"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

The Ideology Is Not The Movement

I.

Why is there such a strong Sunni/Shia divide?

I know the Comparative Religion 101 answer. The early Muslims were debating who was the rightful caliph. Some of them said Abu Bakr, others said Ali, and the dispute has been going on ever since. On the other hand, that was fourteen hundred years ago, both candidates are long dead, and there’s no more caliphate. You’d think maybe they’d let the matter rest.

Sure, the two groups have slightly different hadith and schools of jurisprudence, but how many Muslims even know which school of jurisprudence they’re supposed to be following? It seems like a pretty minor thing to have centuries of animus over.

And so we return again to Robbers’ Cave:

The experimental subjects — excuse me, “campers” — were 22 boys between 5th and 6th grade, selected from 22 different schools in Oklahoma City, of stable middle-class Protestant families, doing well in school, median IQ 112. They were as well-adjusted and as similar to each other as the researchers could manage.

The experiment, conducted in the bewildered aftermath of World War II, was meant to investigate the causes—and possible remedies—of intergroup conflict. How would they spark an intergroup conflict to investigate? Well, the 22 boys were divided into two groups of 11 campers, and —

— and that turned out to be quite sufficient.

The researchers’ original plans called for the experiment to be conducted in three stages. In Stage 1, each group of campers would settle in, unaware of the other group’s existence. Toward the end of Stage 1, the groups would gradually be made aware of each other. In Stage 2, a set of contests and prize competitions would set the two groups at odds.

They needn’t have bothered with Stage 2. There was hostility almost from the moment each group became aware of the other group’s existence: They were using our campground, our baseball diamond. On their first meeting, the two groups began hurling insults. They named themselves the Rattlers and the Eagles (they hadn’t needed names when they were the only group on the campground).

When the contests and prizes were announced, in accordance with pre-established experimental procedure, the intergroup rivalry rose to a fever pitch. Good sportsmanship in the contests was evident for the first two days but rapidly disintegrated.

The Eagles stole the Rattlers’ flag and burned it. Rattlers raided the Eagles’ cabin and stole the blue jeans of the group leader, which they painted orange and carried as a flag the next day, inscribed with the legend “The Last of the Eagles”. The Eagles launched a retaliatory raid on the Rattlers, turning over beds, scattering dirt. Then they returned to their cabin where they entrenched and prepared weapons (socks filled with rocks) in case of a return raid. After the Eagles won the last contest planned for Stage 2, the Rattlers raided their cabin and stole the prizes. This developed into a fistfight that the staff had to shut down for fear of injury. The Eagles, retelling the tale among themselves, turned the whole affair into a magnificent victory—they’d chased the Rattlers “over halfway back to their cabin” (they hadn’t).

Each group developed a negative stereotype of Them and a contrasting positive stereotype of Us. The Rattlers swore heavily. The Eagles, after winning one game, concluded that the Eagles had won because of their prayers and the Rattlers had lost because they used cuss-words all the time. The Eagles decided to stop using cuss-words themselves. They also concluded that since the Rattlers swore all the time, it would be wiser not to talk to them. The Eagles developed an image of themselves as proper-and-moral; the Rattlers developed an image of themselves as rough-and-tough.

If the researchers had decided that the real difference between the two groups was that the Eagles were adherents of Eagleism, which held cussing as absolutely taboo, and the Rattlers adherents of Rattlerism, which held it a holy duty to cuss five times a day – well, that strikes me as the best equivalent to saying that Sunni and Shia differ over the rightful caliph.

II.

Nations, religions, cults, gangs, subcultures, fraternal societies, internet communities, political parties, social movements – these are all really different, but they also have some deep similarities. They’re all groups of people. They all combine comradery within the group with a tendency to dislike other groups of the same type. They all tend to have a stated purpose, like electing a candidate or worshipping a deity, but also serve a very important role as impromptu social clubs whose members mostly interact with one another instead of outsiders. They all develop an internal culture such that members of the groups often like the same foods, wear the same clothing, play the same sports, and have the same philosophical beliefs as other members of the group – even when there are only tenuous links or no links at all to the stated purpose. They all tend to develop sort of legendary histories, where they celebrate and exaggerate the deeds of the groups’ founders and past champions. And they all tend to inspire something like patriotism, where people are proud of their group membership and express that pride through conspicuous use of group symbols, group songs, et cetera. For better or worse, the standard way to refer to this category of thing is “tribe”.

Tribalism is potentially present in all groups, but levels differ a lot even in groups of nominally the same type. Modern Belgium seems like an unusually non-tribal nation; Imperial Japan in World War II seems like an unusually tribal one. Neoliberalism and market socialism seem like unusually non-tribal political philosophies; communism and libertarianism seem like unusually tribal ones. Corporations with names like Amalgamated Products Co probably aren’t very tribal; charismatic corporations like Apple that become identities for their employees and customers are more so. Cults are maybe the most tribal groups that exist in the modern world, and those Cult Screening Tools make good measures for tribalism as well.

The dangers of tribalism are obvious; for example, fascism is based around dialing a country’s tribalism up to eleven, and it ends poorly. If I had written this essay five years ago, it would be be titled “Why Tribalism Is Stupid And Needs To Be Destroyed”. Since then, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve found that I enjoy being in tribes as much as anyone else.

Part of this was resolving a major social fallacy I’d had throughout high school and college, which was that the correct way to make friends was to pick the five most interesting people I knew and try to befriend them. This almost never worked and I thought it meant I had terrible social skills. Then I looked at what everyone else was doing, and I found that instead of isolated surgical strikes of friendship, they were forming groups. The band people. The mock trial people. The football team people. The Three Popular Girls Who Went Everywhere Together. Once I tried “falling in with” a group, friendship became much easier and self-sustaining precisely because of all of the tribal development that happens when a group of similar people all know each other and have a shared interest. Since then I’ve had good luck finding tribes I like and that accept me – the rationalists being the most obvious example, but even interacting with my coworkers on the same hospital unit at work is better than trying to find and cultivate random people.

Some benefits of tribalism are easy to explain. Tribalism intensifies all positive and prosocial feelings within the tribe. It increases trust within the tribe and allows otherwise-impossible forms of cooperation – remember Haidt on the Jewish diamond merchants outcompeting their rivals because their mutual Judaism gave them a series of high-trust connections that saved them costly verification procedures? It gives people a support network they can rely on when their luck is bad and they need help. It lets you “be yourself” without worrying that this will be incomprehensible or offensive to somebody who thinks totally differently from you. It creates an instant densely-connected social network of people who mostly get along with one another. It makes people feel like part of something larger than themselves, which makes them happy and can (provably) improves their physical and mental health.

Others are more complicated. I can just make motions at a feeling that “what I do matters”, in the sense that I will probably never be a Beethoven or a Napoleon who is very important to the history of the world as a whole, but I can do things that are important within the context of a certain group of people. All of this is really good for my happiness and mental health. When people talk about how modern society is “atomized” or “lacks community” or “doesn’t have meaning”, I think they’re talking about a lack of tribalism, which leaves people all alone in the face of a society much too big to understand or affect. The evolutionary psychology angle here is too obvious to even be worth stating.

And others are entirely philosophical. I think some people would say that wanting to have a tribe is like wanting to have a family – part of what it means to be human – and demands to justify either are equally wrong-headed.

Eliezer thinks every cause wants to be a cult. I would phrase this more neutrally as “every cause wants to be a tribe”. I’ve seen a lot of activities go through the following cycle:

1. Let’s get together to do X
2. Let’s get together to do X, and have drinks afterwards
3. Let’s get together to discuss things from an X-informed perspective
4. Let’s get together to discuss the sorts of things that interest people who do X
5. Let’s get together to discuss how the sort of people who do X are much better than the sort of people who do Y.
6. Dating site for the sort of people who do X
7. Oh god, it was so annoying, she spent the whole date talking about X.
8. X? What X?

This can happen over anything or nothing at all. Despite the artificial nature of the Robbers’ Cove experiment, its groups are easily recognized as tribes. Indeed, the reason this experiment is so interesting is that it shows tribes in their purest form; no veneer of really being about pushing a social change or supporting a caliph, just tribes for tribalism’s sake.

III.

Scholars call the process of creating a new tribe “ethnogenesis” – Robbers’ Cave was artificially inducing ethnogenesis to see what would happen. My model of ethnogenesis involves four stages: pre-existing differences, a rallying flag, development, and dissolution.

Pre-existing differences are the raw materials out of which tribes are made. A good tribe combines people who have similar interests and styles of interaction even before the ethnogenesis event. Any description of these differences will necessarily involve stereotypes, but a lot of them should be hard to argue. For example, atheists are often pretty similar to one another even before they deconvert from their religion and officially become atheists. They’re usually nerdy, skeptical, rational, not very big on community or togetherness, sarcastic, well-educated. At the risk of going into touchier territory, they’re pretty often white and male. You take a sample of a hundred equally religious churchgoers and pick out the ones who are most like the sort of people who are atheists even if all of them are 100% believers. But there’s also something more than that. There are subtle habits of thought, not yet described by any word or sentence, which atheists are more likely to have than other people. It’s part of the reason why atheists need atheism as a rallying flag instead of just starting the Skeptical Nerdy Male Club.

The rallying flag is the explicit purpose of the tribe. It’s usually a belief, event, or activity that get people with that specific pre-existing difference together and excited. Often it brings previously latent differences into sharp relief. People meet around the rallying flag, encounter each other, and say “You seem like a kindred soul!” or “I thought I was the only one!” Usually it suggests some course of action, which provides the tribe with a purpose. For atheists, the rallying flag is not believing in God. Somebody says “Hey, I don’t believe in God, if you also don’t believe in God come over here and we’ll hang out together and talk about how much religious people suck.” All the atheists go over by the rallying flag and get very excited about meeting each other. It starts with “Wow, you hate church too?”, moves on to “Really, you also like science fiction?”, and ends up at “Wow, you have the same undefinable habits of thought that I do!”

Development is all of the processes by which the fledgling tribe gains its own culture and history. It’s a turning-inward and strengthening-of-walls, which transforms it from ‘A Group Of People Who Do Not Believe In God And Happen To Be In The Same Place’ to ‘The Atheist Tribe’. For example, atheists have symbols like that ‘A’ inside an atom. They have jokes and mascots like Russell’s Teapot and the Invisible Pink Unicorn. They have their own set of heroes, both mythologized past heroes like Galileo and controversial-but-undeniably-important modern heroes like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. They have celebrities like P.Z. Myers and Hemant Mehta. They have universally-agreed-upon villains to be booed and hated, like televangelists or the Westboro Baptist Church. They have grievances, like all the times that atheists have been fired or picked on by religious people, and all the laws about pledging allegiance to one nation under God and so on. They have stereotypes about themselves – intelligent, helpful, passionate – and stereotypes about their outgroups – deluded, ignorant, bigoted.

Dissolution is optional. The point of the previous three steps is to build a “wall” between the tribe and the outside, a series of systematic differences that let everybody know which side they’re on. If a tribe was never really that different from the surrounding population, stops caring that much about its rallying flag, and doesn’t develop enough culture, then the wall fails and the members disperse into the surrounding population. The classic example is the assimilation of immigrant groups like Irish-Americans, but history is littered with failed communes, cults, and political movements. Atheism hasn’t quite dissolved yet, but occasionally you see hints of the process. A lot of the comments around “Atheism Plus” centered around this idea of “Okay, talking about how there’s no God all the time has gotten boring, plus nobody interesting believes in God anymore anyway, so let’s become about social justice instead”. The parts of atheism who went along with that message mostly dissolved into the broader social justice community – there are a host of nominally atheist blogs that haven’t talked about anything except social justice in months. Other fragments of the atheist community dissolved into transhumanism, or libertarianism, or any of a number of other things. Although there’s still an atheist community, it no longer seems quite as vibrant and cohesive as it used to be.

We can check this four-stage model by applying it to the Sunni and Shia and seeing if it sticks.

I know very little about early Islam and am relying on sources that might be biased, so don’t declare a fatwa against me if I turn out to be wrong, but it looks like from the beginning there were big pre-existing differences between proto-Shia and proto-Sunni. A lot of Ali’s earliest supporters were original Muslims who had known Mohammed personally, and a lot of Abu Bakr’s earliest supporters were later Muslims high up in the Meccan/Medinan political establishment who’d converted only after it became convenient to do so. It’s really easy to imagine cultural, social, and personality differences between these two groups. Probably members in each group already knew one another pretty well, and already had ill feelings towards members of the other, without necessarily being able to draw the group borders clearly or put their exact differences into words. Maybe it was “those goody-goodies who are always going on about how close to Mohammed they were but have no practical governing ability” versus “those sellouts who don’t really believe in Islam and just want to keep playing their political games”.

Then came the rallying flag: a political disagreement over the succession. One group called themselves “the party of Ali”, whose Arabic translation “Shiatu Ali” eventually ended up as just “Shia”. The other group won and called itself “the traditional orthodox group”, in Arabic “Sunni”. Instead of a vague sense of “I wonder whether that guy there is one of those goody-goodies always talking about Mohammed, or whether he’s a practical type interested in good governance”, people could just ask “Are you for Abu Bakr or Ali?” and later “Are you Sunni or Shia?” Also at some point, I’m not exactly sure how, most of the Sunni ended up in Arabia and most of the Shia ended up in Iraq and Iran, after which I think some pre-existing Iraqi/Iranian vs. Arab cultural differences got absorbed into the Sunni/Shia mix too.

Then came development. Both groups developed elaborate mythologies lionizing their founders. The Sunni got the history of the “rightly-guided caliphs”, the Shia exaggerated the first few imams to legendary proportions. They developed grievances against each other; according to Shia history, the Sunnis killed eleven of their twelve leaders, with the twelfth escaping only when God directly plucked him out of the world to serve as a future Messiah. They developed different schools of hadith interpretation and jurisprudence and debated the differences ad nauseum with each other for hundreds of years. A lot of Shia theology is in Farsi; Sunni theology is entirely in Arabic. Sunni clergy usually dress in white; Shia clergy usually dress in black and green. Not all of these were deliberately done in opposition to one another; most were just a consequence of the two camps being walled off from one another and so allowed to develop cultures independently.

Obviously the split hasn’t dissolved yet, but it’s worth looking at similar splits that have. Catholicism vs. Protestantism is still a going concern in a few places like Ireland, but it’s nowhere near the total wars of the 17th century or even the Know-Nothing-Parties of the 19th. Consider that Marco Rubio is Catholic, but nobody except Salon particularly worries about that or says that it will make him unsuitable to lead a party representing the interests of very evangelical Protestants. Heck, the same party was happy to nominate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and praise him for his “Christian faith”. Part of it is the subsumption of those differences into a larger conflict – most Christians acknowledge Christianity vs. atheism to be a bigger deal than interdenominational disputes these days – and part of it is that everyone of every religion is so influenced by secular American culture that the religions have been reduced to their rallying flags alone rather than being fully developed tribes at this point. American Sunni and Shia seem to be well on their way to dissolving into each other too.

IV.

I want to discuss a couple of issues that I think make more sense once you understand the concept of tribes and rallying flags:

1. Disability: I used to be very confused by disabled people who insist on not wanting a “cure” for their condition. Deaf people and autistic people are the two classic examples, and sure enough we find articles like Not All Deaf People Want To Be Cured and They Don’t Want An Autism Cure. Autistic people can at least argue their minds work differently rather than worse, but being deaf seems to be a straight-out disadvantage: the hearing can do anything the deaf can, and can hear also. A hearing person can become deaf at any time just by wearing earplugs, but a deaf person can’t become hearing, at least not without very complicated high-tech surgeries.

When I asked some deaf friends about this, they explained that they had a really close-knit and supportive deaf culture, and that most of their friends, social events, and ways of relating to other people and the world were through this culture. This made sense, but I always wondered: if you were able to hear, couldn’t you form some other culture? If worst came to worst and nobody else wanted to talk to you, couldn’t you at least have the Ex-Deaf People’s Club?

I don’t think so. Deafness acts as a rallying flag that connects people, gives them a shared foundation to build culture off of, and walls the group off from other people. If all deaf people magically became able to hear, their culture would eventually drift apart, and they’d be stuck without an ingroup to call their own.

Part of this is reasonable cost-benefit calculation – our society is so vast and atomized, and forming real cohesive tribes is so hard, that they might reasonably expect it would be a lot of trouble to find another group they liked as much as the deaf community. But another part of this seems to be about an urge to cultural self-preservation.

2. Genocide: This term is kind of overused these days. I always thought of it as meaning literally killing every member of a certain group – the Holocaust, for example – but the new usage includes “cultural genocide”. For example, autism rights advocates sometimes say that anybody who cured autism would be committing genocide – this is of course soundly mocked, but it makes sense if you think of autistic people as a tribe that would be dissolved absent its rallying flag. The tribe would be eliminated – thus “cultural genocide” is a reasonable albeit polemical description.

It seems to me that people have an urge toward cultural self-preservation which is as strong or stronger as the urge to individual self-preservation. Part of this is rational cost-benefit calculation – if someone loses their only tribe and ends up alone in the vast and atomized sea of modern society, it might take years before they can find another tribe and really be at home there. But a lot of it seems to be beyond that, an emotional certainty that losing one’s culture and having it replaced with another is not okay, any more than being killed at the same time someone else has a baby is okay. Nor do I think this is necessarily irrational; locating the thing whose survival you care about in the self rather than the community is an assumption, and people can make different assumptions without being obviously wrong.

3. Rationalists: The rationalist community is a group of people (of which I’m a part) who met reading the site Less Wrong and who tend to hang out together online, sometimes hang out together in real life, and tend to befriend each other, work with each other, date each other, and generally move in the same social circles. Some people call it a cult, but that’s more a sign of some people having lost vocabulary for anything between “totally atomized individuals” and “outright cult” than any particular cultishness.

But people keep asking me what exactly the rationalist community is. Like, what is the thing they believe that makes them rationalists? It can’t just be about being rational, because loads of people are interested in that and most of them aren’t part of the community. And it can’t just be about transhumanism because there are a lot of transhumanists who aren’t rationalists, and lots of rationalists who aren’t transhumanists. And it can’t just be about Bayesianism, because pretty much everyone, rationalist or otherwise, agrees that is a kind of statistics that is useful for some things but not others. So what, exactly, is it?

This question has always bothered me, but now after thinking about it a lot I finally have a clear answer: rationalism is the belief that Eliezer Yudkowsky is the rightful caliph.

No! Sorry! I think “the rationalist community” is a tribe much like the Sunni or Shia that started off with some pre-existing differences, found a rallying flag, and then developed a culture.

The pre-existing differences range from the obvious to the subtle. A lot of rationalists are mathematicians, programmers, or computer scientists. The average IQ is in the 130s. White men are overrepresented, but so are LGBT and especially transgender people. But there’s more. Nobody likes the Myers-Briggs test, but I continue to find it really interesting that rationalists have some Myers-Briggs types (INTJ/INTP) at ten times the ordinary rate, and other types (ISFJ/ESFP) at only one one-hundredth the ordinary rate. Myers-Briggs doesn’t cleave reality at its joints, but if it measures anything at all about otherwise hard-to-explain differences in thinking styles, the rationalist community heavily selects for those same differences. Sure enough, I am constantly running into people who say “This is the only place where I’ve ever found people who think like me” or “I finally feel understood”.

The rallying flag was the Less Wrong Sequences. Eliezer Yudkowsky started a blog (actually, borrowed Robin Hanson’s) about cognitive biases and how to think through them. Whether or not you agreed with him or found him enlightening loaded heavily on those pre-existing differences, so the people who showed up in the comment section got along and started meeting up with each other. “Do you like Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog?” became a useful proxy for all sorts of things, eventually somebody coined the word “rationalist” to refer to people who did, and then you had a group with nice clear boundaries.

The development is everything else. Obviously a lot of jargon sprung up in the form of terms from the blog itself. The community got heroes like Gwern and Anna Salamon who were notable for being able to approach difficult questions insightfully. It doesn’t have much of an outgroup yet – maybe just bioethicists and evil robots. It has its own foods – MealSquares, that one kind of chocolate everyone in Berkeley started eating around the same time – and its own games. It definitely has its own inside jokes. I think its most important aspect, though, is a set of shared mores – everything from “understand the difference between ask and guess culture and don’t get caught up in it” to “cuddling is okay” to “don’t misgender trans people” – and a set of shared philosophical assumptions like utilitarianism and reductionism.

I’m stressing this because I keep hearing people ask “What is the rationalist community?” or “It’s really weird that I seem to be involved in the rationalist community even though I don’t share belief X” as if there’s some sort of necessary-and-sufficient featherless-biped-style ideological criterion for membership. This is why people are saying “Lots of you aren’t even singularitarians, and everyone agrees Bayesian methods are useful in some places and not so useful in others, so what is your community even about?” But once again, it’s about Eliezer Yudkowsky being the rightful caliph it’s not necessarily about anything.

If you take only one thing from this essay, it’s that communities are best understood not logically but historically. If you want to understand the Shia, don’t reflect upon the true meaning of Ali being the rightful caliph, understand that a dispute involving Ali initiated ethnogenesis, the resulting culture picked up a bunch of features and became useful to various people, and now here we are. If you want to understand the rationalist community, don’t ask exactly how near you have to think the singularity has to be before you qualify for membership, focus on the fact that some stuff Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote led to certain people identifying themselves as “rationalists” and for various reasons I enjoy dinner parties with those people about 10000% more interesting than dinner parties with randomly selected individuals.

nostalgebraist actually summed this up really well: “Maybe the real rationalism was the friends we made along the way.” Maybe that’s the real Shia Islam too, and the real Democratic Party, and so on.

4. Evangelical And Progressive Religion: There seems to be a generational process, sort of like Harold Lee’s theory of immigrant assimilation, by which religions dissolve. The first generation believes everything literally. The second generation believes that the religion might not be literally true, but it’s an important expression of universal values and they still want to follow the old ways and participate in the church/temple/mosque/mandir community. The third generation is completely secularized.

This was certainly my family’s relationship with Judaism. My great-great-grandfather was so Jewish that he left America and returned to Eastern Europe because he was upset at American Jews for not being religious enough. My great-grandfather stayed behind in America but remained a very religious Jew. My grandparents attend synagogue when they can remember, speak a little Yiddish, and identify with the traditions. My parents went to a really liberal synagogue where the rabbi didn’t believe in God and everyone just agreed they were going through the motions. I got Bar Mitzvahed when I was a kid but haven’t been to synagogue in years. My children probably won’t even have that much.

So imagine you’re an evangelical Christian. All the people you like are also evangelical Christians. Most of your social life happens at church. Most of your good memories involve things like Sunday school and Easter celebrations, and even your bittersweet memories are things like your pastor speaking at your parents’ funeral. Most of your hopes and dreams involve marrying someone and having kids and then sharing similarly good times with them. When you try to hang out with people who aren’t evangelical Christians, they seem to think really differently than you do, and not at all in a good way. A lot of your happiest intellectual experiences involve geeking out over different Bible verses and the minutiae of different Christian denominations.

Then somebody points out to you that God probably doesn’t exist. And even if He does, it’s probably in some vague and complicated way, and not the way that means that the Thrice-Reformed Meta-Baptist Church and only the Thrice-Reformed Meta-Baptist Church has the correct interpretation of the Bible and everyone else is wrong.

On the one hand, their argument might be convincing. On the other, you are pretty sure that if everyone agreed on this, your culture would be destroyed. Sure, your kids could be Christmas-and-Easter-Christians who still enjoy the cultural aspects and derive personal meaning from the Bible. But you’re pretty sure that within a couple of generations your descendents would be exactly as secular as anyone else. Absent the belief that serves as your culture’s wall against the outside world, it would dissolve without a trace into the greater homogeneity of Western liberal society. So, do you keep believing a false thing? Or do you give up on everything you love and enjoy and dissolve into a culture that mostly hates and mocks people like you? There’s no good choice. This is why it sucks that things like religion and politics are both rallying flags for tribes, and actual things that there may be a correct position on.

5. Religious Literalism: One comment complaint I heard during the height of the Atheist-Theist Online Wars was that atheists were a lot like fundamentalists. Both wanted to interpret the religious texts in the most literal possible way.

Being on the atheist side of these wars, I always wanted to know: well, why wouldn’t you? Given that the New Testament clearly says you have to give all your money to the poor, and the Old Testament doesn’t say anything about mixing meat and milk, maybe religious Christians should start giving everything to the poor and religious Jews should stop worrying so much about which dishes to use when?

But I think this is the same mistake as treating the Sunni as an organization dedicated to promoting an Abu Bakr caliphate. The holy book is the rallying flag for a religion, but the religion is not itself about the holy book. The rallying flag created a walled-off space where people could undergo the development process and create an independent culture. That independent culture may diverge significantly from the holy book.

I think that very neurotypical people naturally think in terms of tribes, and the idea that they have to retool their perfectly functional tribe to conform to the exact written text of its holy book or constitution or stated political ideology or something seems silly to them. I think that less neurotypical people – a group including many atheists – think less naturally in terms of tribes and so tend to take claims like “Christianity is about following the Bible” at face value. But Christianity is about being part of the Christian tribe, and although that tribe started around the Bible, maintains its coherence because of the Bible, and is of course naturally influenced by it, if it happens to contradict the Bible in some cases that’s not necessarily surprising or catastrophic.

This is also why I’m not really a fan of debates over whether Islam is really “a religion of peace” or “a religion of violence”, especially if those debates involve mining the Quran for passages that support one’s preferred viewpoint. It’s not just because the Quran is a mess of contradictions with enough interpretive degrees of freedom to prove anything at all. It’s not even because Islam is a host of separate cultures as different from one another as Unitarianism is from the Knights Templar. It’s because the Quran just created the space in which the Islamic culture could evolve, but had only limited impact on that evolution. As well try to predict the warlike or peaceful nature of the United Kingdom by looking at a topographical map of Great Britain.

6. Cultural Appropriation: Thanks to some people who finally explained this to me in a way that made sense. When an item or artform becomes the rallying flag for a tribe, it can threaten the tribe if other people just want to use it as a normal item or artform.

Suppose that rappers start with pre-existing differences from everyone else. Poor, male, non-white minority, lots of experience living in violent places, maybe a certain philosophical outlook towards their condition. Then they get a rallying flag: rap music. They meet one another, like one another. The culture undergoes further development: the lionization of famous rappers, the development of a vocabulary of shared references. They get all of the benefits of being in a tribe like increased trust, social networking, and a sense of pride and identity.

Now suppose some rich white people get into rap. Maybe they get into rap for innocuous reasons: rap is cool, they like the sound of it. Fine. But they don’t share the pre-existing differences, and they can’t be easily assimilated into the tribe. Maybe they develop different conventions, and start saying that instead of being about the struggles of living in severe poverty, rap should be about Founding Fathers. Maybe they start saying the original rappers are bad, and they should stop talking about violence and bitches because that ruins rap’s reputation. Since rich white people tend to be be good at gaining power and influence, maybe their opinions are overrepresented at the Annual Rap Awards, and all of a sudden you can’t win a rap award unless your rap is about the Founding Fathers and doesn’t mention violence (except Founding-Father-related duels). All of a sudden if you try to start some kind of impromptu street rap-off, you’re no longer going to find a lot of people like you whom you instantly get along with and can form a high-trust community. You’re going to find half people like that, and half rich white people who strike you as annoying and are always complaining that your raps don’t feature any Founding Fathers at all. The rallying flag fails and the tribe is lost as a cohesive entity.

7. Fake Gamer Girls: A more controversial example of the same. Video gaming isn’t just a fun way to pass the time. It also brings together a group of people with some pre-existing common characteristics: male, nerdy, often abrasive, not very successful, interested in speculation, high-systematizing. It gives them a rallying flag and creates a culture which then develops its own norms, shared reference points, internet memes, webcomics, heroes, shared gripes, even some unique literature. Then other people with very different characteristics and no particular knowledge of the culture start enjoying video games just because video games are fun. Since the Gamer Tribe has no designated cultural spaces except video games forums and magazines, they view this as an incursion into their cultural spaces and a threat to their existence as a tribe.

Stereotypically this is expressed as them getting angry when girls start playing video games. One can argue that it’s unfair to infer tribe membership based on superficial characteristics like gender – in the same way it might be unfair for the Native Americans to assume someone with blonde hair and blue eyes probably doesn’t follow the Old Ways – but from the tribe’s perspective it’s a reasonable first guess.

I’ve found gamers to get along pretty well with women who share their culture, and poorly with men who don’t – but admit that the one often starts from an assumption of foreignness and the other from an assumption of membership. More important, I’ve found the idea of the rejection of the ‘fake gamer girl’, real or not, raised more as a libel by people who genuinely do want to destroy gamer culture, in the sense of cleansing video-game-related spaces of a certain type of person/culture and making them entirely controlled by a different type of person/culture, in much the same way that a rich white person who says any rapper who uses violent lyrics needs to be blacklisted from the rap world has a clear culture-change project going on.

These cultural change projects tend to be framed in terms of which culture has the better values, which I think is a limited perspective. I think America has better values than Pakistan does, but that doesn’t mean I want us invading them, let alone razing their culture to the ground and replacing it with our own.

8. Subcultures And Posers: Obligatory David Chapman link. A poser is somebody who uses the rallying flag but doesn’t have the pre-existing differences that create tribal membership and so never really fits into the tribe.

9. Nationalism, Patriotism, and Racism: Nationalism and patriotism use national identity as the rallying flag for a strong tribe. In many cases, nationalism becomes ethno-nationalism, which builds tribal identity off of a combination of heritage, language, religion, and culture. It has to be admitted that this can make for some incredibly strong tribes. The rallying flag is built into ancestry, and so the walls are near impossible to obliterate. The symbolism and jargon and cultural identity can be instilled from birth onward. Probably the best example of this is the Jews, who combine ethnicity, religion, and language into a bundle deal and have resisted assimilation for millennia.

Sometimes this can devolve into racism. I’m not sure exactly what the difference between ethno-nationalism and racism is, or whether there even is a difference, except that “race” is a much more complicated concept than ethnicity and it’s probably not a coincidence that it has become most popular in a country like America whose ethnicities are hopelessly confused. The Nazis certainly needed a lot of work to transform concern about the German nation into concern about the Aryan race. But it’s fair to say all of this is somewhat related or at least potentially related.

On the other hand, in countries that have non-ethnic notions of heritage, patriotism has an opportunity to substite for racism. Think about the power of the civil rights message that, whether black or white, we are all Americans.

This is maybe most obvious in sub-national groups. Despite people paying a lot of attention to the supposed racism of Republicans, the rare black Republicans do shockingly well within their party. Both Ben Carson and Herman Cain briefly topped the Republican presidential primary polls during their respective election seasons, and their failures seem to have had much more to do with their own personal qualities than with some sort of generic Republican racism. I see the same with Thomas Sowell, with Hispanic Republicans like Ted Cruz, and Asian Republicans like Bobby Jindal.

Maybe an even stronger example is the human biodiversity movement, which many people understandably accuse of being entirely about racism. Nevertheless, some of its most leading figures are black – JayMan and Chanda Chisala (who is adjacent to the movement but gets lots of respect within it) – and they seem to get equal treatment and respect to their white counterparts. Their membership in a strong and close-knit tribe screens off everything else about them.

I worry that attempts to undermine nationalism/patriotism in order to fight racism risk backfiring. The weaker the “American” tribe becomes, the more people emphasize their other tribes – which can be either overtly racial or else heavily divided along racial lines (eg political parties). It continues to worry me that people who would never display an American flag on their lawn because “nations are just a club for hating foreigners” now have a campaign sign on their lawn, five bumper stickers on their car, and are identifying more and more strongly with political positions – ie clubs for hating their fellow citizens.

Is there such a thing as conservation of tribalism? Get rid of one tribal identity and people just end up seizing on another? I’m not sure. And anyway, nobody can agree on exactly what the American identity or American tribe is anyway, so any conceivable such identity would probably risk alienating a bunch of people. I guess that makes it a moot point. But I still think that deliberately trying to eradicate patriotism is not as good an idea as is generally believed.

V.

I think tribes are interesting and underdiscussed. And in a lot of cases when they are discussed, it’s within preexisting frameworks that tilt the playing field towards recognizing some tribes as fundamentally good, others as fundamentally bad, and ignoring the commonalities between all of them.

But in order to talk about tribes coherently, we need to talk about rallying flags. And that involves admitting that a lot of rallying flags are based on ideologies (which are sometimes wrong), holy books (which are always wrong), nationality (which we can’t define), race (which is racist), and works of art (which some people inconveniently want to enjoy just as normal art without any connotations).

My title for this post is also my preferred summary: the ideology is not the movement. Or, more jargonishly – the rallying flag is not the tribe. People are just trying to find a tribe for themselves and keep it intact. This often involves defending an ideology they might not be tempted to defend for any other reason. This doesn’t make them bad, and it may not even necessarily mean their tribe deserves to go extinct. I’m reluctant to say for sure whether I think it’s okay to maintain a tribe based on a faulty ideology, but I think it’s at least important to understand that these people are in a crappy situation with no good choices, and they deserve some pity.

Some vital aspects of modern society – freedom of speech, freedom of criticism, access to multiple viewpoints, the existence of entryist tribes with explicit goals of invading and destroying competing tribes as problematic, and the overwhelming pressure to dissolve into the Generic Identity Of Modern Secular Consumerism – make maintaining tribal identities really hard these days. I think some of the most interesting sociological questions revolve around whether there are any ways around the practical and moral difficulties with tribalism, what social phenomena are explicable as the struggle of tribes to maintain themselves in the face of pressure, and whether tribalism continues to be a worthwhile or even a possible project at all.

EDIT: I’ve been informed of a very similar Melting Asphalt post, Religion Is Not About Beliefs. Everyone has pre-stolen my best ideas 🙁

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1,687 Responses to The Ideology Is Not The Movement

  1. Sniffnoy says:

    Razib Khan links relevant to the religion example: Against the seriousness of theology; Gods made in the image of man; God is an effect, not the first cause; Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

    (OK, a lot of these boil down to “You should read Slone’s Theological Incorrectness“, but myself I haven’t read that book, so I’m linking to Razib Khan blog posts I have read instead.)

  2. anonymous says:

    “Part of this was resolving a major social fallacy I’d had throughout high school and college, which was that the correct way to make friends was to pick the five most interesting people I knew and try to befriend them. This almost never worked and I thought it meant I had terrible social skills.”

    Strange, I always used exactly that method and it always worked great.

    The people I befriend are always part of a tribe as well, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a hindrance. Usually I end up being a half-member of many different tribes, by being a personal friend of individual full members.

    • anonymous says:

      That’s pretty much the only way I’ve made friends after the age of 10 — make a ton of acquaintances by chatting to people in classes, at the gym, in my apartment building, at work, at the laundromat, in clubs, at restaurants and dining halls and grocery stores, etc. and invite the ones I like out to do stuff with me (e.g. go hiking or climbing, grab a coffee/drink, play some video games, attend a festival, whatever). Hang out with them, meet their other friends, make acquaintances of their other friends, rinse and repeat.

    • Kyle Strand says:

      My experience has been very similar. One issue I’ve found with this approach is that my core friend group has changed on an almost yearly basis. This is perhaps due to other factors, though.

    • LPSP says:

      I think the key thing is that you proceed to hang out with said full friends ingroup and get along perfectly well while you’re there.

      Whereas young Scott was trying to make his attempted friends *HIS* friends, like a new bestie you hang out with alone.

      Part of this is Scott’s intense character – he feels the need to have deeply personal friendships – but I see the commonality.

    • JuanPeron says:

      Not only have I used this method, I’ve explicitly used it.

      I’ve made most of my friends unconsciously, associating with people when it happens easily and ending up friends eventually. A number of my closest, longest-term friendships, though, have come from realizing “this person is super interesting, I will go out of my way to befriend them!” I’m something like 3/3 on ending up with really close friends this way, so it seems like there’s some variation where it works.

      Of course, I’m also a half-member of tons of groups, so it may be that we’re doing something a bit uncommon with this.

  3. Jaearess says:

    Is “the late Thomas Sowell” a joke I don’t get? As far as I know (and I just Googled to be sure,) Thomas Sowell is still alive.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Weird, I distinctly remember his death.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I’m trying to guess who you could possibly be thinking of. I can’t think of any major conservatives (black or not) who have died recently except Scalia.

        • I know Scott made the same mistake with Thomas Schelling (also still alive) a while back. Maybe he just has trouble remembering whether economists named Thomas are alive or not?

