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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. Jeff says:

    As I think someone else mentioned, I think that’s an incorrect definition of “fake gamer girls”.

    Casual gamers (male or female) are treated with less respect by some gamers who identify as “gamers”, but usually not with any serious vitriol. The concept of a fake gamer girl is a girl who is genuinely *not* interested in any games, but rather is only interested in various “meta-games” related to the game. Usually receiving money or attention through streaming or videos or flirting with people in-game or working as some representative for a company or cosplaying etc.

    I think many “gamers” greatly overstate and overestimate what % of girl gamers are “fake”, but they definitely exist.

  2. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    I don’t think the people who complain of atomization are disappointed by the lack of tribalism. I think they are disappointed by the lack of opportunities our society furnishes them to persecute and/or kill other humans. You may think I’m way off the mark, but that is what I truly think. No matter how much tribalism you let them have, if you don’t let them persecute and/or kill others, they will continue to feel atomized.

    (This does not mean that your desire for community is a hidden desire for blood. Rather, people with no camouflaged desire for blood don’t usually complain of atomization in those terms. Such desires are often couched in left-wing formulations as well. Bloodthirst has no politics.)

  3. Melody Guan says:

    Typo: can (provably) improveS their physical and mental health.

  4. Little Yid says:

    Wasn’t Abu Bakr long dead by the time the Ali dispute sprang up?

  5. Alicia Parr says:

    The last paragraph is the real meat for me. Tribalism vs. Modern Secular Consumerism. They co-exist, even though the idealized version of one precludes the other. This implicit battle that shapes our collective meaning-making begs more analysis.

  6. windmill tilter says:

    > 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).

    Empirically you may find that more familialist societies are less patriotic, but I don’t see why the tradeoff above would exist. What would be the evidence for it existing? Also, is there any sense of American tribe that influences behavior-as opposed to, say, influencing a Fourth of July parade-that differs from racism? What does having American citizenship add to person’s status or prestige, if it adds anything?

    • hlynkacg says:

      Why wouldn’t it exist?

      The need to socialize and “belong” seems to be encoded into human brains at a very deep level and if you remove or reduce the effectiveness of one avenue people will naturally seek out others.

      As an aside, American citizenship used to carry a fair bit of prestige, not to mention practical advantage, but that has been waning for a while now.

      • windmill tilter says:

        How did American citizenship carry prestige? Also, if you are right and the importance of citizenship has been declining in a time when, pretty clearly, racism has also been declining, this might be evidence against a tradeoff.

    • Sastan says:

      I would argue that it exists, while postulating it’s damned near impossible to prove. I can however, explain some evidence with that theory.

      The formulation and strengthening of one tribal loyalty will tend to lessen all other tribal loyalties. One can only be finitely partisan, before you are a true fanatic or patriot, and your whole life is subsumed in the tribe’s goals. Most people don’t go this far, this is only as an upper bound for argument. The defining part of any tribe is its outgroup. Therefore, the appearance of a strong outgroup at one level of tribalism should lessen all subsidiary tribalisms. And broadly, this seems to be the case.

      Look at american society before and after WW2. The social convergence from 1945 to 1970 was remarkable, and we saw the crushing of a lot of barriers, the homogenization of culture, and the sweeping away of the old ethnic groupings that had been so important for hundreds of years. Irish, German, Jewish, English, Swede……….all became simply American. This was not because we suddenly decided to all get along, but because we were given an external struggle to focus on. WW2, followed by the Cold War.

      Look at Great Britain. The tenuous and often violent proto-empire melded Scots, English, Welsh and Irish into one identity, and the driver of this was external threat and empire building. With the end of both those, we see the fraying of that order with the Scottish vote last year.

      At the national level, external threats will tend to bolster national feeling and patriotism, and by corollary to reduce the pull of political partisanship, racial solidarity, class struggle, all that jazz. Germany was formed in this way, on purpose! Bismark was enough of a genius to realize he needed to get the loose alliance of german states to all fight a war together against someone (anyone!) to bind them together. The French bumbled into his trap like imbeciles and formed the modern nation of Germany.

  7. 4bpp says:

    > 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.

    Reading this filled me with a certain sense of dread, and I realised that its nature was exactly the perception of threat to tribal cohesion that I imagine, for instance, a (blue, red) tribe member would experience if a singer or media personality they like came out in support of a (red, blue) tribe cause. This seemed very ironic at first.

    Then I realised that it actually isn’t. If prior reasoning concluded that tribalism is instrumental to a lot of bad things, can we not continue working to suppress it along with other ancestral instincts that have been deemed harmful for modern society? If the post instead read “Since then, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve found that I enjoy drinking the blood of the children of my enemies as much as anyone else.” and it gave me a strong urge to drink the blood of the children of rationalist diaspora members who would argue in favour of drinking the blood of one’s enemies’ children, it would not be inconsistent for me to argue that even if graphic retribution against the kin of those we disagree with activates our reward circuits, you shouldn’t do it and neither should I.

    Concretely, you say that you’ve changed your mind regarding tribalism, but comparing to everything you have previously put on the table against it, the reasons I can see you mention for you to now find it okay seem fairly weak.

  8. keranih says:

    Almost 1.5k responses and no one brings up the People’s Front of Judea?

  9. lliamander says:

    Also, obligatory Meredith Patterson reference:
    https://medium.com/@maradydd/when-nerds-collide-31895b01e68c#.50avqmixd

  10. lliamander says:

    > The holy book is the rallying flag for a religion, but the religion is not itself about the holy book.

    In other words:

    “The methods of rationality are the rallying flag for rationalism, but rationalism is not about the methods of rationality”

  11. Anonymous says:

    >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.

    Ah I’m late to the comment party; nevertheless: this isn’t gamer girls. This is fucking casuals. Gamer girls are worse; they [are perceived to] deliberately infiltrate the tribe (if that’s the term you want to use), to leverage their female privilege for personal gain. See also: boobie streamers.

  12. K. says:

    Speaking as a professional game developer who’s never not been a gamer: it’s the Gamergate types crying “fake geek girl” who are involved in a culture-change project, by insisting that one small subset of gamers are Real Gamers and the rest are interlopers. The feminists have always been here; there was no shortage of feminist gamers and feminist opinions among gamers 20 years ago, and there was a lot less hostility toward them.

    • Murphy says:

      Not quite the same thing.

      There’s no shortage of feminists or feminist opinions in the less-wrong crowd but if 10,000 tumblr-style feminists suddenly descended on the community and proceeded to try their damnedest to destroy all the less-wrong style norms and traditions and replace them with tumblr norms… then that would be a different matter and would probably generate a little hostility.

      Lots of people are members of multiple tribes and the opinions from one can be commonly heard in the other and that can be quite peaceful and normal.

      That doesn’t preclude one tribe turning around and crushing the other at a later date and trying to destroy all the cultural norms of that tribe to be replaced by their own.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The whole “fake geek girl” meme started here

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/03/26/dear-fake-geek-girls-please-go-away/#6c6aa4df2afb

      Note Ms. Brown is a woman, and not speaking specifically about gamers.

      The phenomenon, and the noticing of the phenomenon, certainly predates this article, but blaming “gamers” for the cry itself is wrong.

      Gamers are more likely to complain about “casuals” (sometimes “filthy casuals”), gender neutral. (or, on the other side, the CoD/sports franchise only players termed with a male-specific word banned here)

      As for separating the real from the interloper, that’s a necessary mechanism in any tribe.

      • Urstoff says:

        So is this basically a complaint about cultural appropriation?

        • The Nybbler says:

          No. Objecting to cultural appropriation is objecting to taking elements of one culture and using them without being a member of that culture. The objection here is claiming to be a member of a culture while adopting only the superficial trappings of it.

          Cultural appropriation complaints from gamers would be silly; anyone can play games. But IMO cultural appropriation complaints are always silly.

        • Jaskologist says:

          “Stolen valor” might be more accurate.

      • NN says:

        Ms. Brown isn’t an exception. Most of the genuine complaints about “fake geek girls” that I’ve seen have come from women who claim to be the “real geek girls.”

      • dndnrsn says:

        There were always women in gaming and in “nerd space”, so the whole “nerd space/gaming was for outcast men” idea is kind of BS – it might have been more male than female, but there were definitely (outcast) women. Some of them were, undoubtedly, feminists.

        As far as I can remember, back in the mid-2000s perceived male interlopers were more complained about than female interlopers: the narrative went, “the idiot jocks just want CoD and Halo and Madden and everything is getting ruined because everything has to be turned into a shooter to appeal to them”.

        However, it never seemed to be as intense as the more recent campaign against perceived female interlopers, where the narrative is about “social justice types coming and taking away all the fun and they just want walking simulators” or whatever.

        Thoughts why?

        • NN says:

          However, it never seemed to be as intense as the more recent campaign against perceived female interlopers, where the narrative is about “social justice types coming and taking away all the fun and they just want walking simulators” or whatever.

          The recent campaign is only perceived to be against female interlopers because of the constant media campaign to smear it as sexist. I have seen far more vitriol and mockery from the Reproductively Viable Worker Ants directed at Jonathan McIntosh, Anita Sarkeesian’s co-writer, than against Sarkeesian herself, even on the chans.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Working from pro-GG sources, though, more women are attacked as interlopers than men, or so it would seem. Or, at least, actual named individuals are more likely to be women.

          • NN says:

            What sources, specifically, are you referring to? Because I see way more male names than female names here.

            Also, one of the largest parts of GG was an email campaign targeting the advertising revenue of Gamasutra, Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, Polygon, and Gawker. Every one of those sites has a mostly male staff, and the campaign against Gawker in particular was set off by a series of Tweets by confirmed male Sam Biddle.

            Finally, the treatment of Steve Polk before and after people found out that his Alison Prime persona was fake seems to be a significant point of evidence against the idea that the Ants are biased against women.

          • NN says:

            @dndnrsn: I see way more male names than female names here.

            There was also the whole Alison Prime AKA Steve Polk situation.

