the fact that he can write something like that and not recoil from the hypocrisy means that he’s gotten himself well and truly infected by the “liberals are evil liars trying to criminalize wrong thinking” memeplex.

(I’ve gotten myself more worked up as I wrote this comment and realized just how badly fucked up the attempt to downplay abuse against women and emphasize abuse against anti-gay bigots is. Sorry if more emotion is showing through at the end than is useful; feel free to dial it back down on your own. I stand by the thrust of every statement I made.)

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• Tab Atkins says:

So it looks like we have here an illustration of two differing points of view on what I like to call the question of “Does garbage stink?”.

Saying that garbage doesn’t stink, because by definition it’s garbage and we reserve the term “stinks” for things that are normally pleasing to smell, is either playing useless word games (because you treat stinky garbage identically to any other stinky thing, and get rid of it), or is ensuring that your house reeks (because the stink of garbage is irrelevant, so why bother with it?).

The analogy with odious people works the same way. Simply defining human garbage to be irrelevant only works if you can actually ignore them; when they surround you and infest every social network you value, everything reeks.

It’s like, hm, let’s mine another of Scott’s quotes from this post:

even when I meet anti-Semites who think all Jews should die, my feelings are mostly benevolent bemusement. I know if it ever came to any conflict between me and them, then short of them killing me instantly I would have everyone in the world on my side, and the possibility of it ending in any way other than with them in jail and me a hero who gets praised for his bravery in confronting them is practically zero.

Here, Scott is saying that he can ignore anti-semitic human garbage, because they’re rare, it’s very unlikely they’ll harm him, and if they do, the law is clearly on his side. He’s using this as an argument that people can *generally* ignore the abuse of human garbage from the right, because those humans are on the wrong side of history, while abuse from the left is very scary and institutionalized and impossible to fight.

I don’t like bringing out this word in contexts where it’s likely a mind-killer, but Scott’s privilege is showing. Yes, Western society recognizes anti-Semitism as one of those horrid ideas from history that a few pieces of garbage still cling to, and there’s nothing wrong with Jews as a category; they’re considered normal everyday people who deserve all the normal protection of law.

But you barely have to stray outside of that situation before it becomes untrue – change hatred of Jews to hatred of Muslims, and suddenly right-based hatred is very real, and very dangerous, and there’s a definite possibility that the police won’t help you if you report it, or at least will treat it as far less serious than if anyone else reported similar.

You can shift it slightly in all sorts of directions for similar results. Instead of the Western world, drop Scott into the middle of Iran or Syria, and see how safe and assured of a prompt and appropriate law enforcement response he is. A gay getting threatened by an anti-gay bigot should feel legitimately threatened; there’s a good chance they can be attacked, and whether the law protects them or not is a crapshoot. A trans person faces even worse chances – more likely for the threat to turn physical, less likely for the police to treat them seriously. A woman facing someone threatening rape? Haha, that’s a joke, the chances of her actually getting a conviction are low enough to be not worth even trying; she’ll get raked over the coals and slut-shamed by the police, by the judiciary, by the media, and by her family and friends, and that’s assuming that the rapist isn’t rich or famous or heading to a good college with his whole life ahead of him.

Scott happens to occupy a position today where the bigotry against him is visible but mostly impotent, and he’s generalizing that to the rest of the world. He needs to realize that he’s in a special unique place, and other people really do have it worse, and so talking about how safe he feels is completely irrelevant for solving the problems everyone else is having. His relative safety is definitely not a reason to believe that the Right is harmless but the Left is a monster.

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• Sniffnoy says:

But you barely have to stray outside of that situation before it becomes untrue – change hatred of Jews to hatred of Muslims, and suddenly right-based hatred is very real, and very dangerous, and there’s a definite possibility that the police won’t help you if you report it, or at least will treat it as far less serious than if anyone else reported similar.

<assuming garbage-doesn’t-stink POV>
Oh, sure, and then you’d be dead. But you’d still have the moral high ground, and that’s what’s important, right?
</assuming garbage-doesn’t-stink POV>

More seriously: You seem to have missed that I’ve already incorporated your point. Yes, we should do something about all the damn garbage instead of just sitting there and declaring “Well, I don’t smell anything, I don’t know what your problem is.” I entirely agree with you there. The things you are saying are things I’ve heard any number of times before and I don’t doubt Scott has as well.

I’m just pointing out, this shouldn’t be done in such a way that those of us inside the garden need to be constantly afraid that we’ll be kicked out and garbage-collected over any minor disagreement, or that we are bad people for daring to disagree, and that yes, in here, this threat really is scary and can be used against us in unethical ways — which SJers at present seem to have no problem doing, scaring or guilting people into agreeing rather than convincing them, which means their ideas don’t really get refined (the occasional “fifty Stalins” refinement excepted), because there’s nobody to seriously point out holes (shouty barbarians who can’t make a coherent point, while they may disagree with you, do not help you refine your ideas). The point wasn’t to argue for “garbage doesn’t stink”; the point was to get you to understand where the other side is coming from so that perhaps we can get somewhere agreeable to both of us.

In short, I want us both to be free from the things we each are respectively afraid of. Now, this may be a balancing act — these two goals may be somewhat in competition in one another so it’s not necessarily something you’re going to get perfect. But there hardly seems to be anyone pushing the “Don’t just ostracize anyone who disagrees with you” side.

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• Scott Alexander says:

First, thank you for helping me win an argument with Ozy by confirming that people only use “dude” as the feminist version of a slur.

Second, you calling me “a white, cis dude” is overkill. Rebecca Watson is also white and cis. You don’t get extra points for adding more adjectives.

Third, I am kind of doubtful that “nearly every single woman on the Internet” gets worse trolling than I have ever gotten in my life. Are you sure that is an evidentially-supported opinion? I have certainly seen many women who, when this point comes up, mention that everyone has always treated them with respect. I wonder if this point is confounded by the fact that the women who discuss it are disproportionately very extreme feminist bloggers, who probably get lots of hate mail for the same reason as, say, very extreme men’s rights bloggers.

Most importantly, I think you’re mistaking the line I’m trying to draw here. The line isn’t between “attacks that hurt” and “attacks that are okay and not really hurtful”. The line is between “attacks that get widely endorsed” and “attacks that are not widely endorsed”.