          Scott, if you reading this: Piketty = Alive; Malthus = Dead.

          • JuanPeron says:

            No, it’s exclusively “Thomas S*”. So he’s fine with Piketty, but Thomas Szasz still gives him trouble.

        • Anonymous says:

          Oh yes, I’m so glad there’s an actual term for this thing.

        • Nornagest says:

          The only thing on that list that I have clear alternate memories of is Jiffy peanut butter. Which is weird, but we all know memory is unreliable.

        • 27chaos says:

          None of those bother me except the Lindbergh baby, which bothers me a lot.

        • stillnotking says:

          That Henry VIII turkey leg portrait is seriously creeping me out. I have a very clear visual memory of such a portrait in the Holbein style, and no explanation for how that’s possible given the apparent fact that Holbein never painted one.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I have a distinct memory of a television commercial which featured an animation based closely on the Holbein portrait, but with Henry eating a succession of turkey legs while the Herman’s Hermits song “I’m Henry the 8th I am” played in the background. I think it would have aired some time in the late 80s or early 90s. I have no idea what the commercial was for.

          Someone in the comments of the Major Memories page linked to a Pepto-Bismal commercial from 1980, but that’s definitely not the one I’m thinking of.

        • jes5199 says:

          The thing that I find striking about that list is that while the false memories that I have myself are weird and striking, the ones that I don’t have mostly look like obvious mistakes of simplification – quirks removed, spellings simplified, conditions made more usual-seeming, consequences more direct.

          I can’t explain the Henry VIII thing, though.

        • JDG1980 says:

          The explanation for Berenst[e/a]in Bears seems pretty straightforward: there are a lot of people in the U.S. with Germanic last names ending in “-stein”, not so much with “-stain”. Thus, people just sort of assume that Stan and Jan’s surname followed the usual rules, which for whatever reason (Ellis Island clerical error?) it didn’t.

          Regarding Henry VIII and the turkey leg: There used to be a tourist attraction in Orlando called King Henry’s Feast. They served chicken (on drumsticks?) and ribs buffet-style while a dinner show was performed. Maybe some of the advertising materials featured “King Henry” eating a drumstick? It would then be easy for someone to mix that advertising up in their mind with the famous Holbein portrait. I know they used to run TV commercials all the time down here, but don’t recall the specific content of these commercials.

          Oh, and the explanation for remembering deleted movie scenes is probably pretty simple: it’s from the novelizations. Often, the novelization of a film is based on an earlier variant of the script, and thus contains scenes that the final theatrical release of the film doesn’t. I know that was the case with both Terminator 2 and Back to the Future.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Theres a well known portrait of Henry, and a well known movie, The Private Life of Henry VIII, featuring Charles Laughton, as the monarch, in a chicken-guzzlng scene. Presumably, people are simply combining the two.

        • Deiseach says:

          I am pretty sure I saw a brand of peanut butter called “Jiffy” which is odd since this says it never existed.

          And the Lindbergh baby was found? I was sure they never did find it!

          I’ve also had the experience of discovering “So and so is alive” when I’ve been positive I’ve heard their death reported on the news years previously. (This is different from hearing “So and so is alive” and going “Still? I was sure they must have died ages ago!”)

        • The Nybbler says:

          The problem with the movie thing is references to Henry VIII and the turkey leg don’t appear until the mid 1980s, and the movie was from 1933. I suspect there was a parody of some sort, based on the movie scene and/or the portrait, that just hasn’t been found.

          “Jiffy” peanut butter is probably just mental conflation of “Jif” and “Skippy”.

          The one which bothers me is “Mirror, mirror”. I am certain I remember an animated treatment of Snow White where she asks “Mirror, mirror”.

          I though it might be a Looney Tunes but all I can find there is “Coal Black” and a parody where the witch asks “Who is the ugliest of them all”?

        • onyomi says:

          Though I don’t think I have any false memories of celebrity death news, I do often hear of the death of a celebrity only to think “so-and-so was still alive?!” That is, though I never remember explicitly hearing of their death, I just assume they had been dead for a long time.

          Shirley Temple is one such example. Probably because she was so young when she achieved fame but my brain assumes anyone in movies of that era is long dead. Also, she certainly didn’t maintain a high profile later on.

        • onyomi says:

          Actually, what’s most disturbing about this to me is the number of people on Youtube and, presumably, elsewhere, who seem genuinely *adamant* that the best explanation for this phenomenon is actual distortions in reality rather than their own fallible brains remembering things the way they seemed they should be, rather than as they were.

        • John Salvatier says:

          Have you been to the Seattle EA or Rationality meetups?

        • I used to to see bright green areas between the clouds during sunset. Not emerald green– something like Crayola sea green, but more saturated. The clouds in that area would look like islands in water.

          This would have been in northern Delaware at least into the 60s, maybe the 70s.

          I saw a little bit of the color in a sunset in Philadelphia recently.

          The most plausible explanation is pollution– there also used to be a faint light green band on the horizon back then. The other part of a boring explanation is that I’m more interested in sunsets and colors than most people.

          I posted about this on facebook. A school friend remembered the green in the sunsets. My sister (two years younger) didn’t remember it.

        • Julie K says:

          > Ellis Island clerical error?

          Nope.
          Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was)

          (Well, unless all those family stories actually slipped in from a parallel universe…)

        • Anonymous says:

          Sweet cheese on crackers, Tiananmen Square. I thought the whole reason China’s government was being painted as evil was precisely because they didn’t care about the guy who stepped in front of the tanks. I remember that. Incorrectly, apparently. Ditto for King Henry’s turkey leg, chartreuse, and “mirror, mirror”, but for some reason none of those bother me.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          @JDG1980:

          Thus, people just sort of assume that Stan and Jan’s surname followed the usual rules, which for whatever reason (Ellis Island clerical error?) it didn’t.

          I think that the -stain ending might well be because the name went via Cyrillic -штайн at some point.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Not many living people have seen the 1933 movie, but it was very popular in its day, and the drumstick-noshing scene was reproduced in comedy sketches and cartoons,

        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          Isn’t that slightly too far north for that? 🙂
          http://www.obooksbooks.com/2015/3977_2.html

        • Jesse M. says:

          @The Nybbler: ‘The one which bothers me is “Mirror, mirror”. I am certain I remember an animated treatment of Snow White where she asks “Mirror, mirror”.’

          I don’t know about animated versions, but there are plenty of written versions that say “mirror, mirror”, like the English translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. So it’s possible those of us who remember “mirror, mirror” either read it somewhere or heard people in real life repeating this version of the phrase which originated in a written version, and just transposed the memory onto whatever animated version we’ve seen.

        • Jesse M. says:

          @27chaos: ‘None of those bother me except the Lindbergh baby, which bothers me a lot.’

          Maybe you just had a sort of general memory that “it didn’t end well”, and so if your memory of the details was fuzzy you assumed this meant the baby was never found, as opposed to them finding a dead body.

        • youzicha says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz, I guess the sky isn’t green during sunset, but it’s very common that it turns Crayola sea green in the evening afterwards, when the sun is just below the horizon. (I guess it depends on your lattitude and season as well). Maybe you’re just remembering that?

        • onyomi says:

          “Maybe you just had a sort of general memory that “it didn’t end well”

          I think there is also a general preference for open-ended mystery over grim finality. “Missing person never found” is a juicier story than “missing person found dead in a ditch.” Presumably the search was also reported on more breathlessly and over a longer period of time than the discovery of the body. Even not having been born at the time, it also came down to me that the missing part was the salient point. I don’t actually recall hearing that the baby had never been found, but I think I sort of assumed it, because that is, in some ways, a more interesting story.

          I also remember mistakenly believing for a while, for example, the one about Agatha Christie, probably because “old mystery writer disappears without a trace and is never hear from again,” is a better story than “young mystery writer goes off somewhere for a few weeks and returns to wonder what all the fuss is about.”

          In a pre-Google world we are also all vulnerable to what some random friend tells you; and mysteries make better stories.

        • youzicha, as far as I can remember, the sun would be above the horizon but obscured by clouds. The clouds would be more orange than pink.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Nancy Lebovitz
          https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29090/29090-h/29090-h.htm#stcvol1_Page_362
          All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
          Have I been gazing on the western sky,
          And its peculiar tint of yellow green:
          And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye! 30
          And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
          That give away their motion to the stars;
          Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
          Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
          Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew 35
          In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;
          I see them all so excellently fair,
          I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!
          [365]
          III
          My genial spirits fail;
          And what can these avail 40
          To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
          It were a vain endeavour,
          Though I should gaze for ever
          On that green light that lingers in the west:
          I may not hope from outward forms to win
          The passion and the Life, whose fountains are within.

        • JuanPeron says:

          @27Chaos and @stillnotking

          Those are the only two that seriously struck me.

          The Lindbergh baby I could have told you was never found with some confidence, but I’ll chalk that up to mis-remembering “never fully solved” as “never found”.

          The portrait of Henry VIII? Shit. Not only do I remember it, I remembered the turkey leg in his left hand. I remembered the opulent goblet before I saw it in the description. I remembered the Holbein colors and style, though I didn’t know the painter’s name. I haven’t seen any of the things people are claiming as sources, and I buy the “those are references to the painting” claim.

          How the hell does that happen? It’s not an inaccurate memory of a real thing, its a detailed memory of a work that has apparently never existed.

        • houseboatonstyx, thank you, but that sounds like something completely different from what I remember.

          I’m not talking about a green light lingering in the west, I’m talking about bright green areas as part of the gaudiest sequence of a sunset.

          Imagine green lakes with orange-pink clouds as shores and islands.

        • keranih says:

          @ Nancy –

          I am assuming that this green flash is not what you’re thinking of – is that right?

        • Thanks for checking– the green flash is absolutely not what I’m thinking of. I’ve very rarely been any place flat enough to have a chance of seeing it.

          Planets can green flash, too. description of dramatic color sequence from Venus

        • @Nancy et al, one possible explanation for any apparent discrepancy might be the “dress color illusion”, i.e., two normally-sighted people can look at the same thing and see different colours. And I’m told normal human vision is remarkably sensitive to what are (objectively speaking) very small variations in colour, which can be very difficult to pick up with a camera.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Nancy
          I’m talking about bright green areas as part of the gaudiest sequence of a sunset.
          Imagine green lakes with orange-pink clouds as shores and islands.

          Pink clouds as shores and islands in very soft green ‘water’ I’ve seen — but it was never a bright gaudy green. Offhand I wonder if there could be an after-image effect: the bright orange-pink making a gentle green look brighter.

        • houseboatonstyx, it’s possible that I’ve got more sensitivity than most to that shade of green, or that it actually was brighter when I saw it.

          If it won’t compromise your anonymity, when/where did you see it?

    • CatCube says:

      The instant I saw that I tabbed away, worried I had missed the news.

  4. Vox Imperatoris says:

    Also at some point, I’m not exactly sure how, most of the Sunni ended up in Arabia and most of the Shia ended up in Iraq, after which I think some pre-existing Iraqi vs. Arab cultural differences got absorbed into the Sunni/Shia mix too.

    There are a lot of Shiites in Iraq, but I think you meant to say “Iran” here. At least when you’re talking about “Iraqi vs. Arab” differences (Iraqis are Arabs—mostly, anyway).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think in the beginning it was more of an Iraqi thing – that’s why all of their holy sites are in Iraq. And at the time, Iraq had a very complicated and different non-Arab culture.

      I’ve changed it to “Iraq and Iran” to clarify.

      • jeorgun says:

        ‘At the time’ was back in the 6-700s, though. If anything I’d argue that Iraqi culture contributed more to Sunni culture, through the Abbasids, than to Shia— for instance, IIRC they were the ones who introduced the burqa into Islam.

        In any case, the Sunni/Shia divide was much less intense before the astonishingly bloody, centuries-long conflict between the Ottomans and Safavids, and Shia culture today is definitely dominated by Iran.

        • Fatimids vs Abbasids was earlier and substantial. And, earlier still, the Abbasids defeated the Umayyads in part by appealing to the Shia, although they never delivered.

          • jeorgun says:

            Sure— I don’t mean the conflict started with the Safavids— but during the centuries between the Fatimids and Ismail I, the conflict had become substantially muted. It wasn’t until his mass conversions (and resulting massacres and wars) that the conflict reached anything like its current level of belligerence.

          • jeorgun says:

            Aside: what the heck? I managed to use “the conflict” three times in two sentences. Why do my comments always have these egregious grammar mistakes that I completely miss when writing them, despite being totally obvious after the fact?

          • Anonymous says:

            @jeorgun

            Is clumsy wording a grammar mistake?

            Is mistakenly calling clumsy wording a grammar mistake a grammar mistake?

          • jeorgun says:

            For once it was actually intentional! The clumsy wording isn’t actually ungrammatical, but my general grievance is more with the actual stupid grammatical errors that I always seem to come up with.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        It’s a lot more complicated and weirder than that. Indeed, it’s almost fractally complicated; every time you think you understand it, you find a new layer of complication.

        After the death of Ali in 661, most of the Shia outside Arabia were in the east (ie Iraq) rather than the west (ie Syria). Arabia was (and is) much more mixed than the rest of the Islamic world.

        This is why the second Fitna (Sunni-Shia war) of 680-692 had the shape it did of Alids (the future Shia) in the east and Ummayads (the Sunni Caliphal dynasty) in the West.

        After this the Shia dispersed, and their next successful state was Idrisid Morocco in 788, then Fatimid Egypt in 909 – which eventually conquered all of Muslim Africa.

        The association of Shia with Iran rather than Africa came after the Mongol invasions, which had shattered all the states of the Middle East and resulted in complete reconstruction of the Muslim state-system.

        It was only after that that the Safavid state in Iran really set about pulling in Shia – and the association of Shia with Safavids, and reciprocally of Sunni with their rival Ottomans really drove the division within the regions of their power.

        In Southern Arabia (modern Yemen and Oman), in much of India, and in the Mahgreb, mixed Sunni and Shia populations survived to the modern era, and those are also the main areas where non-Twelver Shia survive – and Ismaili and Zaidiyya are very different from Twelvers, and really don’t fit into Iran well when they flee there from Sunni persecution.

        Iraq was much more geographically split between Shia and Sunni before Saddam, and that has been coming back over the last decade since he fell. If it weren’t that both claim Baghdad, then two states might have evolved at some point … or might still.

    • Alexp says:

      Iirc, Egypt was predominantly Shia until Saladin almost single handely changed that.

      Not sure how it changes the analysis, but it’s interesting.

      • Egypt was under a Shia dynasty (Fatamid) which was falling apart, and Saladin picked up the pieces. But I’m not sure how much of the population was Shia.

        And they were Seveners. My impression is that the Twelvers, who currently dominate Iran, are in many ways closer to the Sunni than to the Seveners, even though both count as Shia.

  5. Tom Scharf says:

    The main part of tribalism seems to be as much about who you consider the out group as who is the in group. Anti-tribalism seems to rule the day in American culture lately. Sport rivalries revolve around * hating * your arch-rival, even though you literally know not one person from the other school.

    I love college football, follow my favorite team religiously, and absolutely hate our arch rivals. It ruins my day when they get upset and makes my day when they over perform. It is totally irrational, I recognize it as irrational, but I love it anyway and I don’t care what anyone thinks, especially if you are from my most hated school, you loser. Sometimes you just need to turn your rational brain off for a while and enjoy ridiculous frivolous emotional attachment.

    • brad says:

      I had a different experience. Our biggest rivals were down the road 10 miles or so. During basketball games we’d come up with nasty cheers. We’d cheer for other teams playing them, and so on. But when I actually met people in my current city from that school, after some good natured ribbing, having spent four years in that city was something we had in common. They aren’t a real out-group; it’s make believe and all in good fun. At least for me.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Right.

        These kind of loyalties tend to be concentric.

        I noticed this when I was 6 and watching the major league baseball All Star game at my cousins’ house in Minnesota in 1965. I was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and hated the San Francisco Giants’ Juan Marichal and feared their Willie McCovey (granted, Willie Mays was on a different level and had to be admired even by somebody as tribal as myself).

        But the Twin Cities are an American League city and the MLB All-Star Game is played between the American League and the National League. So, I naturally rooted for the National League team, including Marichal and McCovey.

        Similarly, in 1965 when I was 6 I became a UCLA fan and rooted for them to beat their Los Angeles crosstown rivals USC. But when I went off to college to Rice U. in Houston, I immediately had no problem rooting for USC in years when UCLA wasn’t very good.

        • onyomi says:

          This reminds me of the “rivalry” which exists between Yale and Harvard. They make fun of one another mercilessly, but actually like/respect each other, especially with respect to other schools. It does feel like a concentric circle effect: if you are in a group of only Yale and Harvard students then you must love your fellow Yalie/Harvardian and scoff at the other. But introduce some people from Cornell and it may become Yale/Harvard v. Cornell. Introduce some non-Ivy league school and it becomes Ivy League v. Non-Ivy League, etc.

        • The traditional legal system of Somaliland does this in an organized fashion, complete with contracts specifying intragroup obligations. A system of nested groups increasing in size and decreasing in closeness as you go up. Membership defined in part by agnatic kinship, in part by contract.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Immigrant neighborhoods in the U.S. tend to attract mortal enemies from back home — Ethiopians and Eritreans, Armenians and Azeris, etc., — because they all want to shop at the same ethnic grocery store.

          I first noticed this in the 1970s when Beverly Hills started filling up with rich Muslims.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Also the case in other countries- I am aware of shops in London run by Greek and Turkish Cypriots working in partnership.

          • LPSP says:

            The most striking observation I made of the copious Lithuanian student body in York was the near-unanimous contempt for Poles.

            Weirdly, it wasn’t mutual.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Same. I’m a fan of my hometown Kansas City Royals, an American League team. I hate the Yankees and everything they stand for (due to some intense playoff contests through the late 70’s), also an American League team. But naturally in the All-Star Game I root for the Yankee All-Star players against Those Bastards in the National League, every time.

      • Anatoly says:

        >But when I actually met people in my current city from that school, after some good natured ribbing, having spent four years in that city was something we had in common.

        The extreme version of this is Squaring the Circle.

      • Civilis says:

        On thinking about it I wonder, to what degree do we owe our relatively calm (by historical standards) heterogeneous society to sports, specifically professional or televised?

        Pro team sports give people an obvious visible cultural signal they can and are encouraged to display to signify group membership, yet it’s one that at the end of the day that people (Americans, at least; see the 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras) recognize is ultimately not worth getting violent over? If you see someone wearing the team colors on game day, you know he’s in your group, and you have one major interest in common.

        • Nicholas says:

          Americans do sometimes riot or engage in racist mimicry that they wouldn’t ordinarily, on the basis of it being about their sports team(s).

    • Vamair says:

      I’ve got a similar experience when I deliberately went to some anti-evolutionist forums to find someone to hate. I don’t know if this “that’s my favorite enemy, it’s really fun to hate them, I hope they’ll be okay” emotion has a name. Kismesissitude?

      • LPSP says:

        Only if you plan to mate with them, while mating a seperate, friendly conjugal romance.

    • LPSP says:

      I’d say as much.

      First comes the negative definition of the outgroup – “Cussers, Idolaters, Degenerates, Weaklings” – and THEN comes the contrasting – “well WE’RE well-mannered, pious, pure, strong”.

      People build the walls around an ingroup to protect themselves from the Dreaded Outgroup. Nothing unites people like a common foe. (That’s why Fnargl works out.)

  6. I thought you had misspelled camaraderie, but then I found this: http://grammarist.com/spelling/camaraderie-vs-comradery/

  7. Pku says:

    It seems like we’re also getting a “protestant rationalist” tribe that’s based around the belief that Scott Alexander is the rightful caliph, in the sense that whenever I meet people who read this blog IRL I get a really strong shared-tribal-bond feeling (which is somewhat discomfiting, since I’m not used to strong feelings of tribal bonds).

    I don’t get that as much online though (and I wonder if it’s just me) – there are a bunch of standard potential reasons, like maybe it’s harder to trust people in a blog-commenting interaction format, or maybe it’s my bad experiences in internet communities subtly influencing me. But I suspect a lot of it is that when Scott explicitly tries to steelman opposition opinions and the like, it’s working directly against his tribalistic instincts, which extends to suppressing tribalism among the readers.

    • LCL says:

      I think it’s an effect of the commenting interface: lack of upvoting limits the sense of shared norms and thinking styles.

      Because I do get a much stronger sense of tribal bonds reading comments on the old Less Wrong threads. I think it’s because the interface there:
      1) Shows upvote counts, which correlate well with my own judgment about the comments. Thereby demonstrating to me that other community members share my opinion about what constitutes a good comment, and
      2) Hides all but the best/most relevant comments, creating the illusion of greater uniformity in norms and styles than really exists.

      This interface does neither, which probably hinders both the discovery of tribal commonality and the expression of it once discovered. I got the impression that was an intentional decision by Scott, related to preserving diversity of thought and audience. I wonder if this post reflects a potential change of opinion.

      ETA: I actually said, out loud, a couple hours after discovering the (by then already outdated) LW forums – “Oh – my people! I didn’t even realize I *had* a people.”

      • I’m wondering whether the difficulty of finding old comments and the way the commentariat keeps re-forming around new posts makes it harder to have continuity.

        On the other hand, most communities are face-to-face and only have memories and no other records.

        • Viliam says:

          On the other hand, most communities are face-to-face and only have memories and no other records.

          But in those communities the old members often know each other, and sometimes sit apart at their own table.

          The analogy on LW would be having a special sub available only to the elite, where the elite would be defined recursively as “the LW members hand-picked by the existing elite” starting from Eliezer.

          • Reformed Vox Hater says:

            The analogy on LW would be having a special sub available only to the elite, where the elite would be defined recursively as “the LW members hand-picked by the existing elite” starting from Eliezer.

            Question: if someone created an online forum that actually let you do that, and thus fight back against the “atomized nature of modern society” etc., would that be a good or bad thing?

          • suntzuanime says:

            There have been forums created along similar lines. They tend to blow up due to drama but are wistfully recalled afterwards.

      • Quixote says:

        I would have upvoted this.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Upvoting might be OK, but when you add downvotes the shout down police form death squads and feel it is their obligation to enforce the imaginary consensus. I prefer the neither form, having to make your own mind up about a comments quality.

        But I also don’t have time to parse 100’s of comments either, so we live in an imperfect world. I would prefer the ability to collapse tree nodes and to whitelist certain people for highlighting.

        • Bakkot says:

          The ability to collapse subthreads has been present a good while now – that’s what the ‘hide’ button does. Or do you mean something else?

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Wow. I never saw that. Duh. I think everything but the text just kind of got visually filtered out. Thanks for pointing out the blatantly obvious to a blind man.

          • Anonymous says:

            For a long time, I had never noticed that button. I noticed it first because of a helpful comment similar to the one you made here. I remember how glad I was to discover the hide button for collapsing subthreads, and I want to give you imaginary internet points for helping someone else the same way. Kudos!

    • samedi says:

      I agree. I am a Shi’i believer who is of the Party of Scott Alexander, but not Eliezer Y. (whose work leaves me cold and apathetic).

      • Anonymous says:

        I haven’t to admit the non-transitivity is a little puzzling. I really admire Scott’s writing, and Scott really admires Yudkowsky’s writing, but … yeah.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I have heard this before, in the comments of SSC. I have never heard the opposite, but there is an obvious sampling bias (SSC did not exist during the golden age o f LW, and now that LW is kill there is no place I would ever hear about someone who liked LW but dislikes SSC, because someone who dislikes SSC isn’t going to comment here).

          Has anybody heard about people who like Eliezer’s work but dislike Scott’s?

          • Alex says:

            Yes, but mostly (as far as I can tell) by virtue of an (incorrect) interpretation of Scott’s position on SJ.

          • Stezinech says:

            Remember “Testimonials for SSC”. As Alex pointed out, it’s probably the SJ-leaning crowd that is more likely to dislike SSC at the same time as liking Eliezer (in theory).

            There could be overlap with people that Scott just wrote about: those in the Atheism community advocating for SJ, particularly given the proximity of the Atheism and rationality “tribes”.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            My perception is that due to Eliezer’s more cult-y image, he’s more associated with rightist movements (by virtue of humoring their ideals), while Scott’s more public hedgings, caveats, epistemic statuses, etc., make him less caricatured.

            So my guess would be people who might call Scott a cuck would prefer Eliezer’s more rhetorically-confident writings more. (as “less beta” or something like that)

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          I agree — Scott is smart but has bad taste :).

      • Anonymous says:

        Me too.

        My impression of Less Wrong and the rationalist community is that it has more ideological conformity than here, and is less tolerant of disagreement. Perhaps you get to disagree on questions that are viewed as still open, but not on matters that the community has all agreed there is a definite obvious answer to.

        An example: veganism. My own view is that, from a utilitarian perspective, there is literally nothing wrong with killing and eating animals, for roughly the reasons Robin Hanson gives. If you think the lives of battery hens / dairy cows / etc are especially bad then perhaps you could treat them as an exception, but the basic argument seems to me to be fairly convincing, far more so than anything I’ve read in favor of veganism.

        As far as I can tell, the rationalist community consider “is it ethically correct to be vegan?” to be a solved question, with the answer being ‘yes’, no further debate on this basic point being necessary. The SSC community is divided on the matter, like on most matters. Even those with strong views in favor of one side or the other consider this issue to be something people might reasonably disagree on, and are open to hearing new arguments against their own perspective. Arguments for unpopular ideas are met by consideration and counterarguments rather than downvotes and instructions to Read The Sequences.

        That’s not to say that people here don’t view people they disagree with as being wrong, but that the community is about lively debate with one another, rather than collective agreement on a steadily-expanding set of views.

        I’d be keen to attend a SSC meetup if it were actually a SSC meetup and not a SSC/LW/EA meetup. I know Scott says not to worry about not fitting in, but I know I wouldn’t. I’d say the wrong thing and get snarled at. (Even identifying myself as the poster of this comment would probably result in a snarling.)

        • Nornagest says:

          As far as I can tell, the rationalist community consider “is it ethically correct to be vegan?” to be a solved question, with the answer being ‘yes’, no further debate on this basic point being necessary.

          I know enough rationalists who’re into paleo or other heavily carnivorous diets to call this into question.

          • Urstoff says:

            Maybe they think it’s ethically correct, but not important.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe, but absent evidence to that effect I’m not gonna assume it.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m also under the impression that the rationalist community views “it is ethically correct to donate all of your income to charity – specifically, bednets – beyond that which you need to survive” as being quite conclusively true. But nobody actually does this, not even Singer. The defense normally given is moral weakness. Presumably this applies to meat-eating too.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I went to a SSC/EA meetup and while I didn’t get snarled at, it did seem pretty pointless. They were perfectly polite about thinking veganism or whatever was a settled question but there was just too much of a mindset gap to make it a worthwhile use of an evening.

        • Deiseach says:

          As far as I can tell, the rationalist community consider “is it ethically correct to be vegan?” to be a solved question, with the answer being ‘yes’, no further debate on this basic point being necessary.

          Oh indeed, yes. That irritates me about some bloggers whom I otherwise like: meat-eating is explicitly called out as immoral (not just “a poor choice” or “industrialised factory farming has a lot wrong with it in how it operates” but wrong, bad, sinful if they believed in the notion of sin, pretty much murder as far as they’re concerned and never under any circumstances excusable. You eat meat, you are immoral, unethical and frankly evil).

          This is especially grating when they generally operate elsewise on a platform of “nobody gets to tell you what you do is wrong, you have the right to make up your own mind and your own choices, ignore any guilt tripping on the part of those who think they have The Truth” and would never, ever use that kind of thinking about something like abortion (yes, sorry for raising that vexed question): you think a foetus has moral weight, well that’s your opinion but those who don’t share it can legitimately differ on whether this procedure ends a life. Have a roast chicken for dinner and you are a murderer, no ifs ands or buts.

          • ii says:

            @Deiseach

            Your average anti-abortion activist is familiar with the facts of what it is they’re protesting. Your average meat eater has no argument for why it’s excusable to kill a farm animal but not a dog.

          • John Schilling says:

            Apples and oranges – being familiar with the facts of a dispute and having a [good] argument for one side of that dispute are two different things.

          • ii says:

            @John Schilling
            but not unrelated, the average person doesn’t believe that animals suffer from emotions like grief or have personalities or otherwise lack basic features of cognition all evidence to the contrary

          • Anonymous says:

            @ii

            I think the average meat eater thinks it’s morally fine to raise animals for meat, but is subjectively upset at the thought of eating animals that are fluffy and cute. I don’t think most believe there is a fundamental moral justification for why eating dogs is wrong, they just don’t like the idea of it.

            Note though that the claim that people consider killing dogs as immoral is not entirely true. We are fine with ‘putting to sleep’ a dog that is old or ill.

            Also, in my experience, pet owners tend to exaggerate the intelligence of their pet, so I’m not sure your second post is correct either.

        • Anon says:

          The most animal-rights affiliated group of rationalists I know, an EA group, is only about 50% vegetarian. Where are you getting this impression?

          This is kind of beside the point, but re: the Hanson article, I know of no rationalists who make the argument that meat is immoral a priori, only that the lives of factory-farmed animals are net negative and you ought not incentivize the creation of more of them.

          • Anonymous says:

            You don’t need to bring incentives into it. I don’t know whether the effect of eating the marginal animal is to incentivize meat production or to consume part of a fixed quantity of meat and so reduce the amount of meat available to everyone else. In the absence of this information, the default assumption seems to be neither: that my meat consumption will have no effect on everyone else’s in one direction or the other. But even then, if factory farm animals live net negative lives then I’m still increasing the number of factory farm animals above what it would otherwise be.

            Regarding the more general point… It seems very likely that some farm animals have net negative lives. It also seems very likely that some have net positive lives. I recall someone on SSC cite some EA-affiliated material that claimed that factory farmed chickens are an example of the former, but factory farmed beef cattle an example of the latter. There are many farms you can source meat from which are not factory farms, which target their products specially at those concerned about animal welfare. Beyond that, some meat comes from animals that simply aren’t raised in cramped factory conditions – lamb, for example.

            So given this, it seems very bizarre that the utilitarian perspective on meat-eating should be that it’s ethically correct to go vegan. Why vegan? What’s the chance that, with all this variability, the utility maximising approach is to eat zero animal products at all, rather than, say, to eat beef and lamb, don’t drink milk, buy chicken from small high-welfare farms only?

          • Anon says:

            @Anonymous:

            People are more likely to do a thing if they know other people doing it; the default assumption of you doing anything is that other people will do more of that thing.

            Re: rest of your post: it’s surprisingly hard to accurately source meat which probably did not involve a great deal of suffering to create; I know people who’ve tried. Anyway, the EAs I know acknowledge the complexity of the situation; for example, several consume dairy, since it’s probably lower suffering per unit than meat is (a dairy cow produces vastly more milk in its lifetime than a farmed cow does beef), and at least a few encourage vegetarians to consider giving up eggs in exchange for introducing chicken meat, which probably causes less suffering. Others are “bivalvegans”.

            But these complexities are, we think, much less memetically fit than mere vegetarianism or veganism. Since the goal is not to avoid doing harm but rather reduce suffering, if your actions influence others’ eating habits this is where most of the effect will come from. So it’s probably correct to optimize for memetic fitness as a first line. Hence the choice of messaging, with complexities only gotten into for people like you.

        • I’d say the wrong thing and get snarled at.

          I speak as someone who has been on LW since the OB days, has over 1000 karma, knows employees at CFAR/MIRI, has gone to dozen+ LW meetups: I don’t predict snarling, at least based on what you wrote here.

          Maybe people who read only LW get bad intuitions about what the community is actually like? Because in person, LWers seem way too nice (or, uncharitably, spineless) to snarl at anyone… well, except maybe a few (including Eliezer unfortunately?)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          This seems completely wrong to me. I eat meat. So does Eliezer. So do most people in the community I know. A look at the last LW survey confirms that fewer than 10% of LWers are vegetarian. EA is maybe a little more vegetarian, but I still don’t think anywhere near 50%.

          • Anonymous says:

            As I said somewhere above, I’m not talking about actually being vegan so much as holding the view that it is quite clearly ethically correct to be vegan. That a majority of EA folks are not vegan is not surprising to me – they don’t fulfill what they view as their obligations re: donating all excess income to bednets either.

            In your own post defending meat-eating, you argued that doing so can be morally neutral if it’s offset with extra charity donations, but didn’t question the fundamental claim that veganism is the most ethical choice.

        • Jeff says:

          It’s a weighty subject. I’m a strict vegan and have been since I was born (parents “indoctrinated” me into it I suppose), so I probably have a biased opinion on the matter, but I don’t think Hanson’s points are that convincing in total.

          I think Hanson’s point about an individual’s choice to become vegan, by itself, not resulting in increased utility for animals is probably a valid one. That is, the animal is already dead, your choice to be vegan won’t make that animal less dead, and probably won’t make any other animals less dead. So, you may as well take advantage of the situation, since not taking advantage of it isn’t by itself “righting a wrong”.

          That is probably the only argument for non-vegetarianism/non-veganism I’ve ever found somewhat convincing.

          However, his grander point about utility isn’t so simple. The subject of more existence = more utility is hotly debated and not nearly as black and white as he portrays. Especially when you consider life quality.

          Not to directly compare animals to humans, but Hanson’s point is purely that day of life * all lives = more utility. So, if you plug humans into this equation, what are the ethics surrounding, say, a small (1/8 of a square mile perhaps) isolated island where new humans are born through in vitro fertilization of women living on the island, observed experimentally for 22 years, then silently and painlessly killed on their 22nd birthday? Let’s also say the island has ample but nearly tasteless food, and no entertainment options other than the humans playing with one another. No medical services.

          It’s a matter of average vs. total utiliarianism. If you are a blanket total utiliarian, then both of these scenarios add more total utility, and so are good. Even without an additional condition like “the experimental data gathered from this carries some utility to humanity as a whole”, the creation of new human life is sufficient enough for the total utilitarian. You could expand this and create an entire constellation of new humans with poor life quality, yet since they number in the trillions, the total utility is much higher than it is on Earth.

          If you’re not a blanket total utilitarian, then you can’t accept that “more” [X] is always the better choice. Especially when life quality is particularly bad (as is the case for most meat production), but even when it’s not particularly bad. I’d also argue prematurely ending a life carries its own negative utility separate from quality of life and general non-existence, if you place any utility in longevity, aspiration, or growth (e.g. why people seem to care more when a teenager is murdered vs. when a 95-year-old is murdered).

          This is also somewhat related to the “repugnant conclusion” issue. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mere_addition_paradox)

          (Also, I obviously wouldn’t “snarl at you”, nor would other vegetarian or vegan rationalists. You might just experience some healthy debating.)

    • konshtok says:

      It more culturally appropriate to say that Yud is the incarnation of the prophet Elijah in his role as the herald of the end days while SA is the messiah of the House of Joseph who will gather the tribes to conquer the earth and free the land
      The messiah of the House of David who will bring justice and peace has not yet been revealed

      • samedi says:

        Or like, how Malcolm X spent a lot of time talking about how the Hon. Elijah Muhammad taught us this and that, but everyone was there to hear what Malcolm had to say. I know I’m not on Youtube today, decades later, to watch Elijah Muhammad videos.
        Scott Alexander is an unwilling emperor. His reticence and lack of power-seeking is a further virtue, and confirms more heavily that the Mandate of Heaven smiles upon him. He should have enough Sinology to know that like Zhao Kuangyin, the yellow (imperial) robe must and will be forced upon him, three times in the night before the cock crows.

        • Franz_Panzer says:

          Great, now you’ve brought the King in Yellow into this. Madness must surely follow.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        God, just start a church already, you clearly want to.

        • Exa says:

          Well, maybe we will!
          (Personally, I’ve been self-labeling as a member of the “cult of Elua” since I heard the phrase)
          (I feel like the only-half-joking semi-spiritual abstraction/personified entity conflation is a large part of the fun. Talking about things in a serious tone and invoking adages and proverbs and Gods (sacred mysteries/pretending to Deep Wisdom/deliberate obfuscation to magnify perceived interestingness aside, things like “The twelfth virtue, which is nameless” just really resonate for some reason) makes everything /feel/ like it has import, rather than just knowing intellectually that it does.)

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            They really resonate because of the God-shaped hole. I think rationalists should renounce God and prophets and religion, not just theism, for good.

          • Brad (the other one) says:

            >They really resonate because of the God-shaped hole. I think rationalists should renounce God and prophets and religion, not just theism, for good.

            This assumes they can.