          • Zorgon says:

            Working from pro-GG sources, though, more women are attacked as interlopers than men, or so it would seem.

            Assuming that GG’s explanation for the events that have occurred is true, this would be the expected outcome; since The Narrative is that women are being attacked by “misogynerds”, then it follows that those who seek to gain status and money by posing as victims are much more likely to be women. The incentives line up.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @NN: That’s a list of journalists, though. When I, an outsider, think of “people the Ants view as the interlopers who are coming in and messing things up” (admittedly, this is not a scientific approach) it’s heavily women – Sarkeesian, Wu, Quinn, Nyberg, for some reason Lindy West comes to mind, Leigh Alexander (who is admittedly on the top of that list), etc.

            The impression I’ve gotten is that the journalists are viewed not so much as primarily interlopers, but rather as collaborators. The editorial-cartoon version of the GG narrative would be a blue-haired woman in a certain kind of glasses storming in clutching a gender studies degree, a bunch of student loans, and a Patreon account password, while some craven games journalist lays the red carpet out in front of her. Again, this is just the impression I’ve gotten from the sidelines.

            @Zorgon: But that doesn’t explain why the Ants would play along by attacking them.

          • Jiro says:

            When I, an outsider, think of “people the Ants view as the interlopers who are coming in and messing things up” (admittedly, this is not a scientific approach) it’s heavily women

            Since the means by which they are messing things up is indiscriminate accusations of misogyny, I would expect most of them to be female, for obvious reasons. It’s hard to complain that you’re personally feel discriminated against by misogynist gamers if you’re not female, or at least, it doesn’t get as much play in the media and clickbait sites.

          • Zorgon says:

            You miss my point. Based upon GGs explanation of events, the apparent victims presented by the SJ media would be primarily women regardless of what was actually happening.

            Incentives gonna incent.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Wu and Sarkeesian inserted themselves into Gamergate; Wu used (and uses) claims of harassment by Gamergate as a way to promote herself and her game (well, that’s the charitable version). I think she’s the one who got caught posting a screen shot of a _draft_ of a threat.

            Sarkeesian, while certainly disliked before, and an proponent of the views the journalists were pushing, wasn’t a focus until she blamed Gamergate for harassment she claimed was going on for years when Gamergate was only months old. She also attacked GG-supporter Thunderf00t for “harassing her” by making response videos to her videos. Like Wu, she seems to be using GG as a way to increase her own profile.

            Nyberg’s only connection to gaming at all seems to be attacking gamergate. She’s neither journalist nor interloper, just a troll.

            The blue-haired Patreon feminist is only one GG caricature of anti-GG. The other is the “gooney-beard” male SJW. I haven’t done a survey, but both are well-represented.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jiro: So, what you’re saying is that, given that it’s mostly women making the accusations, it’s mostly going to be women who the Ants see as the enemy?

            @Zorgon: But I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about who the Ants present as the enemy. And as far as I can tell, their view is that the enemy is a combination of (mostly female) interlopers, and (mostly male) journalist collaborators.

            @The Nybbler: Huh. I’ve mostly seen the whole “male neckbeard etc” stereotype used as the stand-in for the Ants. In the editorial-cartoon version, the Patreon blue-hair (isn’t it weird how that term’s meaning has changed?) and some guy in cargos, a metal t-shirt, and an unfortunate hat are yelling at each other.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn: Unless you do a formal study, it’s going to be hard to determine whether those opposed by GG are mostly women. There’s no shortage of men, though. McIntosh, Grayson, Biddle, Chu, Cheong (before switching sides), and Golding off the top of my head.

            The gooney-beard caricature used by GG is pretty common; look up “Airport’s Law”.

          • Jiro says:

            So, what you’re saying is that, given that it’s mostly women making the accusations, it’s mostly going to be women who the Ants see as the enemy?

            There’s more than one type of accusation and I haven’t exactly surveyed them to see how common they all are. To the extent that the accusations made are ones that only women can make, I would expect the enemies list to contain women.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Plenty of men make accusations of misogyny, though – sometimes they’re quicker to do so.

          • Cauê says:

            I didn’t anticipate needing a list, so I didn’t take notes, and it would take a little work to make one now. But there’s no shortage of men that ants have complained about / mocked (/”attacked”/ “memed on” / etc.) for complaining about games or wanting to change them without actually playing them.

            There have been several rounds of “if you hate games and gamers so much, why are you a gaming journalist?” directed at a variety of men, for instance. But for reasons already mentioned, these are not the ones non-gg people will talk about.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Oh, I’m not demanding a list or anything. I don’t really think that it would be possible to prove anything, because it’s the internet: undoubtedly unaligned trolls (in the original sense of the term) got involved, undoubtedly there were people on both sides doing false-flag stuff, etc.

            Thinking about it, the “allies swooping in” thing on both sides definitely made it worse. The ants themselves may or may not have been even-handed in their target – but Milo seems largely to have feminists as a target.

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          Thoughts why?

          Cod/Halo/Madden fans just brought the games and played them and the market responded. SJ types are directly and intentionally attacking the culture.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That is probably part of it. Which raises the question: are the newer interlopers fewer in number than the jocks, so the market won’t respond organically to them?

          • NN says:

            It depends on who you mean by the newer interlopers. If you mean casual/mobile gamers, then they are probably greater in number than the jocks and the market has already responded organically to them. If you mean socjus people, then yes they’re fewer in number, and yes it does seem that the market won’t respond organically to them. For example.

          • Jiro says:

            Define organically. Nintendo censored Fire Emblem Fates. They’re never going to say outright “this was because of SJW pressure” (see comment about plausible deniability), but suppose it is: would that count as organically responding?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Organically like FPS games incorporating waypoints on minimaps to help you find where to go next, NPC squads to follow you around and help in combat/you follow them around so you know where to go next [seriously, parts of the CoD games singleplayer are like rail shooters, practically], and respawning health so you don’t have to hunt for medpacks and there’s no chance you’ll get stuck in a situation where you can’t win due to too little health.

            This makes the game easier to play, more people buy it, publishers see it and decide to make more games with those features. Ordinary way markets work.

            Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I don’t really play games much any more, but I don’t remember thinking “I’m not lost going in circles in this FPS! Boo!” or “This RPG keeps a log of my quests and tells me where to go next? Weak!”

            What makes the Halo/CoD model becoming more and more typical for FPS games “organic” is that there was never any campaign by stereotypical guys in popped-collar polo shirts to boycott game developers unless they made their games more accessible. It just became more profitable to cater to them.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            Define organically.

            Organic: Company makes change X in their product. Group A like X and buy the updated product. More companies make change X.

            Organic: Company makes change X in their product. Group A like X and buy the updated product. Group B do not like X and do not buy the updated product. Companies decide whether to sell to A, B, or create two products based on market factors.

            Not organic: Company makes change X in their product. Group A like X. Group B do not like X. Group B does something that prevents A from buying X. Companies sees that A are not buying, and X does not spread.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            “That is probably part of it. Which raises the question: are the newer interlopers fewer in number than the jocks, so the market won’t respond organically to them?”

            dndnrsn: It’s not about the market responding. It’s about being attacked.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not saying it is or isn’t. I’m saying that if there’s enough “interlopers”, the games industry will change to suit them, without any need for them to openly act.

            The stereotypical jocks seen as interloper who only wants to play Madden, slay some brews, and finish off with some CoD on Easy didn’t have to start a letter-writing campaign, or set up Kickstarters to fund making jock-friendly games.

            If the newer people seen as interlopers aren’t enough in number to affect the market organically, and must instead rely on attacking it, that is probably one reason the reaction to them has been so hostile.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @dndnrsn: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. As was said in a slightly different context, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Obviously, not the only reason, but it does help to explain why one group the stereotypical gamer nerd dislikes/fears (jocks) got less pushback than another (girls).

        • Nornagest says:

          Don’t take this as an endorsement of the opposite side, but there’s always been this strong streak of shared victimhood driving geek culture, and gamer culture specifically. I think it’s especially close to the surface in gaming because that’s become wildly popular, and so just being an adult that spends a lot of time playing video games is no longer strong evidence of having the background common to a lot of geeks (as it might be for, say, playing D&D or listening to filk). Gamer carries all these extra connotations of getting stuffed into a trash can in gym class, etc, and there are now lots of people playing games that didn’t.

          So, what is seen as evidence? For a long time you had to be playing the right kind of games — in the mid-2000s Call of Duty and Madden were looked down on as games for frat bros, then in the late 2000s it was Wii Fit and suburban wives. There’s still some of that going on, with the flak around artsy message games on Steam, but I think the shibboleths are shifting away from the kind of games you play and more towards what anthropologists call non-material culture.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think I must be atypical in this. Younger me was a huge nerd, by any standard: shocked and horrified that D&D 3rd ed had been “dumbed down” by the rules no longer seeming like they’d been written by several different people who had no coordination, adamant that computers were better than consoles for gaming, owned many minatures, etc.

            But I never got bullied for it, and I was never especially socially isolated. A lot of people have stories of Nerd Culture being their refuge from being ostracized and bullied, which was never my experience.

          • Nornagest says:

            Don’t know how old you are, but I get the impression that there are generational differences here — nerds under 25 or so don’t seem to have experienced the level of stigma that older ones did, though they’re still often socially isolated. Dunno if this is thanks to changing mainstream attitudes toward nerdy preoccupations, the decline of broader youth culture and rise of (often online) subcultures, changing policies re: bullying (I doubt it’s this one), or something else.

            But the culture hasn’t changed to reflect that, or at least it’s changing more slowly than conditions have.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I caught the tail end of 2nd ed, so I’m a bit past that cutoff. I think more than any generational change, I just had the right social profile to get along with the cool kids – decent at social interaction, extroverted in some contexts, able to laugh at myself, etc. There were kids who were nerds who had a rough time, but I think it had more to do with people seizing on elements of their personalities and how they fit into social groups, rather than their interests.

            Of course, it could just be that I personally was lucky. Sometimes I’m surprised I wasn’t really bullied in any real way.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            there’s always been this strong streak of shared victimhood driving geek culture, and gamer culture specifically.