Let’s use as an example the classic conception of rape vs. the rape culture conception of rape. In the classic conception, rapists are random monsters whom everybody hates. They still rape people, and it’s still very traumatic for the victm involved, but after that society comes together to support the victim and punish the perpetrator, and the only reason rapists still exist is that even though society tries really hard it can’t get rid of all of them.

In the rape culture conception, rapists are representative of society. They rape people, it’s traumatic, but then society doesn’t care, or sides with the perpetrator, or blames the victim. The reason rapists still exist is that everyone wants them to exist and supports them.

The difference here isn’t “rape is traumatic” versus “rape is not traumatic” – both views agree it’s traumatic. The difference is “traumatic, but isolated and widely condemned” versus “traumatic and proudly supported”.

I’m saying what happened to Rebecca Watson is the first one, and what happens to people who offend the social justice left is the second one. They’re both very traumatic. But afterwards, Rebecca Watson gets to talk about how traumatic it was to a sympathetic audience, and the people who offend the left are on their own, and people blame them and lionize the people who attack them.

If someone revealed the real names of the people who harassed Ms. Watson, and their principals, parents, and bosses heard about it, then they would be suspended, chewed out, and fired, in that order. If for some reason the President were to get involved, he would call them un-American and say there should be laws against it. Thus, the people who harass Ms. Watson wisely choose to remain anonymous.

If you lead a campaign that destroys someone on the right in the name of social justice, you practically get to put it on your resume. You remember my discussion with Arthur Chu, and how he came right out and said it was important to use every tactic possible to hurt people who disagreed with him. He remains pretty popular and invited to stay in polite society in a way that the people who harassed Ms. Watson don’t.

Do you see the distinction I am trying to draw here, and how it’s not trauma vs. no-trauma?

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• Sniffnoy says:

Well said! Although, I think, there are people you can turn to if the SJers turn against you, and, in certain regions, they do have wide approval, if you can keep your circless (your notion of “wide”) narrow enough; they’re just, for the most part, not people you want to turn to, because, well, they’re awful. If they’re your sympathetic audience, as a liberal that’s probably going to make you feel a lot worse. It suggests to you that your harassers are right — that for your minor departure from the orthodoxy, you really are just as bad as the people you both despise. Because for the most part they’re the only ones who will dare defend you now.

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• ozymandias says:

Scott, I really think you are wrong about this. Look at the backlash against World Vision for being willing to hire gay Christians. “Okay,” you can say, “those are evangelicals,” but literally a quarter of Americans identify as evangelical. Conversely, sixteen percent identify as Unaffiliated, and I expect a far smaller percentage have any idea who the fuck Rebecca Watson even is.

Literally this week a university had its budget cut for assigning Fun Home, a critically acclaimed graphic novel which is about lesbianism.

Are you looking for firings? Ozzie Guillien, fired for praising Castro. Workers are regularly fired for being pro-union. I mean, gosh, look at the way David Frum has been treated for suggesting that maybe it’s a *bad* idea to attempt to shut down the government.

Being conservative might be hard in our little filter bubble, and maybe that’s all you’re saying. But there is a wide world out there that includes a whole lot of other bubbles and in a lot of those being too far left is genuinely a scary thing to do.

Also, I do not think that is evidence that “dude” as a slur, any more than “cis” is a slur because the person was referring to you as cis. (I mean, some people do think “cis” is a slur. I guess if you decide to agree with that position then I will give you points for consistency.)

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• ozymandias says:

Sorry. I think this issue makes me irrationally angry because I *did* go to a high school where the mainstream opinion was “it is reasonable– at worst, maybe a little rude, but perfectly understandable– to call a lesbian an ugly fat disgusting dyke if she has a crush on you.” “People will bully you and approve of themselves for bullying you” was actually my experience of the only right-wing space I have spent a significant amount of time in. I greatly resent the idea that I don’t exist.

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• Sniffnoy says:

Even if we take Scott as being wrong as general, even if we accept the problem as being localized to the liberal filter bubble, even if we accept that it’s OK to use nasty tactics on those outside the garden I think it’s still a serious enough problem that someone on the left, who is within said filter bubble, has good reason to be more afraid of the left than the right; that it’s disturbing how willing they are to take those who are largely in agreement with them and declare them to be one of the enemy (“You can’t honestly have these disagreements; you must be one of those concern trolls, trying to infiltrate and destroy us!”); that it prevents them from finding the actual holes in their position; and that it undermines our claim to be better than the other side.

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• ozymandias says:

I guess my position here is that I think y’all are presenting this as a special pathology of the left, when my observations suggest that it is a universal characteristic of groups in general. Which is not to say it isn’t worthy to fight against it, it is. But the problem isn’t liberals, it’s people.

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• Tab Atkins says:

First, thank you for helping me win an argument with Ozy by confirming that people only use “dude” as the feminist version of a slur.

I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to return whatever you won from Ozymandias back to them. I used “dude” in the normal English way.

(Though I’ve had people react negatively to my use of “dude” before. It’s a very casual, non-insulting term in my ideolect – am I rare in this?)

(You said in your post that you were worried about memetic contamination, that one hypothesis is that merely by reading Neo-Reactionary stuff you were having your thoughts bent in their direction. You discarded this hypothesis as the one you like the least. Consider, though, what it might mean that your first thought upon being called “dude” is not “They’re referring to me as a male”, but rather “They’re using a feminist slur”.)

Second, you calling me “a white, cis dude” is overkill. Rebecca Watson is also white and cis. You don’t get extra points for adding more adjectives.

Granted. I was attempting to just enumerate some of the more relevant pieces of your identity that place you in a generally high-privelege segment of society. It was probably laid on too thick.

Third, I am kind of doubtful that “nearly every single woman on the Internet” gets worse trolling than I have ever gotten in my life. Are you sure that is an evidentially-supported opinion? I have certainly seen many women who, when this point comes up, mention that everyone has always treated them with respect.

This is directly contradicted by my own experience. Every woman I know who is prominent in any way in tech has reported harassment; quite a number of them have had stalkers at some point in their lives (some still do).

I hear the same thing in other communities – women in comics, for example, generally report that they’ve faced severe harassment as well.

This might explain some of the disconnect – you’re talking to a different population of women, maybe? What communities do you talk to? Why do you disbelieve the reports of communities that say they have a high incidence of harassment?