    • LPSP says:

      I have never met someone who reads Less Wrong or SSC in real life. But if we did, I’d imagine we’d have a lot to talk about, SSC related or not. I can sense its bonding-potential.

  8. K says:

    Excellent insight. One thing I would quarrel with is that this knowledge about tribes makes you more hesitant to want to destroy a tribe you don’t agree with. It’s okay to be partial to a tribe, as you correctly point out, but then why is not also okay to enact tribal warfare? Obviously for smaller arguments you don’t literally go to war, you just try to out argue your opponents, or mock them into submission. But for bigger problems on the scale of the Nazis or ISIS, then it seems perfectly reasonable to want to raze their culture and replace it with our own, and in fact we did that exact thing with the Nazis.

    My point is just that for me what your insight has made me think is that you should be more careful that your tribal warfare is actually more than just about problems on the tribe level (Them vs Us etc), and should rather be about actual consequences or actual bad ideas.

    • Sastan says:

      A good reason to have a healthy but not heretical norm of self criticism as a founding value (or a rallying flag, or sacred value, as Scott and Haidt might put it).

      We call it Freedom of Speech in legal terms. But that’s just one example, and it is useless without the cultural norm of using it (“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!”).

  9. Vox Imperatoris says:

    I also just wanted to say I really enjoyed this one. I’d say it’s “Scott Alexander Hits” material.

    You might just be the rightly-guided caliph.

    • rictic says:

      Seconded. This gave me a fresh bag of tools to use when thinking about a variety of things I’ve been puzzling over.

    • Walter says:

      +1. This is some vintage slate star codex.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        The secret ingredient is length!

        • MasteringTheClassics says:

          You joke, but I’ve previously observed that around here length is a reasonable proxy for how much I’ll enjoy reading a post…

          • Randy M says:

            Guess I’m the odd one out, but this was the first one I thought could have used an editor. It seemed like there was a lot of background already known by everyone here if it was aimed at his in-group, but a lot of in-group details if it was aimed at a wider audience; and didn’t really get to anything new until near the end.

            But it should make a good post for restarting the discussion that bounces around the comments here often of late.

        • Simon says:

          It’s not a secret.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Nth-ed. I hope that in another four years or when Scott stops blogging (whichever happens first), RobbBB will compile a second volume (or expand his current list into a version 2.0) of The Library of Scott Alexandria, and that this post will be included in it (and that Nino will make another ebook).

      • John Schilling says:

        or when Scott stops blogging (whichever happens first)

        Possibly because God takes him out of the world to preserve him as a future Messiah? Scott being an atheist, this is going to confuse him mightily, but I say roll with it 🙂

    • Anatoly says:

      -1 here. To me, this post is Scott’s fine rhetoric without Scott’s fine explanatory power.

      1. This post likens almost all human social structures to tribes. Culture, subculture, nation, ethnicity, club, community, class, party, company, volunteer organization – all are tribes. Since everything around us involves some social structures, whenever any action or decision or attitude is aligned with a social structure, it can now be explained by “tribalism”. Since the concept ends up being so broad, it explains nearly nothing; worse, since it *feels* narrow and specific, it gives an impression of an insightful point of view.

      2. Because so many different things are called tribes, we can expect the 4-stage process (preexisting differences, rallying flag, development, dissolution) to not really work. The idea of “preexisting differences” becomes vacuous when the “tribe” assembles itself from a wide population by selection (e.g. online rationalists). Development and dissolution are just “things work until they don’t”. And a rallying flag is something that can always be found in any sort of nonrandom social structure – so again, what is its explanatory power? Notice how in the examples in the post rallying flags are such wildly different kinds of things. One “rallying flag” is who ought to have been caliph >1000 years ago, something no more than an abstruse symbol to the majority of people in the “tribes”. Another is deafness, the condition that shapes everyday life in the community and informs all its customs. And if the rallying flag changes every few decades (what’s the rallying flag of the Democratic party?), then how is it different from “current ideology”?

      3. Why use the word “tribe” and not e.g. “community”? Tribes stand in our imagination for strong ties, cohesive power. So talking about everything as a tribe encourages us to emphasize the power and the strength of the connections. But actually, the degree of commitment and the degree of loyalty everybody has to each of their “tribes” varies wildly (in particular because everyone is a member of many different ‘tribes’, another reason why the word is unhelpful). If we think of social structures in terms of tribes and tribalism, our default examples will be those where tribalism is really strong. But how strong and coercive a particular social structure is is almost the whole issue. Take Judaism. One of the surprising developments of the recent decades is how, in the US, Orthodox Judaism has been growing stronger while the more permissive Conservative and Reform movements are diminished; something which reverses previous trends. There’s a very typical situation which is the complete opposite of what Scott describes with his family – when mildly religious parents send their kids to Modern Orthodox schools and they come out much more zealous. There’s an obsession with khumra that leads to ludicrous results – e.g. portraits of very famous rabbis and their wives in early 20th century are retouched when published in religious books today because they’re not dressed modestly enough by today’s standards. Can we explain all this by tribalism? Sure we can. Can we explain the preceding trend of Judaism moving towards its milk-toast varieties like Reform? Sure we can. There’s a “generational process… by which religions dissolve”, until they don’t. It’s all about tribalism when they do, and it’s all about tribalism when they don’t.

      • Nornagest says:

        Culture, subculture, nation, ethnicity, club, community, class, party, company, volunteer organization – all are tribes. Since everything around us involves some social structures, whenever any action or decision or attitude is aligned with a social structure, it can now be explained by “tribalism”. Since the concept ends up being so broad, it explains nearly nothing; worse, since it *feels* narrow and specific, it gives an impression of an insightful point of view.

        Sure, there are tribal aspects to most if not all aspects of human endeavor. But that doesn’t mean they’re all just tribal. Tribalism explains why you keep going to your old gym instead of the one across town when you move closer to it; it does not explain why you went to the gym in the first place.

        (Unless you’re Robin Hanson.)

      • I liked the post, but this bugged me somewhat.

        Popper’s criticism of Freud came to mind–this can explain everything. It would be good to hear what would qualify as evidence against this way of thinking about things.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The tribe vs. community distinction to my mind rests upon the idea that tribes have some kind of family tree connection, either in the past or potentially in the future through intermarriage. The term “community” more implies randomness: community college. Or perhap temporary mutual self-interest: the community doesn’t want the proposed low rent apartment complex because it would lower property values.

        But then I always think in terms of family trees, which is alien to most contemporary people.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I think of tribalism as oppsitional, as needing an outgroup. Which is a failure mode if opposing isn’t what a group is supposed to be doing, like rivalry between government departments, or branches of the military.

        • samedi says:

          It’s not alien to the contemporary Middle East! Nor to most premodern societies.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        If we have separate concepts for tribal and notnribal groups, you can explain how tribal*ism* trips up the aims of a group

      • RG says:

        I agree. I think the tribal idea and the whole spectrum of groups has been developed much more extensibly by anthropologists already. For example a “normal” tribe or community has members of all ages and their “flag” is survival, while the tribe of video game players is a tribe within a bigger one that provides all their basic needs so survival becomes secondary. But in a bigger tribe, like a state, humans use different cognitive strategies to deal with others and are not the same cognitive strategies used in smaller tribes. Anyways, there are many differences that have been studied and developed in other fields of knowledge about this topic.

    • liquid8 says:

      absolutely! this is some pukkha gear right here!

  10. Anonymous says:

    On first read this seems very insightful and will enter my favourites list. Just when I was thinking that you’re dialing down the production of long essays introducing new concepts.

    EDIT: woops, vox beat me to it

  11. I think that your analysis misses one crucial history angle to think about tribes – for nearly all of human history, women weren’t allowed in them. No workplaces allowed women, no debating societies allowed women, no political bodies allowed women, women could hold no special roles in most religious organizations, etc. This ended (in America, at least), only about 40-50 years ago.

    If “conservation of tribalism” is a thing, then did the breakdown of male-only tribes by the feminist revolution lead to an uptick in tribalism elsewhere?

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Not defending sexism, etc., but this is not really true.

      Women weren’t allowed in men’s “tribes” (of certain kinds). But there were plenty of social clubs, religious groups, and even political groups for women. The really intensive political activity mostly started in the 19th century—such as temperance activism. Still, women have virtually never been completely socially alienated.

      For instance, children today aren’t allowed to do any of those things. Does that mean children don’t form “tribes”? Clearly not.

      • Anon says:

        Ah, a mention of children and tribes? This is an opportunity to post one of my favorite short essays, on the disappearance of children’s culture! : The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth.

        • CAE_Jones says:

          And now I have a new candidate for favorite short essay, too!

        • LPSP says:

          Captures the mood of my youth very accurately. I used to relish the rare walks my family took as a small child. When my parents split up at age 7, my mother didn’t have time for that, and I grew despondant and dependent on video games (heavily in fact, to the point it hurt my grades without intervention), and later the internet, no matter how crassly I engaged with it. Rediscovering walking around my late teens was something like . . . reattaching a limb from deep-freeze, and flexing it and bolstering it. It felt great.

          Traditions like Halloween and Bonfire Night exist for very good reason, as do fantastical adventure stories like Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Burning effigies of that terrorist still goes on. Not sure if I agree that today’s world is more dangerous for children (other than in a few specific areas), but interesting nevertheless.

          • LPSP says:

            It always amazes me when Americans aren’t aware of Bonfire Night. It’s such a big deal when you’re a kid in England.

      • Koldos the Shepherd says:

        This may be an artifact of patriarchy writing the history books, but I get the impression that women were still significantly less divided and more tied into a “tribe of all women”, which night have served as a mechanism to defuse tribal conflicts (you can bond with other members of gender X over “at least we are not gender Y”, and the echo chamber is disrupted by having most households contain members of different tribes).

        • Anonymous says:

          It seems to me that all muslims are one group, but saying they’re a “tribe of all muslims” wouldn’t be very accurate. Seems to be the same case there, especially since I’m more likely to know about subtypes of muslim than differences in political opinion of women in the 15th century.

          If the tribe flag becomes too weak, either the tribe gets absorbed into a bigger one or it dissolves into multiple smaller ones with stronger flags. Either way, everyone finds themselves a new tribe. In modern society we complain about atomization which seems to be a lack of (strong) tribes. Scott seems to be describing a fundamental need among all humans, although he avoids going so far as to make that claim. If this is indeed the case, patriarchy cannot affect women’s desire for forming and belonging in their own tribes any more than it can affect their desire for food and sleep.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          No, women tended to at least as tribal as men.

          • Lambert says:

            I would guess that men, looking from outside the supertribe of women, could not see all the subtribes.

      • Julie K says:

        “Fred Arnold was at the manse and walked home with me. He is the new Methodist minister’s son and very nice and clever, and would be quite handsome if it were not for his nose. He wants to enlist, but can’t because he is only seventeen. Mrs. Elliott met us as we were walking through the village and could not have looked more horrified if she caught me walking with the Kaiser himself. Mrs. Elliott detests the Methodists and all their works. Father says it is an obsession with her.”

        -L. M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside (1921)

    • NN says:

      Considering how many women have traveled great distances to join the extremely patriarchal “people who believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the rightful caliph” tribe, I’m extremely skeptical that women were excluded from tribes in pre-modern periods. I think it’s more likely that tribes in sexist/patriarchal societies simply had different roles for men and women. For example, in the aforementioned “followers of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” tribe, men go out to fight and get blown up by airstrikes while women keep house, raise children, and police the behavior of other women in the tribe’s territory.

      Looking much further back in history, women in Ancient Athens were kept cloistered to a degree not too dissimilar to women in modern Saudi Arabia. But if Athens got in a war with Sparta, do you have any doubt that the women of Athens would do as much as they could to support the war effort – for example, by running their husbands’ households while they went off to war and even encouraging men to go out and fight?

      • DavidS says:

        Aristophanes’ Lysistrata suggests precisely the opposite – women from Athens and women from Sparta league together to try to stop their husbands waging war (by refusing to sleep with them until peace is reached).

        No idea if that was based on a perception of women as being less pro-war at the time, though.

        • Protagoras says:

          It was a comedy. Likely part of the implication was that the war was so amazingly stupid and destructive that even the women could see that it shouldn’t go on. Plus the setup allowed for a lot of dirty jokes. Very little realism was intended.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The thing to remember about Lysistrata is that it is fiction. And a comedy, at that.

    • This is complete and utter nonsense. Have you never heard of the Ladies’ Auxiliary, much less a knitting circle?

      No workplaces admitted women? Who did the washing? The typing? I have a copy of a German woodcut showing a blacksmith hard at work with women in the background, pumping the bellows to feed the fire.

      Did famous women not host the French Salons of the 18th century? And how did the Aztecs function without any women in their tribe? I don’t know how the Jews got here, what with Judaism reckoned through the mother, but no women allowed in the tribe…

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Women traditionally played a huge role in European social life. Courts and salons were heavily female. The French Enlightenment, for example, played out at salons run by ladies of a certain age.

      A glance at the Old Masters paintings in any museum will show how coed was European socializing.

    • It’s a weirdly incomplete view of culture and tribe to say that only explicit political and economic activity counts as “belonging to the tribe”.

      You’re missing out on the way that most pre-modern “tribes” were actually tribes in the literal sense: groups of people who lived in the same area and reproduced together. Reproduction is a thing that requires females. Females are central to tribal survival as far as that goes; in many pre-modern tribes women were the primary transmitters of the tribe’s values and mythology as the ones who did most of the child-rearing. Heck, that’s still true today.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Right.

        One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how unrealistic about the past SJWs are becoming. Ideological assumptions about how evil and oppressive the past _must_ have been override simple reality checks such as, say, paying attention to one of the countless filmed versions of “Pride and Prejudice.”

        • Julie K says:

          I’ve noticed that discussions of Jane Austen often mention how important it was in that society for a woman to find a rich husband, while overlooking that Austen has a *lot* of male characters who, not being wealthy, need to either find a rich wife or remain single.

          • Nita says:

            In “Pride and Prejudice”, the five sisters can’t inherit their family estate because they’re women. That’s what makes their mother so anxious to marry them off. Sure, it’s a matter of social class, not life and death — but so is dropping out of high school, for example.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I may be confusing Pride and Prejudice with one of Austen’s other books but I thought that the issue was that the estate was in debt.

          • anonymous says:

            hlynkacg-

            The estate was entailed – it couldn’t be split and had to go to a male heir.

    • Caddyshadrach says:

      I would mark this as wildly inaccurate. I might even counter that there has never been a self-sustaining tribe that did not engage women. After all, men can make a settlement, but it’s not a colony until you bring in women.

      Plus, what do you think all the women were doing while the men were out tribe-ing it up? Just sitting at home feeling atomized? Even the most gender-segregated societies have intense social subgroups among men and women. And gender roles meant that women frequently worked together at common tasks delegated mostly or exclusively to women.

      Historically, women spent huge amounts of time together not only on household chores, but in economically important industries involving textiles, brewing and food preservation, both inside and outside of the home. Women also had hobbies, including crafts, card games and hunting, in which they participated together. And this is not even considering religious and cultural functions in various societies across time.

      • Women *might* be less likely to form named tribes.

      • Zip says:

        “I might even counter that there has never been a self-sustaining tribe that did not engage women.”

        This seems way too strong. How about fraternities and fraternal orders?

        Personally, I’m disappointed that forming new, explicitly male-only tribes gets you labelled a “sexist” so quickly. I’d prefer a tribe of only men to the common situation of a tribe that’s 90% male, 10% female–as a heterosexual man, I find such imbalanced gender ratios very depressing. I’d rather be part of a 100% male tribe, get a break from having to think about women, and engage in frictionless male bonding.

        • onyomi says:

          This is an interesting thought. And the difference, in my experience, between a 90-10 gender ratio and a 100-0 gender ratio is night and day. Because in the 90-10 scenario, coupling and romance actually tends to play an outsize role, because the 90 competes fiercely to sleep with the 10, usually inspiring a lot of drama. In 100-0, of course, there is no sexual drama outside possible homosexual drama.

          So, really, 100-0 and 50-50 are both quite preferable, in many ways, to 90-10. Though there are certain obvious advantages (though not only advantages) to being in the 10.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            In 100-0, of course, there is no sexual drama outside possible homosexual drama.

            So long as you are making an explicitly male-only space, you an make it explicitly heterosexual-only as well. In fact, the military integrated females decades before it let in homosexuals. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was integrated into the United States Army in 1978, while “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted in 1993 and suspended in 2011.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The US military, and every military, tried to keep out homosexuals, but it did not succeed in that to anywhere close to the degree to which they succeeded in keeping women out of the military or out of certain positions or units, and minorities out of the military or out of certain positions or units.

            The choice is not between gays or no gays, but rather between out and closeted, which means that the issue of guys worrying that other guys are lusting after them can’t be eliminated.

            This creates more drama than not banning them: there will be homosexual drama, and it will be more dramatic because it’s secret, and also there will be drama involved in worrying about secret gays, drama involved in persecution of real or imagined gays, etc.

            Take, for instance, the Cleveland Street scandal, Oscar Wilde’s trial and punishment, etc. The illegality and social unacceptability of homosexuality in Victorian England didn’t keep drama from happening – quite the opposite.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, there seems to be no practical way to keep closeted gays from being part of anything. I know gay men who “seem” more straight than me–and I am straight!

          • Jaskologist says:

            There are, however, ways of keeping them from hitting on you.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Plus, a certain sort of gay man is going to be positively attracted to a “we’re-all-men’s-men-here-no-pansies-allowed!” environment. So if you try to preserve that environment by keeping gay men out/keep gay men out to preserve such an environment, uh…

          • Nornagest says:

            I dunno. Working in tech, 90-10 is about the gender ratio I see, and there’s been very little in the way of office romance around me, either attempted or perpetrated. And I don’t think it’s because everyone’s afraid of HR, either; I think it’s because, faced with those numbers, it’s generally understood that the office is a bad place to get laid. There may also be some demographic issues involved.

            On the other hand, a friend in a different company reports almost the opposite, so maybe this is one of those things where culture can collapse into either state.

        • Wency says:

          I’m with you there.

          Though in practice, the only tribe I belong to in the real world is tabletop gamers, where the larger community has, at best, this 90-10 ratio. As much as possible, I lobby to exclude female participation, and I think the groups are enriched for it. This is a position I did not adopt in the beginning and only came to after much experience.

          Of course, with tabletop gaming, the seemingly most common form of female participant is the girlfriend who is roped into joining, or is curious about what her boyfriend does. And she invariably becomes bored and is not engaged and either drops out or brings the entire game down with her.

          But in one instance, I was in a group where there was a single, unattached, reasonably attractive woman who was extremely interested in the game. And virtually all of the men were interested in her. And she was interested in me, but I had a girlfriend. And it ended, naturally, with group disintegration.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            “As much as possible, I lobby to exclude female participation, and I think the groups are enriched for it.”

            Is there a name for the situation where you think a position is a ludicrous straw man, and then you find someone who actually holds it? It’s not quite Poe’s law, because that requires it to be funny.

          • Protagoras says:

            When I was an undergrad, I played tabletops a lot with a group that was mostly but not entirely male. There was drama, to be sure, but things did not disintegrate; I only left that group because I left the state. More recently, I’ve been playing with a group which does a lot of LARPing in addition to doing tabletops. Perhaps because of that, it’s much less male dominated (perhaps not equal, but maybe 60-40 male female), and I think the additional women make things more interesting.

          • Tibor says:

            I guess this is a problem when you’re 16, not so much afterwards. Even if there are some sexual tensions or whatnot, adults should be able to deal with that. If you can’t do that, you can have a rule “no relationships within the game group”. Also notice that if there was no way around this, gay men or lesbian women could not ever form a stable group of this sort.

          • Nornagest says:

            Funny, I’d have described tabletop as maybe the second most female-friendly geeky hobby I’ve participated in (after the MUD scene, which is closely related). Haven’t played for a few years, but every group I’ve played with has had at least a couple of women, and the ratio was often near unity.

            Admittedly, there was usually a couple or two at the table, but I haven’t seen the bored and disengaged girlfriend much.

          • Zorgon says:

            I’m in a group with three women and two men. I’m involved with one of the women and one of the other women is involved with the GM and every single person has been involved in tabletop gaming since long before we even met each other. And the group has so far lasted for nearly 2 years, surviving the loss of 3 players to natural churn and the recruitment of replacements.

            And this description is not unusual in the gamer circles I travel in.

            I therefore posit that |your| |ongoing| issues with |disruptive| |social phenomena| associated with |women| in |your games| has nothing specifically to do with women, and therefore that the cause of said issues is likely to be one of the other marked elements, or something else specific to your situation.

          • NN says:

            It probably depends on which sector of tabletop you’re talking about. War games (including sci-fi/fantasy ones like Warhammer 40k) are probably the most male-dominated sector, White Wolf games probably have the most female participants of any sector outside of “normal” board games (or least they did back in their heyday), and I imagine that DnD is somewhere in between.

          • Wency says:

            For the record, I’m mostly talking D&D and various other more obscure RPGs. I do agree women are more common in White Wolf, especially LARP, and it might be that the more balanced gender ratios have fewer problems. LARP isn’t my thing though.

            I also play wargames and other strategy games. I’ve never heard a woman express genuine interest in playing a wargame once she knows what it is. Sometimes women will join for other board games, and I think that’s OK, as it’s always more of an ad hoc group coming together than a regular group.

            I find the lack of bored girlfriends in other people’s experiences especially surprising, as it’s something I’ve run into in probably 4-5 groups in three different cities in three different regions of the US, in high school, college, and post-college life. Bored girlfriends probably filter out a bit as they get older, but I’ve still run into them in their 30s. They probably constitute 2/3 of the women I’ve ever played an RPG with. They’re an iconic archetype — there’s even one in one of the Dead Alewives D&D skits. I think for many women, RP sounds to them like something they might like, but they don’t enjoy the practice of it. Maybe many of them the women in that category later filter into White Wolf LARP once they learn about it, as that aligns more with what they’re looking for.

            So in practice, much of the “exclusion” I’m talking about is a consensus to not try to rope in a wife or girlfriend to replace a player if one moves away, but to instead go through the harder work of posting online if we don’t have anyone in our immediate network who is able to join. When I’ve posted online to recruit a player, I’ve never had a woman respond.

            And whether or not we can handle the drama is irrelevant — the purpose of the group is to have a space for men where we don’t have to deal with drama at all. There’s also a side benefit to wives and girlfriends that they know we’re a bunch of guys hanging together into all hours of the night, with no nubile young women present. In that one group with the attractive young woman, my girlfriend knew about her and was constantly wondering about her, and it didn’t help that this woman would reach out to me in texts/e-mails to discuss the game between sessions.

            For my current group, there are women at home for some and women at work for others, and for most of us, this is the only male-exclusive outlet we have. And I think that has made this group very stable and allowed deep friendships to form.

          • Nornagest says:

            D&D (2E through 4E, plus Pathfinder), Exalted, nWoD base, one oWoD Vampire game in high school, Paranoia, Eclipse Phase, various one-shots. So maybe a bit artsier and more RP-heavy on average, but we’re not talking LARP. There weren’t any girls in my group when I was playing D&D in junior high, but, you know, junior high.

            I hadn’t been thinking of wargaming, though, and sure enough that’s heavily male — I was never much into it, but I don’t know any women that are. I do have one female friend with a bunch of Warhammer 40K miniatures, but I’m pretty sure she just likes painting them.

            Also, it occurs to me that the ratio’s been steeper for the pickup games I’ve played at events.

          • Tibor says:

            @Nornagest I thought that all wargame fans generally were into it mostly for the painting and building your model battlefield. I’ve always seen it as a hobby similar to model airplanes or railroards.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I painted miniatures a lot when I was a kid, and I have probably played fewer than 10 games of W40K, which is an awful game: terribly balanced, far too complex, and I’ve heard it’s just gone downhill in recent years.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Tibor, that may be true for miniatures wargamers, but there are other kinds of wargames. Though I believe the boardgame type wargames have declined in this era of computer wargames. I’ve only been playing the computer wargames myself in recent years.

        • John Schilling says:

          People of both genders need an asexual social space from time to time, but they don’t need it all the time nor does it need to be their primary tribal identity. And it is still permissible to organize this sort of thing informally, e.g. a weekly “Girl’s Night Out”, or a “Man Cave” where the guys can retreat for beer and poker.

          It is often convenient to integrate this with one’s work environment, and this has often been done in traditionally all-male and all-female fields. It may arguably be necessary to do this in places where one is forced to socialize with one’s coworkers and only one’s coworkers for months at a time (e.g. ship crews, deployed military units, offshore oil rigs). And it can certainly cause temporary problems when a culture set up this way starts mixing genders. Or including non-traditional sexualities, for that matter.

          It probably isn’t necessary that these problems be permanent, but we are still in our first generation of really putting that to the test. E.g, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a clumsy way of dealing with the fact that deployed military units were going to now have people who theoretically to have sex with their mates but That’s Not What Our Tribal Culture Is About Shut Up. It sort of worked but wasn’t sustainable. Now we’re trying something new, and we’re adding women as well as gay men to the mix. I think it will work, but get back to me in a decade.

          For workplaces on dry land in civilized environs, deal with the disruption and set up your asexual, maybe explicitly single-gendered social environments outside of the workplace. And don’t go whining about sexism just because someone posted a “No girls allowed” sign on their social club, please, because while men and women can arrange this sort of thing informally it would be more flexible if we could in some cases institutionalize it.

          • Tibor says:

            I remember a BBC article about Spanish culinary societies which are basically “men only clubs” (it is also just “men invited by the club members and accepted by all of the members or sons of the deceased club members”). In fact, some of them sometimes tolerate women, but they are absolutely forbidden in the kitchen :))

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      This is really quite wrong. In specific times and places historically those things became male only, but this comes and goes historically. When the university system got started in Europe it was co-ed, women were kicked out much later. At the same time in Europe the workplace as much as it existed, was usually mixed gender, in fact the primary way in which the guild system discriminated against women was making women subservient to their husbands if they married a man in the same guild, which required them to be part of the same group to begin with (and a woman who married outside her guild or stayed single was getting all sorts of equal pay protections, guilds were all about equal pay). It was factorization and industrialization that caused such major gender disparities.

      I don’t think there are any religions, certainly no western religions, where women couldn’t hold special roles (you’ve heard of nuns right?), though the roles were often very segregated the same up/down trends apply. Very early Christianity had women in pastoral clerical roles (that is, a priests a monk/nun) and while I’m not sure exactly when that came back certainly it was present in the 19th century.

    • RG says:

      Human history is 200.000 years old, not 3000. There has been many tribes with women involved.

      • LHN says:

        While it goes further than three thousand years (more like five, at least in places like Mesopotamia and Egypt), once you get much past written records you’re into the realm of archeology (or paleontology), rather than history. (Whence “prehistoric”.) That said, I can’t tell if The Wackademic’s claim encompasses prehistory or not.

    • LPSP says:

      There have always been plenty of female-only groups, within and without the great institutions of their day. Nunneries are the tip of an iceberg.

      One of my grandmothers made her life moving in such circles, usually charitable and/or medicinal.

  12. Nicholas Weininger says:

    I think “cultural appropriation” is used to mean a lot of different things and one should avoid weakmanning it. Much of it is clearly what you’re talking about, but there is also a concrete and sometimes legit material complaint about people who are borrowed from never getting credit or compensation. Think of Elvis getting rich and famous while the black bluesmen who influenced him remained obscure and poor.

    • Charley says:

      I actually thought Scott’s articulation of it was pretty robust. The cultural appropriators (the rich white constitutionalists) seemed to be doing something legitimately harmful to the original participants in the culture (the rappers from the ghetto). I often scoff at the idea of cultural appropriation because Halloween costumes and dreadlocks can’t be THAT sacred, and reading that section made me a lot more sympathetic to the harm cultural appropriation might do.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think the power-dynamic does actual matter.

        So, imagine being a Jew in 1939 and seeing a bunch of “funny” Halloween costumes built around Jewish stereotypes. Or a Catholic or Jew in 1839. Or a Christian in Saudi Arabia today.

    • kaninchen says:

      There’s a difference there, in that in the case of the bluesmen we can point to individuals who are personally responsible for musical innovations which were vital to Elvis’ success. Call this “proto-plagiarism”. “Cultural appropriation” is typically about the usage of – well, a culture. It exists when there is a cultural phenomenon which no-one still active can claim to have invented but which is heavily associated with a particular tribe (e.g. Native American headdresses, rap).

      The difference between proto-plagiarism and cultural appropriation is important because it’s easy to see what’s wrong with the first: there are living people who have put in work and creativity and are not receiving due credit or recompense while other people profit from them. With cultural appropriation there’s no individual who is in this position – which is why I’m grateful to Scott for pointing out that it may nevertheless cause problems.

      Incidentally, some people are saying that the objectionability of cultural appropriation is about power dynamics. I disagree: there are ways for powerful groups to complain about outsiders taking up their tribal markers. Instead of talking about “cultural appropriation”, however, they dismiss the fakers as “nouveau riche” and “gauche”. It’s the same social dynamic, merely expressed in a different way.

    • nyccine says:

      Think of Elvis getting rich and famous while the black bluesmen who influenced him remained obscure and poor.

      Except that never happened. For one, Rock n’ Roll was already an established, popular genre by the time Elvis even started his first recordings; two, white pioneers in the rock movement predated him; and three, the influences were a two-way street, with white and black performers drawing off of country, boogie woogie, R&B, and the blues (and more) to create new sounds.

      • It seems to me that there would be more truth in saying that the black musicians of Elvis’ era didn’t get the money and respect they deserved. Elvis could have done something to promote them. However, this doesn’t mean it was especially Elvis’ fault.

      • Vorkon says:

        You might have a point here if you were talking about Rock & Roll in general, but the OP was talking specifically about Elvis. Some of Elvis’ biggest hits were covers of black artists’ work, (most notably Hound Dog, but I’m pretty sure there’s others) and he has gone on record in interviews about how he was influenced by specific black artists, and black gospel music. Saying that Elvis was not directly influenced by black musicians is a little silly; he was basically the Eminem of his day.

        That said, I think the OP is using a particularly bad example of a case where cultural appropriation caused a concrete and material loss. I mean, do you really think Big Mama Thornton would be any more famous or wealthy if Elvis had never covered Hound Dog? Of course not, and an argument could definitely be made that it only helped her. The same holds true for any of the other black musicians that influenced Elvis less directly: Elvis’ success did not make them any less successful than they would have been if Elvis had never existed.

        • nyccine says:

          Saying that Elvis was not directly influenced by black musicians is a little silly

          Nobody said that. The issue is the idea that his style of music is exclusively owed to black musicians, that “he was the Eminem of his day.” That’s one of those “everyone knows” things that’s completely wrong; it’s driven by a mistaken belief that there was a clear line between country, gospel, R&B, blues, etc. that in reality didn’t exist. Everyone was playing everyone else’s music – note that Hound Dog, which you mentioned as “black music,” was in fact written and arranged by two white guys.

          The situation then is totally incomparable to Eminem, who walked into a pre-existing genre that was exclusively the domain of blacks (so much so that with few exceptions, white performers were objects of ridicule, even undeservedly so, such as Vanilla Ice)

    • Sastan says:

      Cultural appropriation is a good and positive force, and should be lauded, not denigrated.

      Plagiarism is not. But you can’t plagiarize a culture. If Elvis stole some piece of music from some poor black dude, get yourself a law degree and a descendant, and sue his estate. If you think it is illegitimate for a white person to dare to use elements of black music in developing his own stuff, then simply know that your tribes are racial, and you believe in artistic segregation.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Sadly I think it may be a bit more complicated than that. As far as I can tell, there are people who, on seing the memes of their culture adopted by members of another culture, especially one that has a history of cruelty towards people of the first culture (or at least are using those memes with far less reverence than the first culture affords them) will experience genuine psychological anguish, whether for the reasons our host describes above or for other reasons (see here for a non-central example, with gaming culture feeling the sting of appropriation by makers of crappy movies), – that seems to be just one of the unfortunate but understandable products of the way brains work.

        But it is also true that attempting to police the mixing of memes between cultures also hurts people – both the people from outside the culture who would have enjoyed using those memes, and the people from the originating culture who might have enjoyed a bit more mainstream success if those memes had been popularised by more people from mainstream culture … and of course all the other people who would have got to enjoy the artistic and intellectual fruits of letting the memes mingle.

        Seems to me that there’s no ideal situation here, and my preferred policy is simply to say leave people alone unless they are using someone else’s memes in an obviously mocking or belittling manner. That is to say, I think I agree with your policy proposal, but I can understand where the opposition is coming from, and there is a kernel of reasonableness to it.

        • Robert Bork wrote an old law review article, part of whose argument was that the cost to someone who disapproved of pornography of someone else reading pornography (I don’t swear that was the example but I think it was) was an externality just like the cost of breathing pollution, hence that it was just as legitimate for the law to restrict pornography as to restrict pollution. That’s basically the same issue—psychic costs.

          I like to describe that as Bork writing an article explaining why he was not a libertarian–and see what happened to him.

          My response to the argument is that psychic costs are sufficiently hard to measure and easy to counterfeit that a legal system run by humans not omniscient gods should probably ignore them.

      • Nita says:

        In some cultural systems (type A), plagiarism is not a thing. Everyone is free to “borrow” from everyone else, and no one keeps track of authorship. In others (type B), plagiarism is a big transgression. Authorship is very important, and “borrowing” is allowed only with detailed acknowledgement, or even only with permission and compensation.

        This can create a one-way relationship on the boundary between type A and type B systems. Type B creators can use content from a type A community without giving back to it in either of the two ways. Disney has done a lot of this, for example — it takes from the public domain, but it doesn’t give anything back.

        • “Disney has done a lot of this, for example — it takes from the public domain, but it doesn’t give anything back.”

          I don’t think that is true. Copyright law only covers a subset of the content of art. Disney cartoons have influenced our culture and art in a variety of ways outside its coverage.

      • It’s more complicated than that– how you respond to art is shaped by its context.

        If your mind is going “kill the wabbit”, this affects your experience of Wagner.

        Is a swastika a symbol of atrocity or of a happy holiday? The Nazi use of the swastika is a clear case of cultural appropriation, and the emotional reactions are strong enough that there’s no point in telling people to just ignore them.

  13. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I was thinking a lot about tribes after the recent post which had the call for a fundraiser for a member of the tribe, and the resulting heated comment thread, and I realized that the social norms being discussed were completely alien to me.

    I thought of commenting but remembered to be two-of-three of {nice, true, necessary} (I think I’ve got the triad wrong) and just hit cancel. Which is good because my comment might have gotten me the boot.

    When I first read the post and saw that our host was inviting people to support a member of our tribe, but that this person had violated community norms, I was upset. Because that’s what a tribe does: it supports members but also enforces community norms. Those norms tend to be whatever is necessary for that particular tribe to survive.

    But when I suddenly realized that I was observing a foreign culture, like reading about a tribe in National Geographic, it all became clear. The reason I didn’t understand what was going on was because I wasn’t part of that tribe. And that’s okay. It doesn’t put a ding against either me or the person needing help that we aren’t in the same tribe. And so there was no reason to be upset: it wasn’t any violation of my tribal norms. I could regard the whole thing coolly.

    • Too Late says:

      I thought of commenting but remembered to be two-of-three of {nice, true, necessary} (I think I’ve got the triad wrong) and just hit cancel. Which is good because my comment might have gotten me the boot.

      I refrained from posting for exactly the same reason. This is called self-censorship. I have mixed feelings about it.

      • moridinamael says:

        Ironically, a well-tuned self-censorship faculty is very important to tribal membership in general.

  14. Great post.

    One thing that you seem to ignore, though, is that tribes sometimes (often?) harm their members pretty directly, going far beyond just expecting members to defend stupid beliefs, and they even force people to stay in them against their wishes.

    The most obvious example to me is the treatment of women in a fundamentalist Islamic tribe like, say, Saudi society. In this tribe, women aren’t allowed to drive or go anywhere unaccompanied. They’re more-or-less the property of men for their entire lives. Leaving this tribe, or even questioning its norms, can be punishable by death.

    It is of course the case that Saudis (both men and women) identify strongly with the norms of this tribe. Like other tribes, many of them are convinced that other norms are stupid, or even barbaric or disgusting. (Take the famous example of the Saudi argument that Western women drive because they don’t care if they’re raped: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQEeXmcWOxI.) And, many of the customs of this tribe have developed independently of their rallying cries as a collection of behaviors that allow Saudis to feel like they are part of a larger community. I.e., the ideology is not the movement.