            Gamer carries all these extra connotations of getting stuffed into a trash can in gym class, etc,

            While getting stuffed into a trash can is on the way out (and I’m not sure if it was ever common here in the UK) I think the… maybe bullying isn’t the right word but there is definitely still something going on today. Then again, maybe it is. Remember Jack Biddle’s “Bring back bullying” tweet?

            Things have gotten better. Hillary Clinton, Jack Thompson or Anita Sarkesian aren’t going to physically shove anyone in a trash bin. But perhaps the issues that remain help explain why the victimhood meme can be successfully passed down to new generations.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not only were we shoved into lockers, when we were verbally bullied it was by real actual flesh and blood people finding out what bothered us most about ourselves and mercilessly taunting about it.

            Not some politician saying that video games cause violence. Give me a fucking break.

          • The Nybbler says:

            anon@gmail: The current set isn’t going to stuff us into lockers, simply because they can’t physically reach us.

            But as for “flesh and blood people finding some out what bothered us about ourselves and mercilessly taunting about it”, yeah, that’s exactly the sort of people many on the anti-ant side are. Go back to Scott’s “Untitled”, and what prompted it, for a _very_ clear example. Or read Leigh Alexander’s “Gamers are Over”, which appears to be intended to be JUST that.

          • Anonymous says:

            An article on some obscure corner of the Internet by someone you’ve never met and will never be forced to spend time with isn’t even close to bullying.

            My god, you millenials are so utterly desperate to be a victim that you invent tormentors out of thin air.

          • The Nybbler says:

            anon@gmail doesn’t even know which generation I am. But then, anon@gmail is just trolling.

        • blacktrance says:

          There were always women in gaming and in “nerd space”, so the whole “nerd space/gaming was for outcast men” idea is kind of BS – it might have been more male than female, but there were definitely (outcast) women.

          Responding “male” to relevant GameFAQs front page polls: 94% (2000), 95% (2002), 95% (2003), 95% (2004), 94% (2007), 94% (2007), 93% (2008), 93% (2010), 93% (2011), 92% (2014).
          In short, quite significantly more male than female.

          • dndnrsn says:

            1. GameFAQs is not necessarily a perfect sample of gamers, and it definitely isn’t a perfect sample of nerds.

            2. Even if gaming is a disproportionately male part of nerd space, there are parts of it that have been considerably more female – eg, sci fi/fantasy fandom.

          • blacktrance says:

            However, GameFAQs is a large and prominent center of gamer culture (or at least it was in the 00s), so if gamers are defined as participants in that, it suggests that it is/was significantly male, even if there were people who regularly played games who didn’t participate in the culture.

            And while GameFAQs poll results aren’t everything, combined with, say, LW survey responses (more than 80% men) and the like, nerd culture does seem extremely male.

          • NN says:

            Though it does depend a bit on your definition of “nerd culture.” Does fan-fiction and the associated culture count as nerd culture? Because if so, that’s at least one part of nerd culture that is heavily female-dominated.

        • BBA says:

          Many of the “interlopers” weren’t. And I don’t just mean journalists, there were plenty of gamers who agreed with the social justice narrative in principle, if not to the extremes that some radicals take it to. When some gamers complained about jocks coming in and ruining the hobby, everyone more-or-less agreed or didn’t care enough to argue. When some gamers complained about feminists and SJWs coming in and ruining the hobby, the feminist gamers fought back, and there’s a shitstorm.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s an interesting narrative, though it falls into the category of “not even wrong”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @TheNybbler – “That’s an interesting narrative, though it falls into the category of “not even wrong”.”

            Really? Because I was one of them. I thought Social Justice was just common sense even through the Dickwolves Fracas, right up until GG itself. PAR was headed by Ben Kuchera, and had been running a moderate Social Justice line for quite a while; RPS and Giant Bomb had as well, I believe, as had the Escapist. Heck, Penny Arcade itself was moderate-SJ.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That there exist SJW gamers isn’t the issue. It’s the narrative that the shitstorm started when gamers complained about feminists and SJWs coming in and ruining the hobby and feminist gamers fighting back that’s “not even wrong”.

            Phase 1 of the shitstorm started when one SJW gamer wrote a long post about another SJW, who he was in a relationship with, mistreating him. Phase 2 started when a bunch of game journalists let loose a broadside on gamers in general. This bears little relationship to the idea that “some gamers complained about feminists” and “feminist gamers fought back”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            That sounds just wrong then? Not everything that’s wrong is not even wrong, in fact it’s closer to nothing.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            @BBA

            Re Nybbler’s response Are you saying that gamergate started when you say “feminist/sjw gamers fought back” or are you referring to pre-gamergate?

            Anyway. Even today you’ll see feminists on both sides of Gamergate. CultOfVivian (now going by Nonsense Nichole) is the most prominent example that springs to mind.

            I’d say the dividing line is anti-gg feminists saying that games have few good female characters and should have less sexual content; while pro-gg saying there’s lots of great female characters and they like or don’t mind that sexual content.

            Anti-gg says games have a moral requirement to change and pro-gg saying that sort of argument should be tabooed. I don’t know if pro-gg feminists share that view. I think they do but it’s possible they’re ok with that sort of moral argument in pricipal, they just don’t think it applies to games.

          • BBA says:

            I didn’t express this properly, but I was trying to give an aspect of the narrative that the previous responses didn’t acknowledge. GG was very much a conflict within the video game community – a civil war, not an invasion. And there were rumblings well before the Zoe Post.

            (Incidentally, the Zoe Post was so damn long that almost nobody actually read it, which is why neither side’s narrative accurately reflects what the post said.)

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            @BBA

            Oh right. That.

            It’s actually both an invasion and a civil war at the same time, the two are not mutually exclusive.

            The most obvious example would be major news sites coming in to support the SJ side during GG. Pre-GG; I’d say that invaders were an important element despite the fact that most of the fighters were long term players of video games. I would not say they were the same tribe, but I would say they cohabited the same social spaces without anyone realizing they were different tribes. (Common story isn’t it).

            I think what happened was that gaming journalists were just feeling trapped and hated their job. They just needed an excuse to start a war and outsider feminists coming into gaming and getting a frosty reception was that excuse.

            Then again, maybe it was just inevitable. Look at Atheism+

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      When trying to figure out who is trying to destroy whom, remember who said “nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission.”

      • sweeneyrod says:

        That sounds like a joke to me. Of course, x-ist jokes can still be x-ist, but that doesn’t mean everyone who makes them wants to destroy all members of x.

        • keranih says:

          That sounds like a joke to me.

          Well, it didn’t sound like a joke to me. And it was from someone on the side that took a dim view of “jokes” that put down a particular side.

          And whether it was a joke or not, it’s certainly not evidence that side A was interested in getting along with side B.

          (Not a gamer, btw)

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          It was senior Gawker staffer – Sam Biddle. So I can believe he meant exactly what he said.

          I think he thought he was making a joke. But he actually meant what he said. I’ve read a few articles from other journalists that gave me the impression Sam Biddle is a bully.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      ” The feminists have always been here; there was no shortage of feminist gamers and feminist opinions among gamers 20 years ago

      I’m pretty sure the current feminists warring with gamers weren’t even alive 20 years ago

    • Zorgon says:

      Also speaking as a game developer who’s never not been a gamer.

      There were certainly feminist gamers and feminist opinions among gamers 20 years ago. There were regular articles on sexism in gaming in Edge and similar magazines for most of the late 90s and early 2000s. They received no more uproar than the occasional entry to the letters page.

      That they did not receive this degree of opprobrium should certainly tell you something, but it’s not that

      Gamergate types crying “fake geek girl”

      Are engaged in a culture-change project. It is that the criticism has ceased to be of the content of games, which could be considered opinion to be agreed or disagreed with, and has turned to gamer culture itself. What do you think a culture does when those who purport to represent it instead decide to portray it as a hive of subhumans and relentlessly attack and dehumanise them without pause?

      Is this a culture-change project, or is the culture ejecting a tiny minority that have turned against it?

      Gamergate don’t give the faintest shit about “fake geek girls” and never have. They care that the media that claim to speak for the gaming community bear a deep and passionate hatred for that same community and have made this extremely clear. They suspected, before, but now they know.

      I agree with them that this is the case, though I disagree somewhat as to the cause of the problem; they think it’s “SJW infiltration”. I think it’s “jobbing middle class fuckwits who have never lacked for anything and don’t want to be associated with all those awful smelly nerdy proles” and so far not a single blue-haired anti has done so much as a single thing to suggest otherwise.

      • Forlorn Hopes says:

        > There were regular articles on sexism in gaming in Edge and similar magazines for most of the late 90s and early 2000s.

        My first memory of this was in the Escapist. I read the Escapist most in it’s earliest days so this would be around 2005.

        I remember being instinctively turned away from them but I definitely agree with you though that there wasn’t even remotely the kind of uproar you see today.

        Sadly I can’t remember why I felt that way. If I had to guess I’d say it was defending the games themselves rather than defending the culture. The anti-Jack Thompson response.

        But my confidence in my memories of past me’s motives being accurate as anything except a lucky coincidence is low.

  13. tessa Barton says:

    While this probably does not detract from your argument, the forefathers of the Sunni clergy (the Ummayad Caliphs) did literally kill the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Hosein, along with all His kinsmen, and the mourning of this event figures prominently into the most important Shi’a holidays of the year, Muharram, specifically Ashura. Historian M Axworthy likens this to the early church being poped by Judas Escariot and Pontius Pilot.

    So while it is described above as trivially different, you might see how people could and have drawn on that history of oppression as a source of deep hurt.

  14. Dan King says:

    But some tribes make more babies than other tribes. Evangelical Christians almost certainly outbreed atheists. That gives the evangelical crew a Darwinian advantage over the others, and means that religion will not fade into secularism as easily as portrayed in the post.

    The orthodox Jews of Kiryas Joel are a good example: from 5000 people in 1950 to 35000 today, all by natural increase. Extrapolate that another 70 years into the future, and they’re the majority population in Orange County, NY. Amish, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, even Buddhists, are going to outnumber secularists in the future.