I wonder if this point is confounded by the fact that the women who discuss it are disproportionately very extreme feminist bloggers, who probably get lots of hate mail for the same reason as, say, very extreme men’s rights bloggers.

…huh. I’m… not really sure how to respond to this. It appears that your conception of reality is extremely skewed. I can’t really fathom the level of misconception that would lead someone to assume that only “very extreme feminist bloggers” get harassed heavily. I see it in MRA bloggers, but as far as I can tell (and hope) you’re not one of those types.

I’d say “talk to more women”, but you’ve already indicated that the women you talk to are either lucky, in communities that have lower incidences of harassment, or are lying because they don’t want to talk about their harassment. So, I’m not completely sure how I would convince you that everything you think you know is wrong. Even saying “everything you think you know is wrong” makes me sound crazy, which is unfortunate, because your worldview is really, seriously wrong.

Most importantly, I think you’re mistaking the line I’m trying to draw here. The line isn’t between “attacks that hurt” and “attacks that are okay and not really hurtful”.

I’m sorry, but your post appeared to be explicitly structured to downplay attacks by “the Right” while emphasizing attacks by “the Left”. If your intention was anything other than trying to argue that attacks from “the Right” are silly, meaningless little things that, if anything, result in people being lauded for having suffered them, you did a pretty bad job.

The line is between “attacks that get widely endorsed” and “attacks that are not widely endorsed”.

Let’s use as an example the classic conception of rape vs. the rape culture conception of rape. In the classic conception, rapists are random monsters whom everybody hates. They still rape people, and it’s still very traumatic for the victm involved, but after that society comes together to support the victim and punish the perpetrator, and the only reason rapists still exist is that even though society tries really hard it can’t get rid of all of them.

In the rape culture conception, rapists are representative of society. They rape people, it’s traumatic, but then society doesn’t care, or sides with the perpetrator, or blames the victim. The reason rapists still exist is that everyone wants them to exist and supports them.

Oof, this is another place where I’m not sure how your conception has gotten so skewed. You were saying things that were true, and then that last sentence comes out of nowhere and goes absolutely crazy.

Do you actually believe that “rape culture” means people like rape and rapists? You said that, and I suppose I have to trust that you meant what you said. How… how did you come to this conclusion?

How do you square this with the fact that, when someone is proven to be a rapist, they are socially shunned?

The “rape culture” thing is that it’s hard to convince people of rape, for several complicated social reasons. This probably isn’t the place to get into them, but good lord is your idea of it skewed. Do you know many people who have been raped, tried to talk to authorities about it, and got nowhere? You talk about this as if it’s some popular but untrue myth.

The difference here isn’t “rape is traumatic” versus “rape is not traumatic” – both views agree it’s traumatic. The difference is “traumatic, but isolated and widely condemned” versus “traumatic and proudly supported”.

This is piling on, but calling rape “proudly supported” is batshit insane. Seriously, sit down and think about what you’re saying here.

I’m saying what happened to Rebecca Watson is the first one, and what happens to people who offend the social justice left is the second one. They’re both very traumatic. But afterwards, Rebecca Watson gets to talk about how traumatic it was to a sympathetic audience, and the people who offend the left are on their own, and people blame them and lionize the people who attack them.

Yup, this is precisely what I was saying was the problem with your post. Now that you’ve expanded on your point, though, I see that this probably isn’t because you’re dishonest, but because your idea of reality is so skewed that you actually think Watson is in any way representative. I’m not sure if that’s all that much better, but oh well.

Like I said, a significant number of the women I personal know in tech have reported harassment, ranging across the entire scale from verbal insults to stalking, hacking, and character assassination, stopping just short of physical assault. (And I don’t really expect those who have been physically assaulted to tell me about it.)

If someone revealed the real names of the people who harassed Ms. Watson, and their principals, parents, and bosses heard about it, then they would be suspended, chewed out, and fired, in that order. If for some reason the President were to get involved, he would call them un-American and say there should be laws against it. Thus, the people who harass Ms. Watson wisely choose to remain anonymous.

Estimate for me how many people you think have sent harassing emails, comments, tweets, facebook messages, etc to Watson. What percentage of those people do you think have their real names connected directly to their account, or can have their identity trivially discovered? (Some of those networks, like Facebook, are automatically real-names-only, unless you purposely fake it.) You appear to be stating that the percentage is 0%, or close enough to it to make no difference.

Most people don’t care, or would care, but don’t want to know about it. Or they know about it, but their friend is a nice guy, and he said he didn’t really mean it like that. Etc.

Your idea that there would be some automatic society-wide censure of people who make terrible comments and physical threats online is terribly naive.

If you lead a campaign that destroys someone on the right in the name of social justice, you practically get to put it on your resume. You remember my discussion with Arthur Chu, and how he came right out and said it was important to use every tactic possible to hurt people who disagreed with him. He remains pretty popular and invited to stay in polite society in a way that the people who harassed Ms. Watson don’t.

Arthur Chu is a crazy person. You realize that crazy people get to hold positions in society too, right? They just have to be sufficiently convincing to most people; most of the time, the crazy doesn’t boil out. Crazies on the right like Breitbart or Coulter get the same treatment – they’re crazy, people on the other side recognize it, but in general they make the right sounds so they sound sane to most people.

Do you see the distinction I am trying to draw here, and how it’s not trauma vs. no-trauma?

There are way better ways to make an argument about society’s reaction to different types of attacks than by attempting to explicitly downplay the effects of some attacks while emphasizing the frequency of others.

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• Tab Atkins says:

Even if we take Scott as being wrong as general, even if we accept the problem as being localized to the liberal filter bubble, even if we accept that it’s OK to use nasty tactics on those outside the garden I think it’s still a serious enough problem that someone on the left, who is within said filter bubble, has good reason to be more afraid of the left than the right; that it’s disturbing how willing they are to take those who are largely in agreement with them and declare them to be one of the enemy (“You can’t honestly have these disagreements; you must be one of those concern trolls, trying to infiltrate and destroy us!”); that it prevents them from finding the actual holes in their position; and that it undermines our claim to be better than the other side.