    So, this is very much a tribe as you define it, and it serves many of the debatably worthwhile, necessary purposes of tribes, as you describe. E.g., if Saudi culture changed overnight, many Saudis would understandably feel quite upset. But, I just think so much of your post, which is reasonable and interesting when applied to gamers or rationalists or Republicans or whatever, just sounds completely absurd in the context of tribes that viciously oppress half of their members and will kill people for trying to leave.

    This makes it particularly weird that your global example tribes are Sunnis and Shias…

    And, of course, many other tribes have similarly horrible norms. One could argue that involuntary tribes are more common than voluntary tribes. Some recent other examples of extremely depressing stories from tribe members who clearly needed to be saved from their tribes: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/my-childhood-was-stolen-from-me-pupil-of-illegal-jewish-faith-school-reveals-physical-physical-abuse-a6965536.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/world/asia/indian-women-labor-work-force.html?ref=world.

    This doesn’t even consider the fact that so many tribes make it their business to kill members of other tribes because, frankly, I think most tribes are far worse for members than for non-members. Nor does it get into the thorny issue of tribal parenting–i.e., bringing children into a tribe before they’re old enough to know what it means to be a member.

  15. Sam says:

    Do tribes really need to have a specific outgroup to hate and define themselves against? I know this is the case for many of your examples, but I also see plenty of examples of groups that either stand primarily for themselves and their ideology or fight battles on multiple fronts.

    Personally, I see this as the case for some of the nuanced tribes I consider myself part of, like Christian intellectuals (found in organizations like BioLogos and the Veritas Forum), political moderates/centrists (like supporters of Kasich and Clinton), and, well, SSC readers.

    I guess my major question is whether you see such groups as less likely to succeed or last as tribes than more polarized groups.

    • Timothy Johnson says:

      I don’t think a tribe needs to have a specific outgroup, just a general narrative of what’s wrong with the world, and some sense of how to fix it.

      Intellectual groups tend to have more abstract enemies. The primary enemy for SSC readers is definitely Moloch.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Tribes only need to have something that binds them and separates them from others. It could be something as simple as geographical isolation.

      But, I think that, generally, as soon as a tribe is put into competition for limited resources, then they will start having an oppositional outgroup.

    • IMO, SSC readers definitely have an outgroup, and while they might not hate the outgroup particularly much they definitely define themselves against them.

      (The outgroup isn’t a readily-identifiable group with an agreed-upon name, I’ll give you that, but it includes, for example, Arthur Chu, and the Tumblr communists who occasionally clash with the Tumblr rationalists. Basically people who disagree with Scott’s In Favour of Niceness, Community and Civilization post.)

      • JBeshir says:

        Specifically, the left-aligned people who disagree; the right-aligned people who disagree are interesting conversation partners, offering fascinating conversations about whether murder-genocide is a good idea and acceptable response to sociocide.

        I think this is probably a “tribal alliance” thing, in that both can pick up on how the other offers support against things which are a more credible threat to them personally.

        • Nornagest says:

          Seems to me that almost the opposite is true, at least w.r.t. SSC and adjacent parts of Tumblr. (Other facets of the rationalist diaspora have other norms.) Annoying left-leaning commentators attract heated debate, both here and on Tumblr. Here, annoying right-leaning commentators get banned, because Reign of Terror. On Tumblr they get ignored.

          The asymmetrical treatment is interesting, especially offsite, but for these purposes the important part is the consequence: if you’re counting heated debates, it looks like the left is getting more flak, but if you’re counting bans, the opposite is true. This is probably how people in both wings manage to convince themselves that Scott’s secretly allied with their enemies.

          • jeorgun says:

            The original version is definitely true of the subreddit.

          • Urstoff says:

            Alternately, annoying commenters get banned, and more of those happen to be right-leaning.

          • Nornagest says:

            Nah, I feel pretty safe saying that Scott’s quicker to ban the right — he’s said as much on a number of occasions.

            Absent a ban, though, annoying rightists do seem to have a tendency to stick around longer. I’m tempted to put this down to /pol/ and the trollish character it’s inspired in the modern far right, but that might be a just-so story.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I would submit that there are still more annoying right-wing commenters than annoying left-wing commenters, despite the bans. And the latter tend to be much less persistent.

          • Frog Do says:

            I agree with Vox I. and Nornagest

          • JBeshir says:

            I’m thinking less about bans, and ignores, and more about who, when they express some wildly illiberal idea, draws a polite argument about why that’s a valid position but they disagree, and who draws an angry response about how they’re traitors to the liberal ideals of society.

            The former is perhaps not ingroup, but they’re also probably not outgroup, while the latter is probably the outgroup.

            I think this is not because anyone is a crypto-anything but probably more a matter of who is perceived as threatening and who isn’t, as well as an impulse to stand up for anyone else threatened by the same people. But it does mean that they can’t credibly claim to be merely disliking those who disagree with niceness and tolerance, or assume the kind of mantle of neutrality that that implies.

            Bans might be kinda informative but are fairly inconclusive, because of numbers and filtering and all kinds of other things going on. Ignoring someone is probably neither treating them as the Evil Outgroup nor the Ingroup, but instead just treating them as irrelevant.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think JBeshir is right about it being about threat, in large part. Average poster here is probably more scared of campus protester types than of the far-right types who show up here.

            However, the far-right types who show up here are of a particular kind – the “grim cyberpunk future where the US is a corporation and 99% of the population has sold their vote in exchange for nutritious gruel” variety, rather than the “tattoos that are illegal in Germany” variety, for instance.

            It is definitely true that some fringe ideas are better represented and better responded to than others, which is a pity.

          • Zorgon says:

            As always, which side gets more flak for being illiberal depends very much on what you consider “illiberal”. That concept is not even slightly constant between left-rationalist and right-rationalist tribes.

          • TD says:

            Some ideas will always come across worse than others. It’s more disturbing (to a humanist) to kill people for who they are (Nazism), then to kill people for what they do (Communism). Even if you are not directly calling to eliminate people, who you identify as the problem class matters; is it a class of rank that could be opted out of at any moment, or is it a class of innate identity that cannot be discarded?

      • That reminds me– I’m generally pretty civil. What doesn’t come through, I think, because it can’t be expressed civilly is that I hate lack of civility, and I generally hate people who are habitually uncivil.

      • Berna says:

        The outgroup on SSC is people who operate in what Siderea calls ‘moral mode 2’ in this series of articles: http://siderea.livejournal.com/1272731.html

        • Frog Do says:

          The biggest lie everyone tells themselves is that their mode 1 and everyone else is mode 2, going by the terminology of that blogpost. No one is universalist, not completely, not enough.

        • Theo Jones says:

          Interesting article. The same “moral mode 2” stuff probably applies as much to SJ types as Trumpers. I would generalize it to more than morality.

          Worldview 1: Knowledge (including normative knowledge) comes from a parsimonious set of universal logical principles,buffered by empiricism. These are not particular to individual subgroups of society.

          Worldview 2: Knowledge (particularly normative knowledge) is particular to group understandings. The same logical rules do not nesarrily apply to all groups. Some groups can have lesser value or different ways of knowing.

          The rationalist movement is pretty much worldview 1, and worldview 2 is its mirror image.

          • Frog Do says:

            The Christians believe in two kinds of people, the Body of Christ and the sinful World.

            The Muslims believe in the Ummah and the unblievers, the world at peace and the world at war.

            The Jews believe in Jews and Gentiles, making this sentence much shorter.

            The Rationalists believe they have achieved Universal Knowledge and Morality, and everyone else is simply Uneffective.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The Rationalists believe they have achieved Universal Knowledge and Morality, and everyone else is simply Uneffective.

            No, they don’t.

            Certainly Scott Alexander and Eliezer Yudkowsky have never endorsed such a viewpoint. That’s the whole mindset of “less wrong”.

          • Frog Do says:

            They say one thing and do another, just like everyone else. The better elements of the Sequences do contradict the lesser elements.

            Just of the top of my head: utiliatarianism, consequentialism, libertarianism, bisexuality, polyamory, queerness, New Atheism, and Effective Altruism are all Correct Answers. Correct answers that they conveniently no longer mention include cryonics, Yudkowsky’s particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Singularity, Roko’s Basilik, various AI bits, and Strong Bayesianism; again off the top of my head.

            Again, this is not to criticize rationalists for being evil or anything, the point is they are like everyone else. Pretending otherwise is pointless. Obviously I like rationalists, else I wouldn’t be here, and wouldn’t have lurked Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias back in the day, and wouldn’t have lurked SSC threes years ago and rationalist tumblr today.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Again, this is not to criticize rationalists for being evil or anything, the point is they are like everyone else. Pretending otherwise is pointless.

            This is the “everyone’s grey” fallacy.

            To say the rationalist community is not completely free of these behaviors is not to say that they are no different from anyone else. They exhibit them to lesser degrees.

          • Frog Do says:

            Like everyone else != exactly precisely the same as everyone else. I’m not saying every group is exactly alike in their tribalism, good grief, you lack reading comprehension as usual.

            “They exhibit them to lesser degrees.”

            Yes, yes, this tribe is the best, all other tribes are lesser, haven’t heard this a million times before, no sir. Back up that claim with some work shown.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Like everyone else != exactly precisely the same as everyone else. I’m not saying every group is exactly alike in their tribalism, good grief, you lack reading comprehension as usual.

            And you’re extremely rude, as usual.

            Don’t accuse me of some kind of systematic lack of reading comprehension when you continually write things that are both hostile and unclear. I’m a text-reader, not a mind-reader.

            It certainly seemed to me that you were saying the rationalist community is flawed to roughly the same degree as everyone else. “Exactly precisely the same” is neither here nor there.

            And indeed, that seems to be the clear takeaway from your very next paragraph:

            Yes, yes, this tribe is the best, all other tribes are lesser, haven’t heard this a million times before, no sir. Back up that claim with some work shown.

            What do you want, a scientific study?

            Obviously, I’m going on anecdotal evidence, contrasting this to my experiences with other online communities.

            I don’t know any “rationalists” in real life. I only heard of Scott Alexander and Yudkowsky around a year and half ago. I don’t really consider myself a part of the community. But the “core” rationalist community does seem to be better about those things than most.

            I do not include everyone in the comment section of this website under that description.

          • Frog Do says:

            I’m being as nice as possible to someone who is repeatedly maximally uncharitable. You continuely misread my posts so as to say I’m making the most idiotic claim possible given the ambiguity of the English language. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt by claiming you are being stupid, not malicious.

            My point is you have absolutely no measurement for “this tribe is better at nontribalism than this other tribe”. You’re answer should be “I don’t know”, or else it’s just tribal cheering. At least add a “in my opinion”, so we know it’s an anecdote. Cheer away, I guess, if you really want to cheer.

          • Jews believe that Gentiles should obey the Seven Laws of Noah, a fairly sensible rule set.

            Do not deny God.
            Do not blaspheme God.
            Do not murder.
            Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
            Do not steal.
            Do not eat of a live animal.
            Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            @ Frog Do
            EY’s goal is to solve morality and thinking. Given he hasn’t announced success, I have no idea why you think that rationalist believe they have the answer to that; after all, the Less Wrong crowd believes if you do have the answer to that making a Friendly AI is trivial. Unlike other groups there is an inbuilt condition to check success.

          • Frog Do says:

            The Kingdom of Heaven still isn’t at hand, either; nor has the world been renewed; nor has everyone on the planet submitted to Allah. The rationalists definitely believe there are Correct Answers, which coinciently match up with several other obvious ancestral memeplexes. They also pick and choose which Correct Answers to emphasize and which ones to wiggle out of.

            “Unlike other groups there is an inbuilt condition to check success.”
            That’s it? We’re back to cheering again?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The rationalists definitely believe there are Correct Answers,”

            The fact I believe the sky is blue does not mean I believe in Correct Answers. Rationalists do not agree on morality or what people should do with their lives.

            “They also pick and choose which Correct Answers to emphasize and which ones to wiggle out of.”

            If you make claims vague enough no one can answer them.

            “That’s it? We’re back to cheering again?”

            How is “Less Wrong’s goal is to build a friendly AI so once they do that they’ve succeed” cheering? That is EY’s goal and shared by most of the movement. It has a clear end condition and we can measure progress to it.

          • Frog Do says:

            Vox, I completely apologize for accusing you of being maximally uncharitable. I should not have made that claim before Samuel Skinner showed up in this thread to reply to every one of my posts calling me a liar while somehow managing to misread my posts even further than they are normally misread.

            (This is even mostly sincere.)

          • “EY’s goal is to solve morality and thinking. Given he hasn’t announced success, I have no idea why you think that rationalist believe they have the answer to that; after all, the Less Wrong crowd believes if you do have the answer to that making a Friendly AI is trivial.”

            The Less Wrong crowd may be less unanimous than you think.

            Solving morality and thinking would make a Friendly AI trivial, except for the AI part.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That is the thinking part, unless you are referring to the fact I forgot to mention you needed computing power to run everything. While that isn’t trivial, I think it is taken for granted the computer industry has that in the bag.

          • I don’t think it’s just takes thinking in the ordinary sense for an AI to improve its intelligence without breaking itself.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I apologize; I don’t mean in the ordinary sense. I mean in the sense that it is solved like how chess or checkers is solved. That it is understood to the extent it can be made explicit and programmable.

          • rockroy mountdefort says:

            @frog do:

            writing about christianity/judaism/islam’s explicit beliefs, comparing it to a slur of rationalism you just came up with, and defending it on the basis of “They say one thing and do another, just like everyone else” is pretty obtuse

          • Viliam says:

            Just of the top of my head: utiliatarianism, consequentialism, libertarianism, bisexuality, polyamory, queerness, New Atheism, and Effective Altruism are all Correct Answers. Correct answers that they conveniently no longer mention include cryonics, Yudkowsky’s particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Singularity, Roko’s Basilik, various AI bits, and Strong Bayesianism; again off the top of my head.

            Politics is mostly taboo at LW, and according to the survey most LW members don’t identify as libertarians.

            Most LW members are monogamous.

            Most LW members are heterosexual.

            I wonder what is your opinion on what the “Correct Answer” on Roko’s Basilisk really is. (People who dislike LW usually say that Eliezer believes that Basilisk is real; Eliezer denies it; his opponents say “but that’s why he deleted it, right?”; Eliezer says he deleted it because some members were triggered by the concept and he didn’t want to encourage inventing memetic hazards; and then his opponents say “okay, now you are just lying because we totally know that you believe in Basilisk; that’s what RationalWiki said”.) So it the “Correct Answer” what Eliezer says, or what RW says that Eliezer says, or…?

            Time to change your mind about something?

          • Frog Do says:

            @rockroy mountdefort
            If you think what I said is a slur, surely Scott’s post is a slur. We’re saying the same thing. If you think this is a slur, you’re being weak.

            @Viliam
            LW politics are obviously libertarian influenced, this isn’t really debateable to anyone who pays attention to politics.

            One of the major behavioral discussion at LW was the idea of polyhacking, because poly is the superior relationship mode.

            One of the major posts is how if there was a pill that makes you bisexual with no other consequences, you should take it to double the number of potential sexual partners, because optimization.

            My opinion on Roko’s Basilisk is that even in the LW survey, the framing is set up in a particularly awkward way. You can look at the relavent comment sections of SSC to see where this is discussed.
            No, you haven’t changed my mind. It’s time for you to Read The Sequences again.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” LW politics are obviously libertarian influenced, this isn’t really debateable to anyone who pays attention to politics.”

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/jj0/2013_survey_results/

            POLITICAL:
            Communist: 11, .7%
            Conservative: 64, 3.9%
            Liberal: 580, 35.5%
            Libertarian: 437, 26.7%
            Socialist: 502, 30.7%
            Did not answer: 42, 2.6%

            “One of the major behavioral discussion at LW was the idea of polyhacking, because poly is the superior relationship mode.”

            RELATIONSHIP STYLE:
            Prefer monogamous: 829, 50.7%
            Prefer polyamorous: 234, 14.3%
            Other: 32, 2.0%
            Uncertain/no preference: 520, 31.8%
            Did not answer: 21, 1.3%

            “One of the major posts is how if there was a pill that makes you bisexual with no other consequences, you should take it to double the number of potential sexual partners, because optimization.”

            That is covered under utilitarian consequentialism

          • Frog Do says:

            “The Ideology Is Not The Movement”

          • Jiro says:

            Eliezer says he deleted it because some members were triggered by the concept and he didn’t want to encourage inventing memetic hazards; and then his opponents say “okay, now you are just lying because we totally know that you believe in Basilisk; that’s what RationalWiki said”.

            Eliezer said that he didn’t think the Basilisk exactly as described would work–but he seems to believe that ideas similar to it would work, and that discussing the basilisk should be banned because of that.

            That’s not RationalWiki, that’s from his mouth (or keyboard), and to a non-LWer, is pretty much the same shade of crazy as saying that the Basilisk itself would work.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            @Frog
            At this point you are claiming EY’s personal beliefs define the movement. So of course EY’s personal beliefs all match EY’s personal beliefs. You’ve defined a set up where it is impossible for it to be false.

            However if you define ‘less wrong’ as just “The Sequences”, guess what?

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/1d9/doing_your_good_deed_for_the_day/

            Yes, the sequences aren’t all written by EY. That is Yvain, or you know, the writer of this blog. Notably, not a libertarian.

          • Frog Do says:

            “At this point you are claiming EY’s personal beliefs define the movement.”
            You can’t just tell lies, Sam, no matter how much you wish they were true.

            With respect to Scott, again, “the ideology is not the movement”.

          • Viliam says:

            @ Frog Do:

            You are moving the goalpost from “libertarianism, (…) are all Correct Answers” to “LW politics are obviously libertarian influenced”. I agree with the latter. Yet, as you see, the influence is unconvincing for the majority of the readers.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Viliam

            I am obviously using “libertarianism” in the ideological sense, not the tribal sense that you are using. The purpose of this artcle shows that conflating ideology with tribe is probably the wrong way to go about things. The fact that you continue to miss this point in the comment section of an article about this point is surprising to me.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Villiam not making a distinction between the “ideology” and the “movement”. He saying that you are moving the goalposts concerning the ideology.

            The first time, you said that rationalists consider libertarianism a “Correct Answer”. The most natural interpretation of that statement is that you were saying they overwhelmingly believe the claims made by libertarianism are correct.

            The second time, you said that rationalists are “libertarian influenced”. That is a very different claim about their ideological beliefs.

            And—not to go too deeply into your other insults—consider the possibility that it’s not everyone else who’s stupid and uncharitable and willfully misinterpreting you. Samuel Skinner is not the most charitable person on this site, but he’s more so than you.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Vox
            “Yet, as you see, the influence is unconvincing for the majority of the readers.”
            This is clearly still referring to the poll, which is still the tribal definition. You’re putting words in Viliam’s mouth, which really isn’t surprising at this point.

            “The most natural interpretation of that statement is that you were saying they overwhelmingly believe the claims made by libertarianism are correct.”
            No, it isn’t. Libertarians have made an enourmous number of claims about everything in every possible direction. To assume that I’ve claimed LW agrees with all of them is very, very dumb; and I repeat myself, but you’re interpreting my words in the dumbest possible fashion. I will repeat again, this is obviously not the most natural interpretation. Words are not precise code with one and only one definition that exectues according to the rules of grammar. Especially with politics.

            As for the second claim, I’ll retract the word influence, under the duress of insufferable nitpicking.

            And finally, you personally put words in my mouth, put words in other commenters mouths, are currently attacking me via identity politics because you think I am an Evil Christian for talking about the bible in repsonse to another commenter talking about the bible, previously dismissed me because you think I’m insufficently “capitalist”. Sam Skinner shows up in these comment threads to deliberately lie about what I’ve said in the past (you can see examples in this very comment section!), and demands my religious affiliation like he wants to see my damn papers.

            Plenty of other people on this site have had productive conversations with me, again, there are examples in this comment section. So no, I don’t think “everyone else” is wrong. Really, it’s just you and Samuel Skinner.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            This is like the second story of The Foundation and the ambassador.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            No, it isn’t. Libertarians have made an enourmous number of claims about everything in every possible direction. To assume that I’ve claimed LW agrees with all of them is very, very dumb; and I repeat myself, but you’re interpreting my words in the dumbest possible fashion. I will repeat again, this is obviously not the most natural interpretation. Words are not precise code with one and only one definition that exectues according to the rules of grammar. Especially with politics.

            I just don’t know what the hell to make of you. How am I supposed to read your goddamn mind and figure out that when you say “rationalists” believe “libertarianism” is a “Correct Answer”, you don’t mean to say they think it is correct ideologically but rather that they affiliate with it tribally?

            Again, you’re moving the goalposts. I never said the natural interpretation was that “rationalists” agree with the One True Libertarian Theory in every particular. I said the natural interpretation was that they believe in libertarianism—which is no doubt a broad category but does not include social democracy or what is called “liberalism” in America.

            And finally, you personally put words in my mouth, put words in other commenters mouths, are currently attacking me via identity politics because you think I am an Evil Christian for talking about the bible in repsonse to another commenter talking about the bible, previously dismissed me because you think I’m insufficently “capitalist”. Sam Skinner shows up in these comment threads to deliberately lie about what I’ve said in the past (you can see examples in this very comment section!), and demands my religious affiliation like he wants to see my damn papers.

            Well, I don’t know what to say.

            I swear that I have never intentionally put words in your mouth or any other commenter’s mouth. And I don’t think that I am exceptionally stupid or lacking in reading comprehension skills.

            I don’t know why you think I am attacking you on the basis of “identity politics”. That’s certainly out of the left field. I do not think that Christians are, in general, evil people, nor have I said that you were evil because I (mistakenly?) thought you were one.

            I did say something to the effect that you seemed to have an unspecified problem with capitalism—because you were repeatedly making objections to what I was saying that didn’t seem to me to be going in any coherent direction. And you refused to clarify, claiming that I was being too obtuse to deal with.

            I don’t think that I have initiated any kind of particular hostility toward you. If I have, I apologize. I am certainly prepared to put all this aside and have civil discussions with you, if you will please try to be more clear about what you mean and not jump to accusing people of maliciously twisting your words out of context.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Vox
            I believe you that that there has been some kind of gross misunderstanding. No apology needed, truce is called, tit for tat officially restarted. Maybe we can have fruitful discussions in the future.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            In the future? You mean you are officially admitting you were wrong?

          • Frog Do says:

            @Samuel Skinner
            No, of course not, obviously. If Vox and I are talking to each other and not understanding each other, saying either of us are right or wrong is a meaningless statement, we have no idea what the other is saying. This seems to be a particular problem with me and Vox, and I do genuinely believe there is some sort of misunderstanding.

            My opinion on you hasn’t changed in the slightest. I think you are deliberately lying about my statements in some misguided attempt to launch a holy war I have repeatedly said I do not want any part of. In fact, your particular reply here hardened it even further.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “If Vox and I are talking to each other and not understanding each other, saying either of us are right or wrong is a meaningless statement, we have no idea what the other is saying.”

            Oh no, it is quite simple- you made a claim.
            “The Rationalists believe they have achieved Universal Knowledge and Morality, and everyone else is simply Uneffective.”

            Vox disagreed. I’m not seeing where you can possibly claim there is a misunderstanding. Are you retracting the original claim? Because it is blatantly clear Vox totally and unequivocally understood what you said.

            “I think you are deliberately lying about my statements in some misguided attempt to launch a holy war I have repeatedly said I do not want any part of. In fact, your particular reply here hardened it even further.”

            Yes, all your opponents are evil. In fact telling them how evil they are is totally not insanely passive aggressive, but rather a perfectly normal way to communicate.

          • Frog Do says:

            I will refrain from making any comments about what Vox thinks, given our past history.

            All my opponents are not evil. I recall opposing David Friedman and Nancy Lebovitz (to take two regular posters as examples), and I clearly don’t think they’re evil.

            You are confusing my active-aggression with passive-aggression, which continues your pattern of not really knowing what certain words mean, see sophism and solipsism in this very comment section! This is not insane, and is entirely normal human behavior; though I suspect you’re going to use the word “insane” repeatedly in the future when refering to me, in an actual instance of passive-aggression, given our past conversations.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I will refrain from making any comments about what Vox thinks, given our past history.”

            So you never are going to defend what you claimed. Because Vox disagrees with it. Okay, I disagree with it to.

            “All my opponents are not evil.”

            Disagree=/ opponent.

            “which continues your pattern of not really knowing what certain words mean, see sophism and solipsism in this very comment section! ”

            Watch as he attempts to deflect any attention to his argument by attacking completely unrelated arguments in different comment sections.

            He could of course explain how

            “The Rationalists believe they have achieved Universal Knowledge and Morality, and everyone else is simply Uneffective.”

            was somehow misunderstood. He won’t. You’ll notice that all this could have been simplified is instead of ranting Frog described how he came to said conclusion. Unfortunately he did
            “Just of the top of my head: utiliatarianism, consequentialism, libertarianism, bisexuality, polyamory, queerness, New Atheism, and Effective Altruism are all Correct Answers. ”
            “LW politics are obviously libertarian influenced, this isn’t really debateable to anyone who pays attention to politics.”

            Got it? I charitably assumed he meant something like “EY is a libertarian” or “the sequences were written by libertarians”, but no, I got called a liar. It isn’t clear what the difference between this and claiming that SSC believes Libertarianism is the Correct Answer because we have David Friedman commenting on this blog (so we are obviously libertarian inspired; he wrote the bloody book). To check, we need to see the cut off criteria- fortunately we can see the methodology in action.
            “Just of the top of my head: utiliatarianism, consequentialism, libertarianism, bisexuality, polyamory, queerness, New Atheism, and Effective Altruism are all Correct Answers. ”
            —Most LW members are monogamous.

            Most LW members are heterosexual.—
            “One of the major behavioral discussion at LW was the idea of polyhacking, because poly is the superior relationship mode.

            One of the major posts is how if there was a pill that makes you bisexual with no other consequences, you should take it to double the number of potential sexual partners, because optimization.”

            So yes, letting people of group x speak on your forum and other people with similar interests talking about it means that you think it is the Correct Answer. We should inform Scott he is now an Anarcho-libertarian as well as David Friedman that he has the ability to turn people libertarian just by being in their presence. Presumably he will only use these powers for good.

          • Nita says:

            I seem to have done more lurking than Frog Do, so here’s my authoritative opinion.

            These are indeed canonical:
            – utilitarianism
            – consequentialism
            – New Atheism
            – Effective Altruism
            – cryonics
            – quantum mechanics
            – Singularity
            – various AI bits
            – Strong Bayesianism

            These are “lifehacks” (i.e., potentially beneficial for some, not “correct” for everyone):
            – bisexuality
            – polyamory

            These are just confused:
            – queerness (what?)
            – Roko’s Basilisk (perhaps you mean “timeless decision theory”?)

            And libertarianism is N/A because the Correct Answer is “politics is the mind killer”.

            However, Nancy is right: there are a lot of rationalist “heretics” who disagree with the canon (especially cryonics, QM, Singularity and AI), and no one seems interested in kicking them out.

            Canonically, universal morality is solved only on a very high level of abstraction, which is too vague to be of practical use. But solving morality would not make a Friendly AI trivial — there’s still the problem of making the AI stick to the correct morality.

            There, questions answered, confusions cleared. Can we bury the hatchets now?

          • @ Samuel:

            Are you implying that I haven’t converted Scott yet? I’ll just have to keep working on it.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Samuel Skinner
            I will also not defend my positions against you, since you have shown that you have a very shaky grasp on the English language and confuse “I endorse [x]” and ” ‘I endorse [x]’ can be understood as a reasonable statement”, talking to you about anything serious seem relatively pointless.

            I am calling you a liar because you deliberately lied about what I’ve said multiple times in multiple other comment threads, not neccessarily this one. Do try to keep your lies straight, if you are going to be complusively dishonest.

            Out of jokes, truth! Scott is probably is significantly more anarcho-libertarian than you’d think, though I doubt he’d want to be a part of that tribe. And David Friedman as a “vampire-of-libertarians” is a great idea.

            @Nita
            Queerness is shorthand for a particular theory about gender and sexuality that is still relatively niche but popular in LW circles, to the extent that disagreeing with it publically is generally forbidden. Since certain people will take the oppurtunity to assume that I am an Evil Fascist or and Evil Christian or whatever, I will perform my ritual public “not that there’s anything wrong with that” (and I will even mean it sincerely).

            I choose Roko’s Basilisk because of the recent discussion around the LW survey. Timeless decision theory is important, but it’s not as meme-able as the Basilisk, so I assume more people are aware of the latter.

            As for politics being the mind-killer, my response is there is no neutral point of view. Every political system will claim to be common sense and not especially political when it suits them, and LW is no different. I can elaborate on this in the next Open Thread, if you’d remind me.

            I would definitely agree with there being many rationality heretics, obviously I am one of them! Though you claim to have lurked longer than me, I suspect we lurked different places for different periods of time, diluting that claim to authority somewhat. We should convene a Council of Nicea.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “These are indeed canonical:”

            Depends on the meaning of the word canonical. Also you left out the most important (which can be summed up “that which can be destroyed by Truth should be”).

            “– cryonics”

            Didn’t they give the percentage chance they think it would work? I think it was 8%.

            “– quantum mechanics”

            If you mean EY’s interpretation, no. The thread itself was filled with people who disagree.

            “– Singularity”

            Singularity is pretty undefined. As far as I’m aware the definition people use is “once we make an AI, it can design computer chips which lets it run faster, which lets it design faster, etc”. While some people invest a lot of meaning into it, others don’t.

            DF
            “Are you implying that I haven’t converted Scott yet? I’ll just have to keep working on it.”

            No, I’m saying we need to send you into North Korea to optimize the use of your powers. Libertarianism is Magic.

            Frog
            ” I will also not defend my positions against you,”

            This site is about dealing with other people’s arguments. Not them personally. We are willing to listen to far right and far left individuals as long as they are willing to make coherent arguments.

            “Queerness is shorthand for a particular theory about gender and sexuality that is still relatively niche but popular in LW circles, to the extent that disagreeing with it publically is generally forbidden”

            Does this theory have a name? Distinguishing characteristics? Any details so we can work out what the heck you mean? It is perfectly fine to be homosexual? Non straight individuals have the same amount of mental and social stability in the absence of discrimination (except for bisexuals)? Transexuals should get transhumanism?

            “As for politics being the mind-killer, my response is there is no neutral point of view.”

            Yes there is. It is called not talking about politics. Or is the chemical make up of stars a political subject? Optical illusions? The sunk cost fallacy?

          • Frog Do says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queer_theory

            Can you distinguish statements from statements about statements yet?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queer_theory

            That doesn’t make things any clearer. At all. It looks about as broad a category as feminism.

          • Nita says:

            @ Frog Do

            I don’t claim to have lurked longer. Only, uh, “moar” 😉

            @ Samuel Skinner

            you left out the most important

            Sure — I didn’t try to compile my own exhaustive list, I just classified Frog’s.

            “Cryonics” is shorthand for beliefs in the range between “cryonics is more worthy of consideration than most people think” and “signing up for cryonics is a good idea”:

            If you can afford kids at all, you can afford to sign up your kids for cryonics, and if you don’t, you are a lousy parent. I’m just back from an event where the normal parents signed their normal kids up for cryonics, and that is the way things are supposed to be and should be, and whatever excuses you’re using or thinking of right now, I don’t believe in them any more, you’re just a lousy parent.

            These beliefs are not incompatible with an 8% probability estimate. An 8% chance of immortality may be well worth the cost.

            The thread itself was filled with people who disagree.

            Like I said, there are lots of “heretics” (in quotes because they aren’t treated the way religious groups tend to treat them).

            While some people invest a lot of meaning into it, others don’t.

            When Scott talks about human values being “lifted to heaven“, what do you think he’s talking about? Who published the “FOOM debate” as an e-book, and why?

            The ideology is not the movement, but that is the ideology. The Friendly AI project is what motivated Eliezer to write all those persuasive essays about Truth, Virtues et cetera — he needed allies to save the world, so he decided to create some.

            And you can’t fully understand the LW rationality movement if you try to ignore this, just like you couldn’t understand a community inspired by Carl Sagan if you ignored things like this:
            ‘We humans are one species and this is our world. It is our responsibility to cherish it. Of all the worlds in our solar system, the only one so far as we know, graced by life.’
            ‘The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.’

          • Frog Do says:

            @Nita
            Lurking moar is always, always good.

            @Samuel Skinner
            Well, since you clearly didn’t know what it is, maybe take a while and educate yourself. It’s tradition is a lot more restrcitive than “feminism” and a lot more recent. Or not, whichever.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Nita
            ““Cryonics” is shorthand for beliefs in the range between “cryonics is more worthy of consideration than most people think” and “signing up for cryonics is a good idea””

            The first is reproducible to Baysianism because most people assign probability of zero to thing they think are unlikely. The actual dogma is “nanomachines are awesome”

            “When Scott talks about human values being “lifted to heaven“, what do you think he’s talking about? Who published the “FOOM debate” as an e-book, and why?”

            I consider hard take off and singularity independent. They share a lot of threads in common, but they are independent; you can have a hard take off even if your AI can’t build more powerful machines (like if quantum computers are impossible). You can have a singularity (where an AI speeds up the time to build new and better chips) without a hard take off. They also seem to have different subtexts- singularity is for optimism and nanomachines, hard take off is for gamekeeper testing. Less Wrong may conflate the two, but I don’t. I’m aware they consider a hard take off their number one concern.

            Frog
            “Well, since you clearly didn’t know what it is, maybe take a while and educate yourself.”

            Are you claiming LW holds all of queer theory as immutable doctrine? Because if it only holds certain things as dogma, learning about everything else is pointless.

          • Frog Do says:

            I am not claiming that, for one, everything in queer theory is not completely coherant. In fact, rationalists generally have some pretty heterodox interpretations even given this. However, since you clearly knew literally nothing about it, it might help to have some basic knowledge of the theory so you can understand the rationalist position, where it differs, etc.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If they don’t even agree with the theory, why bother? Just tell me what the LW dogma is.

            Also are you ever going to reply on libertarianism?

        • Julie K says:

          I stopped reading where she said that Trump’s base wants to murder whole populations.

          • Zorgon says:

            Ah, so there are other people who use “time to first lie” as a quality metric, then?

          • Agronomous says:

            @Julie K:

            I got a little farther than you; it was when she associated Stalin’s favorite aphorism (eggs and omelets) with Trump/Nazis that I had to give up and admit it wasn’t going to get any better.

            @Zorgon: time to first lie should follow a Poisson distribution, right?

            At the time of the 2008 financial crisis, I kind of wanted to let the investment banks go under, just to show that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Lately, I find myself wanting Trump to win the Presidency, just to show how overblown everybody’s fears about American Fascism are.

        • Tom Scharf says:

          Yes, Trump supporters are all evil racist Nazi loving fascist morons. What a great article. What incredibly compelling prose that is bound to give insights to everyone who believes….Trump supporters are all evil racist Nazi loving fascist morons….who are so incredibly inept to not even understand they are thus. I mean they don’t even know what xenophobia means, snicker, snicker.

          We all know that there is one identity group we are allowed to stereotype and broad brush, white people who live in trailer parks. Open season. They are all on meth and if they had their way slavery would be legalized again. And man are they incredibly stupid, they wouldn’t know a legitimate grievance if it bit them in the butt. They aren’t real people, they don’t love their kids, they never worked a day in their life, and they absolutely positively should not ever get to vote. If there is a fatal flaw to democracy, one only needs to visit a trailer park to find it.

          It’s incredible that this is the only identifiable group that has immoral thinking, and it’s a good thing we don’t actually have to talk to them to verify this. Let’s not get our hands filthy dirty.

          And the really funny part is how unbelievable bad they are at being the racist oppressors everyone knows they are. They are so incredibly bad at it they live.in.a.trailer.park. Any self respecting oppressor can at least find their way to exploiting a few disadvantaged minorities to get out of a trailer park, right? At least 90% of systemic and institutional racism is derived straight out of trailer parks, and I have a peer reviewed model to prove it, p = 0.0000001.

          It is perplexing that they don’t respect their betters. It is quite obvious that if one can write sentences at graduate school level that these people cannot possibly comprehend that they should overlook the sneering condescension and understand that we are only trying to help them and we understand their needs better than they do.

          I mean, of all the 0 Trump voters I know, every single one of them is a knuckle dragging racist, and I know lots of people who can say exactly the same thing, you probably know many yourself.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Does that generalize in to an argument against grassroots fascism?