  15. Dan Simon says:

    I have a bunch of minor thoughts on this, but none are as important as commending this excellent write-up on a hugely important idea. I hope you will follow up with a sequel focused on politics, where the principle that “the ideology is not the movement” is particularly true, particularly important, and particularly unappreciated.

  16. John Buridan says:

    The theme of the Anglo-saxon poem The Wanderer is the lost of liege lord who in the culture *is* the rallying flag. Alienation afflicts every aspect of the Wanderer’s vision. He has no one of like mind to speak to. Bereft of friends the Wanderer gains that wisdom proper to the world weary, understanding the fleetingness of all tribes. Nothing lasts forever in middle earth, so we must fix ourselves on transcendence, which in the Wanderer’s case is the Father in Heaven. Who can truly say, “I am secure in my tribe, and my tribe is secure in the world,”?

    The Aeneid largely concerns mythologizing the establishment of a new tribe, the Romans. Their ethnogenesis although ordained by the gods comes at a great cost. In order to erect the walls separating the in-group from the out-group Aeneas has to break his relationship with Dido, travel over the sea, engage in bloody war against the Latins, and in the end brutally kills Turnus. The reader is left to ponder the costs of ethnogenesis. Virgil doesn’t paint a rosy view of it, though he does admit and admire the greatness of Rome.

    What are the costs of having a tribe? What allows some tribes to persist for thousands of years and others fizzle after one hundred? In what sense have the Catholic Church or the United States persisted, and in what sense are these no longer the same tribe?

  17. mdv59 says:

    “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.”
    This sentence doesn’t make sense to me.

    I think this is the best essay you’ve written in the 6 months I’ve been reading SSC. Really thought provoking and insightful. Thanks.

    • thisguy says:

      “Whether or not you agreed with him or found him enlightening loaded heavily on those pre-existing differences” -> finding Yudkowsky enlightening or agreeable depended a lot on your own personality quirks and interests. Those that stuck around to comment on lesswrong were pre-filtered to all share in common “Finds Yudkowsky writings agreeable/enlightening/thought provoking/worth discussion” trait. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t have been able to get through the sequences and would have been seen as outgroup because of inability to understand Yudkowskiisms.

  18. grendelkhan says:

    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.

    I feel a very strong sense of recognition here. Like, yes, it matters whether what you believe is actually true. I remember Greg Egan’s perhaps-smuggest work (it spoke to me deeply, it’s heartbreakingly autobiographical, and it’s still pretty smug), which presented the other side of this idea, the one I generally live in.

    “I’m perfectly happy with a God who resides within us,” offered the Transitional theologian. “It seems … immodest to expect more. And instead of fretting uselessly over these ultimate questions, we should confine ourselves to matters of a suitably human scale.”

    I turned to him. “So you’re actually indifferent as to whether an infinitely powerful and loving being created everything around you, and plans to welcome you into Her arms after death … or the universe is a piece of quantum noise that will eventually vanish and erase us all?”

    He sighed heavily, as if I was asking him to perform some arduous physical feat just by responding. “I can summon no enthusiasm for these issues.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Technically, Christianity is not about “following the Bible”, it’s about following Christ. The Gospel is the Evangelium, the Good News.

      The primacy of the Bible as a text within Protestantism comes from the Reformation, where the authority of the hierarchy (culminating in the pope) within the church was challenged. Against the power of Tradition, you had to set some over-riding ultimate authority, and that was the Bible – the “plain word of Scripture” which, if only read with an open heart and mind, would lead you inevitably to the same conclusions as Luther. Or Calvin. Or Zwingli. Or the Anabaptists. Or – but you know the rest.

      The Anglicans are fond of squaring the circle with Hooker’s “three-legged stool: Reason, Tradition, Scripture” but the Anglicans can comfortably (well….) accommodate every viewpoint depending on what the monarch (or parliament) of the moment prefers (the Vicar of Bray), which has caused a certain amount of disturbance between the progressive tendency in the West and those benighted Global South churches which inconveniently have not gotten with the programme of modernity and bowing to the Zeitgeist.

      And of course, about five hundred years before the Western Church split on the Reformation lines, there was the Great Schism between East and West.

      tl, dr: the insistence on the Bible comes out of the Reformation.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Is this a substantive objection? Christianity makes what look like some pretty solid truth claims–existence of the soul and its survival after death, existence of both a deity and a divine plan, punishment of the wicked for objectively-measured sin, and so on, and so on. I’m not talking about who begat who, I’m talking about the big claims about the nature of the world.

      • Deiseach says:

        Is this a substantive objection? … I’m not talking about who begat who, I’m talking about the big claims about the nature of the world

        It makes a difference if it’s based on a Book or on a Person. A large part of the Reformation was the appeal to the Book against the appeal to the authority of the hierarchy, in particular the Pope.

        Every time I read a well-meaning sentence, when discussing the rise of militant Islamic groups, such as “Islam needs a Reformation of its own”, I want to bang my head against the wall, because this is precisely the misunderstanding right here: the stripped-back version that appeals to the authority of the Book/the Word (as written down) only and primarily IS their Reformation. The Protestant Reformation claimed that the Church had become too worldly, too entangled with the culture of the time and had acquired a lot of man-made traditions. Same with the Taliban and Al-Quada (and the Wahhabi/Salifi movement within Islam) – the iconoclasm isn’t merely an odd coincidence, it’s a feature of both schools of thought: strip away the accretions of worldiness, go back to the pure plain simple faith, derive your understanding from the text of the Holy Book and not from anyone’s authority to interpret or make exceptions or add rulings or take away any of the laws.

        The well-meaning liberal Westerner calling for a “Reformation” thinks of the Reformation as something something primacy of conscience something something everyone free to believe what they want, which is how it eventually turned out after the explosion of competing denominations and having to find some way of living in a secular state where not everyone belonged to one major denomination anymore, but not where it began: ‘primacy of conscience’ was not about “if I don’t think this is a sin, you don’t get to tell me it’s a sin”, it was about “if I don’t think the Pope is the boss of me, I can point to this Bible text about ‘call no man father’ and stand on my conscience” but it certainly did not mean “you think X, I think Y, we agree to differ” when it came to matters of morality.

        • As I understand it, another problem with calling for an Islamic Reformation is that Islam doesn’t have sort of hierarchy that Catholicism does, so there isn’t the same sort of thing to rebel against.

          Also, it may be worth noting that the Reformation didn’t turn Europeans into nicer people in the short run.

          What I’m actually expecting is that the Overton window will eventually shift away from terrorism for Islam in general. I realize that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists, and don’t support terrorism unless they’re under threat for not doing so. However, the terrorist element is large enough to be doing a tremendous amount of damage.

          I’m betting that terrorism will become very rare, and people will argue about why it happened. This doesn’t mean that military opposition to terrorism is necessarily a bad idea, just that what worked won’t be obvious.

          • keranih says:

            Also, it may be worth noting that the Reformation didn’t turn Europeans into nicer people in the short run.

            Sing it, sistah.

            The cycle went Reformation >> Thirty Years War >> Enlightenment >> long slog of relative inter-Christian peace >>> Napoleon >> Intra-Europe peace ’cause too busy colonizing the rest of the world >> WWI >> WII >> current (and declining?) Pax Americana – or there abouts. (I am willing to entertain corrections.)

            What I’m actually expecting is that the Overton window will eventually shift away from terrorism for Islam in general.

            I agree, if only because peace leads to commerce which leads to more stuff and so long as people are convinced that it works this way, they are willing to vigorously oppose the 10-35% of the population who can get more stuff through violence than through peace.

            In the case of Europeans, though, I note that it took a generation and a half of really, really nasty violence – which tended to kill off a huge portion of the population that supported the use of coercive violence – before the survivors set down with weary exhaustion to seriously consider the options.

            This doesn’t mean that military opposition to terrorism is necessarily a bad idea, just that what worked won’t be obvious.

            And imo the military opposition is going to be crucial, in order to make all the sides equally horrified/miserable/exhausted. So long as the practice of…of coercive violence works for me-the-average-shop-keeper even though I’m not actually practicing violence, I’m not going to be *motivated* to stop the use. When “my” side is hitting back as hard as they can, and the other side is doing the same, then I’m going to be far more willing to cry a pox on all the houses, and support the guys on the other side calling for a cease fire over my cousins in la resistance.

            But what do I know? We have an n=1 going on here, and the future is always in motion.

          • NN says:

            What I’m actually expecting is that the Overton window will eventually shift away from terrorism for Islam in general.

            It already has. Terrorism isn’t a mainstream Islam problem. Mainstream Islam does have a number of serious problems, but terrorism isn’t one of them. Research has shown that people who join Salafi-Jihadist movements tend to be young, male, and disaffected. A disproportionate number of them are converts (2/3 of Muslim terrorists in the US and 31% of them in the UK have been converts, compared to 20% and 2-3% of the respective Muslim populations of those countries, respectively) and even those who were raised Muslim tend not to come from especially strict or conservative backgrounds. For example, receiving an Islamic religious education from a madrassa has been found to be negatively correlated with support for terrorism, and terrorists are disproportinately likely to have a criminal record. They’re almost never recruited in mosques, and are most frequently recruited by friends either online or offline.

            In short, terrorists tend to be born-again youth rebelling against their parents and society in general, whether that society is Western or Mainstream Islamic. To quote Scott Atran, “Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalization. They radicalize to find a firm identity in a flattened world: where vertical lines of communication between the generations are replaced by horizontal peer-to-peer attachments that can span the globe.”

            Trying to stop people from becoming terrorists by shifting the overton window of mainstream Islam away from violence would be like trying to stop young Americans in the 1960s from becoming hippies by shifting the overton window of mainstream American culture towards stricter standards of behavior. If these people listened to their parents and imams, they wouldn’t have ended up where they are now.

            In short, the problem with calling for an Islamic Reformation to stop terrorism is that the terrorists are an Islamic Reformation.