As Ozy says, everyone does this, on both sides. It’s not special or unique to the Left, or any group at all. If you haven’t seen this exact kind of argument come out of the mouths of Right-leaning people plenty, it’s only because you’ve avoided surrounding yourself in Right-wing stupid. It’s possible that, like Scott apparently has, you’ve succeeded in insulating yourself from the idiot 90% of the right, leaving you with just the smart parts of the right and *all* of the left, including the idiot 90%.

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• Anonymous says:

Why is harassment of women considered right-wing?

It’s one (dubious) thing to say that Watson was taking a left position and thus disagreement is right, but when you talk about the general harassment of women, that seems to be a different topic.

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• Tab Atkins says:

Do you see the distinction I am trying to draw here, and how it’s not trauma vs. no-trauma?

Let’s pretend this is indeed all you are trying to say. Let’s look at the two people you are using in your argument – Watson and Eich.

You claim that Watson’s persecutors are universally reviled, while Eich’s persecutors are lauded. The way your argument is structured seems to imply that you believe their attackers are roughly equally well justified in their attacks; it appears that your assessment of the goodness or badness of society’s responses is dependent on them at least being not much different in justification.

But can you really claim that? This isn’t rhetorical. Quoting myself from a response to A. N. Onymous:

Watson said “hey, it’s creepy to make sexual advances to a stranger at 2am in a confined space when there’s nobody else around”, while Eich donated money to a group trying to deny civil rights to a large group of people, and when challenged on it years later, stood firm in his belief that that group of people doesn’t deserve certain civil rights.

Watson’s “crime” was a tame tsk-tsk, for which she has received deluges of hate, death threats, rape threats, and similar.

Eich’s “crime” was to support rank bigotry, for which he got nothing more than a social slap on the wrist when the fact first came out (this happened several years ago – there was a brief furor which quickly died down); it was only when he transitioned from CTO to CEO that people got up in arms. That is, when he transitioned from a lesser position to the most prominent position in a company, a leadership position in which he’d have the ability to influence policy, of an organization that prides itself in being open and inclusive. And it only reached its worst when he gave interviews where he badly deflected questions about his beliefs, implying that it was intolerant to not support bigotry.

These two things are not identical, or even closely comparable. Comparing the public’s response to them is worthless, because one is something that should provoke conversation, and the other is someone being a dick to an entire class of people.

Do you have some way of justifying your use of these two examples? Some way to argue that the two are actually comparable in some meaningfuly sense?

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• Tab Atkins says:

Why is harassment of women considered right-wing?

It’s one (dubious) thing to say that Watson was taking a left position and thus disagreement is right, but when you talk about the general harassment of women, that seems to be a different topic.

Scott’s the one setting up that dichotomy. But in general, “feminism” is considered a “left” kind of thing, and attacked by the “right”.

Of course, that’s not absolute, but I’m happy to accept it as a first approximation.

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• ozymandias says:

Tab, I think you are missing the point. Imagine an MRA saying “Rebecca Watson is encouraging bigotry. She’s saying that men should all be able to tell her preferences about when to be hit on, even though women all differ about their preferences and there are lots of women who don’t mind being hit on in elevators. Indeed, she’s saying that men who cannot telepathically tell that she doesn’t want to be hit on in an elevator deserve to be publicly shamed! This actively leads to the marginalization of socially unskilled men and men who are insufficiently attractive to get leeway on the Telepathically Conveyed Rules of Creep. We’re not even trying to get her fired from her job– we’re just loudly expressing our opinions. It’s the exact same shit you guys pull when some random kid on Tumblr says people should support gay marriage because Johnlock is OTP and you have 100,000 notes saying she’s a homophobic asshole who should go kill herself.”

This is, in fact, the same type of argument you are making: you’re just disagreeing about who’s a bigot. And you can say “well, I’m *right* that we shouldn’t be concerned about men who hit on women in elevators.” But you have to admit that the MRA thinks he’s right too. There are *lots* of people who think they’re right but are actually wrong about who’s a member of an oppressed group. In fact, you yourself can probably remember a time, before you were as feminist as you are now, when you thought things you currently consider to be misogynist were fairly innocuous.

So what we should try to do is come up with an ethical system that fails gracefully. Given that well-intentioned people are mistaken about who’s oppressed a lot, “but they’re not oppressed!” just does not work as a justification. Instead, I think, we should try to come up with basic principles that reduce the harm we cause from our mistakes: for instance, Thou Shalt Not Try To Get People Fired From Their Jobs, or Thou Shalt Not Send People Death Threats. Of course, you don’t want to be so afraid of causing harm that you can’t fight oppression at all: it won’t do to ban strongly worded arguments, or even calling people an asshole if such is justified. But it is *important* to pay attention to the possibility that you might be mistaken.

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• Scott Alexander says:

“Your idea of reality is so skewed that you actually think Watson is in any way representative.”

Tab, somebody told me I was wrong because Rebecca Watson. I tried to respond to that. Now I’m being insulted for trying to reply to an opposing argument on its own terms. I’m sorry if you don’t think it was the strongest argument they could have used, but this isn’t my fault and I don’t deserve this kind of abuse.

“Consider, though, what it might mean that your first thought upon being called “dude” is not “They’re referring to me as a male”, but rather they’re using a feminist slur.”

Every time I see the word “dude”, it is used in exactly the context you used it here: “You are a cis het white dude, you couldn’t possibly understand any of this.” When people are saying things like “Men have a higher rate of lung cancer than women,” they say “men”, or “guys” or “males” or one of a thousand other terms. When it’s “dude”, it’s always “You cis het white dudes are all so privileged”. Excuse me for noticing a pattern. Ozy can confirm I have mentioned this long before I saw your post.

“The women you talk to are lying because they don’t want to talk about their harassment”

Well, this is a lovely fully general counterargument. Now I can produce as many examples of women, including women in tech, saying “No, I practically never get harassed”, and you can just tell me I’m lying. If this is true, we should probably all become total skeptics. Sure, people tell me that Russia exists, but everyone who says that might be lying.

If I produce online testimonials by women in tech saying everyone is pretty nice to them and they don’t know what the fuss is about, are you going to say they’re all lying or conservative stooges or cherry picked or some other reason I shouldn’t bother to do this?