          • Anthony says:

            So the thing I noticed about the Mode 1 vs Mode 2 thinking is that (s)he completely ignores the way the SJ left tries to make Mode 2 intellectually respectable. All the appeals to the unique experiences of the oppressed, all the stuff about being bad “allies”, and the entire argument that the morality of an action depends on who is doing the actiing (“blacks can’t be racist”), is explicitly justifying Mode 2 thinking.

            And I think it’s not surprising that as this toxic thinking escapes the academy into the culture, that lots of whites are figuring that if the intellectuals are saying that some people are more equal than others, then it’s ok for whites to act on that belief. And that leads, *at best*, to President Trump.

        • I put a comment on the Siderea blog suggesting that people who agree with her politics also engage in her moral mode 2, although with a different out group, and offering the commentary on the Facebook climate discussions as evidence.

          It hasn’t appeared yet. I’ll be interested to see if it does.

          • I don’t think I’ve seen your comment– I don’t think siderea does a lot of moderation, so it’s possible there was a technical glitch.

            If it’s convenient for you, could you post your comment here?

          • I don’t have comment to repost.

            It was to the effect that I thought she was mistaken in believing that people on her side of political issues were all morality 1 rather than morality 2, rather than in part having a different outgroup.

            The evidence I offered was my observation of climate arguments on facebook. Attacks on “denialists” take it for granted that they are ignorant, stupid, evil, or being paid by evil people to hold their position. Similarly in the other direction for attacks on “alarmists,” although I don’t think I have seen the suggestion that posters on that side are in the pay of forces of evil. Each side treats the other as people who are not entitled to ordinary courtesy, respect, etc., to be insulted, not taken seriously and argued with.

        • Deiseach says:

          I struggled on through the retina-searing yellow-on-purple plus blue background (yikes!) but this is the part where I stopped reading:

          In the other, Mode 2, one’s moral standard of conduct for interacting with other people by default doesn’t include all human beings – and that is considered a feature, not a bug. There is some, somewhat flexible, mental category of people to whom one owes moral conduct – but then there’s everybody else. In Mode 2, morality only applies to interactions with people in a certain set, and in dealing with people outside that set, morality doesn’t apply.

          I don’t think Mode 2 is very familiar to most of my readers, because the forces that filter who comes here mostly only admit people of the professional classes, and in that class, the second mode is deeply socially unacceptable. Mode 2 remains more acceptable in other classes, but those who function in that mode know that the professional classes feel very strongly about it, and consequently they’re mostly pretty scrupulous about not letting on, lest Mode 1 professionals ostracize them in outrage. Well, until recently.

          Well indeed, madam, sir or other. Speaking as a person not of the professional class(es), you start off with “We Americans” but that wears off fairly fast, when it turns out you mean “Those others over there, those bad Americans, not my readers, not the Good Guys who don’t think of others as “those belonging in the set of those to whom one does not owe moral conduct”, no we’re not like those not-quite-fully-human knuckledraggers who are omni-phobic over a whole range of things, the fascists!”

          Mote and beam?

          • There’s an option to read siderea’s blog in black and white, but you probably didn’t see it in all that yellow and purple. It’s at the top of the posts.

          • I noticed the option, read it in black and white.

            The fact that she posts in that sort of startling and hard to read color scheme lowers my opinion of her even before I read what she has to say. But at least she offers an option.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The fact that she posts in that sort of startling and hard to read color scheme lowers my opinion of her even before I read what she has to say.

            I had that reaction, switched to the b/w … found it hard to read … swiched back to the colors. On my screen, the colors had better contrast, were really easier than most b/w sites.

          • Tom Scharf says:

            Ah yes,

            Being in the professional class inoculates you from being an a-hole. I’m just going to go ahead and point out her own post as evidence that this isn’t true. That post is so full of contradictions and hypocrisy that it ought to be posted on The Onion.

            I’ve spent >30 years in the “professional class” and I haven’t noticed the a-hole ratio to be any different than any other class I have connected with.

            Granted that a-holes in the professional class are more sophisticated in their methods, but they tend to be just as petty per capita as any other group.

        • Anonymous says:

          I was expecting some sort of third act twist, but it never came. Now I want my money back.

          More seriously though, this piece has all the problems of the models of American society “by the way of primary color tribes” (and or the recently adopted “by the way of a two dimentional approach of one letter and one number”) while also having the additional problem of “and one of these groups (the other guys, obv) is Evil, capital E Evil, baby-munchingly evil”.

        • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

          It’s interesting that this article about it being good and right and just that social norms of decency and good conduct be extended to everyone opens with a prolonged screed about how the people voting in a way the author doesn’t like are literally nazis refraining from voting for a literally Hitler only because a LARP Hitler is the best available.

      • Anonymous says:

        IMO, SSC readers definitely have an outgroup, and while they might not hate the outgroup particularly much they definitely define themselves against them.

        (The outgroup isn’t a readily-identifiable group with an agreed-upon name, I’ll give you that,

        The outgroup for SSC commenters is the perhaps semi-imaginary group known as “social justice warriors”. Not necessarily for Scott, but it’s definitely the dominant hated enemy down here.

        • Frog Do says:

          You are allowed to say the hated enemies name, which should tell you something. Scott’s ban on certain words for certain groups definitely limits their signalling (their metaphorical burqas are banned). Not that it’s a bad thing, avoiding those groups of commenters should be a priority, but as far as general statements go.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            They aren’t a hated enemy. Scott just doesn’t want them linked to his blog through google hits; they are the people he doesn’t want outsiders all assuming he is a member of.

          • Frog Do says:

            Not letting groups signal means you are against them coordinating. Opposing their coordination is the same as weakening the group. “Hated enemy” is my preferred translation for outgroup, since it is more directly understandable by non-rationalists.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            He’s not “opposing coordination”.

            The issue is this: Scott Alexander is not far-right racist and sexist in favor of monarchy.

            But he often interacts with that community and writes things engaging with at least some of their ideas. As a result, he will be linked to by them in approval at least sometimes. That will likely result in some of those people hanging out in the comments section of this website.

            If the comments section is turned into an echo chamber for far-right racism and sexism, he is likely to be confused for one of them by casual observers. That kind of environment would also drive away everyone else, amplifying the effect.

            Such a thing would be very bad for him, since he does not want to be attacked for views he does not actually hold. While he has been explicitly against firing people for having far-right racist and sexist views and has been in favor of extending intellectual charitability to them, not everyone shares his opinion. He would not like to be fired or “no-platformed” for appearing to endorse views he does not actually endorse.

            Communists and “SJWs”, for whatever reason, tend to be much less tempted to come and troll the comments section here. When they cause trouble, they get banned as well. But Scott is in no danger of being confused for a communist or other variety of left-wing radical. So they are less of a priority for him.

            If this were the 1950s, Scott might legitimately be more worried about being blacklisted as a godless communist. Yet despite the fact that he has consistently opposed blacklisting of right-wing radicals, that doesn’t mean that he is eager to be taken for one.

          • Frog Do says:

            He is opposing coordination.

            This is a good thing, far-right racist and sexist comment sections are trash and deserve to be disrupted.

            I am aware of the extent Scott goes to spend his weirdness points judiciously.

          • Zorgon says:

            I agree with you in general, Vox, but…

            Communists and “SJWs”, for whatever reason, tend to be much less tempted to come and troll the comments section here.

            This is because SJWs are currently dominant and relatively numerous (certainly in comparison to rationalists), so there is little to be gained by coming and trolling the comments section here except warm virtue fuzzies.

            In contrast, there are very few Taboo Monsters here, so there is significantly more incentive to come and splurge all over the page.

            It’s extremely noticeable, however, that while the Taboo Monsters come here in fully combative enemy-territory mode, the SJWs come here acting affronted that anyone could possibly consider disagreeing with them about anything.

          • The Nybbler says:

            > the SJWs come here acting affronted that anyone could possibly consider disagreeing with them about anything.

            That doesn’t say anything about here; that’s a general SJW characteristic.

          • Zorgon says:

            In the spirit of charity, that’s not an “SJW” characteristic so much as a “dominant cultural paradigm” characteristic.

          • BBA says:

            SJ isn’t the dominant cultural paradigm, but it thinks it is.

          • Zorgon says:

            No, it definitely is, at least at the moment.

            I’m of the school of thought that dominant paradigms are revealed by who is or is not untouchable. You can criticise SJ’s enemies in the mainstream press, but you cannot criticise SJ itself.

            Yet. Pendulums swing, after all.

          • BBA says:

            I think we mean two different things by SJ. Jon Chait criticizes SJ-by-my-definition in New York Magazine all the time, and he hasn’t been fired for it yet (though he’s gotten some nasty pushback on Gawker).

          • Zorgon says:

            Jon Chait is protected and even he tiptoes around the subject.

            Meanwhile, and I realise this is shifting the goalposts somewhat, if I try to get an article or interview into any mainstream publication as being against the SJ response to GG, I will get no traction whatsoever, even though I’m a game developer.

            They have the dominant position right now because the establishment have found a way to make them useful. I recognise that as soon as the establishment no longer considers them useful they will be discarded like everyone else, but that is short shrift for those of us running in fear of losing our jobs if we catch the wrong eye on Twitter.

          • BBA says:

            Yeah, that’s shifting the goalposts plenty.

            Erik Kain is arguably a counterexample.

        • Anonymous says:

          From page 3:

          “Under these circumstances, there’s a motivation for those in the in-group to shove fellow in-group members back out over the membership boundary: if they’re rendered an outsider, you are permitted to subjugate them. This is true on the scale of an individual, where discrediting someone’s claim to in-group membership might effectively authorize you to kill them and take their stuff, as well as on the scale of whole groups, where the re-designation of a demographic as out-group could mean you get to kill any of them and take their stuff.

          In a society in which Mode 2 is the predominant way morality works, identity and membership and the status of groups can become – or perhaps often are – highly contested. How safe a person is in that society from fellow members turning on them has a lot to do with how secure their identity claims are. And people who have the power to determine other people’s identities have a lot of power.”

          Interestingly, I feel like a lot of commenters here would agree that, if you replace “kill and take their stuff” with “harass and shame”, that’s a pretty good description of the semi-imaginary menace (and much of the objection isn’t to the ideals of social equality, but to this “who’s in-group enough?” bickering).

      • Anon. says:

        Well, according to Scott himself his arch-enemy is Nick Land, not Chu. Not sure if that necessarily makes Landians the SSC out-group though.

        • Anonymous says:

          As I understand it, Land argues that we should create a paperclipping AI (or similar) and submit to it, on the basis that an intelligent being that is a great many times more intelligent than us is a great many times more morally worthy than us.

          If I’m right then that sounds remarkably similar to an argument I’ve heard someone else make

          (Skip to 7.6)

          • hypnosifl says:

            Land doesn’t believe AI can be programmed with basically arbitrary goals, hence he disagrees that “paperclipping AI” is a genuine danger, see his post against orthogonality”. I don’t agree with Land on much but my intuition is that he’s correct about this, see my comment on the slatestarcodex reddit here. However, even though Land does seem to think there will be some natural “attractors” in AI goalspace, my impression is he does agree with the paperclipper argument about the basic premise that the goals of AI are probably not going to be very “friendly” ones from a human point of view.

    • Sastan says:

      I believe they do. If a group is successful, and large, over time it will cycle through a great number of outgroups, often with many at the same time. Outgroups become ingroup sometimes, alliances change, but all tribes have outgroups.

  16. I know someone who left sf fandom and got involved with origami culture (they have conventions and a lot of online activity) because he preferred the way origami attracted a wider range of personalities.

    I’m an agnostic of the militant I-don’t-know-and-you-don’t-either variety. However, I don’t try much to convince other people to be agnostics, and so far as I know there’s no agnostic tribe. On the other hand, I was very annoyed when someone at LW tried to convince me that I’m really an atheist. I’m quietly pleased that the best countries to live in seem to be agnostic in effect (religious freedom) rather than hewing to a religion or to atheism.

    I’m still angry that Social Justice has made sf fandom into a place where I’m not at home the way I was– and while the rationalist community is pretty comfortable for me, it’s just not home in the same sense. At this point, I’m resigned, and I feel as though people should count their blessings if they’re in a tribe. It won’t necessarily last.

    I think race is actually a sort of pseudo-ethnicity, while much smaller groups with shared culture are how people really organize themselves.

    Vonnegut suggested artificial tribes, but I think actual social connections are needed.

    • FeepingCreature says:

      > I’m still angry that Social Justice has made sf fandom into a place where I’m not at home the way I was– and while the rationalist community is pretty comfortable for me, it’s just not home in the same sense. At this point, I’m resigned, and I feel as though people should count their blessings if they’re in a tribe. It won’t necessarily last.

      That sounds scary. Can you explain what happened there? I was never in the “SF fandom”, so I don’t have context. (Or do you refer to the Hugo drama?)

      • Nothing happened exactly, but I read a lot of racefail (it started in 2009), and it interlocked badly with my emotional habits. Obviously, I’m willing to write about it now (but this may be taking a stupid risk), but at the time, I was terrified at the idea that people thought it was moral to dump their anger on me, and I was morally obligated to not care whether they were hurting me.

        I kept my head down. Fandom used to be the place where I didn’t have to keep my head down.

        I’ve been recovering. When I have fits of self-hatred (“If I weren’t such a piece of shit, I’d kill myself”), I can pull out relatively quickly.

        Social Justice people will say that isn’t what they mean– that is, they think their intentions are magic. That might be jargon– SJWs don’t want to hear people justifying themselves by saying they meant well, but SJWs always justify what they do by their good intentions.

        Actually, in the early stages of racefail (racefail was when Social Justice (it was called anti-racism then) started taking hold in sf fandom), people would say “but that can’t work” and anti-racists would say “we don’t dare whether it works”.

        If I could either completely deny Social Justice or completely accept it, my life would be simpler. Unfortunately, I see it as pointing at some real problems, while using cruel, divisive, and sometime counterproductive method to try to solve the problems.

        • In retrospect, my degree of fear was disproportionate, not just because of the stakes, but because authors were the primary targets. There was a non-author who was something of a target, but that person had to work very hard to get the anti-racists’ attention.

          • For what it’s worth, I’m a very tangential part of fandom–occasional panel member at conventions, author of two not very successful novels. I make no secret of my views, which are very far from SJ orthodoxy, and have not as yet been targeted by anyone, continue to be invited to be on panels.

            It may be more of a problem for people for whom fandom is more “their tribe”—the nearest equivalent for me would probably be SCA—and are more prominent in fandom.

          • I have no idea how targets were chosen– some of it might have been bad luck. Also, most of the targets were women writers. I have no idea what, if anything, was going on with that.

            When I was panicking, it seemed as though the anti-racists had infinite energy and infinite malice. I expect that anyone reading this who was an anti-racist during racefail thinks that’s pretty funny. The truth is that trying to get the attention of people who don’t want to believe they’re hurting you is exhausting.

            However, I was feeling very badly outnumbered by people who were smarter than I was. I eventually concluded that they weren’t especially smarter than I am (some of them may well be), but they’d been thinking about the subject for a long time.

          • Deiseach says:

            I have really badly fallen behind in reading modern SF/Fantasy authors, but I ignore a lot of the kerfuffle on the basis of (a) I’m not American so not my circus, not my monkeys and (b) sod you, I was a fan when you lot were in nappies, you don’t get to decide if I belong or not 🙂

          • Viliam says:

            The truth is that trying to get the attention of people who don’t want to believe they’re hurting you is exhausting.

            Thanks, you have summed up my feelings about the whole ‘social justice’ stuff.

            (Except, I am not completely sure whether their belief is actually that they don’t hurt me, or that it doesn’t morally matter when they hurt me because my life doesn’t have any intrinsic value.)

          • BBA says:

            Fearful symmetry: “trying to get the attention of people who don’t want to believe they’re hurting you” reads like how anti-racists see themselves when they go after Nice White Liberals.

            I’m mostly SJ sympathetic but I don’t have the stomach for Racefail and its ilk.

          • Viliam: Groups are large, and contain multitudes. Surely the answer is “Some are actively malicious and do things because it will hurt people like you, some are indifferent and do things for reasons of their own whether or not it hurts you, and some don’t want to hurt you but want in-group bennies more.”?

            Ascribing one motive to a large group is always wrong. Heck, ascribing one motive to a single person is usually wrong.

          • Nita says:

            Oh, that. I remember seeing distant waves of it in the LJ-sphere back then.

            According to the other side’s summaries, they saw a bunch of professional writers and editors (i.e., the “cool kids”) ganging up on a black fan for daring to express her frustration at one of their ingroup members.

            And then it went tribe vs tribe, with one side getting accused of being willfully ignorant whitesplainers, and the other getting called “draggletailed loudmouths” and “nithings”.

            The two sides also got into some substantial debates along the way — “is classism way more important than racism” and such.

        • Frog Do says:

          Hey, fellow ex-sf fandom by way of Racefail, you are not the only one!

        • EyeballFrog says:

          I feel like I would understand this post better if I understood what “racefail” means in more detail.

          Also, is this in any way connected to that thing with Larry Correia and friends?

          • Evan Þ says:

            No, the Larry Correia thing is only peripherally connected. Racefail’s an example of what Correia says he’s reacting against.

          • Thanks for the link. A minor point– Verb Noire was a proposed publishing company for sf by people of color and, as I recall, homosexuals (trans people weren’t on the horizon then). It failed. I was expecting something better– some actual publishing, though with little chance of significant success unless they got very lucky with their early authors.

            Con or Bust is a successful and continuing fundraiser to help fans of color to get to sf conventions.

          • Jiro says:

            How is “fans of color” defined for that? The website doesn’t seem to have a definition and I can’t help but wonder if Asian-Americans are included.

          • I don’t have the foggiest how they define fans of color.

            I don’t know how they adjudicate it if a fan might or might not be viewed as being of color.

            Mercifully, it is on the list of things which are not my problem.

          • Deiseach says:

            How is “fans of color” defined for that?

            Looking in from the outside (and rapidly retreating), that seems to be a large part of the problem, Jiro: any definition anyone proposes has a good chance of getting shouted down by someone else as being racist, appropriative, culturally insensitive, non-inclusive enough, colonialist and White Saviour Coming In To Help Us All.

          • Jiro says:

            The problem of Asian-Americans not getting the benefits of minority status doesn’t usually bother the people who would call something racist, culturally insensitive, colonialist, etc.

          • We haven’t yet established whether Asian Americans are included in Con or Bust, so it seems a little early to be complaining that they aren’t.

          • suntzuanime says:

            But either they are or they aren’t, and either is a reason to complain. Law of the excluded middle.

          • Wikipedia includes Asian-Americans among writers of color.

            Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown) is from Malaysia and it living in Great Britain. Her book has made something of a splash.

            Aliette de Bodard isn’t on the list, but it isn’t surprising if the list is incomplete.

            In any case, we have some evidence that Asians and Asian-Americans are counted among writers of color.

          • Jiro says:

            Writers of color and fans of color aren’t the same thing. Given the concentration of Asian-Americans in STEM and the correlation between STEM and fandom, I wouldn’t be surprised if Asian-Americans are not underrepresented among fans.

            That being said, if I was a starving student and couldn’t afford to go to a con, I’d certainly try using it. (Yes, I am AA, though my name isn’t really Jiro.)

          • keranih says:

            My issue with Con or Bust is not its racist exclusionary grants, but rather its non-need-based awards. Multiple awards have gone to Ivy/near-Ivy graduates.

            In this, the Con or Bust fund raisers appear to be yet another way for fans to channel money of the gullible to the pockets of their fannish friends.

      • John Schilling says:

        I was in an overlapping section of fandom with Nancy, and left a little bit before she did. My take:

        Generally, science fiction fandom has had an ethic of tolerance that made it a comfortable place for non-militant social justice. And it had in its early history a number of bad experiences with groups thinking that fandom was a ready-made tool for its social agenda (as with atheism vs atheism plus), which made it somewhat resistant to militant social justice. This combination made for a tribe I felt very comfortable with.

        In the early oughts, the balance of power shifted as social justice became more prevalent and more militant in the rest of the world. Minor offenses and arguments that in the past would have faded in short order, instead started provoking the sort of response that earned “Social Justice Warriors” their full name. The voices of moderation and intellectual tolerance were less likely to speak out, or in some cases spoke with the SJW. And while there were some who came from outside to promote an agenda of militant social justice, too many were long-time members of the community now violating traditional community norms, against which the traditional defenses were ineffective.

        I was the target of what was, objectively, a fairly minor flareup of this in 2008, but the unilateral and asymmetric nature of the attacks and the conspicuous shortage of any defense left me feeling quite alone. It isn’t my nature to fight for acceptance in a place where I am not valued, or to value the opinions of people who mark themselves as my enemies, so I left.

        About a year later, the environment achieved criticality. The initiating event was a blog post by a white female author offering advice on how to write convincing nonwhite characters, which some people took to be inappropriate or offensive either because of the content or the author’s whiteness. Any hope that the flareup would be minor or even bounded, was proven false. Racefail ’09.

        I watched from a modest distance as a community I had called home was torn apart, and replaced by something smaller and uglier. I do still attend a few local cons where I know I can expect to find old friends lurking in the corners, and look for signs of a community that I might want to rejoin, but meh, it’s not home, it’s not warm and comfortable, it’s an exercise in reconnoitering an interesting but unfriendly territory.

        There are still good books to read, and I do that even if there isn’t a community of people to talk about them with.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Particularly dismaying (although, in retrospect, hardly surprising) is how some of the most social justicey big names in SF nowadays were primary targets of Racefail for perceived insensitivities: the Nielsen Haydens, John Scalzi, to a lesser extent Charles Stross. It didn’t take much sustained assault, even though it was by nobodies, to flip them.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          …This is pretty much a perfect description of the Gamer community, 2000-1015.

        • “I was in an overlapping section of fandom with Nancy, and left a little bit before she did.”

          I didn’t leave fandom. I’m just less happy with it.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nancy: Sorry about the misunderstanding on my part. One of the side effects of leaving fandom is that I lose track of who is still in it; I’m glad you can still find something of value there. Are there any parts that you are particularly happy with and can recommend?

          • John Schilling, I’m still in fandom because I have long connections there and I haven’t found anything that’s enough better than what’s currently in my life. I should probably be looking.

            I still go to east coast conventions. I have a lot of friends there.

            It probably isn’t obvious from my level of rage and bitterness, but I’m still a lot more compatible with moderate Social Justice than I am with conservatism. My tentative theory about why I’m a libertarian who tends to like progressives is that I did something very peculiar in a past life. This theory isn’t rationalist,but I don’t know what a sensible theory would look like.

            Evidence of where my preconceptions are is that I had no idea that siderea link would go over so badly.

            I like quite a bit at Making Light, a very fannish site which has talk about a wide range of things. However, it tends pretty left, and I’m not sure what your range of tolerance is.

            I’d only been following links to Book View Cafe, but I find that the top page has a lot I’m going to read. Like Making Light, it swings left.

            I’ll think about this– I’m not sure what else I’ve got.

          • Viliam says:

            I’m still a lot more compatible with moderate Social Justice than I am with conservatism.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if most people attacked by Social Justice are like this.

            It kinda makes sense. If your goal is to bully people online, what are your going to do with your ideological opponents? You will scream at them, they will scream at you, both sides have fun, no one wins. (You can try screaming at their employers, though. Unless they also happen to be your ideological opponents.)

            But when you scream at people with similar values, you can make them feel guilty. Even an obviously unfair accusation will hurt them. That gives you power. They may even try to apologize, in which case you just double the pressure and watch them squirm. Sweet victory! Then you can rationalize it to yourself that you only did it to make the world a better place.

          • Theo Jones says:

            Post emergence of the social justice stuff, I feel a stronger affinity with libertarians/conservatives even though my actually beliefs may be further from them.

      • J Mann says:

        I don’t know if there’s a good cataloging, but SF fandom (along with librarian conventions and who knows what else) seems to be one of the fronts where social justice is fighting hardest for systematic change. (I’m shooting for neutrality.) From what I can tell, this usually involves calling out someone for insensitivity, harassment, or creepiness, followed by a drawn out flame war. I’m specifically thinking of “WisCon: Burn it all down”, but could try to dredge up some others.

        • keranih says:

          Will Shetterly’s “How to Make a Social Justice Warrior” is a pretty acurate review of the whole decades-long mess – but definately is anti-SJW in presentation.

          (The part where I finally stopped being angry about SF & SJWs (despite occasional descents into madness and cranky bitterness) was when the WISCON leadership actually investigated and censored someone for allegedly snarking at someone else during a poetry open mike. At that point it was beyond offense and into self-parody, and laughter is the only reaction I could muster.)

          • J Mann says:

            Good grief – I just googled and read the poem from the “harassment by poetry” issue at WisCon, and I’m actually shocked. If the poem’s insensitive to anyone, it’s insensitive to the class of men who hope for mail order brides to change their lives, not to Russians.

            Is WisCon unusual in it’s level of SJW-iness?

          • keranih says:

            Is WisCon unusual in it’s level of SJW-iness?

            Have never been. By the sorts of people who attend, the sorts of panels and groups they have, and the sorts of things they promote (compared to cons I have attended), yes. They are the forward edge of what the SJW front would like SFF (and the world) to be.

          • John Schilling says:

            WisCon was organized as an explicitly feminist science fiction convention. “Feminist” even now isn’t quite the same thing as “SJW”, and certainly not in 1977, but if I were going to go looking for the highest concentration of SJWs in meatspace fandom that’s probably where I would start looking.

    • Ryan says:

      Vonnegut suggested artificial tribes, but I think actual social connections are needed.

      Wow, didn’t even think of it at first, but this essay is basically Bokononism in prose form.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokononism

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “On the other hand, I was very annoyed when someone at LW tried to convince me that I’m really an atheist.”

      Because you fit the definition. You can say it is a bad definition, but you’ll need to show differences between what an atheist expects to see in the world and what an agnostic does to justify a separate category.

      “I’m quietly pleased that the best countries to live in seem to be agnostic in effect (religious freedom) rather than hewing to a religion or to atheism.”

      Religious freedom isn’t agnosticism. It sounds like you are just claiming all the good things for your grand idea.

      • Nornagest says:

        you’ll need to show differences between what an atheist expects to see in the world and what an agnostic does to justify a separate category.

        This seems to rule out separate categories for most philosophical positions.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Turns out we really all do believe in p-zombies, given that we don’t expect to see anything in the world the p-zombist doesn’t.

          Well, except for the fact that as p-zombies, we don’t actually have beliefs…

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Yes it doesn’t rule out “solphism but the world looks exactly the same”. Of course those beliefs are in fact impossible to rule out since the world is supposed to look exactly the same so I’m not sure why one would ever bother dealing with them.

          • Alliteration says:

            The moral implications matter. For example, if everyone else is a p-zombie, then it doesn’t matter if I hurt other people because they aren’t really feeling pain.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not just talking about solipsism or the P-zombie thing, although those are the most obvious ones. I’m talking about the rest of epistemology and philosophy of mind, metaphysics, most positions in ethics.

            Sure, there’s a school of thought that says all these questions have no sensory consequences and so why bother with them, but just by accepting that school you are making a claim about the nature of truth.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The moral implications matter”

            You mean exactly the same as sophism? Since you can’t disprove sophism does that mean you don’t consider others real humans?

            “I’m talking about the rest of epistemology and philosophy of mind, logic, most positions in ethics.”

            I’m not sure about the first two, but logic is a system of reasoning, not a belief. Ethics are not beliefs about the nature of the world, but ‘what people should do’.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why carve out exceptions for those but not for atheism vs. agnosticism?

            (Tangentially: I hate to be that guy, but I’m pretty sure you mean solipsism, not sophism. Sophism is, roughly, superficiality or intellectual bluster.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Being that guy is fine. I often mix up words. No guarantee the improvement won’t go down the memory hole.

            As for exceptions, something’s existence is a factual question about reality. It is separate from logic and ethics; they are built upon factual questions (things don’t contradict themselves, human desires), but the fields themselves aren’t.

      • Anonymous says:

        Because you fit the definition. You can say it is a bad definition, but you’ll need to show differences between what an atheist expects to see in the world and what an agnostic does to justify a separate category.

        Language is socially constructed. One definition of agnostic is roughly “a non-believer but not an asshole about it”. If you don’t think that definition “justifies a separate category” maybe you should try Esperanto.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          You could just say “I’m a non asshole atheist”. Oh wait, the problem with that is you are calling everyone who identifies as atheists assholes.

          I’m not going to jump to the assumption that is what the personal I’m questioning is doing.

          • Anonymous says:

            You could use that long phase, or you take the much shorter word speakers of the English language have decided to give the same meaning (among others).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            But “not being an asshole about it” is not the meaning in English of the word “agnostic”.

            An atheist thinks there’s actually no reason to believe in God. An agnostic claims not to know. This may represent sincere confusion, or it may represent an aversion to denying the rational legitimacy of religious beliefs.

            Now, you can argue that denying the rational legitimacy of religious beliefs makes you an asshole by definition. But in fact it’s possible to deny the legitimacy of them in a kind and considerate way, and it’s possible to be rude and nasty about it.

            The connotation of agnosticism is that you think the question of whether God exists is about 50-50, or at least a reasonable possibility. If you think that God almost certainly does not exist, it is misleading to describe yourself as an agnostic.

          • Anonymous says:

            Asshole was unduly nasty. But I agree with the other anon that in practice atheist vs agnostic can be a lot more about whether you want to debate it or are in a particular tribe than some strict epistemological distinction.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous (the blue one):

            Yes, I think that does have a lot to do with it.

            Saying you’re an atheist has the connotation that you think religious belief is wrong. It doesn’t mean you think it’s probability 0, but that it’s wrong in the same sense it’s wrong to say that witchcraft exists. The evidence against is much greater than the evidence in favor.

            Saying you’re an agnostic is much more non-threatening. It doesn’t come across as a challenge. You’re just saying you don’t know. Maybe because you haven’t investigated it. Whatever it may be, you’re leaving the question open.

            It’s obvious why the latter view would emerge in a society where religious belief is considered the norm.

            It’s similar someone being asked, in a very left-wing environment, what you think about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. “I don’t know if it will have negative effects; who can be certain about political questions?” is a much safer answer than “No, I think it’s most likely very destructive.” As long as you don’t think it’s probability 1 that a $15 minimum wage is harmful, you’re not outright lying if you say you’re not certain.

            If you say you think it’s a terrible idea, you’re likely to get into an argument. If you say you don’t know, it will probably be dropped. So people who are more argumentative will probably favor the first option.

      • Honest to whatever, I do think there’s a difference between “it is impossible to know whether there is a God” and “I am absolutely certain there is no God” even if the only difference in behavior is what one chooses to argue.

        I don’t think it’s possible to know the roots of the universe, though I that it’s unlikely that a triple omni creator is lurking there.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          The first google hit for atheism
          “Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.””

          Guess what I and the person you were talking to are referring to?

          • Guy says:

            You, Nancy, and anyone else reading the thread all know what she means by agnostic. Let her have the word; it is in no way a big deal. (Are you going to tell me there are important, fundamental differences between nerds and geeks?)

            edited: I incorrectly assigned blame to Samuel Skinner re: negative affect on the word atheist.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Well it comes with her claiming it is better than atheism, so what do you think?

          • I don’t know what it is, but I want to double down.

            I think my (non)-belief is more accurate than atheism. I don’t think it’s the same as atheism, based on my observation of most people who publicly say they’are atheists.

            I’m dubious about arguing from dictionaries. They may be out of date or based on a demographic that’s not the one taking part in the discussion. Nonetheless, I’ll still use dictionaries for conventional English, and the urban dictionary for unconventional English.

            Let me tell you about “articulate”. It’s a word which isn’t worth using as a compliment any more because it’s acquired a connotation of “better spoken than I expected from a person like you”.

            And before you get all “PC is so awful” on my ass, the person I know who hates “articulate” the most is a white Southerner whose accent was treated as a speech defect in school. He can still do his home accent, what I think of as a radio announcer voice, and an accent which is probably intermediate.

            When I was in an argument about articulate, I got hold of the OED definition and it was mostly about bones. I contacted the OED, and it turned out their definition hasn’t been updated for a century. I guess it was ossified.

            I don’t generally argue for agnosticism vs. atheism because I can’t see the point. I suspect there’s a difference of temperament involved, possibly P vs. J, using the distinction of whether a person wants things settled or open.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I think my (non)-belief is more accurate than atheism.”

            Why?

            “I don’t think it’s the same as atheism, based on my observation of most people who publicly say they’are atheists.”

            You do realize the enormous sample bias you are having here? Because “atheist but not outspoken” is simply not going to be on your radar.

            “I’m dubious about arguing from dictionaries.”

            I’m not claiming the dictionary is correct. I’m saying that is the definition atheists are using.

          • lvlln says:

            But this isn’t about invoking the dictionary definitions of “atheism” and “agnosticism” and claiming that by those definitions, you fall under the former rather than the latter, is it? AFAICT, the claim is that, by definitions of those terms as understood by the population in general, the way you describe yourself makes you fit under the “atheist” definition. This seems true to me; based on my observations, “atheist” in general everyday usage doesn’t refer to someone who claims to know or even claims to be somewhat confident that there is no god. That’s a subset, but not the set. It refers to someone who claims not to believe in a god.

            I think an important point is that this doesn’t at all imply that you aren’t also an agnostic. “Agnostic” is generally used to refer to someone who doesn’t know whether there is a god or someone who believes there is no way to know whether there is a god. This is entirely consistent with not believing in a god (or with believing in a god, for that matter).

            Indeed, in my mind, I would categorize you as an agnostic atheist, the same general group to which I belong. Even if I wouldn’t call you that to your face since you’ve expressed a distaste for being labeled that, based on what you’ve expressed about your beliefs and what I understand to be the everyday accepted definitions of “agnostic” and “atheist,” I can’t not classify you as that while remaining honest.

          • Samuel Skinner:

            “I think my (non)-belief is more accurate than atheism.”

            Why?”

            We’re still scrambling to understand the workings of the visible universe. It’s going to be really hard to find out what (if anything) is behind it, and I don’t think philosophy has enough information to do the trick.

            The odds aren’t terribly good of us understanding what’s going on if we’re in a simulation. Imagine how much harder it would be if there are several layers of simulation.

            Or if, as you examine the universe on the very micro level, it keeps getting weirder and less intuitive.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “We’re still scrambling to understand the workings of the visible universe. It’s going to be really hard to find out what (if anything) is behind it, and I don’t think philosophy has enough information to do the trick.”

            I’m not following. Why should we treat this claim about the universe different than any other claim? If someone asks if I believe in philosogen, the answer is no; why is this different?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            I agree. Maybe phlogiston exists; I’m not omniscient. I just don’t have any particular reason to believe it exists. That doesn’t make me agnostic on the issue.

            Anyway, I don’t know whether Nancy Lebovitz is an agnostic or not. I’m not a mind reader; I can’t speak for her. If she thinks there is some peculiar about the issue of God that makes it fall in a different category of unknowability, then perhaps she’s right to call herself that. If she simply denies absolute knowledge of the nonexistence of God, then she’s probably better classified as an atheist.

            I’m just an observer, though: I don’t know which one it is.

        • There is a difference, but I was long ago convinced by a friend who had written a book in defense of atheism that atheism meant not believing in God, did not mean believing with certainty that God does not exist. At which point I stopped calling myself an agnostic and began calling myself an atheist.

          I am not agnostic as to whether a hurricane will hit San Jose tomorrow. I can’t be certain it won’t, but I believe it won’t. I see no reason to apply a more severe standard to religious beliefs.

          • Exactly. I called myself an agnostic once upon a time. This is why I stopped.

            Although I did used to have some quiet fun with the concept that, since religion was belief in the existence of God (and disbelief in the non-existence of God) and atheism was belief in the non-existence of God (and disbelief in the existence of God) and agnosticism was disbelief in the existence of God and disbelief in the non-existence of God, that obviously there was a missing category there: people who believed in the existence of God and the non-existence of God.

            I dubbed that category “irrational dualism”, not knowing at the time that “dualism” was already a thing. Oh well. I can’t say I developed the philosophy very far, though I think I had some ideas about an omnipotent deity being by definition able to affect the real world without having to actually exist in order to do so. Also that God obviously existed but equally obviously wanted us to think He didn’t, and we’d better do as He said and not believe in him or there’d be some Smiting.

            I don’t think I was drunk at the time.

          • There are people (not sure whether all of them are mystics) who say that God is too utterly other (I’m tempted to write “God is too awesome”) for a mundane quality like “exists” to apply to Him. (God should probably have a unique pronoun. I have a vague impression there’s a language where this is true.) God neither exists nor doesn’t exist.