            However, the terrorist element is large enough to be doing a tremendous amount of damage.

            The terrorist element is able to do a tremendous amount of damage not because it is large, but because nowadays even a small number of people can do a tremendous amount of damage. The Paris attacks were carried out by 7 people. The Boston Marathon bombing was carried out by 2 people acting alone with no experience or training using nothing that you can’t buy at your local hardware store, and it shut down one of the largest metro areas in the US for 2 days. Breivik killed 77 people entirely by himself. The Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by two people and it killed more people than the Paris attacks. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attempted to blow up their school cafeteria and kill 500 people, and the only reason they failed is that they sucked at bomb-making.

            That’s the real root of the problem. Even if Salafi-Jihadism becomes uncool and stops drawing recruits, as long as terrorism remains an extremely effective way of drawing media attention to your cause (even if that cause is pure self-aggrandizement, as in the case of Harris and Klebold and many other mass shooters), people are going to keep pulling that lever.

          • Jiro says:

            Trying to stop people from becoming terrorists by shifting the overton window of mainstream Islam away from violence would be like trying to stop young Americans in the 1960s from becoming hippies by shifting the overton window of mainstream American culture towards stricter standards of behavior.

            Young Americans in the 1960’s became hippies by leaving mainstream culture, but they didn’t have a holy book that influenced in what direction people go when they leave mainstream culture.

            That’s the problem with Scott’s thesis here: the texts and ideas that a group is based on are important. Yes, tribalism has a huge influence on how the group behaves. But it’s not the only influence. The ideas are important as well, and may be so to greater or lesser degrees depending on circumstances. The actual content of the Koran is not very important to mainstream Islam, but the fact that mainstream Islam pays lip service to it makes it easier for that content to become more important to offshoots.

          • NN says:

            @Jiro: I have yet to see any evidence that the Koran is any more important to terrorists than it is to mainstream Muslims. Again, research indicates that attending Islamic religious schools, which tend to devote a large portion of their curriculum to memorizing and studying the Koran, makes students less likely to support terrorism. Broader surveys have found no evidence of any correlation between religious devotion and support for terrorism.

            There is also anecdotal evidence that at least some Muslim terrorists display high levels of religious illiteracy. See the British ISIS fighters who bought Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies before leaving for Syria. Scott Atran’s research seems to indicate that these two weren’t some kind of anomaly:

            But first, who are these young people? None of the ISIS fighters we interviewed in Iraq had more than primary school education, some had wives and young children. When asked “what is Islam?” they answered “my life.” They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early caliphs Omar and Othman, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure. This isn’t an outlandish proposition in their lived circumstances: as they told of growing up after the fall of Saddam Hussein in a hellish world of constant guerrilla war, family deaths and dislocation, and of not being even able to go out of their homes or temporary shelters for months on end.

            Finally, a lot of terrorists aren’t rebelling against mainstream Muslim society because a disproportionate number of them are converts who weren’t raised in any kind of Muslim society in the first place. There’s no reason for someone who wasn’t raised Muslim to give the content of the Koran any kind of special importance, so it seems far more plausible that they were attracted to Salafi-Jihadism because it offered struggle, danger, a cause, and camaraderie, not in spite of those qualities. Why should we expect the terrorists who were raised Muslim to be any different?

          • Jiro says:

            Okay then, let me rephrase. The actual content of the Koran is not very important to mainstream Islam, but the fact that mainstream Islam pays lip service to it makes it easier for literal readings of that content to become more important to offshoots.

            I wouldn’t expect Koran study to correlate with terrorism. Studying a holy book doesn’t consist of just learning about the contents of the book; it also includes learning the right way to interpret it. In this case, the fact that terrorists are uneducated means that they are more likely to latch onto the straightforward reading of the book, rather than to the non-straightforward teachings that interpret it to not mean what it says.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “(I am willing to entertain corrections.)”

            The Enlightenment is a bit over broad; the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes happened during that time. I think it is better categorized as religion takes a back seat to the question “Can France conquer Europe”.

          • Thursday says:

            I wouldn’t expect Koran study to correlate with terrorism.

            There is a confounding variable here: bookishness. Why would you expect bookish people to become terrorists?

            But the contents of the book can still set the Overton window for the group. And that can be picked up on by more action oriented types.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “There is a confounding variable here: bookishness. Why would you expect bookish people to become terrorists?”

            I was going to question this, but then I remembered that people try to memorize the Quran; there is quite a large gap between the personality of those who do that and those who become engineers. Unfortunately I don’t know how much religious education orients towards that goal; wiki gives ‘millions’ of Hafizs which are presumably the best.

          • I’m rethinking whether anything about mainstream Islam needs to change for Islamist terrorism to fade out, or at least mostly fade out.

            It’s still possible. I could be wrong about this, but I think Islam has stronger group self-congratulation than I’m sued to, and I’ve come to hear “Allah is great” as “I’m great for worshiping a superior God”. I realize other religions have that sort of thing, but I don’t think they repeat it as much.

            The result is that Muslims have created a great huge gob of prestige, and it’s very tempting for people who like power to try to grab that prestige.

            It’s also possible that some things about the mainstream modern world need to change– the ideal of the revolutionary, the individual who takes drastic action to break existing institutions and make the world better, may need to be weakened. (Good luck with *that* project!)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I realize other religions have that sort of thing, but I don’t think they repeat it as much.”

            I think it is just like saying God Bless You; people do it because it is the phrase you use.

            “The result is that Muslims have created a great huge gob of prestige, and it’s very tempting for people who like power to try to grab that prestige.”

            I think that is the result of all other institutions being so garbage.

            “It’s also possible that some things about the mainstream modern world need to change– the ideal of the revolutionary, the individual who takes drastic action to break existing institutions and make the world better, may need to be weakened. (Good luck with *that* project!)”

            Unfortunately I don’t see how you can do that since history is replete with examples. As long as history is being taught, people are going to pick up on that (especially for nations with that as part of their heritage).

        • NN says:

          Agreed. Speaking as someone who was raised Lutheran, it’s obvious that most of the people saying “we need an Islamic reformation” or “we need an Islamic Martin Luther” have no idea what the real Martin Luther was like, especially his feelings about Jews.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            They also have no idea what sort of doctrine they preach in Saudi Arabia, and when and how it developed.

            We’re living through the Islamic reformation – with Muhammad Abdul-Wahhab as the Islamic Luther. And that’s kind of the problem!

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Wow, that’s kick in the head. I’ve been lamenting for years that Islam had had no Reformation, without once noticing that Christendom (mostly) did not have religious wars before the Reformation. Schisms, intrigues, heresy hunting, and literally violent quibbling over details, yes, but offhand I can’t think of anything grand enough to be called a religious war between different dialects of Catholicism. (Am I forgetting an obvious example?)

            This layman’s view of the consensus is that the Thirty Years War was what (mostly) burned out Christendom’s interest in religious war.

            So argh. Should I be lamenting that Islam has not had its Thirty Years War? Is there a better alternative? Note that apparently there wasn’t for Christendom. If there isn’t, is there any way they could be left alone to freaking have it without it turning into WW IV or V? I’m sort of afraid it will take development of zero-point energy to render the Middle East enough of a backwater that they can do what it takes to exhaust themselves without dragging the rest of us down that rat hole.

  19. Joe says:

    I think its interesting to see where theology seems to have an impact on the average member and where it doesn’t.

    Like, I agree that ideology is not the movement for most people, but it is interesting to see how ideology seems to both greatly affect the ideology of the people of the movement, and not effect the people of the movement. That it is to say, its interesting because its not 1:1 agreement, but some parts of the ideology get solidly incorporated in the culture and other parts don’t, and its hard to tell what will be incorperated into the culture and what wont.

    The weird thing is trying to predict what followers will take seriously and what followers won’t take seriously.

    Like, In Mormonism, parents will take great pains, and pay a lot of money to root out perceived or actual homosexuality in their children, who they seem to genuinely love, even as they do things to them that I consider, child abuse (and main stream society actually agrees with me for once, at least I think it does, considering the reaction to “Saving Alex”).

    Theologically, this makes sense, as the official Mormon line is that homosexuality is a grave sin, parents have pretty strong duty / authority over their children, so its natural that a parent would say, beat their kid to a bloody pulp until they stop being gay, make love conditional on not being gay, and basically do all kinds of nasty things to stop the child from committing this really serious sin.

    But here is the weird thing, theologically heterosexual children that have sex before marriage, are *just as bad* yet I don’t see the kind of repression / social banishment of obviously none chaste 18 year olds that I see for gay children. The other weird thing is I’m saying a relative thaw in gay / Mormon relations, to the point where most Mormons consider it a now a days, despite the fact that the theology hasn’t changed! In fact, the theology has gotten even more anti-gay as priesthood leaders sense that people are being more accepting of gays!

    So my question is why that is, and how can we predict what theological ideas will translate into cultural realities, and is it really unpredictable? Is it worth it to promote cognitive dissident interpretations of religion so that people can chuck their more damaging beliefs, but still consider themselves part of the tribe?

    I dunno.

  20. Oh Scott the Rightly Guided :-), I think I found this post delightful in a completely different way than anyone else who has commented so far. I had to discover almost everything in it for myself between about 1990 and 1998 for very practical reasons, and it was fascinating to see the same insights arrived at by someone without those practical reasons and with a very different perspective.

    I will start by confirming that, modulo a few quibbles about the history of the Sunni/Shi’a split and the Robber’s Cave experiment that have been well explored by other commenters, most of this is dead on target. I’m going to disagree with you in a bit about one or two significant things, but they are more extensions of your model than falsifications of it.

    The reason I know you are on target is that I spent the years between 1990 and about 2005 driving a process of ethnogenesis from early stages to full tribal formation. I have described the process in detail in a blog post, The Uses of Tribal Cohesion, which you (and anyone else reading this comment) really ought to read before continuing.