(I also know at least two men who have pretended to be women to see what would happen. I can’t produce these testimonials because they would like to continue pretending, so I suppose I could be lying, but both of them had the experience of “I put a photo of a pretty girl up and say it’s me, everyone tells me how great I am all the time and I get twice the blog traffic of when I was writing the same thing as a man”. Except on OKCupid. That’s an entirely different ballgame.)

I am sorry for exaggerating the rape culture thing, I wanted to make the metaphor fit better.

Meanwhile, I’m starting to see stuff like “conception of reality is extremely skewed”, “absolutely crazy”, “batshit insane”, and, of course, “human garbage”. I’m not sure how much I want to continue this discussion.

So let me boil it down to one point.

I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, everyone who sent death threats to Rebecca Watson, everyone who harassed her, everyone who called her names. If someone tried to fire her for what she did, I would say they are wrongheaded and dangerous. If someone tried to exclude her from social events, separate her from her friends, boycott her business, or otherwise make her life miserable, I would dislike those people and consider them a huge part of the problem.

If you’re willing to give the same condemnation of everyone who harasses the rightist-who-gets-in-trouble of the week, all the people who sexually harass and crudely photoshop people for being against gay marriage or otherwise on the right, then we’re on the same page. If you think those people deserve whatever they get for “rank bigotry” and being “human garbage”, then I feel like my point is pretty well proven.

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• nydwracu says:

There’s something interesting going on here — the idea is common, whether conscious or not, that what’s interesting is not reality, but one particular group-affiliated consensus reality. I’ll say more about this eventually, if no one else does it first.

In this particular case: not all that goes in comes out. Only certain cases of harassment are perceived by their victims as possible to go public about; only certain cases of harassment that the victim goes public about will receive attention; and only certain cases of harassment that the victim goes public about that receive attention will make it to you. There’s filtering at every level, and you bet your ass it introduces bias.

I’ve been harassed for years over my politics. Going public with that would accomplish nothing: it fits into no narrative, and is useful to no section of the media. So I keep quiet. And Rebecca Watson doesn’t. Nor does anyone else in her faction, which demonstrably has the ability to turn harassment around and weaponize it against its political opponents.

For similar reasons, only the women who are harassed on the internet are going to say anything about whether or not they’re harassed unless they’re asked directly. Of course all the women you hear from will say they are — they’re the only ones who have reason to say anything unprompted. And I can’t be sure about anyone else, but if someone comes to me very obviously expecting a certain answer from me, and giving the expected answer won’t cause any harm other than that caused by lying, I’ll go ahead and tell them what they want to hear to get them out of my hair.

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• Anonymous says:

Scott, it’s a minor point, but your link to msscribe doesn’t seem to me to quite match what you say. I don’t see anyone there being attacked for being anti-gay. Instead I see people fabricating claims that their non-political enemies are anti-gay. This shows that the harassers (and audience) are left, but doesn’t show that the victims are right.

(This is related to the politicization of the harassment of women.)

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• Bryant says:

Scott, I don’t know if this will meet your criteria but I suggest reading up on the history of the Dartmouth Review during the 80s, and the conservative college magazines that followed the lead of the guys at Dartmouth.

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57. Brian says:

Hmm. I’ve always sort of vaguely assumed it was uncontroversial that the overton window moved back and forth, all pendulum-like, as the process of correcting it’s prior over-corrections. The dials controlling the moral state of our society are many and small, and we’re maladroit, so we always overshoot.

E.g., we try monarchy for a thousand years and discover we’re not fans. So we fix it with bloody revolution. An improvement, but we sort of missed the point.

E.g., we realize gays are people too and sympathize with them, and decide to let them participate in society so they don’t feel back. We do this by castigating the fundies. Again, an improvement, but we sort of missed the point.

Like, we’re always learning new stuff about our moral preferences, but we never get enough information to find an eternally stable equilibrium. Plus, even if we knew exactly where we wanted to go, we’re not so good with the mechanisms that adjust society.

But the countersignaling hypothesis makes at least as much sense, and probably more. I’m inclined to think that anything about signaling is a good hypothesis, but I suspect that this is signaling.

Hopefully, there is, as you say, an accretion of reality somewhere, and we’re moving towards the good even under the dumb and the clumsy and the vain.

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58. Will says:

I’d offer the simpler explanation for why your more-rationalist friends are more libertarian- the rationality community and the transhumanist community that seeded it have always had a pretty large overlap with an internet libertarian community.

The signaling rationale seems less likely to be true- the majority of neo-reactionaries I know live amongst the “fundies,” and in fact are often confused for them, and it doesn’t seem to bother them.

I’d also argue that some part of our political beliefs are formed by how willing we are to rationalize away the stupid behavior of “our side.” Lots of ‘the left’ rationalize away the Eich thing, but lots of ‘the right’ rationalize away people being fired for being gay.

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59. MugaSofer says:

Oh, so *that’s* what you were getting at with meta-contrarians. Finally clicked.

Aha, that actually *does* explain a lot, doesn’t it!

Who *are* all these people you think of as a level above you? I never seem to see them around …

“writing blog entries doesn’t require free time. They just appear…”

*bows*

Master, we are humbled by your wisdom. Teach us the secret of this technique…

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60. peppermint says:

Scott, the reason you’re examining the right these days is that you, like Anderson Cooper, and disgusted by suddenness of the terror that the left always wields wherever it gains power. If the Mozilla guy had donated to something that had been heretical for more than two years, people would have reacted differently.

You are disgusted by the suddenness, but not the terror itself; when you hear Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, you are smart enough to hear terror, confiscation, and murder, but you still support the utopia of Pure Individuals by any means necessary. If I were to mention the confiscation and murder that have occurred, or something the Mozilla guy could have donated to that would make him too toxic for anyone but a neoreactionary to defend, you would delete the comment.

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• nydwracu says:

Speaking of confiscation: gold-digger probably-illegally records the man who buys her her sports cars saying almost but not entirely completely inoffensive things about black people after obvious coaching, in order to… well, I don’t know what her motive was, but Sailer is probably right that someone wanted to screw Sterling big time, and that’s what happened. Over something so thoroughly trivial.

The man is rich enough that I shouldn’t care what happens to him just on principle — but if that’s the standard for what’s career-endingly offensive now, half the population may as well commit suicide.

I suspect the other half would throw a party afterwards.