          • Urstoff says:

            God persists, much like Meinong’s unicorn

        • John Schilling says:

          There are four broad positions on the matter, to wit: “God exists”, “God does not exist”, “I don’t presently know whether God exists”, “Nobody can ever know whether God exists”. Our language has traditionally allowed only three words to cover these four possibilities: “theist”, “atheist”, and “agnostic”.

          Somebody is going to be left out, and they are going to be upset about that. And, human nature being what it is, lots of other people are going to try to rope them into their belief system or support network on account of overlapping nomenclature, which is going to further upset the people who are trying to make it clear what they think and how it differs from what other people think.

          Ideally, we’d invent a fourth term and convince everybody to use it. That’s probably not going to happen any time soon. Until it does, I tend to favor including both “I don’t presently know…” and “Nobody can ever know…” under the “Agnostic” banner on the grounds that A: there is less cognitive distance between those two than any other possible grouping, and B: there are fewer of the classic “Nobody can ever know…” agnostics around to be upset, and C: this is the actual common usage of the term in the 21st century.

          And whatever you believe or do not believe, please don’t be an asshole about other people using their own terminology to describe what they believe or don’t believe.

          • Guy says:

            Well said.

          • Jiro says:

            There is another problem: It is possible that technically, someone doesn’t know there is no God (because he doesn’t know things to 100% certainty), but the level of certainty that he does have would be described as “know” when applied to anything else.

            It makes no sense to call this position “agnostic”; not having 100% knowledge is not a useful distinction to anyone except pedants. In order to communicate that you know there is no God in the same sense that you know that Washington, DC is the capital of the USA, you have to say “atheist”. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pedants on the Internet. There are also a lot of people who are not normally pedants, but who are willing to become pedants for a moment in order to score points against unbelievers.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jiro:

            Exactly.

          • FrogOfWar says:

            @Jiro

            The problem is that the concept of knowledge doesn’t match with that of extremely high justified degree of belief.

            You don’t know that your lottery ticket will lose, even it has a 1-in-a-100,000,000 chance. Or at least, it’s not acceptable to assert that you know this.

            On the other hand, you can know things that are much less justified than this, such as that your friend is currently at a given bar.

            This isn’t an issue of knowledge pedantically requiring certainty; it’s an issue of knowledge just being a weird category to begin with.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “There are four broad positions on the matter, to wit: “God exists”, “God does not exist”, “I don’t presently know whether God exists”, “Nobody can ever know whether God exists”.”

            There are religions other than Christianity that exist. My criteria for a guy claiming to be Apollo is a lot different than that of the OTG and the idea you can’t know simply breaks down.

          • Jaskologist says:

            How did this get laid at believers’ feet? They’re not the ones telling Nancy she’s not really agnostic, regardless of her claims.

          • I think a useful way of looking at the atheist/agnostic question is to consider what level of uncertainty would make you describe yourself as agnostic on some other question.

            I would not, for instance, say that I am agnostic on whether Obama was born in the U.S., although I can’t reject the claim that he wasn’t with absolute certainty.

            I am agnostic on whether what Hillary Clinton did with her email server was seriously illegal.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Nancy Lebovitz

          +

          I do think there’s a difference between “it is impossible to know whether there is a God” and “I am absolutely certain there is no God” [….] I don’t think it’s possible to know the roots of the universe [….]

          I’d say “I don’t think it’s possible for me to know the roots of the universe … and probably not for anyone else either.”

          I do think that jumping to conclusions (whether admittedly or emotionally) is a very, er, irrational act.

  17. Grant says:

    As probably one of the few evangelical Christians that read this blog, I find the discussing of pre-athiests in church amusing. There were a few people I grew up with that regularly attended church and did the motions, but later on left the church when given the chance. Looking back, I am not surprised at all.

    In talking about changes in tribes, do you think declining religiosity is any different than increase in religiosity? Or a change from one religion to another. For example, the Christian tribe in America was once a lot larger, if only because many people were culturally Christians. But I see a lot of the changes you mention from the first generation being very religious to not very religious, not as a change in consciousnesses change in tribes like switching from going to church to atheism, but as a rise in distraction.

    People today I would say are largely much less religious because they distract themselves from larger questions. (I would exclude everyone reading this blog from this group). With the rise in media consumption from video games, television, movies, music books, etc these seem to be the future rallying flags that people fight over.

    Also, is it better or worse that we are fighting over trivial things? If it means less violence, that is good. But if we become a society where the discussions we have are about whether a person is part of the country versus rap music tribes, it makes me wonder if arguing over religious tenants where there is some philosophy and higher thinking involved might be better. But then again, maybe I am just imposing my high culture views upon others.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      it makes me wonder if arguing over religious tenants where there is some philosophy and higher thinking involved might be better. But then again, maybe I am just imposing my high culture views upon others.

      I’m not entirely unsympathetic to this, but it seems to me that most religious disputes aren’t about “higher thinking”; they’re about fine points of doctrine that seem really important to insiders but are completely trivial differences from the perspective of anyone outside.

      Was the Thirty Years’ War really about religious doctrine, for instance?

      Not that there aren’t similarly acrimonious but trivial debates in nonreligious movements like Marxism, Objectivism, libertarianism, and so on. These debates usually relate in some general way to “higher” issues, but the war in the trenches is the same old kind of tribal stuff.

      Sometimes good things come out of them (I continue to think that David Kelley’s Truth and Toleration is a great book, despite coming out of the Ayn Rand Institute – The Atlas Society schism), but it’s usually the same debates with the labels for the subject matter switched around.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Regarding religion in particular — well, I’m just going to pull some quotes from the Razib Khan posts I linked above:

        Theology and texts have far less power over shaping a religion’s lived experience than intellectuals would like to credit. This is a difficult issue to approach, because even believers who are vague on peculiarities of the details of theology (i.e., nearly all of them!) nevertheless espouse that theology as true. Very few Christians that I have spoken to actually understand the substance of the elements of the Athanasian Creed, though they accept it on faith. Similarly, very few Sunni Muslims could explain with any level of coherency why al-Ghazali‘s refutation of the Hellenistic tendency within early Islam shaped their own theology (if they are Sunni it by definition does!). Conversely, very few Shia could explain why their own tradition retains within its intellectual toolkit the esoteric Hellenistic philosophy which the Sunni have rejected. That’s because almost no believers actually make recourse to their own religion’s intellectual toolkit.

        This is the hard part for many intellectuals, religious or irreligious, to understand. For intellectuals ideas have consequences, and they shape their lives. Their religious world view is naturally inflected by this. And most importantly they confuse their own comprehension of religious life, the profession of creeds rationally understand and mystical reflection viscerally experienced, with modal religiosity. This has important consequences, because intellectuals write, and writing is permanent. It echoes down through the ages. Therefore our understanding of the broad scope of religious history is naturally shaped by how intellectuals view religion. In a superficial sense the history of religion is the history of theology, because theology is so amenable to preservation.

        […]

        The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings religion is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not theology. A deductive theory of religion derived from axioms of creed fails in large part because there is no evidence that the vast majority of religious believers have internalized the sophisticated aspects of their theologies and scriptures in any deep and substantive sense. To give a concrete example, Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims can give explicit explanations to at least a rudimentary level as to the differences of their respective religious beliefs. But when prompted to explain their understanding of the supernatural in a manner which was unscripted, and which was not amenable to a fall back upon indoctrinated verbal formulas, their conceptions of god(s) were fundamentally the same! (see: Theological Incorrectness).

        […]

        Not only do I believe that the theologies of all religion are false, but I believe that they’re predominantly just intellectual foam generated from the churning of broader social and historical forces. Some segments of the priestly class will always find institutional politics exhausting, mystical experience out of their character, and legal commentaries excessively mundane. These will be drawn to philosophical dimension of religious phenomena. Which is fine as far as it goes, but too often there is an unfortunate tendency toward reducing religion to just this narrow dimension.

        Books like these are very useful for overly intellectual types (religious and irreligious) who naturally reduce religion to explicit propositions, often relating to theology. Cognitive anthropology suggests that in fact the basic fundamentals of the religious impulse have very little to do the explicit cultural trappings which are so well known in the organized religions which arose after the Axial Age. Often these complex systems of belief and practice are centered around philosophical or revealed truths, and statements of confession which exhibit logical structures, at least superficially. Though it is probably a misleading analogy, many think of DNA as the blueprint for the form and function of organisms. In a similar fashion it is common to see religious texts and the opinions of seminal thinkers as the blueprint for a given religion. The empirical reality is that this view is upside down. Traits which we think of as seminal to religion, such as profession of specific elements of faith, are relatively recent cultural innovations on top of a far more robust and deep primal layering of religion as a psychological and cultural phenomena.

        But, all the accoutrements of organized “higher” religions, which crystallized in the period between 600 BC and 600 AD (from Buddhism to Islam), are not necessary to understand religion. In fact, as outlined in books such as Theological Incorrectness, taking the claims of organized world religions at face value can mislead in terms of the beliefs and behaviors of the mass of the rank and file, whose spiritual world is still strongly shaped by the same cognitive parameters one finds in primal “animistic” faiths. Summa Theologica is not only impenetrable to the vast number of believers, but it is totally irrelevant. And yet the concerns of intellectuals loom large in any attempt to understand the nature of higher religions, because they tend to occupy positions of power, prestige, and prominence. And importantly, they are the ones writing down the history of their faith.

        It is useful then to differentiate between religion in the generality, which likely has deep evolutionary roots in our species. This is characterized by modal intuitions about the supernatural nature of the world. A universe of spirits, gods, and unseen forces. Then there are the complex processed cultural units of production and consumption which are the “world religions” of the past few thousand years, which have achieved a sort of stable oligopoly power over the loyalties of the vast majority of the world’s population. They are not inchoate and organic, bottom up reifications of the foam of cognitive process, perhaps co-opted toward functional or aesthetic purposes. Rather, world religions are clearly products of complex post-Neolithic agricultural societies which exhibit niche specialization and social stratification. They are the end, not the beginning.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Reminds me of “A Dust Over India”:

          Perhaps it was my own arrogance, but it saddened me. My belief has always been that spirituality is something that is experienced personally, not measured, compared, or quantified. Meditating on a loud bus in Chicago can be just as profound as meditating under the Bodhi Tree itself. In a religion whose whole belief system revolves around impermanence, unattachment to the material world, and equanimity, making a 4,000 mile pilgrimage to a tree in the middle of Nowhere, India, for bragging rights seems, well… counterproductive. I can see the interest historically, and perhaps emotionally, but spiritually, there’s not a whole lot of difference. And so as I passed the flyers, and the hippies with their braids and skullcaps, it became harder and harder not to be a little bitter. I understand that pilgrimages and capitalizing on your most holy site are pretty standard for all of the world’s religions. But I guess in my mind I held out hope that Buddhism was different. And actually, Buddhism is different. It’s the followers who aren’t.

          Eliezer Yudkowsky comments:

          Reading this made me realize that many religions genuinely are different from each other. Christianity is genuinely different from Judaism, Islam is genuinely different from Christianity, Hinduism is genuinely different from all three. It’s religious people who are the same everywhere; not the same as each other, obviously, but drawn from the same distribution.

          • Mary says:

            “It’s religious people who are the same everywhere; not the same as each other, obviously, but drawn from the same distribution.”

            It’s surprising that people are people?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            “Humans gonna human” is an incredibly hard concept for less neurotypical people to understand.

          • Walter says:

            It’s like “But they said that they wouldn’t!”

        • LCL says:

          I read that and thought it also explains a lot about politics, especially in context of the current political moment (which has baffled the intellectual class). I mean, just change “religion/theology” to “politics/ideology”:

          The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings politics is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not ideology.

        • oh thank god somebody gets it.

        • Mary says:

          Not only do I believe that the theologies of all religion are false, but I believe that they’re predominantly just intellectual foam generated from the churning of broader social and historical forces.

          Argumentum ad hominem. He should be ashamed of himself. There is no system of thought that can not be “explained” in such a manner by a sufficiently determined person — particularly including his own explanation here, which raises the question of how seriously we can possibly take it.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            It’s not an argumentum ad hominem because it’s not an argument. He’s just asserting them in conjunction, he’s not claiming that the first is due to the second.

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            Argumentum ad hominem. He should be ashamed of himself. There is no system of thought that can not be “explained” in such a manner by a sufficiently determined person — particularly including his own explanation here, which raises the question of how seriously we can possibly take it.

            Expecto Patronum. Unfortunately, there is no ad hominem in the part of Scott’s post that you quoted. So it makes about as much sense as starting a reply with a random Harry Potter spell.

          • Jiro says:

            “It’s not argument ad hominem because it’s not an argument” is a technicality. The point about calling it one is still valid: you can apply the conclusion to anything.

          • Tracy W says:

            Argumentum ad hominem is the argument that someone is stupid or evil or whatever. So their argument is wrong.

            But the argument you are calling ad hominem uses actual evidence: that most religious people don’t understand the theological underpinnings of their faith, that books about theology are more likely to be preserved than others, etc. One can point to other evidence, eg how does one get from the Jesus of the Bible to praying to Mother Mary and the saints?

            This evidence might be wrong. There might be other evidence that points the other way. But it’s not an ad hominem.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            No, it’s really not an argument at all. It’s not an incorrect argument and it’s not a correct argument. Take it in context. This is from a blog post by Razib Khan. He’s an atheist, that’s well known. He’s not arguing here that religions are false, he’s just asserting it as a background fact. Why would he interrupt a post about a different subject to argue that religion is false? In fact, if you read the posts I linked to, there’s very little argument for any of what he says; he’s basically just asserting these things. He’s mostly referring to outside sources for the actual arguments. All he’s doing here is restating the assertion, “Not only are theological claims incorrect, they’re not even important to most believers.” It’s true that “not only X but also Y” often means that Y is a stronger claim than X, but that isn’t always the case and it clearly isn’t the case here. (Trivially, X and Y is always a stronger claim than X.)

            The “foam on the froth” comment here doesn’t mean “they’re the result of social forces, so they’re false” because that is exactly as terrible an argument as Mary points it out to be and, y’know, Razib isn’t stupid. I mean it could mean that, but that would require us to believe not only that he made such a terrible argument, but, again, that he’s going off-topic from the rest of the post to argue that religions are false, which makes no sense. The sensible conclusion is that it doesn’t mean that and this isn’t an argument. I’m pretty sure the “foam on the froth” metaphor is just supposed to indicate a lack of feedback — that they do not significantly feed back into the social forces that generate them, because they’re only actually taken seriously by a small class of theologians.

        • Mary says:

          The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings religion is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not theology.

          Which is nothing more than a Christian would expect.

        • I’ve been playing with the idea that that there are two large camps (not tribes): “people should be kinder” and “people should be stronger”, and that neither one is likely to get much change in their preferred direction, at least in any reasonable amount of time.

          Both camps share the idea that that people just *should* be different, and don’t do much in the way of offering methods.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Do they really conflict so much?

            I sympathize with both sides: people shouldn’t be so thin-skinned, but other people shouldn’t be needlessly mean to them, either.

            I agree that there’s a lack of methods.

          • You’re being sensible. I tend more towards the “people should be kinder” side, even though it can paradoxically turn vicious. (See also the idea from Ordinary Vices that hating cruelty can lead to hating people in general.)

            However, at least what I see online is typically in one camp or the other.

          • Frog Do says:

            I think about it in terms of public strength or public weakness, which probably tells you which side I’m on. Of course what you do in private is your own business, but what happens in public matters more.

        • Deiseach says:

          But when prompted to explain their understanding of the supernatural in a manner which was unscripted, and which was not amenable to a fall back upon indoctrinated verbal formulas, their conceptions of god(s) were fundamentally the same!

          Well, what the dickens else do you expect when you want a broad definition of a concept but don’t allow people to use particular distinctions? If you ask me, a Hindu, and an Australian Aborigine about our notions of the divine but we can’t use any specific terms of our own faiths, just broad concepts, we’re all going to say pretty much the same thing.

          It’s like asking someone to describe cats and dogs but not letting them use the words “cats and dogs”, then coming back and saying “They said cats and dogs were four-legged animals with tails, obviously they see no difference between a cat and a dog!”

          • Jaskologist says:

            Yes, this sounds like a case of asking the wrong question, or asking it in a way designed to get a certain answer.

            Ask them “Does God love you?” and you’ll see a stark divide, at least between the Christians and the rest. I’d bet there are similar questions the other religions could ask which are easily understood by the man on the street, matter a great deal to his understanding of the world, and highlight real differences.

      • John Schilling says:

        Was the Thirty Years’ War really about religious doctrine, for instance?

        It was mostly about nationalism. Not the superiority of one specific nation over another, but of the entire concept of nations. The core doctrinal dispute was between “Sovereignty is vested in Kings, who happen to own lots of land populated by their loyal subjects”, and “Sovereignty is vested in Nations, which are composed of people living on a chunk of land and most of which happen to have kings to handle executive functions”.

        That one faction aligned with the religion headed by a personal monarch and the other with the religious movement that said religious executive function could be decentralized and performed by anyone locally competent, is perhaps not a coincidence.

        Both versions can become intensely tribal.

        • nimim. k.m. says:

          I’m sorry, but I thought I had some understanding of the 30 years’ war, and I have serious trouble recognizing it from your description. I have no idea on the which side Gustaphus Adolphus, Louis XIII and Ferdinand II would fit, looking at their kingdoms, or which one is closer to the so-called Westphalian nationstate…

          The original religious dispute could have been about anything, the reason war dragged on for so long time was about the usual: geopolitical power and money. In the end, Sweden found herself with an “empire” and lucrative, taxable areas in Northern Germany, and Richelieu and Mazarin established France as the geopolitical power du jour?

  18. BBA says:

    Wondering how the fervor of the newly converted fits into this scheme.

    The loudest atheists tend to be the ones who were raised religious and deconverted, as opposed to those who were raised atheist or atheist-adjacent (Reform Judaism, UU, “nones”) and naturally settled there.

    More controversially: although what we now consider internet social justice was certainly a thing at least as far back as Peggy McIntosh in 1988 – I distinctly remember hearing most of the stuff tossed around today from my early-’00s college experience – it only started dominating the discourse when nerdy white dudes turned against their misogynistic pasts to loudly support it. (Maybe I’m getting the narrative wrong here, but the conversion of Something Awful feels like a turning point – but then I was never a Goon and only heard of it secondhand.)

    • Thursday says:

      There are a lot of atheists who are totally non-tribal. They just aren’t religious. A good number of these presumably were raised in at least somewhat religious environments.

      What makes the tribal atheists tribal?

      • Randy M says:

        Not having another tribe, perhaps?

        • Thursday says:

          Yeah, maybe the people who don’t build any identity around their atheism already have some other identity that takes up that space in their life.

          Or they could just not care that much about any identity.

          • Randy M says:

            Tribe, as I understand the usage, is more than identity, it is also community. Also, similar to what Scott mentions, there are basically tribes coalescing around being anti-tribal, so there’s something for everyone.

          • Thursday says:

            Fair enough criticism. I was using identity as short hand for collective identity, which has to include some sort of community.

      • I suspect there are two main factors that make atheists tribal:
        1. Transitioning from theism to atheism can cause anxiety or at least be something people want to talk about out loud with sympathetic people, which makes new atheists gravitate toward atheist communities, and
        2. If the religious people in one’s area are annoying, (which can be anything from “keeps assuming you’re Christian and trying to engage you in theological discussions” to “fired you for being an atheist,”) then you may want/need other people who’ve encountered the same thing to talk to/get advice from.

        Whereas, atheists who are comfortably atheist and haven’t anything to particularly “work out” on the subject, and whose religious neighbors are perfectly polite and pleasant, don’t have as much to bond with other atheists over.

        • [I think this may be ending up in the wrong place. It’s a response to the claim that women are not a part of tribes]

          Women played a substantial role in Islam, including intra-Islamic fights. Consider the Battle of the Camel.

          Apropos of which, I think a more important tension in early Islam than Sunni vs Shia may have been true believers vs practical opportunists. The divide comes with Othman, who was an early convert and pretty clearly a believer, but saw the position of Caliph as an opportunity to benefit his kin. He ends up assassinated, I think although I’m not sure by the son of the previous Caliph, and on alternate days I think he deserved it.

          His successor is Ali, and the split goes back to open warfare when Muawaya, Othman’s nephew and a much abler practical politician, refuses to recognize Ali as Caliph.

          And ultimately founds the first Muslim dynasty.

          And the conflict between that and Ali’s sons is, I think, the point at which you begin getting a real Sunni/Shia division.

          • Apropos of comments ending up in the wrong place … .

            What appears to happen is that I write a comment but forget the final step of posting it. Later I try to write another comment on something else. The first comment ends up where the second should have gone.

        • “Whereas, atheists who are comfortably atheist …”

          My case, at least. I first discussed religion with parents when, about age ten, I told my father that I had concluded that God probably did not exist. He responded that that was his opinion as well.

        • Yrro says:

          I know my personal development has been strongly influenced by “who has annoyed me most recently.”

          When I was a lonely atheist teenager in a Bible belt town, obviously the religious folk with no sense of global perspective were the problem.

          When went to college, the problem switched almost immediately to the secular liberal who looked down on all rural religious people as bigoted idiots.

          I guess what I’m saying is that I totally buy how immediate converts from Christian culture are going to have “disproving theists” much higher on their priorities list. Long-time atheists no longer consider it a relevant question to debate, nor are they constantly re-exposed to it.

          • I’ve read about a project about identity (sorry no cite) where people were asked about their identities, and it turned out that the strongest sense of identity was mostly related to what people had been attacked for.

          • Ryan says:

            @Nancy

            One of the most interesting hypotheses I’ve read for Donald Trump’s success is that he goads the media into attacking his character in ways that resonate with people who have had their character attacked in a similar way. There aren’t really that many narrow minded bigots left in the United States, but there are millions upon millions of people who’ve been called a narrow minded bigot by some smug lefty for no good reason. Trump is the last guy on Earth who would ever qualify as actually being a redneck or white trash, but as long as he’s insulted and looked down upon the same way as people who do qualify are, he’ll have their tribal loyalty.

            Or use another example. Cops do a thankless and often shitty/dangerous job. Sure it’s not really that hard and the pay is pretty good, but I’m certain they in no way appreciate being called a bunch of racists who oppress the black community. So long as the major media goes around calling cops racist oppressors while also calling Trump a racist oppressor, cops will identify with him and probably vote for him.

          • Anonymous says:

            What about the millions and millions of people who have been called a smug lefty for no good reason?

          • For what it’s worth, siderea was rather sharp about it when I proposed that theory. She thinks that the main issue is that life has been getting objectively worse for lower class whites, and the insults aren’t a significant factor.

            http://religiondispatches.org/sympathy-for-the-devils-i-was-a-pastor-to-trump-supporters/?

          • Protagoras says:

            I can certainly imagine that people being called smug lefties for no good reason is increasing some people’s tendency to identify as left. Thinking about it, I was attacked a lot in my youth for being intellectual (well, for being a nerd). I haven’t really been attacked much about that (or very many things) for a long time, but I would say that “intellectual” is probably the category I most strongly identify with, and I guess I don’t find it that implausible that being attacked for it in my youth is partly responsible for that.

          • “What about the millions and millions of people who have been called a smug lefty for no good reason?”

            They identify with the candidate who actually has the guts to describe himself as a socialist.

          • Ryan says:

            @Annonymous

            Yeah I imagine the road goes both ways.

            @Protagoras

            I kind of wonder if the intellectual/political elite in their 40’s/50’s are so indifferent to the problems in working class communities because fuck those guys, they used to make fun of me in school and got to take a hot chick to prom.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Ryan, I suppose that could be true in some cases. Not really mine; I grew up in a disturbingly homogenous suburb, so the people who bullied me were generally the same class as me (because almost everyone I went to school with was). But I don’t feel qualified to generalize about other intellectuals in their 40s or 50s.

          • Tibor says:

            This is true. I come from an atheist majority country and people simply almost never treat religion as an issue at all and they almost never think about it (or know much about it).

        • Tibor says:

          I find this quite outlandish and in a way interesting. My domestic experience is that if you are religious, you are going to be seen by a mix of surprise and curiosity (and a bit of prejudice, especially if you are a member of an organized religion). The majority of the Czech population is atheist but I think it is a different kind of atheism than in the US (or generally countries where the majority of the population is theist). Average Czechs know almost nothing about religion at all. They know that there’s Christmas and Easter (and celebrate that but usually without ever going to the church…although I do go to the midnight mass sometimes even though I’m an atheist) and that’s about that. They know who the pope is (of those who are religious, the vast majority is catholic, protestants are about 10 times less common, there may be more Buddhists – mostly Vietnamese – in the country nowadays than Protestants) and that is about that. I think my knowledge of religion is above the Czech average but I first learned about the existence of Pentecost (which is one of the most important Christian holidays) in Germany (because it is a national holiday). The Czechs even messed up Christmas in the parliament in the sense that December 24th is a national holiday (since most of the MPs thought it was actually a part of Christmas back when they were deciding this issue since the baby Jesus brings Christmas presents on the 24th in the evening :)) ).

          At the same time, American atheists seem to know the Bible and religion in general quite well, perhaps better than the theists. At the same time I would expect the Czech Christians to understand their religion better than the American ones – like the American atheists, they are surrounded by a majority which does not understand them and they are the ones who need to provide the explanations when confronted with the majority.

          What is also interesting is how fast this can change. Bohemia was about 95% catholic in 1910 and about 10% (declared) catholic in 2011.

          • “The Czechs even messed up Christmas in the parliament in the sense that December 24th is a national holiday (since most of the MPs thought it was actually a part of Christmas back when they were deciding this issue since the baby Jesus brings Christmas presents on the 24th in the evening :)) )”

            Not clear it is a mistake. Until town clocks became common during the Renaissance, the day was generally considered to end at sunset. Christmas Eve is the evening of Christmas day.

            Jewish holidays still work that way.

          • Tibor says:

            @David:

            Interesting. I heard the mistake as an explanation for why the 24th is a holiday (along with the 25th and 26th) in the country. But come to think of it, it is not so likely that none of the MPs would know about this and point it out. The Christian democratic union has had a more or less stable support of some 5-10% since the end of communism and I would imagine that most of their members are actually Christian and know the holidays 🙂

      • Peter says:

        I’m from the UK, and movement atheism (despite the presence of Dawkins etc.) seems to be something of an American thing. I’ve always thought there are two main differences:

        a) It’s just easier to be an atheist in the UK – it’s not really anything you’re in danger of being ostracised for. There’s no real incentive to band together for safety.
        b) If I want to meet some atheists, I can go to the pub for a pint with my friends. If at any time I feel the need to yammer on about the subject, there are lots of people there with views similar to mine, I don’t need to specifically seek them out.

        Thinking about it, there’s a third component. I think that atheism was more a part of my identity before university – I went to a C of E school, and was a closeted atheist early on and out later on. So I go to university and discover clubs and societies and Usenet… so what Thursday says.

        So, in summary, for me, there’s a) less need for community with atheists, b) needs can be met outside of formal “atheism community”, c) other, stronger, needs can take precedence. But these factors vary from person to person and from place to place.

    • Taradino C. says:

      Theory: the newly converted are fervent because it helps them catch up on social connections. They don’t have a shared history with the other members, so they have to double down on the things they do have in common in order to bond.

      • Pku says:

        Alternative theories:

        1) Only people who are really into the ideals join a tribe without having already been socialized into it.

        2) New recruits need to work hard to signal loyalty in order to fit in.

      • multiheaded says:

        ^ was true for me, in part.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The newly de-converted have their separateness emphasized for them on a daily basis. In Scott’s terms, it is a “pre-existing difference” that is shared between them.

        It’s no accident that one of the very active de-conversion reddits is r/exmormon. Those people both have their differences from active Mormons and their differences from everyone else (the shared Mormonism). Your average ex-Lutheran, Catholic or Episcopalian won’t have those kind of differences from America broadly.

        Whereas atheists from birth don’t feel different from everyone else, because they likely live in a community where that was acceptable. Only if they lived in a very religious community would they, finding out that their are other atheists in the world, have that sudden feeling of kinship.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        From personal experience I can attest that convert zeal, for me, from the inside, simply feels like wanting to share something cool with somebody else. It’s the same emotion people get when they want to share a cool Youtube video with someone else, only bigger.

        I may be atypical, however.

      • BBA says:

        It seems that at times it’s the new converts who define the tribal culture, rather than the longstanding lifetime members at the “core” of the tribe.

    • moridinamael says:

      Catholicism has the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is a sort of second Baptism, a ceremony in which the young adult publicly confirms their faith after going through 1-2 years of intensive tribal education/group-bonding with a small cohort.

      To me this seems like an attempt to synthesize a “conversion experience” for people who were born into the tribe.

  19. Thursday says:

    It’s because the Quran just created the space in which the Islamic culture could evolve, but had only limited impact on that evolution.

    The Quran may be just a symbol. It’s particular content may be somewhat arbitrary. The fact that a certain community has adopted it may have been historically contingent. That a person is part of that community may be completely unchosen.

    And yet, because the symbol is what the community is rallying around . . . you can’t disrespect the symbol in too obvious a way. Like, for example, by ignoring its teachings too much.

    This has practical results. For example, there may be somewhat contradictory verses on violence in the Quran, but, if believe or claim to believe in the Quran as the literal word of God, you have to give the violent verses some weight. Furthermore, having those verses makes it way harder to throw a person who adheres to a more violent interpretation out of the community.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      People totally can! Look what secular Christians do the Bible! Look what Americans do to the Constitution!

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think violent Buddhism is the canonical example here…

      • Thursday says:

        Group identity can bear some disrespect to the central symbol, but if you disrespect it too much the whole thing starts falling apart. Show me a Christian group with a lot of secular Christians and I’ll show you a group that won’t be Christian for long. The increasing disrespect for the Constitution does not bode well for America’s future.

        • Anonymous says:

          The central symbol of Christianity, Jesus’ teachings, were marginalized within the first 50 years as Paul reformed the religion to make it more attractive to the gentles he was trying to win to his side in order to show up his rivals — the Disciples.

          And look how long it lasted.

          • Thursday says:

            Your characterization of those events is highly questionable. Moderns like to grossly exaggerate the differences between Jesus and Paul for political effect. A prime example of moderns’ tendency to cherry pick Jesus’ teaching is how they ignore all his hell fire sermons. He wasn’t a lovey dovey hippy.

            On a more substantive note, Jesus in the synoptics claims, at the very least, some sort of special sonship relationship with God. One could accuse Paul and others of really running with that in a certain direction, but its not some blatant contradiction of Jesus original message.

          • Mary says:

            How do you know that?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Thursday
            I didn’t say discard or contradict, I said marginalize and reformed. It’s pretty clear both from Jesus’ words themselves and the subsequent actions of those that actually met Jesus (or if you prefer the living Jesus) that what he envisioned was a kind of reformed Judaism with more emphasis on the spirit of the law and less on the letter of it. And that’s what the Jewish Christians were doing in Jerusalem while Paul was off building his universal Church.

            By the same reasoning that you call this taking an aspect and running with it, you could say the same thing about the Warren Court and the Constitution. They weren’t making things up out of whole cloth (at least not generally) but they were extrapolating wildly.

            @Mary
            I studied the New Testament which was written by Pauline Christians and so is presumably as charitable as possible to his position. Nonetheless he still comes across a usurper. Think about how unsympathetic a character you have to be for the the victor written history to still make you look like a villain.

          • Thursday says:

            Let’s take this message to the whole world, instead of just keeping it to the Jews doesn’t seem like even a marginalization of Jesus’ teaching.

          • Anonymous says:

            Except Paul wasn’t bringing Jesus’ message to the whole world. He was bringing a different message.

            I’m not even sure his message could be brought to the whole world, even if Paul wanted to, since the message was primarily about how to be a better, more authentic Jew in order to prepare oneself for the then imminent world-to-come.

          • John Schilling says:

            Let’s take this message to the whole world, instead of just keeping it to the Jews doesn’t seem like even a marginalization of Jesus’ teaching

            Unless perhaps “Jesus’s teaching” is that the world is going to end ca. 100 AD, clearly not enough time to take the message global but maybe enough for a focused effort to bring God’s Chosen People back to the fold so they are worthy of Heaven.

            It’s not clear that this was the core of Jesus’s actual teaching, but it is at least consistent with my reading. Since the world didn’t actually end ~1900 years ago, Paul comes off looking pretty good in that version. He also, obviously, comes off looking pretty good in the version where God actually tells him that, yes, no matter what those Disciples are saying, this is what He wants. YMMV

          • Mary says:

            “It’s pretty clear both from Jesus’ words themselves and the subsequent actions of those that actually met Jesus (or if you prefer the living Jesus) that what he envisioned was a kind of reformed Judaism with more emphasis on the spirit of the law and less on the letter of it”

            Except that there are plenty of references to his dealings with Gentiles in a manner incompatible with that. You yourself admit that it’s his words in the Gospels.

            “Nonetheless he still comes across a usurper. ”

            Nonsense. I do not see that at all.

          • Mary says:

            “since the message was primarily about how to be a better, more authentic Jew in order to prepare oneself for the then imminent world-to-come.”

            That presumes what you are trying to prove.

          • Jaskologist says:

            A plausible case can be made that Jesus expected the world to end in short order, and Paul later tweaked his message to make it more palatable to a wider audience. You could, for instance, plausibly discard Acts 1:7-8 as a Paulite putting words into Jesus’ mouth (and I guess do the same for the Great Commission). But this is a case of fitting the data into your reading rather than vice-versa; there’s no actual textual or archaeological evidence to mark these as later interpolations. It’s a defensible reading, but no more defensible than saying that Paul really was carrying on Jesus’ message pretty accurately.

            (This brings us back to the impossibility of reading a text in the absence of an interpretive tradition. Trying to do so is like abandoning ideology in favor of pragmatism; it just means you’re using an unexamined interpretive tradition/ideology instead.)

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Have you read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle?” If so, do you remember the traditional Bokonon incantation before a suicide? Why not assume Jesus was a pretty sharp guy and talking about something subtle?

            Actually, that book is good reading for folks with a strong religious impulse (which I think includes a lot of LW folks).

        • Alliteration says:

          Britain is doing just fine in spite of not having a constitution at all, just a collection of traditions and varied documents.

          • Thursday says:

            Missing the point. The constitution was a central symbol of what it was to be American. That people are disrespecting it is a sign that people don’t really care about being American anymore.

          • Zip says:

            That may have more to do with the fact that they’re British than anything. If people in your society have sufficiently strong respect for notions of “fair play”, you can cooperate on a large scale and do all sorts of cool stuff like invent capitalism while neighboring countries are still kleptocracies, conquer a significant fraction of the known world, etc. Britain has been doing fine for a long, long time.

          • Zorgon says:

            Unfortunately, it also means that an aristocracy – whether open or somewhat obfuscated – can make out like bandits by manipulating people’s ideas of what “fair play” means.

            This, in case anyone was wondering, is why we have such a prodigious number of newspapers.

      • NN says:

        Or for that matter, look at how American Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians ignore the Bible verses that clearly seem to imply that God has no problem with abortion

        • 75th says:

          People always link that Exodus passage with this argument and I just do not get it. It specifically says serious injury is to be punished by the same standard as injury to an adult. And the context clearly implies it’s the fetus/premature baby whose “injury” is being spoken of.

          • Basium says:

            > And the context clearly implies it’s the fetus/premature baby whose “injury” is being spoken of.

            It does now, but it didn’t used to; that’s the point. Up until sometime in the 80s IIRC, everyone translated that line as “if she has a miscarriage, but there is no serious injury…” or similar, which makes it clearly about the mother. For example, here’s the King James version: “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow…”

            The doctrine changed, and the translation was altered to suit.

          • Mary says:

            The very links cited predate the 1980s.

        • Exodus 21:22–23 proves that abortion isn’t capital murder, at least in the legal context of “intending to injure A (the other man in the fight) and injuring B (the fetus or the woman)”. That’s a far cry from “God has no problem with abortion,” though it is a valid argument against the maximalist anti-abortion “even to save the mother’s life” position.

          Numbers 5:21–22 is completely irrelevant.

          • NN says:

            How, exactly, is a Bible passage that commands pregnant women who are suspected of being unfaithful to drink a magic potion that will induce a miscarriage if they truly have been unfaithful irrelevant to the question of abortion?