    Many years later, I learned that what I had done was “prophecy” in a specific technical sense developed by a guy named Dave Logan who spent years studying psychological phase changes in organizations. Discussion at Culture hacking, reloaded. Sorry, you’ll need to skip over some specific stuff about agile programming; if you search for the phrase “I learned a new way to think about prophecy” you’ll get directly to the part most relevant to your interests. I think you will quickly recognize that Eliezer Yudkowsky was a near perfect example of what Logan calls a Stage 4 prophet. As I was myself in a different context.

    One thing that is missing from your model is precisely Logan’s stage classification. Tribes at different stages behave very differently, especially in the ways they relate to outsiders. This is difficult to notice because most human tribes are at Stage 3 or even 2. Also, these stages represent different levels of self-awareness. As you noticed, all tribes have alignment of values (I even used that phrase) but there are varying degrees of consciousness about that alignment. Generally speaking (though with dangerous exceptions) need for an outgroup to hate decreases at Logan’s stage 4. This has been a confusion to some of your commenters, who are members of a tribe that has recently entered Stage 4 but are still individually holding a folk model of tribalism based on stage 3 and 2 behavior.

    In fact, one of my challenges was weaning the hacker culture away from its Stage 3 reliance on various hate foci (Microsoft, marketing people, IBM, suits in general). It was a little tricky because in the early stages of the game I had to harness antipathy towards those groups in ways that wouldn’t damage our ability to make positive-sum deals with them later on. This is a problem Eliezer didn’t have, because he never needed more allies in the existing power structure than one wealthy patron.

    Elsewhere, I have written about Practical Prophecy which summarizes what I had to learn about how to drive an ethnogenesis forward. Eliezer has provided us with an even more powerful and elaborate example of “Right names are powerful” than I did in constructing a rhetoric around “open source”. He also did an excellent job of “Find the deepest yearning”, especially impressive since he had much less in the way of pre-established cultural capital to build on than I did. And oh, yes, “Give people permission to be idealists.” – I doubt I even have to unpack that one for you.

    The major place I’m going to disagree with you is that I think your model of the relationship between historical inertia and values alignment is oversimplified. Having discovered that the historical component of social cohesion is often more important than explicit flags, you overcorrected somewhat in your update. The relative importance of these factors varies more than I think you presently understand.

    Again, Logan’s stage model provides a useful framework here. In general, less conscious (earlier-stage tribes) rely more on history as glue precisely because alignment of values is less conscious and less effective than it becomes in later stages. A biiig part of what Stage 4 prophets like Eliezer or me do is partially replace cohesion by history with cohesion by a more explicit and consciously-articulated version of the tribe’s alignment of values. This is the exact way in which the Sequences are functionally equivalent to The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

    I said “partially” because cohesion by history never goes away entirely. Well, at least it doesn’t at stage 4, at least. I cannot, however, exclude the possibility that it dwindles to insignificance at Logan stage 5. I have a limited amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting that, but I don’t claim to understand stage 5 very well. Stage 5 tribes seem to be rare, small, idiosyncratic, and unstable with a tendency to fall back to stage 4.

    I think there is also horizontal variation in the relative importance of cohesion by history and cohesion by alignment that is orthogonal to Logan stage, but I’m much less clear on the drivers of that. I’ve never had practical reason to analyze this part very hard. I might have some tacit knowledge here that could be elicited by questions.

    Even more relevant to your interests: Logan’s “prophecy” is a learnable skill. You are learning it. (It is really interesting watching you learn it.) Which is why it is extremely good that you have developed as much analytical awareness as you show in the OP. I think you are pretty likely to have to apply this theory someday.

  21. Troy Rex says:

    Comment of the week definitely deserves to be Lemminkainen’s!
    slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/04/the-ideology-is-not-the-movement/#comment-342571

    Lemminkainen’s comment is also quite encouraging – I think it shows Scott is thinking on the right lines here. And I agree with most of the other commenters here: I think this post has a lot of very clear thinking on how groups function.

    For a real-life Robbers’ Cave, I give you…mods and rockers, the terrors of 1960s Britain! The rockers wore lots of leather, rode motorcycles, and listened to Elvis Presley and other American rock and roll. The mods were modern – the nice boys – wearing suits and riding moto-guzzis or something.
    http://subcultureslist.com/mods-and-rockers/
    Reading about mods and rockers gave me chills. These guys had no idea at all that they were in the grip of the psychology of groups, no idea that they invented these differences due to forces outside their conscious awareness.

    (I learned about mods and rockers from Tyler Cowen’s interview with Jonathan Haidt
    https://medium.com/conversations-with-tyler/a-conversation-with-jonathan-haidt-35f76604464a#.97tvl3wie)

    The one quibble I have with this post is that the description of a Christian considering whether to disbelieve the Bible doesn’t match with my experience. I grew up a lot of the time in fundamental baptist churches, who would be more than happy to go a dozen rounds with you on any alleged inaccuracies of the Bible. For them, the content really mattered. The content may have had the heck interpreted out of it, but it mattered.

    This is a quibble and not a disagreement because it matches my observations of less fundie Christians, and the content of mod-ism or rocker-ism probably mattered to them as well.

    • Troy Rex says:

      I figured out my quibble: it’s about self-deception.

      Neurotypical people don’t consciously think, “Our culture is fine, why rock the boat?” They believe, and believe they believe, that their beliefs are absolutely true. But they are not very interested in debating it – which is a sign that for these normal people, their membership is about the tribe, not about the beliefs.

      But they won’t say that. Normal people don’t. They believe they believe.

      • Deiseach says:

        But they are not very interested in debating it – which is a sign that for these normal people, their membership is about the tribe, not about the beliefs.

        Well, how interested are you in debating “is grass really green, or does it only look that way to us?”

        Sure, you could have a whole discussion about wavelengths of light, human eye, optics, etc etc etc but most people don’t care that much.

        This is not to say they don’t think grass is green or don’t care one way or the other, it’s simply that if you think something really is true, unless you’re specifically arguing with someone who says it’s false, you’re not going to spend every spare minute talking about this is true and this is why it’s true.

      • Amanda says:

        “They believe they believe.”

        Hopefully I’m not being uncharitable here, but it seems either a little unfair, lacking in imagination, or just too convenient to broadly assume self-deception. The alternative is accepting that I (and others) actually do believe what I think I believe. It almost sounds like, “It’s so foreign from my experience to believe in things like that, that I can’t imagine other people really do, deep down, so they must be deluding themselves.”

        Not that that’s limited to any particular group of people. It’s how a lot of Christians tend to believe that non-Christians are secretly miserable without God, despite what they may say to the contrary. I mean, I think that sometimes (my apologies; that’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?). It’s basically impossible to disprove though, because of course few people would be willing to say, even to themselves, that their ideology is making them miserable. You have to either believe what people say or not. Which leads me to go by actions. So, checking my own actions:

        -The times we’ve moved and needed to find a new church, we’ve attended churches where we weren’t the most socially comfortable, but we most agreed with the beliefs held there.

        -We give 12-15% of our income to charity, about half of which we give directly to our church. No one but the church secretary, the IRS, God, and now the internet knows how much we gives, so no tribal benefit there. And, if God weren’t real, I might still give to reduce poverty, etc, but the portion going straight to my local church could go into my (currently imaginary) kitchen remodel fund.

        -I pray alone when no one can see me. Could be reading or poking around on the internet. And I don’t have to actually pray for everyone at church to assume I do, so no tribal benefit there.

        -I am totally unable to exert self-discipline about things, even things with an obvious short-term benefit to me, except when I give up something for Lent. Then, if I’ve given up eating between meals, and I pop a bit of food in my mouth when I’m making dinner, I find myself spitting it into the sink. No tribal benefit there, just feeling like commitments to God really ought not to be broken. The church I attend isn’t really one for observing Lent anyway, and I sometimes get side-eyes if I bring it up to the wrong person.

        Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t ever see or feel tribal forces come into play, and this concept is a helpful framework for thinking about individual and group behavior. Nor do I claim that everyone’s like me. But, based on the people I know, I’m not at all unusual in my actual commitment to actual beliefs.

        Striving for accuracy in interpreting behavior would have to take into account that some non-negligible fraction of people do really have an “ideology-first” mindset.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “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.”

    Hmm…I think EA is somewhat different here. My impression of an “EA poseur” is someone who adopts the labels, and the cultural signifiers, but doesn’t, you know, actually do good in the world (eg. donate or do valuable direct work).

    Actually, one of my greater worries right now is that EA will increasingly adopt tribal markers that are more and more orthogonal to actually making the world better, and cave in itself as another “awesomeness”/”rationality is cool” culture.

  23. yento says:

    This article goes through a few motions. Rarely have I been so bewildered on SSC at simplifications to later on find very good and interesting conclusions drawn.
    For the moment I only like to recommend Manuel De Landa’s ‘A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History’ (https://mitpress.mit.edu/index.php?q=books/thousand-years-nonlinear-history) which looks at the trajectories of change between historical situations.

  24. hnau says:

    Thanks for another great post! I only wish it were longer. 🙂

    One thing I think the argument leaves out: tribalism is just one way of explaining how people form groups, not necessarily the most accurate or useful one. In some cases tribalism doesn’t make sense, and the ideology really *is* the movement.

    For example, imagine trying to explain to a Civil Rights activist in 60’s America that his or her movement wasn’t really about ending segregation– that desegregation was just a ‘battle flag’ for a particular in-group / culture / way of thinking, and that it didn’t matter all that much in itself.

    • Carinthum says:

      Slight possible refinement to the theory- When you have a group all of whose interests are advanced by a collective goal in a real sense (e.g. ending segregation) they are capable of genuinely working to achieve it. Group outsiders can sometimes benefit from group signalling (e.g. charity). Otherwise, Scott’s version stands without need of correction.

  25. GTKRWN says:

    The Human Biodiversity movement is really just the latest rebrand of scientific racism. They’ve taken the position to ignore people’s race while jointly advocating racism. This is helped by the fact that the movement is small enough that each person’s quality can be evaluated directly without having to resort to predictors like race. In addition, the movement is only online, so the costs that racial diversity imposes on crime rates and in-group trust are not imposed.