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61. Mousebreeder says:

I believe Greg Cochran covered this, and in fewer words:

Dumb people believe x. Smart people believe y. Really smart people believe x.

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• nydwracu says:

The idea has certainly been around for a while, at least — I heard it around a year ago from someplace else.

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• James James says:
• Pku says:

My favourite version of this comes from The Fifth Elephant, which goes something like: “New cops, who often quickly became dead cops, looked at a street just once before entering. Slightly more experienced cops took their time looking, checking out shadows and background and foreground and the people hiding in them.
Old-time cops glanced at a street just once and that was enough, because they’d seen everything.”

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62. Andrea says:
63. Pingback: 31. Free Speech | Radish

64. Put Down Artist says:

Welcome to the club.

In my late teens and early 20s I was so far to the left that I’d have purged Chairman Mao for his reactionary tendencies.

Then something interesting happened, and it happened before the upper classes had caught on that the lower classes were adopting the same intellectual fashions as themselves.

I found myself accidentally getting on the wrong side of some debates with liberals, usually over pretty straightforward objective facts. I found myself getting ganged up on, ridiculed and censored and all I could think was – these are actually observable facts, this isn’t even ideology.

And that made me hit the pause button. And I stopped engaging with them and I started watching with them. I went through the phase you are in now where I gradually and grudgingly dis-identified myself with them, but would still take essentially Marxist positions in debate. But what happened was I also started listening to myself and asking ‘hey, does this actually make any sense?’

And at some point I sat down with my ideas and realized that most of what I had been taught at University, much of what I believed about the world, was wrong. My heart had been in the right place (I had started off studying social work), but I was so sure that my intentions felt right, that I didn’t stop to consider whether the ideas that sprung from them (and were nurtured by academia) actually held water.

And then a paradigm shift happened, I saw myself surrounded by people who were simply repeating things they’d been told, saying things that I had held up to the light and discovered to have no integrity. They were, to use your analogy, simply modelling the latest intellectual fashions.

I noticed that their enthusiasm for doing so tended to be deeply linked to their own personal neuroses, which was why it was almost possibly to productively engage with them on any important issue.

And worse than that, they were hellbent on forcing everyone else to wear those same fashions. These people were not freedom loving, peaceful or kind – they were deeply neurotic, deeply violent AUTHORITARIANS.

And once I saw that, there was no going back. Once you see it, you see it more and more, you’ve had those glasses from They Live riveted to your skull. What you will see is authoritarians with some very bad ideas, hellbent on forcing other people to kneel to those ideas.

So I don’t think that right wing ideas are becoming fashionable. I think that the radical left is showing its true colour (red), and that reasonable people are being forced to re-examine their certainties as the left head deeper and deeper into political absurdity.

They’re moving so far towards authoritarianism that socially conservative right wing constitutionalists who have a live-and-let-live political philosophy in many areas of human life are starting to look like tolerant moderates – what the left used to be in the USA.

This will only get worse, and as it does, anyone with a brain will either defect to the right or to some other alternative that challenges the authoritarianism of the mainstream left. Unfortunately the contagion is already so deeply rooted in the general populace, and so unshakeable in our liberal elites, that it must now run its course.

Your link to the graphs of intelligence was quite interesting, specifically because those were graphs of verbal intelligence, not general intelligence. Verbal intelligence is a peculiar thing, because it can be educated into someone with sufficient baseline intelligence and eagerness to learn. You cannot fake visio-spatial intelligence, you cannot fake mathematical intelligence or problem solving ability, but you most certainly can spend endless hours of your life reading, improving your language skills and presenting a fairly convincing facsimile of genuine verbal intelligence.

Expressing or portraying verbal intelligence is therefore attractive to people of average intelligence who wish to present themselves as having prodigious intelligence. You’ll notice that they’re rarely extraordinary in terms of their verbal abilities, but are certainly adept enough to depart from the center of the bell curve and notch up a 7 and a PHD in English Literature.

I’d like to see the same graph reflecting bell curves for problem solving ability (iqtest.dk would be a good start), and differentiating libertarians from people who inherited conservatism from their parents.

I suspect that on such a graph libertarians come out tops over both right and left authoritarians, and that if you were to measure the IQs of the neo-reactionaries, you’d find yourself looking at the extreme right end of the bell curve.

Anyway, good luck on your journey. It’s impossible to turn back.

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• Andy says:

I suspect that on such a graph libertarians come out tops over both right and left authoritarians, and that if you were to measure the IQs of the neo-reactionaries, you’d find yourself looking at the extreme right end of the bell curve.

I’ll take that bet. I took the test at iqtest.dk and scored a 118. If I’d actually taken my time (I finished in 19 minutes of the 39-minute time period) I suspect I’d have gotten more questions right. But I’d like to see scores from various groups on standard tests that cover a number of areas of intelligence – not just spatial puzzles, but abstract math and number-crunching, verbal intelligence, and emotional intelligence. I suspect no group would top out or concentrate in any particular branch.
But – I consider myself moderate at best in spatial reasoning, which most of those questions were, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing similar puzzles to improve my skills in graphic design and cartography. If you plunk me down in an unfamiliar city, or an unfamiliar neighborhood in my home megalopolis of Los Angeles, tell me to wander around for 20 minutes, and then draw a map, I’d be totally lost without a GPS unit. But spatial puzzles, of the type presented there, are something that I enjoy.
And I’m a flaming liberal – social justice rhetoric leaves me a bit disturbed when it gets authoritarian, but so does neoliberal rhetoric, free-market-worship, Ayn-Rand-worship, or neoreaction. Especially the more race- and gender-obsessed of the crowd. Any kind of “we know what’s best” without a hedge of “we might be wrong about this, we’d be willing to compromise on certain things” creeps me out.

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• Put Down Artist says:

That’s a pretty good result for IQtest.dk Of course liberals and progressives can be exceptionally intelligent – I am specifically interested in how the respective bell curves match up for political orientation rather than just looking at outliers. I think if you dissociate sane progressives like Alexander from the Tumblr left you’d achieve the same result as separating libertarians from stock conservatives. I think you’d also find that these people would be far more likely to find areas of compromise and agreement and co-operate to find political solutions that satisfy the needs of both parties.