          • Jiro says:

            Because it’s magic, the one doing the killing is God. God is permitted to kill fetuses even if fetuses are people, for the same reason that God is permitted to kill adults.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @NN

            Try thinking of it instead as a “magic” potion that doesn’t actually kill the fetus, but does make the mother go through an embarrassing and uncomfortable ritual which may well guilt her into confessing, and will put an end one way or the other to the jealous husband’s accusations.

          • NN says:

            @Jaskologist: I don’t know exactly how accurate the translation that I linked to is, but “If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.” seems pretty clear to me.

          • Brad (the other one) says:

            @NN

            The bible *also* says God commanded the flood – were there no infants on earth then? No pregnant women? It says God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and the same question arises. When the Israelites, on God’s orders (c.f. Deuteronomy 20:16-17) put entire cities to the sword at God’s discretion, do you think there just happened to be no babies there?

            In fact, we can go further: God controls reality moment by moment. When someone dies, is God unaware of it? Does he not know? Is he powerless to prevent this?

            God has the right to command us, the right to kill and to make alive. In one circumstance he commanded certain person to be put to death; to us we have (generally speaking) marching orders to not put to death. Quoting the passage is therefore a canard (if the intent to justify a pro-choice position or infer there is some contradiction in the text.)

          • Julie K says:

            @NN: “I don’t know exactly how accurate the translation that I linked to is”

            It’s not at all how Judaism understands the text, certainly. However, your question is reasonable when directed at whichever group considers this a valid translation.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ Brad

            What exactly are you trying to argue?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            It seems to me like he’s arguing that God’s commanding the killing of fetuses doesn’t show that the Bible endorses abortion because God has the right to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime. A right which he exercises frequently, ordering the Israelites to massacre people left and right.

            Therefore, just because God has the right to perform an abortion doesn’t mean you do.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Or, to steel man the straw man, omega can calculate consequences better than you, and therefore will do things, and do them rightly, that you would not.

        • Deiseach says:

          Those verses do not refer to deliberately induced abortion; it’s the difference between manslaughter and homicide. Both cases end up with someone dead, but it’s the intention that makes the difference.

          Two guys get in a fight, a woman gets in the way, she is punched or kicked in the stomach and miscarries versus guy deliberately kicks his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach in order to make her miscarry.

      • anonymous says:

        The q’thran has built in error checking though.

        Once in your life you’re supposed to travel from wherever you live and go to Mecca. Presumably when you travel you might be accompanied by a few people at most from the mini-tribe of your home community so the natural human reaction will be to conform to whatever is practiced in Mecca.

        Then when haji returns his status is enhanced – but only to the extent that he has seen and experienced something at least slightly different from home – so he’s incentivized to relate the practices of Mecca to his congregants back home.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Right.

          Razib points out that jet airliners made the Haj a lot more affordable, thus spreading the influence of Mecca worldwide.

          A lot of what we think of as the bizarre growth of Islamic fundamentalism globally, such as Muslim women wearing stupid black tents instead of their lovely native dress, is just people coming back to their village from their pilgrimage and saying to their slightly poorer neighbors, “Well, when I was in Mecca we did it this way …”

          • chaosmage says:

            Obviously! I feel stupid for not thinking of this sooner. Thank you!

          • NN says:

            Mecca’s current owners are also relevant. Mecca was a very different place before the Saudis got their hands on it. People who travelled there in the 18th century before the rise of the Wahhabi movement reported seeing alcohol vendors and prostitutes on the street literally right outside the Grand Mosque, among other things.

      • Emily H. says:

        Many liberal/progressive Christians are eager to claim Jesus, rather than the Bible, as their rallying flag. This isn’t JUST liberal/progressive Christians — in my experience Catholics and Orthodox Christians also tend to de-emphasize the text of the Bible and emphasize instead the life/death/resurrection of Jesus as their rallying flag — but I suspect that liberal Protestants picked it up because at some point the tension between the rallying flag and what you actually believe turns into an issue you want to deal with, in the name of intellectual honesty.

        • Thursday says:

          And the problem with the “just Jesus” rallying flag is that that can mean any damn thing at all, so it ends up being not much of a central symbol.

          More conservative Catholics and Orthodox are different from liberal Protestants though. They may focus more on Jesus, but that is because their authoritative teachings actually go beyond the Bible. More authoritative texts, not less.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Even without “authoritative” texts there is a deep rabbit hole shared philosophical and artistic history to explore and “geek out” on.

          • Thursday says:

            Even without “authoritative” texts there is a deep rabbit hole shared philosophical and artistic history to explore and “geek out” on.

            But it becomes just another hobby, and hobbies don’t create nearly as strong an identity as religions. Most people (or their kids) find other, new hobbies that they are just as interested in, so they leave the church. Perhaps a tiny few remain.

            In fact, one might describe liberal churches as hobby churches.

      • Patrick says:

        Secular mid westerner here.

        One of the most regular, recurring experiences of the secular religious parent is realizing that you accidentally taught your child to be a fundamentalist.

        It happens because one of the communal norms that you should publicly affirm the conservative aspects of your religious tradition, but that your acknowledgment of the caveats you hold ought to be private. So “the Bible is the word of God” is communicated explicitly, but “ok, it’s either not really or mostly not really, who really knows, let’s not get too crazy here” has to be communicated implicitly.

        And sometimes kids get the explicit parts, but not the implicit ones. And the next thing you know your kid is trying to shame you for not being fundamentalist enough, using the levers of social norms you raised them to belueve, and your community publicly affirms.

        This is probably the same reason a certain percentage of Muslim kids of secular parents radicalize. I’m not in that community, but every aspect of it visible to me is analogous.

        TLDR, you CAN ignore your holy texts teachings… up to a point, and conditional on how you structure your community, and with the caveat that not everyone in your community may be able to do it.

        • Thursday says:

          Good description.

          The other problem though is that too many “secular religious” people mean that the group is in danger of falling apart. Which is what is happening in mainline Protestantism.

          • Ryan says:

            The long lasting religions I think are going to be the ones with infinite depth. That way they have something for everyone. My friend’s wife was raised in India and the version of Hinduism she was taught was be a good person and god will take care of the rest, which was good enough for her. But if she had a million questions Hinduism would be ready with 2 million answers. If a Jewish kid is just way more into it than mom and dad, they get to drop him off with the Rabbi and say bother him now. A Catholic or Orthodox Christian has a wealth of ancient philosophical texts to keep them interested, a Muslim can read all 10,000 or whatever Hadiths.

            But with mainline Protestantism in the US a lot of the churches are built around a pastor who’s mostly a great speaker, good at making people feel good and put money in the plate on Sundays. This will be fine for the “secular religious” who can live perfectly well with be a good person and God will take care of the rest. But someone who’s really interested in learning more will have little to go off of other than just reading the Bible and taking everything literally. And what is the Pastor supposed to do about it? He probably has some vague notion of who Thomas Aquinas was, but no real idea what he ever said. There’s no philosophy and depth to acculturate them to, and so they become in-out machines for Bible verses.

          • http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/01/09/running-toward-the-gunshots-a-few-words-about-joan-of-ar/

            I’m including this partly because it’s an example of the Catholic Church having saints for everything– Joan of Arc is, among other things, the saint for disaffected Catholics, and partly because it’s one of the best rants I’ve ever read.

          • Thursday says:

            I’m not sure “having something for everyone” is a major factor in what makes a long lasting religion, but it is pretty much a prerequisite for any religion that appeals to lots of people. Hinduism and Catholicism would be good examples.

      • onyomi says:

        I agree you can. And this relates to my initial reaction to the post, which was to think about how Precedent is Everything.

        I have mixed feelings about using written documents like the Constitution as guide or supposed authority for real life behavior. The story comes to mind of the American who says to the Brit: “how awful to have an unwritten law based on precedent which Parliament can change at will,” and the Brit says, “how awful to have a written law which nine unelected judges appointed for life can change at will.”

        I’m a strong believer that what people actually do is what matters, not what they write down. And I also believe in flexibility and discretion in enforcement. People often note that the result of having too many laws on the books is, paradoxically, a kind of lawlessness, because everyone is a criminal all the time and now it’s up to the enforcer’s discretion. I don’t like that solution, but I do like the idea of written law, like a dictionary, as merely encoding practice, rather than trying to make it.

        That said, writing stuff down in unambiguous language can give a lot of power to one side or another: I genuinely think we’d have more restrictions on gun ownership by now in the US if not for the Second Amendment as rallying flag/practical obstacle, for example. But yeah, don’t confuse the rallying flag for the movement. If a huge majority of Americans really wanted guns banned then they would be banned by now, Second Amendment or no.

        Perhaps words on a page act sort of like that check box for organ donation or not: sets the default.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          That’s exactly what the Constitution does, in my opinion.

          Of course it doesn’t enforce itself or absolutely demand a particular theory of interpreting it. But it’s harder to interpret it in some ways than other ways, and this influences the debate.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          The story comes to mind of the American who says to the Brit: “how awful to have an unwritten law based on precedent which Parliament can change at will,” and the Brit says, “how awful to have a written law which nine unelected judges appointed for life can change at will.”

          The Brit seems to be saying this as though it’s a bad thing…? The USian is saying the Parliament system is too flexible. The Brit is describing the much less flexible US system (a written law, judges appointed for life) … as though it also is too flexible?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think the implied disadvantages of the American system are that the judges are unelected, and that it goes against the original aim of having a written law that can’t be changed “at will”.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, it’s not about which system is more flexible overall, but about who gets to exercise the flexibility which all systems unavoidably include. Stated more explicitly:

            American: I’m glad we have an explicit, written Constitution by which our legislators must abide, unlike that amorphous set of precedents called “English Common Law,” which the Parliament can interpret any old way it likes.

            Brit: At least our elected legislators do the necessary and unavoidable work of precedent interpreting, whereas you leave that up to a much smaller, unelected group, who, in the end, must rely on precedent to tell them how to interpret the written Constitution.*

            *Though one could and, imo, should, set a precedent for literalism if one is going to have a written Constitution at all; otherwise, it defeats the purpose of achieving the rule of law as opposed to the “rule of men.”

          • Until quite recently, the “Supreme Court” of England was the House of Lords, specifically the law lords–appointed, not elected. Under the current system, there is a supreme court with appointed judges.

            It is true, however, that Parliament has much greater authority in legal interpretation than the U.S. Congress, because of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.

          • BBA says:

            Aside from the British Supreme Court, there are the pan-European courts empowered under various treaties to strike down British law as incompatible with the treaties. The processes through which these courts make and enforce their decisions are opaque and confusing, which I understand is intentionally how the European system was set up so people wouldn’t second-guess it. (Note that I’m not just referring to the EU. The European Court of Human Rights reports to the Council of Europe, which is totally separate from the EU. The Council of Europe is also separate from the European Council and the Council of the European Union. And now my head hurts.)

      • Wrong Species says:

        To some extent that’s true but people take these issues more seriously than you’re suggesting. Evangelicals aren’t against evolution just because. They are against it because it seemingly contradicts the Bible. If there was no Book of Genesis, then Christian creationism wouldn’t exist.

        Now why do they take a stand on some issues and not others? It’s hard to say.

        • Frog Do says:

          Evangelicals are against evolution, because evolutionists are against evangelicals. How much could have been solved if H L Mencken wasn’t around deliberately mocking anyone who disagreed with his opinion of the Scopes Monkey Trial?

          Why they take stands on some issues and not others obviously follows form this.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “How much could have been solved if H L Mencken wasn’t around deliberately mocking anyone who disagreed with his opinion of the Scopes Monkey Trial?”

            Nothing? The Creation Science Research Center was founded in 1970.

          • Frog Do says:

            What are you saying, here?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Note the 50 year time gap?

          • Frog Do says:

            I am capable of subtracting numbers, yes.

          • Silva says:

            Let me be explicit then: after Mencken, creationism was on the way down, and stayed that way until relatively recently. What resurrected it is that the Republican base (NARALT, etc. …) needed a new overt rallying flag because the one they had was defeated so badly it became taboo: racial segregation. That said, coincidentally right now Trump helps move the Overton window in that direction, *therefore* religious beliefs have been mattering less in this election cycle (the “undercover” racists haven’t been needing to take cover of late). Also, on misogyny, the fundamentalists hadn’t been non-misogynist at any point of the past few decades, but right now, one can go straight to despising women, without needing religion as an acceptable intermediary.

          • Frog Do says:

            See, now that’s claim, I do like that. I’m slightly suspicious because it casts one side as pretty much Pure Evil, when the side that is Pure Evil is also the Officially Hated tribe, but that’s standard for these sorts of conspiracy narratives. My question is still, then, “why creationism”? The Red Tribe in general and Christianity in particular have a lot of things that disagree with the Official Consensus. Why would they pick creationism, how is it unique compared to anything else that could have been picked? Especially because creationism vs evolution doesn’t really seem to affect anyone’s behavior at all, possibly because of that?

            My claim with Mencken is that it was picked because there was a stable history of The Righteously Civilized laughing at the Booboisie, so the narrative was already smouldering.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I am capable of subtracting numbers, yes.”

            Then how is he responsible for what happened 50 years latter?

            “My claim with Mencken is that it was picked because there was a stable history of The Righteously Civilized laughing at the Booboisie, so the narrative was already smouldering.”

            That doesn’t explain the time gap.

          • Frog Do says:

            The answer to the question: “why this particular issue instead of anything other issue?” is: this thing that happened in the past.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I serious doubt conservative Christians in the 1960s were reading H L Mencken in large enough numbers to found a political movement.

          • Frog Do says:

            They didn’t have to, of course, that’s why this all works. There was a history of The Superior hating The Inferior, championed by H L Mencken chiefly in a certain time period with one crucial meme of American history that all children are publically educated in called the Scopes Monkey Trial. This issue is generally taught in terms of Evolutionism vs Creationism, it is understood of course that it is about The Superior vs The Inferior. Mencken himself would have approved of these terms, I’m sure, given that he became famous for using similar terms.

            So, if you’re looking to rally a movement of the Inferiors later on in history, which issue(s) do you choose? Well, there are a lot of possible issues, people can find ways to disagree on nearly everything, especially since they’ve already been broken up into teams? Well, you can appeal to a meme everyone’s been taught, where the sides are obvious, because you don’t need to know the history really well to rally to a cause. So there you go, that’s why evolution vs creationism is A Thing.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “They didn’t have to, of course, that’s why this all works.”

            I’m sensing a grand theory and a total lack of evidence to support said theory.

            “There was a history of The Superior hating The Inferior, championed by H L Mencken chiefly in a certain time period with one crucial meme of American history that all children are publically educated in called the Scopes Monkey Trial.”

            Yeah. You are going to need to show “all children are publically educated in”. Schools didn’t discuss evolution; why would schools in the areas the most hostile to evolution talk about the Scopes Trial?

            A better explanation is here
            http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/9/790.full
            “After testing its ideas with 1,000 teachers and 165,000 students in 47 states, the BSCS in 1963 produced three versions of a high school biology textbook, each identified by the color that dominated its cover—blue (a molecular approach), green (an environmental/ecological approach), and yellow (a cellular/developmental approach) (Engleman 2001). ”

            Or in short the creationist backlash occurred just after evolution re-entered the classroom. I see no reason not to take creationist reasons at face value; they oppose evolution for the reasons they say they do. It is entirely consistent with their efforts.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’m sensing a grand theory and a total lack of evidence to support said theory.

            Did you read the OP, or any of Scotts other posts on tribalism?

          • Frog Do says:

            Well, you can look up the history curricula in public schools across the US and learn more about social impact of the Scopes Monkey Trial in general, if you want. Trying to prove a narrative is a waste of time, I’ve presented it, you’ve dismissed it without cause, that’s that, really.

            There are two types of people, I think: people who think people are mostly telling the truth, and people who think people are mostly not telling the truth. I suppose you’re in the former, I’m definitely in the later.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Well, you can look up the history curricula in public schools across the US and learn more about social impact of the Scopes Monkey Trial in general, if you want.”

            “social impact”
            “all children are publically educated in”
            Those are not equivalent statements.

            “Trying to prove a narrative is a waste of time, I’ve presented it, you’ve dismissed it without cause, that’s that, really.”

            If only there was some sort of link in my reply…
            maybe something covering the history of teaching evolution in the united states…
            something that would imply states didn’t teach it and so would be unlikely to talk about the Scopes Trial…

          • Frog Do says:

            If only I was talking about biology classes.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            So your claim is they censored talking about evolution in biology classes, but talked about it in history class. If something is controversial enough that biology texts don’t talk about it, why would history texts bother? Heck why would they talk about social movements- didn’t that trend start in the 1960s?

          • Frog Do says:

            Yes! And when they did start talking about them in the sixties, there was this event that happened in the past, that happened to map very well onto a current tribal dispute, amplifying the process of that dispute becoming a flag to rally around, for both sides, giving it a mythological history, giving it a staying power. Inherit the Wind came out as a play then a movie around this time as well, and this probably isn’t a coincidence.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Except people still cared between 1925-1970. It did not emerge as an issue in the 1960s; all that happened is the people pushing for evolution had the federal government on their side because of fears of Soviet technological supremacy. The situation can be seen in the changes in biology textbooks over time; if people didn’t care we shouldn’t see selective pressure but…

            ///Some biology textbooks also began to include religious quotations; groups such as the California State Board of Education argued that these quotations made biology textbooks worthy of adoption because the quotations showed that the books were “tactfully written” and presented evolution as a “theory and not as an established fact” (see Grabiner and Miller 1974). However, the best-selling textbooks continued to downplay or ignore evolution; for example, the best-selling biology textbook in the 1930s (Baker and Mills’ Dynamic Biology, published in 1933) did not include the word evolution, nor did it include any information about the evolution or fossil record of humans. Indeed, Dynamic Biology included an attack on evolution, likening Darwin’s ideas to Lamarck’s and claiming that Darwin’s theory was no longer generally accepted. That attack on Darwin was followed by a tribute to God.///

            ///About two decades after Scopes’ trial, authors of some biology textbooks again made a few bold statements about the validity of evolution. For example, E. T. Smith (1949) wrote in Exploring Biology that “modern biologists accept evolution as proved,” and other authors attacked views that opposed evolution. However, these pro-evolution textbooks were rarely popular. The best-selling books presented a much more conservative treatment of evolution (Skoog 1979). By 1942 fewer than half of the science teachers in the United States taught evolution (Futuyma 1983). ///

            ///In the late 1940s, many authors reduced their treatments of human evolution. For example, the nearly 1,000 words that Hunter devoted to evolution in Life Sciences: A Social Biology (1941) were reduced to about 235 words in the next edition (Skoog 1979). Some authors even tried to reconcile evolution and Genesis. For example, Hunter (1941) stated in Life Sciences: A Social Biology that “later one-celled green plants must have come into existence and then one-celled animals, which feed on the green plants and bacteria.” In 1949 a similar statement was extended with the addition of the line, “As you see, if you turn to the first chapter of Genesis, this is the order of Creation.” ///

            ///In the late 1950s, many textbooks continued to avoid mentioning the word evolution. If mentioned, evolution was usually described timidly with abstractions and euphemisms (e.g., “change” and “development”) and, as in earlier textbooks, was usually in the final chapters of the book. For example, the 1956 version of Moon’s book devoted only one page to evolution, which it referred to as “racial development,” and said nothing about human origins. The evidence supporting evolution received even less coverage in books published in the 1950s than it had in those published in the 1940s (Skoog 1979). As the 1950s came to a close, there was no evidence in textbooks that evolution was regarded as a major concept in biology. On the contrary, biology textbooks and biology teaching in public schools—according to one prominent biologist—were dominated by “antiquated religious traditions” (Muller 1959). ///

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “General H.H. Wotherspoon, president of the Army War College, has a pet rib-nosed baboon, an animal of uncommon intelligence but imperfectly beautiful. Returning to his apartment one evening, the General was surprised and pained to find Adam (for so the creature is named, the general being a Darwinian) sitting up for him and wearing his master’s best uniform coat, epaulettes and all. “You confounded remote ancestor!” thundered the great strategist, “what do you mean by being out of bed after naps? — and with my coat on!”
            Adam rose and with a reproachful look got down on all fours in the manner of his kind and, scuffling across the room to a table, returned with a visiting card: General Barry had called and, judging by an empty champagne bottle and several cigar-stumps, had been hospitably entertained while waiting. The general apologized to his faithful progenitor and retired. The next day he met General Barry, who said: “Spoon, old man, when leaving you last evening I forgot to ask you about those excellent cigars. Where did you get them?” General Wotherspoon did not deign to reply, but walked away. “Pardon me, please,” said Barry, moving after him; “I was joking of course. Why, I knew it was not you before I had been in the room fifteen minutes.”

            -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

          • Frog Do says:

            Of course people cared in the first half of the twentieth century, otherwise they couldn’t reference it as history! And to repeat myself, I am not talking about biology textbooks.

            Also, I have no idea what FacelessCraven is talking about.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Of course people cared in the first half of the twentieth century, otherwise they couldn’t reference it as history!”

            No, you are claiming the Scopes Trial and HL. Everything after that and before the federal backs the teaching of evolution is an entirely different trend; namely it shows the majority or a plurality of Americans were opposed to the teaching of evolution. Creationists are perfectly willing to explain their opposition and the fact you seem to think they are lying (despite the fact their actions are entirely consistent with their stated reasons) is odd.

            “And to repeat myself, I am not talking about biology textbooks.”

            You know what would be great? If you actually say what you are talking about.

            Additionally the reaction to biology textbooks show how people felt about evolution- namely they were opposed to it. A majority of people being opposed to something means that continued opposition is not something mysterious

          • Frog Do says:

            I don’t think the creationists are lying! At least, unless they are claiming to be entirely and solely responsible for broad social trends in this tribal conflict, which would be very, very weird. Social science is really, really hard; I would be especially wary of saying “this huge tribal conflict is entirely caused by This Particular Tribe Which Is Clearly An Outgroup To Me”. Not everything is solely the result of the machinations of the Evil Enemy Tribe, and the fact you set up conflicts like this is why I am constantly accusing you of playing identity politics, because, well, you are.

            I am talking about tribal conflict, not biology textbooks, obviously. But I suppose this is also a single step of meta beyond the object level, which (since you also don’t understand the difference between statements and statements about statements), you seem to have difficulty understanding. See, you can talk about something, and you can also talk about the conversation around that thing. You can only seem to do the first, while I am only interested in doing the second. You can’t do social science without going meta like this, otherwise you are doing some kind of weird Radical Behaviorism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” At least, unless they are claiming to be entirely and solely responsible for broad social trends in this tribal conflict, which would be very, very weird. ”

            Why? Some social conflicts are entirely caused by one side.

            ” I would be especially wary of saying “this huge tribal conflict is entirely caused by This Particular Tribe Which Is Clearly An Outgroup To Me”.”

            Teaching creationism in school is in fact entirely the result of creationists wanting it taught in school.

            “Not everything is solely the result of the machinations of the Evil Enemy Tribe”

            Pushing creationism is entirely due to the actions of creationists. I’m not sure who else could be pushing for it.

            “I am talking about tribal conflict, not biology textbooks, obviously.”

            The textbooks show people were against evolution even when ‘evolution’ (aka the evil secularist) wasn’t against them (because they were utterly irrelevant/crushed). You can’t blame continued opposition to tribal conflict. The opposition to evolution came first.

            “See, you can talk about something, and you can also talk about the conversation around that thing. ”

            And your claim is the conversations are
            “Evangelicals are against evolution, because evolutionists are against evangelicals. How much could have been solved if H L Mencken wasn’t around deliberately mocking anyone who disagreed with his opinion of the Scopes Monkey Trial?”

            Which immediately falls down when we see the trend of how creationism was popular in the country.

          • Frog Do says:

            “Why? Some social conflicts are entirely caused by one side.”

            p r o t o c o l s
            o f
            t h e
            e l d e r s
            o f
            z i o n

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I have no idea what your point with that is. Both sides agree that the creationists are the ones pushing for creationism; the creationists do not disagree with the statement ‘the majority of biologists disagree with them’. Unless your position is that biologists constitute a faction for trying to get biology classes to teach biology, this is one sided.

          • Frog Do says:

            The goal is to win the war. Turning it into a semi-permenant tribal conflict is probably not the best way to do this. Going with The Hated Other Who Cause All The Problems as your narrative is very historically understandable but very stupid way to try and win this, even when you are right.

            And if you think evolution vs creationism is entirely about the accuracy of different scientific theories, you should go and reread all of Scott’s posts about tribalism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The goal is to win the war. ”

            So you reject the concept of factual descriptions of the past unless they suit your personal needs? So basically my mistake is to take what you say as true? I should assume everything you write is false unless proven otherwise?

            “And if you think evolution vs creationism is entirely about the accuracy of different scientific theories,”

            It isn’t me who thinks that. It is the people who President Eisenhower appointed to reform the American educational institution in order to be more competitive with the USSR in the Cold War. Unless you are claiming all the biologists were in some sort of group think or conspiracy, they did in fact reject creationism because evolution was a much better theory.

            “you should go and reread all of Scott’s posts about tribalism.”

            http://www.icr.org/how-we-do-research
            Creationists do believe their beliefs are true and they fight against evolution because they believe that it has harmful moral effects aside from being false. They are pretty clear about this and their behavior is consistent with this.

          • Frog Do says:

            You’re stuck in True Believer mode again, fighting that Holy War, calm down. There is a difference between fact and narrative when interacting with people, you don’t just spew facts at people, you arrange them in a logical sequence to tell a story. Your story implies the history of this conflict really starts in the 1970s (although at least now we’ve moved it back to President Eisenhower, progress), mine is that it really starts earlier in the twentieth century and is part of a larger tribal conflict.

            Firstly, well, if it’s about winning the Cold War, then it’s not entirely about scientific theories, isn’t it, or did Lysenkoism not exist in your history of science? Secondly, of course biologists are acting as a conspiracy, this is going to be obviously true of all scientific disciplines, just look at how science advances one death at a time. Scientists don’t get to be perfectly pure thinkers, they’re human, too. Thirdly, I’d be really surprised if creationists are the first group of humans in history to sincerely execute their beliefs consistant with their behavior, because humans don’t actually do that, of course, Read The Sequences.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “You’re stuck in True Believer mode again,”

            I am stating things that both creationists and their opponents agree upon. How is this a true Believer?

            “Your story implies the history of this conflict really starts in the 1970s (although at least now we’ve moved it back to President Eisenhower, progress), ”

            That is such a massive misreading of what I said I have no idea how you got there.

            Creationists have opposed the teaching of evolution the entire time. It became a major issue because…
            ===
            In response to these concerns, President Dwight Eisenhower requested (and Congress passed) the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which encouraged the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund and develop state-of-the-art science textbooks.
            ===
            After testing its ideas with 1,000 teachers and 165,000 students in 47 states, the BSCS in 1963 produced three versions of a high school biology textbook,
            ===
            By 1970 BSCS books had been adopted in almost half of American high schools.
            ===

            Got it? Eisenhower pushed for change, they finished the work by 1963 and the rollout covered half the country by 1970.

            “Firstly, well, if it’s about winning the Cold War, then it’s not entirely about scientific theories, isn’t it, or did Lysenkoism not exist in your history of science?”

            Yes, it is about which scientific theory is better. The federal government’s would have pushed for creationism if it was the better theory.

            “Scientists don’t get to be perfectly pure thinkers, they’re human, too. ”

            So? What does that have to do with which position is better supported by the evidence? You appear to be attacking the very idea that some theories provide better predictions than others.

            “Thirdly, I’d be really surprised if creationists are the first group of humans in history to sincerely execute their beliefs consistant with their behavior, because humans don’t actually do that, of course, Read The Sequences.”

            Feel free to show how the statement is wrong. Regurgitating jargon doesn’t actually illuminate anything.

          • Frog Do says:

            You’re in True Believer mode because you are focusing on the object level conflict, not how these types of conflicts are sustained. This is not about who is right and who is wrong, unless you seriously think I am defending creationism. Given your past reading comphrension, this is unsurprising.

            The federal government does not subsize the truth, it subsidizes based on what it is incentivized to subsidize, trivially. We are lucky we got the proper evolutionary synthesis, but around the same time the Soviet Union got Lysenkoism, which serves as a counterexample to the idea that government science departments fund truth even in near-wartime situations.

            Your final statement is wrong because humans are not perfect belief executors. They are not computers. Surely you are aware of the hypocrisies of creationists, unless you’re claiming otherwise?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “not how these types of conflicts are sustained.”

            It is being sustained by the creationists. Again, no one disputes that.

            “The federal government does not subsize the truth, it subsidizes based on what it is incentivized to subsidize, trivially.”

            ///
            President Dwight Eisenhower requested (and Congress passed) the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which encouraged the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund and develop state-of-the-art science textbooks.
            ///

            Unless you are declaring scientists have no incentive to work towards truth your statement is irrelevant.

            “Your final statement is wrong because humans are not perfect belief executors. ”

            So? There just needs to be a relation between human beliefs and their actions.

          • Frog Do says:

            There is more to life than Our Good Guys and Their Bad Guys.

            Scientists have multiple incentives, some of which are for the truth, some of which are not. The scientific method is structured to encourage the former and discourage the later, but is not always perfect. Public choice economics might be a good subject to introduce to you here, as well as history and philosophy of science.

            There is a relationship between humans and their actions. There are decisions between those exectued by deterministic algorthim and random number generator.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Scientists have multiple incentives, some of which are for the truth, some of which are not.”

            Are you declaring biologists support for natural selection is not based on evidentiary grounds? If you aren’t, how is this remotely relevant?

        • Thursday says:

          If there was no Book of Genesis, then Christian creationism wouldn’t exist.

          Actually, you can find creationism everywhere among religious people, even when there is no official holy book, like among some Native Americans, or where the authorities have come out in favour of evolution, like with the Catholics.

          People who are religious tend to prefer explanations where things, especially important things, like human beings, are caused by a personal agent. This has to do with religious psychology, not what the holy book says. Though, of course, a holy book does provide additional authority.

          —–

          Anyway, one should read up on Native American creationism. It’s amusing.

          • Nathan says:

            Many (most?) Muslims are also Creationist. We just hear about the white American Creationists because those are the ones the American left doesn’t feel awkward about mocking for their beliefs and culture.

          • NN says:

            I believe that the only major religion that doesn’t have a significant Creationist movement is Buddhism, because their scriptures record that the Buddha refused to answer questions about how the world began, or whether the world even had a beginning, and specifically rejected the idea of a creator god.

            Though considering how Buddhist practice has tended to mix with the local religious practices of the places where it has been established, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are some Buddhist creationists out there.

            Many (most?) Muslims are also Creationist. We just hear about the white American Creationists because those are the ones the American left doesn’t feel awkward about mocking for their beliefs and culture.

            Also because Christian Creationists are the only one who have attempted to get American public schools to teach their Creationist ideas as science.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            People who are religious tend to prefer explanations where things, especially important things, like human beings, are caused by a personal agent.

            Or more broadly, the idea of evolution by natural selection is deeply counterintuitive to a human brain sculpted to be hypersensitive to agenty things, so it is no surprise that in most of the religions that predate the discovery of natural selection, agenty creation was the leading hypothesis for those religions to incorporate into their story.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Imagine that the Bible had a verse saying that all material forces were made up solely of three elements. Everyone believed this for a while until chemists started learning that there are more fundamental elements such as hydrogen, helium, etc. This is resisted because it goes against the Bible. Eventually, the evidence becomes so overwhelming that some Christians convert to atheism and some theologians manage to make the statements compatible by saying that the three elements actually refers to protons, electrons and neutrons. But there would still be a “three-only” movement of Christians who can’t square the circle and believe the theologians are heretics. Meanwhile, someone like yourself would say that people don’t believe in the three-only theory because of anything to do with the Bible. You insist that there is an inherent psychological appeal to the rule of threes so that these religious people would believe in only three elements regardless of what the Bible says.

            The point is that I tend to distrust someone who tells me that people have an inherent psychological belief in X, regardless of culture.

          • Randy M says:

            It is a common observation that people tend to pattern match random events to narratives with agents responsible.
            In fact, it is a common argument against theism.

          • Thursday says:

            That you need a specific scripture or even any scripture to get to creationism is falsified by religious groups with no scripture, like Native Americans, being creationists.

          • NN says:

            That you need a specific scripture or even any scripture to get to creationism is falsified by religious groups with no scripture, like Native Americans, being creationists.

            They may or may not have scriptures, but they do have traditions passed down orally that include creation myths.

            Considering that virtually all religious scriptures started out as oral traditions that were later written down (even the Koran, which wasn’t written down in full until about 20 years after Muhammad’s death), and that at least some Native American tribes must have committed their oral traditions to writing by now, I don’t see any practical difference between the two.

          • Thursday says:

            There is no definitive set of myths. There are tons of variations, and each storyteller is free to tell things his or her own way. Paganism has always been pretty pick and choose like that. Written texts are mostly read by anthropologists and aren’t much used by Native people themselves in their religion. It’s not an ossified thing, like the Bible or Koran.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m not trying to make a difference between written scripture and oral traditions. What I’m saying is that Creationism isn’t just some inherent psychological belief that latches on to religion to justify it. It’s an ideologically influenced belief. Saying that Native Americans also have an ideologically influenced belief doesn’t falsify my original point.

            Here’s a good way to see who’s right. Evangelical Protestants and Catholics are both Christians but one explicitly believes in evolution and the other doesn’t. If you’re right, then Catholics shouldn’t be any less likely to be Creationists because people don’t get their psychology from church leaders. But if I’m right, there should be a significant difference because church leaders do matter when it comes to ideology. Now that’s not absolute, which is why some Catholics may still be Creationist but it’s important.

          • @Wrong Species, seems to me it is an ideologically influenced belief today, but it is also one that any pre-scientific society is likely to hold regardless of ideology, presumably because the idea of evolution is too counter-intuitive for anyone to guess at without evidence.

            In short, the ideology is in the rejection of the scientific evidence against creationism, not in creationism itself.

    • NN says:

      Furthermore, having those verses makes it way harder to throw a person who adheres to a more violent interpretation out of the community.

      Muslims throw people who adhere to a more violent interpretation of Islam out of the community all the time. If you read biographies of Muslim terrorists, variations of “he was thrown out of the local mosque for preaching violence” show up with astonishing regularity.

      The modern Salafi-Jihadist tribe* split off from the Salafi Muslim tribe several decades ago. The Salafi Muslim tribe itself split off from the Orthodox Sunni Muslim tribe some 200-300 years ago. At this point, they’re about as far removed from mainstream Sunni Islam as the Branch Davidians were from mainstream Protestant Christianity.

      * Which has itself split into at least two tribes in the past few years, but let’s leave that aside for now.

      • Jiro says:

        Muslims throw people who adhere to a more violent interpretation of Islam out of the community all the time.

        Acceptance of violence isn’t an all or nothing thing. I would expect that violent Koran verses are an influence in the direction towards greater acceptance of violence even if acceptance of violence is not unlimited. It pushes the Overton window.

        Even the Muslim terrorists you describe are only a subset of Muslim terrorists. I’m pretty sure that not a lot of terrorists have been thrown out of ISIS or Al Qaeda for preaching violence.

        • NN says:

          Even the Muslim terrorists you describe are only a subset of Muslim terrorists. I’m pretty sure that not a lot of terrorists have been thrown out of ISIS or Al Qaeda for preaching violence.

          One of the reasons that ISIS was thrown out of Al Qaeda was because Al Qaeda’s leadership felt that ISIS was getting too indiscriminately and counterproductively violent, so…

          • Jiro says:

            Yes, but that isn’t “violence against heretics is immoral, so we have to throw you out of Al Qaeda”.

        • Thursday says:

          It pushes the Overton window.

          Great way of putting it.

      • Patrick says:

        I’m not the guy you’re answering, but from my perspective the regularity is the point. John Doe goes to mosque, they tell him that the Quran is the perfect word of god and that he should read and follow it of he wants to be a good person. So he does. And he finds a bunch of passages about violent action. He tries to being this to mosque abd no one appreciates it. He goes back to the Quran. And he finds a bunch of stuff about fake believers who don’t really follow the Quran.

        And eventually he leaves or gets kicked out, and the cycle repeats.

        It’s not substantially different from a dynamic that happens all over the place bid you read deconversion stories, there’s a trope that goes like this: my church taught me to question authority and think for myself. They wanted me to use that to reject evolution. But when I actually went to examine evolution and question it and compare it to the bible, the bible lost. I don’t go to church anymore.