    • Does your critique include the claim that their views are false? Perhaps you could define “scientific racism” more precisely.

      Suppose it is true that there are significant differences in the distribution of heritable characteristics by race as conventionally defined. Does saying it is true count, in your usage, as racism? If so, what if anything is wrong with it?

    • Murphy says:

      I don’t identify with the Human Biodiversity movement but I do work in genetics and I get a deeply uncomfortable feeling whenever I encounter people like you.

      There are lots of genetic variants. I’ve got a database of thousands of peoples exomes in front of me right now and I can do PCA pretty easily which splits them pretty neatly into ethnic groups with each person as a dot in the cloud.

      It tends to give you something that looks like this:
      https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2F1753-6561-5-S9-S116/MediaObjects/12919_2011_Article_1167_Fig1_HTML.jpg

      I can do this now with my data but I’ll leave the groups unlabeled.

      Without looking up the meta data I have no idea which groups are which actual population, which are europeans, which are africans, which are chinese and which are japanese but I can see them grouping naturally in front of me in clusters of people who are more closely related to each other and I know that if I colored the dots by population origin they’d be almost perfect matches to ethnic groups with a few dozen out of the thousands being hard to classify.

      This is not controversial and is a standard part of looking for confounders or errors in the data. If samples that are supposed to be from chinese people start showing up grouped with your africans you can be pretty sure something has gone wrong with your sample management or your samples have got mixed up.

      I can highlight carriers of variants known to be strongly linked to various health problems.
      They are not evenly distributed across the different (unlabeled) populations.
      This is apparently politically acceptable.

      I can highlight carriers of variants known to be strongly linked to problems metabolizing certain medications.
      They are not evenly distributed across the different populations.
      This is apparently politically acceptable and is well known and accepted in medicine.

      I can highlight carriers of variants known to be strongly linked to diabetes and heart disease.
      They are not evenly distributed across the different populations.
      This is apparently politically acceptable.

      I can highlight carriers of variants known to be strongly linked to risk of schizophrenia, variants linked to IQ, variants linked to increased violent behavior problems or variants linked to various mental health problems.
      They are not evenly distributed across the different populations.

      But apparently that last set of highlights are not politically acceptable.

      People like you have decided that they don’t need to look at the data, they know the “right” answers in advance and anyone who gets the wrong answer is an evil racist who must be wrong and must be engaging in “scientific racism” and must be a bad person.

      It’s an odd feeling to be able to look at data in front of you, to know it says one thing but also know that if you want a stable career without the p̶o̶l̶i̶t̶i̶c̶a̶l̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶m̶i̶s̶s̶a̶r̶ diversity-officer ejecting you from your job then you should never talk about the data or it’s implications publicly in anything except the most vague sense while too closely linked to your real life identity.

      Because there are a lot of people like you who are gleefully in favor of academic purges of anyone who voices politically unacceptable things about the data sitting in front of them.

      I wonder if biologists felt like this whenever they found themselves looking at simple refutations of Lysenkoism…

      So the best thing to do is to delete the quick little R script in front of me, close the program or risk being hounded out of my job by people like you who believe they don’t need any data to know what’s true.

      With people from the HBM I imagine that I could argue with them without worry, I could dispute their data, I could argue about how they did their statistics or their sampling methods and none of them would ever harm me for disagreeing with them.

      But you. You and people like you would destroy my life if I disagreed with you. You don’t care if the stats are right or wrong, you don’t care if the sampling methods are good.
      Because you believe you know what is true in advance and you would destroy anyone who disagrees.

      • Alex says:

        Thank you!

      • +1 to Murphy.

        I have a post in draft on my blog titled “Grappling with HBD”. It’s going to cause some fireworks when I publish it. I am certain I will get tagged as a racist by large number of fools like GTKRWN.

        I am temperamentally incapable of not publishing it anyway.

      • Urstoff says:

        Unfortunately, the alt-right using HBD as a justification for white identity politics certainly isn’t doing it any favors.

        • Sastan says:

          The political implications of facts are always up for debate. The facts are not.

          So, to take the most obvious and contentious one, you have the fact, the observable, reproduced a million times, fact, that some races score better on IQ tests than others, and this has a strong correlation with certain life outcomes.

          Yes, obviously you have racists grabbing this and shouting about how they were right all along.

          So to oppose them………the left has decided to deny bald fact, because of course the only possible response to one group with a slightly lower average IQ would be to fully implement ethnic cleansing, right? Of course not!

          Basically the same thing that the right is doing with Global Warming. They have accepted that the only possible response if AGW is real is to throw all money forever at it, divest ourselves of capitalism and all live in huts made from our own urine like the left is pushing. So the science must be wrong! But actually, there are a million possible policy prescriptions that fit those facts*.

          We can debate the science, yes, but we should also debate the responses once we have the science figured out. Nothing is written.

          *staying agnostic for now on AGW, it’s at least less fixed than the IQ results at this stage, but the overall dynamic is the same.

        • Jaskologist says:

          This gets at an issue I still think Rationalists haven’t grappled with properly: What if the truth is maladaptive?

          I tend to bring this up in the context of religion, since most LWers believe “it” is false, but the evidence is pretty strong that it benefits everything from mental health to lifespan. At a societal level, it benefits group cohesion, and given fertility rates and the fact that religion evolved everywhere, I tend to think a religious population is inevitable.

          The HBD stuff is similar. It would lend some support to the white nationalists, but it’s also pretty clearly true. Do we suppress this knowledge for fear of what people might do with it? Given the place of the Scopes Trial and Belief in Evolution in blue mythos, that puts you in exactly the position of those religious people talked about elsewhere who claim adherence to the Bible but look askance at reading it too closely.

          • onyomi says:

            I think one of the core assumptions of rationalists is that the truth is worth knowing/grappling with even in cases where knowing it seems to be maladaptive. After all, describing and rooting out cognitive biases seems to be the modus operandi even though most, if not all of those biases are probably there for a reason (evolution would predict that we’d be good at perceiving reality insofar as doing so is adaptive, but no further; in cases when bias is more adaptive, we’d expect us to be biased, though the very cognitive tools which are adaptive for figuring out some things may sometimes be used to undermine our own adaptive biases).

            But I do think that it is maybe taken as too much of a given that rooting out bias, like rooting out tribalism, is an unalloyed good. There are certainly things I’d probably be happier not knowing. Yet it seems to be the nature of the mind that it must at least think it is pursuing the truth. It seems to be impossible to instrumentally believe in something your rational faculty tells you is false, so this may not be a viable alternative strategy.

            It is weird, however, to imagine a kind of “Chesterton’s Fence” rule for cognitive biases. I can see why most of them exist, and am correspondingly more willing to try to defy them, though there are some which are a mystery to me. The strong tendency towards denial of obvious problems and myopia about oneself, for example, though one might imagine it would enhance happiness in some cases, seems like it would be bad for survival and reproduction. “I’m pretty sure the fact that my foot has turned black is no cause for concern! In fact, I never noticed until you mentioned it!”

          • Jaskologist says:

            I agree that it is extremely hard to get yourself to believe something you think is untrue, but what about intentionally being hypocritical? You could be an atheist privately, but consider spreading atheism immoral because of the various harms those beliefs inflict on their holders, just as someone else might avoid promulgating data indicating a lower average black vs white IQ for fear of the societal effects if that became widely known.

          • Randy M says:

            And you have to consider how people seeing truth, or at least possibility, suppressed rather zealously is going t open them up to competing narratives and prescriptions they might not have otherwise considered.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well, the problem with the evading the truth as “maladaptive” (or encouraging others to evade it) is, as Ayn Rand put it in the John Galt speech:

            Whenever you committed the evil of refusing to think and to see, of exempting from the absolute of reality some one small wish of yours, whenever you chose to say: Let me withdraw from the judgment of reason the cookies I stole, or the existence of God, let me have my one irrational whim and I will be a man of reason about all elsethat was the act of subverting your consciousness, the act of corrupting your mind. Your mind then became a fixed jury who takes orders from a secret underworld, whose verdict distorts the evidence to fit an absolute it dares not touch—and a censored reality is the result, a splintered reality where the bits you chose to see are floating among the chasms of those you didn’t, held together by that embalming fluid of the mind which is an emotion exempted from thought.

            Translation: you can’t just have one fixed, irrational belief that sits incongruously with all your other beliefs. When you take that belief as an axiom—which you do in the process of refusing to reject it no matter the evidence—the contamination radiates outward as you adjust all your other beliefs to fit better with it.

            And the broader point, which I think is embraced by the rationalist movement, is that reason is the human means of survival, the means of accomplishing goals in reality. Nothing can be allowed to come before it, to sabotage it, to undermine it, to justify “comfortable illusions” or “blissful ignorance” because that brings a short-term gain at the cost of long-term destruction.

            The strongest case you can make is that blissfully ignorant types are “mooching” free-riders, accepting the material consequences of Enlightenment civilization while accepting premises that would destroy it if adopted by everyone. Which is a dilemma for egoists (haha), but not for utilitarians.

            Religious belief is a local optimum. This is what Karl Marx meant by saying that it’s the “opiate of the masses”. If you’re a peasant or a slave living a pretty bad life where you’re oppressed by your lord or master, it’s undoubtedly comforting to believe that there will be an afterlife in which everyone will be equal before God. But for that very reason, it takes away the incentive to actually fight to make things better on earth; excessive care for earthly things is a distraction from man’s true purpose.

            And I think rationalists have the same analysis toward transhumanist efforts to “immanetize the eschaton”. Religious belief discourages that. Something like cryonics or Friendly AI is an attempt to thwart God’s design, an act of monumental hubris akin to building the Tower of Babel.

            Of course, once attempts to improve human life by disrupting God’s design start getting widely accepted, the religious traditions tend to start coming along. See: anaesthesia for women in childbirth, contraception, in-vitro fertilization. But it’s precisely in being opposed to every new innovation that the biggest harm comes in.