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• Andy says:

Maybe this is something I didn’t make clear from my first paragraph – that wasn’t what I would call an intelligence test. That was a spatial and spot-the-pattern puzzle test, so it was testing an area of intelligence where I excel, but I consider myself middling or below-average everywhere else, especially when it comes to dealing with people. Maybe that’s a function of environment (I’m a college student, thus surrounded by brighter-than-average people) but I don’t think iqtest.dk is any sort of test of general intelligence. This is sort of my problem with IQ tests in general.

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65. Chris says:

I’ve lost the ability to write.

But this post speaks to me.

It is and it isn’t.

The invisible hand of culture. Self policing meta waveform.

It is and it isn’t

at the same time.

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66. Nate says:

Great post. Some observations:

1. The fashion-pendulum thing in politics has seemed obvious-to-self-evident to me for a long time, so your presentation of it here makes sense to me.

2. I ran into similar problems with my leftism during the Bush war years. I was (and still am) strongly anti-war, but I had major issues with the fellow-travellers in the ‘anti-war movement’. Particularly the college Marxists, who had T-shirts with slogans like ‘No War But The Class War’ and made observations like ‘I’m not actually anti-war… I’m opposing this war because it’s Imperialist ™, but we should support revolutionary wars, oppressed peoples, etc. Yay the Intifada!’. Which, well. Some of us still remember when the USSR was an actual thing, and that approach doesn’t lead to good places.

3. Ten years ago a couple of Canadians wrote a book which says pretty much exactly what you’re saying right here. The Rebel Sell (alt: Nation of Rebels) by Heath and Potter. Basically: rebellion is a consumer commodity. It’s impossible to destroy consumer capitalism by rebelling against prior generations’ attitudes, because consumer capitalism _relies on_ destruction of the old and purchasing of the new to sustain its fashion cycles. And political ideology is a consumable status-marker / fashion commodity like any other.

It’s a somewhat grim perspective, but it’s backed by facts; for example, the popular myth of the 1960s as a youth rebellion against the prior generation completely overlooks the role of the record companies and Beat Generation writers and academics in manufacturing and selling rebellion against the post-WW2 ‘company man’ consensus. The hippies were manufactured and exploited to sell product as a group just as much as ‘Seattle Grunge’ and hip-hop was in the 1990s. If not everything is a cultural fashion cycle, certainly large amounts of it are; and this explains why the hippie generation apparently turned on a dime in the 1980s and became the conservative yuppies. Much of what passed for (and is now mythologised and merchandised as) spontaneous generational rebellion was actually social conformity to a demographic looking for identity markers; as that demographic aged and matured and became the dominant group, it spawned reaction/rebellion of its own. And so on.

The tl;dr I took was that cultural memory is a tricky and fraught thing, and the real ideological history of an era is almost never what it is later proclaimed to be by either the winners or losers of a conflict.

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67. Nate says:

4. In my experience, the Overton Window doesn’t so much shift over time and space as it _rotates_. Political alignments and parties aren’t a line from Truth to Error, or even a linear balance between Error (Extreme Left) – Truth – Error (Extreme Right). They’re a complex, constantly evolving, multidimensional space of clusters of issues and ideologies, mediated by tactical and strategic associations between actors and classes for purely pragmatic rather than ideological reasons.

Example 1: Politics in New Zealand during the 1980s, and specifically the 1984 Lange/Douglas Labour government. Nominally leftist, it was elected in a landslide against the nominally ‘conservative’ incumbent National… except that National’s economic policies included strict state-managed control of prices and wages, and Labour’s economic policies were hardcore Reagan/Thatcherite laissez-faire privatisation and financial deregulation.

_Social_ policies of the two governments were recognisably ‘left’ vs ‘right’ by 2014 standards – Labour 1984 decriminalised homosexuality, established NZ as an anti-nuclear zone, and began huge land reparations to Maori.

But the social vs economic policies of the two parties had _rotated_. Labour was (social) left / (economic) right – National was (social) right / (economic) left. And that’s important.

It’s important because people still today say ‘left’ and ‘right’ as if both are coherent ideologies where economic and social policies all flow from a single core set of axioms. But they aren’t. They just aren’t. Political (and even ideological) beliefs are a jumble of assorted ideas that for historical reasons have been adopted by a roughly cohesive group of actors. There doesn’t have to be any underlying a priori logic as to why they go together, and there very often isn’t.

Example 2: Alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Adopted by suffragettes _and_ Evangelical Protestant churches. Widely seen as part of the women’s liberation and social justice movements (because men were the main alcohol drinkers, and drunk men tended to commit the most domestic violence). Still visible in that otherwise socially conservative Baptist churches tend to have juice instead of Communion wine – and hard prohibitions on 1. alcohol consumption, 2. dancing (because it could lead to unwed teen sex; and not just as a religious killjoy downer, but because of the social consequences). Both policies seen as a logical, cohesive whole.

Example 3: 2014 attitudes toward genetic engineering, on both the left and right. The (socially conservative) right opposes stem cell research and human cloning. The (Green) left opposes genetic engineering of food crops such as Monsanto Roundup Ready corn. Both sides scream at the other and believe that _their_ restriction on genetic research is pure and righteous, and the other sides’ restriction is needless interference with the progress of Science. Yet they’re both stemming from a very similar feeling of unease at engineering of intimate biology. It’s very easy to imagine a political world where a single philosophical framework endorsed or opposed both (and such frameworks do exist; Catholic Seamless Garment life ethics, and Viridian Green, to give two examples). But the two major camps of Liberal and Conservative have split what would elsewhere be a single issue, into two.

Example 4: Conservatism vs Conservationism. In the writings of mid-20th century English conservatives such as Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton- particularly in Tolkien – there’s a combined horror at modernity expressed as both Leftism and the Industrial Revolution. Saruman is evil because he uproots trees, and is in turn destroyed by the Ents; Sauron is evil because his kingdom becomes what we would recognise today as an open-cast mine. Aragorn is good because he is a king, from an ancient line of kings, and the story is complete when he acknowledges his kingship. There’s a sense that industrial progress at the expense of the organic, natural world is utterly demonic; at the same time as there is a nostalgic longing for the old order of kings and princes and inherited title which is so far Right of today’s hard-core Right that it burns a hole through the Overton Window and heads into outer space.

So in Tolkien’s day conservatism and conservationism (though the latter term had hardly been coined) were part of the same mindset: respect and reverence for the old, distrust of the new. A single cohesive philosophy.