        It’s a process that bedevils religious groups. They have values. They have holy texts. They have subtle norms of not interrogating the texts too deeply using those values because the texts can’t withstand it. They have norms of not publicly admitting that. And they have a steady tricke of people who internalize the values, don’t get the message about not taking them to their logical conclusion, interrogate the text, and head off in predictable directions given the texts and values at issue.

        • NN says:

          That isn’t how it works. The exact cause of turning to violence varies from person to person (the most common cause seems to be going off to fight in Afghanistan/Chechnya/Syria/Iraq and getting absorbed into the Jihadist culture there, another common cause is coming across Jihadist propaganda websites), but I yet to come across a single case where it happened because somebody just sat down, cracked open the Quran, and came across some violent verses that all of the Fake Muslims ignore.

          Indeed, studies of Muslim terrorists have found that significant numbers of them have high levels of religious illiteracy. See, for example, the ISIS fighters from the UK who bought Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies on Amazon before they traveled to Syria.

        • Ryan says:

          Mainline American Protestants are just lazy and unsophisticated when it comes to evolution.

          “Of course the forms of life today evolved from the forms of life in the past, we see this happen with our very eyes. Or do you think it was not from the wolf that came the dog? But we’re speaking here of forms. Remember all that time we spent not speaking in tongues and passing the plate around and how we used part of it to teach you about Plato and the allegory of the cave? And how if you leave a succession of caves you arrive in the realm of forms, where there are not individual wolves, but the wolf, not unique dogs, but the dog?

          Well Billy, since you seem to think you’re so smart, where did the forms come from, what designed them, what created them? Randomness you say? Now that’s just terrible science. When you flip a coin, what causes it to land heads or tails? The laws of physics. Where the coin was on your thumb, how hard you threw it, minute misshaping of the surface which interact with air resistance, where your hand was when you caught it etc. etc. But of course no predictive model can take all that into account, so you shortcut with some statistics, you say heads and tails are equally likely and the outcome of individual flips is random.

          So what is randomness Billy? It is nothing but a kind of error in a predictive model. It is an intellectual sin of the highest order to reify this error and claim it is a force of nature. Since the first moment of creation the laws of physics have caused everything, model error has caused nothing.

          So who are you going to throw your lot in with Billy, you little ingrate? The millenniums old traditions, beliefs and faith of your forefathers, or a bunch of bozos who reified a parameter in a statistical model and imbued it with the power of God? Yeah, I thought so. Now finish reading Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, there’s going to be a sermon on it this Sunday.”

          You know, or something like that. But if all they muster is “you have to reject evolution or your going to hell” they better not be surprised when it doesn’t work.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            St. Thomas Aquinas is nodding in approval.

          • Cauê says:

            The argument is in quotes, it’s hard to know how it was meant. In any case, I’m not seeing natural selection there, which is kind of a big deal.

          • Ryan says:

            @Caue

            Maybe look at it this way. The laws of physics and nature of matter are such that liquid water facilitates the SN1 and SN2 reactions that underlay all biochemistry.

            Why do the laws of physics and the nature of matter cause liquid water to facilitate the biochemical reactions?

          • Cauê says:

            I haven’t danced this dance in a long time, but I’m seeing my brain rehearsing the same old steps, anticipating the next moves, and I don’t really want to go there. Sorry for poking.

        • JDG1980 says:

          It’s a process that bedevils religious groups. They have values. They have holy texts. They have subtle norms of not interrogating the texts too deeply using those values because the texts can’t withstand it. They have norms of not publicly admitting that. And they have a steady tricke of people who internalize the values, don’t get the message about not taking them to their logical conclusion, interrogate the text, and head off in predictable directions given the texts and values at issue.

          This is mostly an issue with religions that believe in some variant of sola scriptura. Protestant Christianity and some forms of Islam, primarily. Many other faiths (e.g. Catholicism, most forms of Judaism) require that the original scripture be interpreted in light of cultural traditions.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Catholicism (both Orthodox and Roman) has a strong precedent of making and explicitly discussing the distinction between “Map” and “Territory”.

            See Ryan’s reply above.

          • Patrick says:

            Catholicism is darn near Exhibit A of this problem. Its just usually not the text of the Bible itself at issue, but rather the official teachings of the Catholic Church. Catholics who don’t follow Catholic teachings but who still teach their kids to venerate Catholic teachings are like… 95% of the Catholics in my state.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

          • Patrick says:

            Hokay. Catholic parents who don’t follow their churches teachings on things like homosexuality and birth control, but who do raise their children in the church and teach them to look to the church for moral guidance, and then have a certain percentage of those children disagree with them about things like homosexuality and birth control, that’s totally not a thing. Hokay. I wasn’t paying attention, and actually I just saw, like, a squirrel or something, and thought it was that.

          • Cauê says:

            Catholicism (both Orthodox and Roman) has a strong precedent of making and explicitly discussing the distinction between “Map” and “Territory”.

            I’ve been thinking of the idea of “substance” (as in “transubstantiation”) as the most egregious example of mixing up map and territory that I know of.

            I once tried asking here if I was strawmanning, but didn’t have much of a response. Am I?

    • I haven’t seen Christians or Jews stoning adulteresses lately, and I think anyone who did would go to jail.

      • Guy says:

        Well, I don’t know about the Christians, but for the Jews, you’ve only got like half an hour where you can actually do the stoning, so it’s a pretty hard command to follow.*

        * I don’t actually know/recall Jewish law re: stoning of adulterers, but the teachings regarding disobedient children are quite amusing and, I believe, at least somewhat well known. They are approximately as follows:

        It is a part of the law that the parents of a disobedient child must stone him to death. However, Jews are not (despite what the Nazis might tell you) known for their cruelty; most parents would rather not have to follow this particular law. So they go to their rabbis, way back when the Talmud was being written. Or possibly one of the many layers of commentary? I’m uncertain. In any case, they go to their rabbis and explain their problem and the rabbis say, well, for one thing, the law clearly says parents, not father or mother. So obviously it only applies to a child who disobeys *both* parents; if he was obedient to one of them, he need not be stoned. Further, we know that children cannot be held accountable the way an adult might be; we have these other teachings that say as much. Therefore the law must only apply to those children who are adults. But it cannot apply to an adult man, who as an adult is not instructed but advised by his parents…

        The end result of all this legal wrangling is that there is a period of about twelve hours where a boy might conceivably “disobey his parents” in a way that would cause the law to apply. I assume a similar thing applies to adultery, though it may involve reasoning to the effect that it is impossible to be an adulteress (I think there was some structure by which she was automatically actually divorced at the time? I might be wrong).

        • According to Maimonides, it is three months.

          But there is a long list of other conditions supposedly deduced from the detailed phraseology of the text which imply that it can never happen. Such as the requirement that the father and mother bringing the accusation must have identical voices.

          (Maimonides XIV, Treatise 3 chapter 7)

          • Jiro says:

            What bothers me about that is the special pleading and different standards. Nobody ever says “Well, because of the way it is worded, you are only prohibited from eating meat with milk when the milk actually comes from the mother of the animal” even though that’s a far lesser stretch.

          • Loquat says:

            But not being allowed to eat meat and dairy together is also a far lesser problem than the issues that get all the special pleading, like being required to stone your disobedient son to death or being officially a bastard and therefore not allowed to marry any non-bastard. Nobody’s life is ruined just because they couldn’t eat a cheeseburger, so what’s the incentive to come up with excuses for it?

          • Not “bastard.”

            A mamzer is a child whose parents not only were not married but could not be married, such as the child of an incestuous union or of his mother’s adultery. A child whose parents could have been married but were not has the same status in Rabbinic law as a legitimate child.

  20. Thursday says:

    It’s interesting that there seem to be only three things that create really strong, larger scale identities: ancestry (real or perceived), religion, language. Nothing else comes close.

    You can create strong smaller identities around something as simple as survival (military units) or even pure material interest (gangs). But those things tend not to scale up to far, and they tend to dissolve as soon as the immediate reason for their existence goes away. Think of a rock band on the way up, versus when they are at the top.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I disagree. Ideology seems to do just fine, unless you want to define the problem away by counting ideology as religion, which I think is unfair.

      Also, be careful that you’re not confusing contingent with necessary truths. I think the reason ancestry and language are good things to make nations out of is that people with the same ancestry and language tend to start out in the same place, so you can draw a nice border around them and call them a nation. If all gamers or football players were on the same patch of land, they might found their own nations too.

      • Thursday says:

        Some political ideologies have sometimes created very strong communities, but those differences tend to fade over time. Anybody care about the Guelfs and Ghibellines anymore? Yet, people cling to religious identities for centuries.

        I’m dubious about place being much of a factor. There are too many cohesive yet mobile minorities for that to be true, and too many places with closely mixed geographically but still otherwise separate groups.

        And, let me state the obvious, gamers and football players don’t form anything like as strong of identities as something like religion.

        • Nathan says:

          I hear there are parts of Scotland where wearing the wrong football Guernsey in the wrong place will get you hospitalised.

          • Eoin says:

            Wrong Channel Island 😀

          • Thursday says:

            The really violent and intense football rivalries tend to have an ethnic or religious component. Celtic vs. Rangers is Catholic vs. Protestant, for example.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I remember being on holiday in Barra (one of the Scottish islands, and one of the few majority-Catholic parts of the country) and getting into a conversation with someone who asked me what football team I supported. When I said I wasn’t into football, his immediate next question was what religion I follow.

            When I told him I wasn’t into religion either, he seemed a little surprised but willing to take that as an answer.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          “football players don’t form anything like as strong of identities as something like religion”

          If you’re talking about football as in soccer, that certainly wasn’t true in the UK. A classic example of religion, nationalism, politics and football all combining to form strong identities is Celtic vs Rangers.

        • NN says:

          And, let me state the obvious, gamers and football players don’t form anything like as strong of identities as something like religion.

          That may be true of gamers, but I’m not so sure about sports fans.

          • Thursday says:

            While ancestry/religion/language tend to form the strongest, largest, and most persistent group identities, its not like other things never create enough cohesion to enact significant real world effects.

            But let’s put things in perspective: sports riots are rare, if spectacular. Most cities with major professional sports teams have never had one, despite hundreds of games played.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Sports seem the healthiest way to express tribalism. And I say this as someone not interested in sports as an adult.

            1. No real desire to destroy members of the other tribe or get them fired from their job.
            2. Even if you try to destroy the member of another tribe, all other tribes are big enough to defend themselves.
            3. Switching tribes is easy.
            4. Sports riots, as a rule, happen in their hometown, not against enemies. I’d rather be in 2 sports riots than 1 race riot.

        • Adam Casey says:

          A datapoint on sports:

          Fans of Liverpool FC were blamed by the Sun newspaper after a stadium crush killed 96 people. That was 1989, the Sun utterly retracted and apologised numerous times.

          Today fans of Liverpool wear badges saying “remember the 96” and “don’t buy the sun”. I’m not a fan of LFC or any other football club, but some of my friends growing up were. The idea of buying the Sun makes me feel quite uneasy in a way buying the Star or the Express doesn’t.

      • Esquire says:

        Maybe the organizing principle is that tribalism your sense needs to overlap with literal kinship-based tribalism to become extremely strong.

        There can be co-evolution… if gamers all start hanging out IRL and dating each other, they can create a genetic kin-group, but…

        Proposal: if you want to predict how strong a tribe is, you can pretty much just ask how genetically “loaded” it is:

        Clan > Ethnicity > Language > Religion > Hobby

        • Thursday says:

          Right. People in ev psych talk about kin selection very easily helps cohesive groups form. Ethnic identity seems to be built on this.

          —–

          Language is obviously a hard in-out boundary, because you literally can’t communicate with a group that doesn’t speak your language. You can obviously learn a language, but it takes time, and even then you have to get up to speed on all the other things in the culture that are walled off by the language barrier.

          But it does also make a fairly good proxy for ancestry.

          —–

          Religion is a bit more of a puzzler, but it is much more powerful than hobbies and such.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Religion often has a big influence over whom you will marry. People of the same religion may have different ancestors, but their descendants are allowed to converge.

          • Thursday says:

            That’s true Steve, but its not clear why it had to be religion that would form such groups in the first place. Why not form soon-to-be-inbred groups around hobbies, for example?

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Hindus form soon-to-be-inbred groups around occupations, but Europeans tend to find that weird.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            High IQ English secular progressives — the Darwins, Wedgwoods, Galtons, Keyneses, Huxleys, Arnolds, etc. — formed a loosely inbreeding informal caste beginning around the time of the French Revolution and continuing to this day.

            For example, the child movie star Skandar Keynes, who played Edmund in the “Narnia” trilogy, is some kind of grand-nephew of John Maynard Keynes and a direct great-great-great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar fate awaits American “rationalists.”

          • One reason people prefer to marry folks from their own religion is so they can guarantee that their children will be raised in the religion. If you believe that the only way to go to Heaven instead of Hell is to worship the Right Way, then why would you marry a Sinful Unbeliever who will teach their unbeliefs to your children and doom them to Hell?

            Whereas, the average person probably doesn’t care as much if their kids turn out to like hiking or gardening or video games or whatever.

          • Creutzer says:

            You can obviously learn a language, but it takes time, and even then you have to get up to speed on all the other things in the culture that are walled off by the language barrier.

            There is also the fact that it is basically impossible for most people to learn a language to the point that they’re indistinguishable from non-native speakers. There are very few people who ever acquire a completely native-like accent in any second language. In some way, this makes language reinforce ancestry.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            A really helpful way to think about tribalism is by imagining family trees, both those of your ancestors and your descendants. You are likely to feel kinship toward relatives via ancestry and toward future in-laws via descent.

            For example, the famous Lunar Society of Birmingham, England in the late 18th Century consisted of a number of secular intellectuals — e.g., Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering — whose descendants tended to intermarry.

          • I’ve seen fans (of sf) delighted that that their kids are also fannish.

          • Thursday says:

            People who are fans of X may be delighted that their kids are into X, but would they really choose their mates on that basis? I’ll put this as the hotness test. Would you choose someone who was into X over a very attractive person for a mate? Highly religious people will absolutely reject otherwise highly attractive potential mates who are outside their religion. I really doubt even the most fanatical of sci fi fans would reject a very pretty girl just so their kids could be into sci fi.

            (As an aside, the whole premise of The Big Bang Theory is that the science geek still really wants the hot girl who knows nothing about science. )

          • It seems to me that the sf fans I know aren’t especially selecting for conventional beauty, but this may be due to limited opportunities, or it might be that someone who selects for looks and not fannishness drops out of fandom– and I’m more likely to know how people look if they go to conventions.

            I would expect fans to select for fannishness to get subcultural compatibility with their partner rather than because they especially want to have fannish children.

          • Thursday says:

            The distinction between choosing someone based on common interest vs. hope that offspring will share that interest is a valid one (thanks for correcting me), though I’m not sure that it makes much difference practically.

            Sharing a particular interest is only one among many attractive traits that one would look for in a mate. Very few people would make it an absolute requirement, while sharing a religion is quite often an absolute requirement among more religious people.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Or the families spend a lot of time socializing together and the children are thus more likely to marry within a social network. I use the example that the descendants of the friends of Erasmus Darwin in the late 1700s were still marrying each other at a well above random rate in the late 1900s.

            Similarly, the Obamas vacation each summer at The Oaks on Martha’s Vineyard, where the most socially elite African-Americans in the U.S. have summered for a century or more. I would hardly be surprised if one of the White House daughters eventually marries a good blood, good bone young black man of wealth and breeding whom she met on that romantic beach. That’s the plan.

          • Thursday says:

            Maybe that mattered in class conscious groups in the 19th and early 20th century, but it’s all pretty loose these days. Obama himself was originally a nobody from Hawaii. There’s also the upward movement of originally nobody Jews to take note of. Ralph Lauren’s son married into the Bushes. So, while I don’t doubt there is assortive mating by certain traits, I don’t see this as any sort of self-conscious exclusion. It’s just people with valuable traits marrying other people with valuable traits.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Actually, David Maraniss’s 2012 biography of Obama makes clear that he grew up around wealthy, accomplished families and understands class and caste quite well. For example, his stepfather Lolo was the son of the leading Indonesian petroleum geologist and was part of an extremely well-connected clan in Indonesia oil. His girlfriend in New York, Genevieve Cook, was the daughter of the Australian ambassador to the U.S. and stepdaughter of the famous American lawyer (son of an even more famous Washington lawyer) who ran the biggest mining operation in Indonesia. Obama’s Pakistani roommate in NYC sounds like a loser, except one day a Bhutto, daughter of one Pakistani prime minister and sister of another, shows up at their apartment to visit her old friend. His mother’s Ph.D. adviser Alice Greeley Dewey was a descendant of Horace Greeley and John Dewey. Etc etc

            Obama downplays his connections to this rather exotic world, making his white grandparents sound like totally average people from the middle of nowhere, but both white grandparents had siblings with doctorates. Janny Scott’s biography of his mother has long interviews with several of his elderly American relatives and I was impressed by them: they were smart, cultured, educated people.

            In short, Obama comes from the stratum of the WASP upper middle class that, generation after generation, provides America with its career diplomats and intelligence agents.

            The Obamas have spent a lot of money over the years to keep their daughters in private schools. Their choice of repeatedly summering at the most distinguished African-American summer colony is a conscious one in part to introduce their daughters to the rarefied society of America’s most wealthy and refined blacks.

          • Thursday says:

            You’re really having to stretch your evidence there. Obama’s maternal grandparents were from Kansas. The family was smart and started to move on up during the 20th century, like a lot of other Americans, starting with his grandparents generation. But they didn’t start out there by any stretch. His grandfather had some distinguished ancestry, but managed a furniture store after WWII. His grandmother worked in a factory during WWII, for goodness sake.

            Obama himself doubtless learned a lot from moving among Indonesian government circles, but his mother was a newcomer who didn’t make it into that milieu because of her family connections. And needless to say there isn’t much connection between the Indonesian upper class and the American upper class.

            America is a big country and there are a lot of people from the higher end of the middle class. Many of them are smart, cultured and educated. Characterizing this as a endogamous caste though is fairly ridiculous.

      • Aegeus says:

        Speaking of football, a local sports team can be an incredibly strong tribe. Listen to a Bengals fan talk about the “Shittsburgh Squealers” and the Baltimore “Ratbirds.” People take it seriously. As seriously as religion, I’d say.

        It probably benefits from the same geographic benefits as a nation, since everyone from Cincinnati grew up cheering for the Bengals, and the common activity of watching the games together also adds cohesion (and means that people keep being Bengals fans when they leave Cincinnati).

  21. roystgnr says:

    I see the same with the late Thomas Sowell

    I know conservatives aren’t the most lively bunch, but at least check the guy’s pulse before you pronounce a time of death.

    (on edit – sorry, should have reloaded the page before posting a likely-to-be-duplicate comment)

  22. deskglass says:

    Belgium as a whole may not be a very good tribe, but that’s because it is sharply divided into the Flemish and Walloon tribes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Belgium

  23. Tom Passin says:

    I read once – and haven’t verified it – that the old Romans once divided all citizens into “green” and “blue” factions, mostly I gather for supporting sporting events. Eventually there were widespread fights and riots between the factions. Of course, the designations were completely arbitrary, but people got as serious about them as of they really meant something. This sounds a lot like those teen age campers.

    • Redland Jack says:

      The Blues and the Greens play a major role in Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘The Sarantine Mosaic’. Of course, that is a work of historical fantasy, but I believe it is based on the Roman Empire …

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I expect that most rationalists were first exposed to this historical tidbit by Eliezer Yudkwosky’s “A Fable of Science and Politics”:

      In the time of the Roman Empire, civic life was divided between the Blue and Green factions. The Blues and the Greens murdered each other in single combats, in ambushes, in group battles, in riots. Procopius said of the warring factions: “So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colors be brothers or any other kin.” Edward Gibbon wrote: “The support of a faction became necessary to every candidate for civil or ecclesiastical honors.”

      Who were the Blues and the Greens? They were sports fans—the partisans of the blue and green chariot-racing teams.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I believe (and wikipedia confirms) there were also red and white factions (it was chariot races). They don’t sound too different from UK football hooligans.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        In actual Rome, the four factions were very much like UK football hooligans.

        In New Rome (Constantinople), there were only the two (blue and green) and they developed gang-like structures and social-service arms known as demes (and if that reminds you of Hamas or Hezbollah, then it should).

        After the Nika revolt, the demes were dismantled, and the tribes faded – within a generation, the tribal split was between monophysites and diaphysites.

        • Evan Þ says:

          And then, several generations later, between iconophiles and iconoclasts.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            This seems to be a perfect example for one of the ideas Scott was going at here (and in previous things on the subject), that dismantling tribes might not actually be a good way to stop tribal conflict.

            I’m wondering if an effective method might be to do the opposite, get deliberately set-up, explicit tribes, ideally a large number (as in more than 2-3 and try to avoid natural coalitions dominating the thing), and have them all recognize the tribal boundaries and agree to respect members of other tribes, backed up by the majority of tribes coming down on any given tribe for starting inter-tribal conflict.
            This is sort of like what the nation-state system is going for, although not a perfect success thus far.

            OTOH, I wouldn’t be surprised if having recognized tribes that agree to respect each other actually causes those to be de-emphasized (even assuming they’re drawn up by tribal boundaries initially, something “nation”-state boundaries in large parts of the world today fail miserably at), in favor of some other axis not recognized as such.
            It’s possible the best solution- and certainly the one that works thus far- is to have tribes that often strongly dislike one another and identify around being not-other-tribe, but get them to not *kill* each other over it.

          • Schmendrick says:

            AlexanderRM, you’ve (possibly inadvertently) recreated the Ottoman “millet” system for the regulation of religious minorities almost perfectly. It worked really well for the Ottomans…until the Russians and French decided that having explicitly organized coreligionist minorities in a rival power was too sweet a lever not to pull…

  24. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    First, a couple of nipticks; “can (provably) improves” should be “can (provably) improve” and “Harold Lee’s Harold Lee’s” should be “Harold Lee’s”. Also, I’m surprised this doesn’t have the “long post is long” tag.

    I’m stressing this because I keep hearing people ask “What is the rationalist community?” or “It’s really weird that I seem to be involved in the rationalist community even though I don’t share belief X” as if there’s some sort of necessary-and-sufficient featherless-biped-style ideological criterion for membership…

    If you take only one thing from this essay, it’s that communities are best understood not logically but historically. If you want to understand the Shia, don’t reflect upon the true meaning of Ali being the rightful caliph, understand that a dispute involving Ali initiated ethnogenesis, the resulting culture picked up a bunch of features and became useful to various people, and now here we are. If you want to understand the rationalist community, don’t ask exactly how near you have to think the singularity has to be before you qualify for membership, focus on the fact that some stuff Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote led to certain people identifying themselves as “rationalists” and for various reasons I enjoy dinner parties with those people about 10000% more interesting than dinner parties with randomly selected individuals.

    This reminds me of something I keep noticing whenever people discuss the literary merits of fanfiction. Someone always argues that the Aeneid can be considered Illiad fanfiction or that Paradise Lost is basically fanfiction of the Bible, and that therefore fanfiction is already part of the Western canon. But this is only true if you are using a featherless biped definition of fanfiction. Cladistically, the literary tradition of the modern fanfiction community is descended from the Star Trek fanzines of the 60s and has nothing to do with the work of Virgil or Milton. And it always annoys me when I see someone trying to imply that it does, because I am part of the fanfiction community, and I am proud of what we do, and I don’t think we need to steal the status of the great books by association.

    Incidentally, one of the benefits of reading Death Eater blogs is that it teaches you to think cladistically.

    There seems to be a generational process, sort of like Harold Lee’s theory of immigrant assimilation, by which religions dissolve. The first generation believes everything literally. The second generation believes that the religion might not be literally true, but it’s an important expression of universal values and they still want to follow the old ways and participate in the church/temple/mosque/mandir community. The third generation is completely secularized.

    This was certainly my family’s relationship with Judaism. My great-great-grandfather was so Jewish that he left America and returned to Eastern Europe because he was upset at American Jews for not being religious enough. My great-grandfather stayed behind in America but remained a very religious Jew. My grandparents attend synagogue when they can remember, speak a little Yiddish, and identify with the traditions. My parents went to a really liberal synagogue where the rabbi didn’t believe in God and everyone just agreed they were going through the motions. I got Bar Mitzvahed when I was a kid but haven’t been to synagogue in years. My children probably won’t even have that much.

    This only happens when all of the incentives push towards dissolution (as you note, modern America is an environment where there is an “overwhelming pressure to dissolve into the Generic Identity Of Modern Secular Consumerism”). When the pressure and incentives push towards a rallying flag, you get the opposite phenomenon of “not getting the joke”. The first generation pretends to believe in the ideology because it is in their interests to do so. The second generation truly believes in the ideology, having had it instilled from birth. Third generation believes a more radical/literal interpretation of the ideology because it allows them to stand out as being specially committed to the ideology. The result is a holiness spiral.

    Finally, let me indulge in some tribalism and say that I love you guys (no homo). The rationalist community is definitely the best cult I’ve ever joined.

    • Anonymous says:

      I love you too, and not just because of those Dark Triad charms

      :3

    • Thursday says:

      This only happens when all of the incentives push towards dissolution

      The failure to account for how many religious identities have lasted for a very long time was the biggest problem in an otherwise excellent piece.

    • LHN says:

      In my experience, criticism of fanfic as a concept isn’t based on its line of descent but on the idea that fiction that uses preexisting characters or story elements is by its nature inferior to work that doesn’t. So the fact that, e.g., Shakespeare never made up a plot or characters if there was one handy for recycling seems on point.

      I’m not personally in the fanfic community, though I’ve read occasional examples I’ve liked. (Ditto tie-in novels that tend to get tarred with the same brush. Sturgeon’s Law applies, but, e.g., John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection is an excellent novel that happens to be set in the Star Trek universe.) But I get irritated when people confuse a fairly young and local fashion for literary originality (or the practicalities of IP rights enforcement) for standards of overall merit.

      • Nornagest says:

        Not to diss fanfic unduly, but John M. Ford was really, really good. So good that pointing to anything of his doesn’t say much about its genre’s merit. I’m pretty sure he could have taken a Dean Koontz plot and characters and make them readable.

        • Protagoras says:

          His “Ask Dr. Mike” performances were also extremely entertaining.

        • LHN says:

          John M. Ford was a genius who should be better known than he is. But that’s kind of the point– whether a good writer can produce good work is orthogonal to the question of whether the building blocks are original or not. The idea that a real artist only uses plots and characters he built with his own two hands (or at least lightly filed off the serial numbers from) is a weird contemporary affectation rather than an enduring fact of art.

          I’d expect that in practice, a field like fanfic, uncompensated and with minimal gatekeeping, is probably going to have a higher Sturgeon Ratio than published fiction, and that the corporate strictures of tie-in fiction would be limiting. But those are both rebuttable presumptions.

          (Especially the latter, given how much great art has been produced in highly limiting contexts, and the general tendency for authors who become successful enough to operate with fewer limits to suffer a decline in quality.)

          • Thursday says:

            A lot of this has to do with copyright restrictions. If anyone could write a Star Trek novel, do it however they wanted, and then get paid for it, I suspect better writers would be attracted to Star Trek stories.

        • Thursday says:

          But the genre is obviously capable of being turned into something really great by a great artist. Most fan fiction is in the awful to decent range, but that’s because of the quality of the authors, not because of the genre. There seems to be an implied “amateur” put in front of “fan fiction” because most of it is by amateurs, but I don’t think that has to be taken as definitive.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If it were written by professionals it’d be canon.

            Ah I see you addressed this point above.

          • Anonymous says:

            A good editor is a critical element in most good to great novels. I imagine almost no fanfic is edited by a good editor. So even if the author is good they don’t stand much of a chance.

          • Naomi Novik talks about fan fiction, and specifically about the high quality of editing (beta reading) that one can get as a fan fiction writer.

            This is an hour long podcast (and not about Uprooted), but I recommend it as talking about just how good an obsessive gift culture can get.

          • Thursday says:

            The best creative writers are usually their own primary editors. A good editor can help these guys with a bit of trim and polish, but this isn’t the make or break factor.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know where you are getting that from, but it isn’t true. Whether by sales or critical acclaim all the vast majority of top novels have had deeply involved editors.

            In fact, you can see the importance of an editor yourself. Just look at an author that gets famous–as the power shifts between the author and the editor the books get longer, less tightly plotted, more self indulgent, and so on.

          • Thursday says:

            I’m taking the long view. Outside editing is a fairly recent thing, so for your hypothesis to be true, writing would have had to have been pretty terrible in past centuries. That isn’t true, therefore editing is not essential.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most writing has been pretty terrible in past centuries. Which is why most writing from past centuries isn’t read any more, unless by someone desperate to find material for their [X] Lit doctoral dissertation. The tiny, tiny fraction of old literature that we still think is worth reading, has been filtered through a process as coarsely selective as the harshest editor.

            Which isn’t quite the same as the fine editing at the detail level – but it may not be coincidental that the man generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of the English language in centuries past, was a hack playwright whose works were necessarily “edited” by the collective consensus of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with extensive audience feedback before being fixed in their current form.

          • Thursday says:

            There isn’t actually a higher amount of really good writing in this age, despite the wide availability of editing. The really great authors didn’t need editors then and the really good authors don’t need it now.

            Shakespeare would have been Shakespeare even with just the contemporaneously published quarto editions. As well, modern editors of Lear and Hamlet tend to include everything they can find from both quarto and folio, and no one actually thinks any of that material should be left out.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            People *do* leave out chunks of Macbeth, most notably the witches songs (which were not written by Shakespeare), when it is performed.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even the “contemporary” quartos were published well after theatrical performance, and therefore after in-house editing and likely several rounds of audience feedback.

            And Shakespeare’s enduring reputation is based on the folios. That, when an author makes it big, there will be people interested in seeing their every literary dropping in print, is a given. It doesn’t follow that these works would have made them famous if they were all we had.

          • Thursday says:

            People *do* leave out chunks of Macbeth

            When people leave out stuff of Shakespeare performances, it is almost always for a shorter run time, not because they think the stuff left out detracts from the play.

            Tellingly the only Shakespeare play people really think outright benefits from editing is Richard III.

            Even the “contemporary” quartos were published well after theatrical performance, and therefore after in-house editing and likely several rounds of audience feedback.

            If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. You were trying to use the Folio as an example of editing improving the supposedly unfinished work of Shakespeare. But the earlier versions are fine, so now you have to claim that those were edited, even though there is not any evidence for that.

            And audience feedback isn’t really the same thing as editing.

            —–

            Incidentally, I was just reading some stuff on Cormac McCarthy’s relationship with his editor, which apparently consisted mostly of McCarthy ignoring him. Philip Roth too has a finished manuscript before editors get ahold of it, and will only make minor change thereafter. Nabokov referred to editors as “pompous avuncular brutes” and wouldn’t let them do anything more than look at his punctuation.

            One of the most interesting writer/editor relationships was between Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish. Lish notably improved Carvers earlier work, but Carver’s best story “Cathedral” was written after he told Gish to go take a hike.

            The existence of many posthumously discovered masterpieces also attests to the superfluity of editors: Hadji Murad, The Mysterious Stranger, Billy Budd, most of Kafka, Confederacy of Dunces.

            Let’s not even mention the preference among literary scholars when preparing texts for going back to author’s original manuscript rather than the edited versions.

            Obviously, a lot of writers get some feedback at some stage, but for the really good ones the changes tend not to be terribly significant.

          • LHN says:

            When people leave out stuff of Shakespeare performances, it is almost always for a shorter run time, not because they think the stuff left out detracts from the play.

            Tellingly the only Shakespeare play people really think outright benefits from editing is Richard III.

            My impression is that there’s a consensus that the dumbshow in Hamlet is redundant and doesn’t add anything to the spoken play-within-a-play. Unless that’s changed?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I love Shakespeare, but there are parts of it that are painfully tedious. If you ever see a performance that tries explicitly to be “complete” this will be obvious.

            My favorite example is from Romeo and Juliet. Juliet [spoiler warning] has taken the potion to simulate death. Her nurse, parents, and fiancee come in thinking to take her to her wedding, and they are horrified, bereft, miserable. They take her body off to the crypt where [spoiler] Romeo will find it and slay himself in his own grief. We are right at the cusp of the events that make this a famous tragedy. And then, BAM!, the action stops dead while some Capulet functionary pays and dismisses the musicians who had come to play for the wedding. It takes several minutes to do so, because it occurs to him to ask the musicians why poets say music has a silver sound; there’s a lot of back-and-forth, but eventually each musician answers slyly with an almost identical pun: “silver hath a sweet sound”, “musicians sound for silver”, “musicians have no gold for sounding”. It’s just endless. When I saw a performance with this scene, I thought WTF? but it’s there in the text — you just rarely see it on stage. For good reasons beyond just total run time.

            The smartest thing Branagh did in his film of Love’s Labour’s Lost was to reduce the Pageant of the Nine Worthies to fifteen seconds of newsreel footage.

  25. Honestly I kind of wish the rationalist diaspora was better at being a tribe than it is right now. For all the accusations I see out there about rationalist groupthink, sometimes it seems like all I see from rationalists is negativity about rationality: criticisms of Eliezer, people boldly taking stances against some piece of rationalist “orthodoxy” or another, people rushing to make sure it’s known that they’re not one of “those” rationalists who believes in silly things like cryonics or transhumanism or utilitarianism or whatever.

    And look, it’s not that Eliezer doesn’t deserve any criticism, or that LW is right about everything. Obviously he does and it isn’t. It’s just…I don’t know, doesn’t anyone still just think that rationality is great? That the sequences are straight-up amazing? It doesn’t seem like you can say that anymore without seeming naive, which is a shame.

    The rationalist community was initially really great about not taking cynicism to be a mark of sophistication, and that was one of my favourite things about it. Now I worry that people in the community are becoming more and more cynical about rationality itself, and that doesn’t strike me as a good trend.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I’m inclined to agree with this. There’s a lot of negativity.

      That’s better than some kind of environment where you can’t criticize the Fearless Leader, but it is nice to occasionally hear about commonalities instead of disagreements.

      • expjpi says:

        I also agree with thepenforest. I think that criticizing the Fearless Leader while still supporting the community is something we all should practice.

    • blacktrance says:

      What I’d like to see is critiques of the rationalist community from a We Need Fifty Stalins perspective – something like that we’re leaving utility on the ground by being too normal, that we hold too much sacred and that interferes with instrumental rationality, too much Guess Culture, not enough “autism”, and so on.

      • FeepingCreature says:

        So I hear Vaccines cause autism! Not quite sure if that’s true, but if so, it opens some exciting opportunities… 😉

      • Deiseach says:

        we’re leaving utility on the ground by being too normal, …not enough “autism”

        Well that’s great if you’re a functional autistic, but for those not so functional, where does that leave them? And do the more functional autistics look after the less functional ones or have any interaction with them? Do the highly mathematically talented autistics have great talks and interaction with the autistics who have to wear helmets because they bang their heads off the wall and cause themselves injury* in Real Life, rather than the rosy idealised notions of online interaction and speculation? I think what goes largely unspoken and unexamined there is “more autistics like us“, not “more autistics in general”.

        My paternal family has a raft of largely undiagnosed mental and socialisation disorders and we’re probably mostly scattered somewhere along the autism spectrum all over the place (before it became politically incorrect to differentiate Asperger’s Syndrome from autism, a lot of us would probably count as aspies), and I would very much not like to produce offspring that have my problems. That’s a large part of why I never wanted to marry (and being asexual/aromantic was a happy and fortuitous coincidence there): I did not want a raft of autistic babies (though I had no idea autism was a thing) because no not a good idea, I would not be a good mother and the sum total of misery would be increased all round.

        We’re not all happy Silicon Valley employee types, we’re socially crippled (that includes ability for work, ability to form friendships and other relationships, functionally agoraphobic, etc.) and it’s not fun and I’m sorry, all the offended neurodivergent people, but “normal” is better.

        *Again, real-life examples from the job when applicants for social housing are giving medical necessity reasons; one family had two autistic kids out of three children, late teenage years, need separate rooms because of environmental stimuli sensitivity, cause themselves this kind of damage, etc.

        • blacktrance says:

          “Autism” is not autism (the mental condition), it’s a reclaimed insult, typically aimed at analytical thinking, consistent application of moral principles, empiricism, “nitpicking”, and other things in that cluster. Grey-tribe libertarianism, consequentialism, EA, New Atheism, and Ask Culture are all archetypal examples of “autism”.

          • Frog Do says:

            So it’s an insult you’re trying to turn into an applause light, is what I’m getting out of this.

            </