Meanwhile, in the USSR, Marxism-Leninism in full flower had no time for conservationism at all; it was resolutely Taylorist (itself an Overton rotation) in extracting economic value from workers and ecosystems alike.

And yet, after WW2, one can see the cluster of attitudes rotate from alignment to opposition; mainstream conservatives became boosters of industrial capitalism, with environmental exploitation now reframed as a Christian virtue, not a vice; meanwhile conservationists became rebels against the post-war industrial consensus, developing into the Green movement, and increasingly courted and were received by the increasingly atheist, anti-establishment Left.

There are also examples of the dynamic of ‘becoming like your enemy’, where one political group will adopt tactics that a rival group appears to be using successfully, in order to win. Eg: the Bush-era Neoliberals, who were college Marxists who later adopted Right values_but kept a respect for 1970s Marxist dirty-fighting tactics_, and deployed them in the 2000s. The US military adoption almost unchanged of Soviet ‘torture-lite’ techniques. Ayn Rand, whose writings today have a distinct flavour of Soviet Realism and Dialectical Marxism; she started with many of Marx’s philosophical premises but simply flipped the ‘capital bad’ bit. National Socialism (sorry Godwin), which adopted much of the forms of left-socialism within a right-wing framework, becoming something neither wholly right nor wholly left.

None of this is a linear drift. These are all rotations. Most things in the universe have angular as well as linear momentum, after all. And we try to reduce it all to movement in one direction on a line. This is not smart.

It’s not out of the question that a similar hybrid like Fascism will appear in the future; a philosophy that borrows from both today’s Left and Right camps but is its own entity. How will we recognise it? How will we react to it? Will we even know that it’s something new?

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68. Nate says:

5. It feels as if the last thirty years in US political culture, both the Left and the Right can point to each other and say ‘The country’s in a death-spiral/victory-march steadily leftwards! Gay marriage! Subsidised healthcare! Nonsense, it’s obvious, the country’s in a death-spiral/victory-march steadily rightwards! Increasing centralisation of wealth! Permanent state of war!’ And nonsensical as it sounds, all four statements are actually correct.

This is because there are (broadly speaking) two Lefts and two Rights, and we keep confusing them for no good reason.

They are:

1. The Labour/Economic Left. Intellectual roots in classical Marx. Social roots in the working class union movement. Powered the New Deal, a huge force in the 1950s, but since 1980, crushed by Reagan/Thatcher economic policies and steadily on the decline.

2. The Identity/Deconstruction Left. Intellectual roots in poststructuralism / postmodernism / critical theory. Social roots in elite academia (but strictly on the humanities side, not STEM) and the 1960s youth movement and popular culture. Nonexistent before WW2, took over from the Labour Left in the 1960s, on the ascendent since the 1980s and now the dominant cultural narrative.

3. The Neoliberal/Business Right. Intellectual roots in Austrian School neoliberal economics. Social roots: in all big business, but especially finance; in elite academia, in economics departments and MBA programs. In retreat from 1929 to the 1970s, but ascendent since the 1980s, now the dominant economic narrative.

3. The Traditional/Cultural Right. Intellectual roots in the 2000 year history of the Church. Social roots (in America) in Evangelical churches. On race issues, it was divided; the South and the North had very different views; the push to end slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and the pushback against both all came from (different) Christian communities. On gender issues, however, it was the mainstream consensus in America up until the 1960s counterculture. In apparent constant decline at a federal level since then, despite brief political resurgence in the Republican states.

Each of these groups has separate victories and losses. But the general trajectory has been: since 1980, the Business Right has triumphed exclusively in the economic sphere, to the downfall of the Labour Left. Meanwhile, at the same time, the Identity Left has triumphed exclusively in the cultural sphere, to the downfall of the Traditional Right.

You can choose to see either of these as good or bad things depending on your personal philosophy. But it’s not a case of a single social force moving between Left and Right. At the very least, it’s _two_ social countercurrents moving in opposite directions. The triumph of Capital over Labour, combined with the triumph of Identity over Tradition.

It’s not obvious to me that these two separate and counter-moving (economic, cultural) sectors of ‘left’ and ‘right’ actually owe anything to each other, or that they’ll remain together in the long term.

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• blacktrance says:

“The Neoliberal/Business Right. Intellectual roots in Austrian School neoliberal economics. Social roots: in all big business, but especially finance; in elite academia, in economics departments and MBA programs.”

This conflates three separate currents: Austrianism, mainstream economics, and pro-business ideology. Austrian Economics is a heterodox school that’s more popular on the Internet than anywhere else. There are a few economics departments where it’s relatively popular, but there the Austrianism is less pronounced and it’s more similar to the mainstream. Austrians themselves have not been particularly influential, with the exception of F. A. Hayek, who was closer to mainstream economics. People who subscribe to mainstream academic economics still have widely varying policy prescriptions (compare Greg Mankiw to Brad DeLong, for example) though they do agree on a lot of issues and are more pro-market than the average person, though rarely to the point of Austrian Libertarianism. Their policy prescriptions are sometimes called “neoliberal”, but it’s become a pejorative. In contrast, Austrians are hardly ever called “neoliberal”. As for pro-business ideology, left-wing opponents of Austrian Libertarianism and the policy prescriptions of mainstream economists lump them together with right-wing politicians and call them all “pro-business”, when in reality both Austrians and a significant number of mainstream economists write a lot about cronyism, regulatory capture, protection of special interests, etc – “pro-market” would be a more accurate label.

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69. mai neh says:

Instead of a “death spiral” maybe a “death pendulum”?

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70. Nasdm says:

When you live in the homeland of the left, Berkeley, SFBA you start to see how it goes wrong in practice. Or your just counter your environments norms because you rather you stand up for the truth than in group conformity. In berkeley red you look blue, but in the bible belt blue you look red.

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71. FMN0-ACQW79 says:

Sorry, dude, you’re just a reactionary. I liked witnessing you attempt to grasp that, though!

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72. Jason says:

I think it is possible that I’ve started reading this blog because the knee-jerk unthinking leftism of the social media circles I run in (twitter, reddit) is starting to make me crazy. Intellectual or fashion reaction?

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73. Stephanie says:

I hop you’re right.

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