            As for the strategy of being a hypocrite: then instead of poisoning your own mind, you’re poisoning everyone else’s.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I agree that Rationalists do hold a belief that Reason is the ultimate adaptation, and always beneficial in the long-term. I just think that belief has not been examined critically, or rigorously validated. To put it more plainly, what would falsify this belief, or even “adjust your priors” away from it?

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Vox,

            I’m temperamentally inclined toward that Rand quote myself, but it’s heavy on the bald assertion and light on the evidence. Humans are pretty good at compartmentalizing. And we definitely accept hiding a wide array of information.

            Do you believe it is wrong for the government to classify information? Should President Obama publish the nuclear launch codes, or keep that knowledge to himself for fear of what others might do with it? Was Hillary’s only wrongdoing her failure to paste her emails into wikileaks?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jaskologist:

            I agree that Rationalists do hold a belief that Reason is the ultimate adaptation, and always beneficial in the long-term. I just think that belief has not been examined critically, or rigorously validated. To put it more plainly, what would falsify this belief, or even “adjust your priors” away from it?

            Well, that is of course an interesting question.

            That reason is the only means of objectively answering questions is not a conclusion of rationalism. It’s an axiom.

            This “critical examination”, this “rigorous validation”, this “attempted falsification”; would it be conducted according to rational methods? Or would it be conducted according to non-rational methods like checking your “gut feeling”?

            A validation of reason by rational methods would be circular. You’re assuming reason works in order to prove it works. A validation by non-rational methods assumes that those work—and yet by rational analysis they don’t have a good track record.

            [Edit: I want to clarify that I bring all this up because “reason is the only means of objectively answering questions”, “reason points heavily in the direction of saying God does not exist and that, in particular, revealed religions like Christianity are false”, clearly sits in psychological tension with the proposition “you should believe in God, especially in a Christian God who loves you”.]

            However, I realize you want to focus on the question of, not whether reason provides the correct answers to questions, but rather on whether we need or benefit from the answers to those questions. And this seems closely related to Scott’s recent post, “The Price of Glee in China.”

            If modern, technological civilization and abundant material wealth are beneficial to people, then it seems that fidelity to reason is very useful in the long run. Since technological civilization seems to be the result of the consistent application of reason.

            If modern civilization is not beneficial to people, then one could legitimately ask just what’s the point?

            On the other hand, I recently ran across an interesting study that found:

            “[B]oth belief in scientific–technological progress and religiosity were positively associated with life satisfaction, yet the association with belief in scientific–technological progress was significantly larger.” In fact, life satisfaction was three times more likely to correlate with a belief in sci-tech progress than belief in religious doctrine. Progress enthusiasts also tended that have a much stronger sense of personal control over their lives, while religiosity was negatively associated with personal control.

            […]

            Stavrova and her colleagues speculate that this negative association between a belief in God and a sense of personal control might arise from dispositional differences. Primary control strategies aim to change the external world so that it fits with one’s personal needs and desires; secondary control strategies seek to change personal needs and desires so that they fit with the external world. Earlier research has found that religious believers tend to score higher on secondary than primary control strategies. Stavrova and her fellow researchers suggest that future studies might “examine whether a belief in scientific–technological progress, in contrast to a religious belief, entails individuals to rely more on primary rather than secondary control strategies.”

            So why do people who believe in sci-tech progress tend to be happier than the religious faithful? Stavrova and her colleagues propose that “achieving control over the world and mastering the environment has always been one of the major goals of science. Believing that science is or will prospectively grant such mastery of nature imbues individuals with the belief that they are in control of their lives.” This sense of personal control in turn contributes to a higher life satisfaction.

            So even if material progress doesn’t benefit anyone per se (which I doubt), perhaps belief in it benefits them.

            However, the study also finds (somewhat contrary to Ron Bailey’s editorializing) that belief in scientific-technological progress is not necessarily mutually exclusive with religious belief. (They are negatively correlated, but not by much.) So you can hold on to that. 😉

            Though one should also take into account the correlation among top scientists and intellectuals, and not just the general public.

            Do you believe it is wrong for the government to classify information? Should President Obama publish the nuclear launch codes, or keep that knowledge to himself for fear of what others might do with it? Was Hillary’s only wrongdoing her failure to paste her emails into wikileaks?

            I think you ought to realize this irrelevant.

            In such cases, we’re not talking about people having false beliefs on matters that are very important to their daily lives and personal decisions—or even very important to the larger course of civilization.

            We’re talking about known ignorance of small details of information. There’s no deception going on with the launch codes: people know they exist, just that they aren’t allowed to be told them, and they are given the reason why they aren’t allowed to be told.

            Similar considerations apply to non-controversial matters of national security, like the specific names of all undercover spies working for the CIA. Of course, when the government lies or leaves the public in the dark about the very existence of major operations, that raises questions about who’s watching the watchers.

            A better analogy to what you’re proposing would be some kind of massive conspiracy to suppress the atomic theory of matter in order to stop nuclear proliferation. Even that is hardly as important to people as the question of whether or not a particular religion is true, but it would have much a greater impact on people’s models of how the world works than knowledge of the nuclear launch codes. (Of course, telling everyone the launch codes would quickly cause a major change in the world—but through the medium of nuclear holocaust, not by changing their models of reality.)

            I’m temperamentally inclined toward that Rand quote myself, but it’s heavy on the bald assertion and light on the evidence. Humans are pretty good at compartmentalizing.

            People can certainly compartmentalize, and the passage does reflect what Nathaniel Branden criticized as Rand’s “tightrope” approach to morality: that if you don’t toe the line just right, “your soul is in big trouble”.

            The question depends on how seriously you want people to take religious belief. Most Americans don’t take it very seriously. They go to church on Sunday (maybe), but they do little to live by strict Biblical principles (or Papal commandments, or whatever).

            If you only think about religion for an hour a week and don’t incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, it probably doesn’t cause too many negative effects, even in the long run. Belief in Thomas Paine’s deistic God probably has even less. (Though still some and perhaps quite negative in certain contexts: he still believed in an omnibenevolent God and that consequently everything that happens is for the best, which can lead one to rationalize existing evils.)

            But if you want scientists to believe that the Pope is right about research involving the destruction of human embryos being gravely sinful, that’s going to have effects. They’ll consider it unethical and not perform it.

            Also, you know, I’m skeptical about the causation in the correlation between religious belief and life satisfaction. As I’m sure you’d agree, much of it is mediated by community involvement and the feeling that your beliefs are shared by many others. That’s sort of the point of the OP.

            In any case, the correlation is not that strong, either. So even if you were sure infidelity to reason wouldn’t have any long-run negative effects, encouraging yourself to believe in religion against (what seems to you to be) the evidence is probably not the most effective intervention.

      • Could you publish anonymously?

        Is there any way to protect that sort of information from people who overgeneralize?

        Sickle cell isn’t a uniquely black disease. Cystic fibrosis isn’t a uniquely white disease, and neither is hay fever.

        • Murphy says:

          publish what? and why?

          I’m talking about 15 minutes work with a pretty normal data set.

          Showing that variants are not evenly distributed across human populations is nothing shocking or even novel. No geneticist would gain new knowledge from reading such a document.

          Of course almost nothing is totally unique to any group.

          It’s just that publicly talking about certain implications of that is not acceptable and may even be problematic and doing so is a good way to find yourself looking for another job.

          People far more senior than me have b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶e̶d̶ resigned-of-their-own-free-will-to-avoid-a-fuss over far more trivial stuff when they said something far less controversial and twitter got angry.

          Publishing anonymously carries almost zero weight, part of the point of publishing is that as an expert you’re putting your name behind something. Without that it has no more weight than anonymous posts on an internet forum.

          That’s assuming that a respectable journal wants to carry an uninteresting anonymous article which makes their journal a little problematic.

          Finally, I have no wish to stick my neck on the chopping block in a show of defiance against people who’ve already won.

          I can only lose and nothing of note is gained.

          • I’m interested in people having trouble getting accurate diagnoses, so I’m interested in stereotypes which make diagnosis difficult.

          • Murphy says:

            @Nancy
            If someone has a rare disease it’s rational to take that into account. Otherwise you’re highly likely to over-diagnose or under-diagnose people due to ignoring available data.

            If you hear hoofbeats while walking the mountains in italy it’s possible that someone has released a herd of zebras but it’s far more likely to be horses.

          • keranih says:

            Ah. I see where you’re coming from, I think.

            (I’m coming from the other way around, being population focused.)

            The problem is that it’s not “stereotypes” that would make it difficult to diagnose SCT in a non-African person. It’s the competing differentials which are far more likely than SCT to be causing the symptoms seen in a Caucasian person.

            The rational approach would not be to test every person for all diseases, but to choose the most likely ones (or: those with the cheapest least invasive tests that were most likely to give helpful information) and then work from there.

            Fighting an *inaccurate* stereotype would be useful.(*) Objecting to ones that are, actually, supported by the data is, I think, less helpful.

            Most people who have SCT are black/African; among the rest most are people of Hispanic descent with African ancestry is a true statement, not a stereotype.

            (*) With the note that “always” “all” and “none” statements are very frequently false, and so are largely inaccurate.

          • Maybe part of the problem is that the opinion of “you don’t have a rare disease because rare diseases are rare” doesn’t shift even if years of treatment for more likely diseases hasn’t worked.

          • keranih says:

            I agree that this is can be an issue…but.

            Person has been diagnoised with Congenital Novel Corpse Mite Mange.

            (Normally you get CNCMM upon your first exposure to cadavers in medical school, and only if a household parent (ie, you can get it from your adoptive parents) also attended a Western medical school.)

            The treatment for CNCMM is only successful in 65% of patients, ‘success’ means the itching and peeling only lasts for four days instead of two weeks and the residual symptoms wax and wane as the Moon moves in and out of the House of Jupiter.

            Furthermore, CNCMM occurs overwhelmingly in people who attend the same medical school – or who went to undergrad at the same campus – as their parent. People who are not the children of doctors contract CNCMM at the rate of…less than half of one percent. In children of MDs, it’s…7%.

            For 35% of patients appropriately treated for CNCMM, a mis-diagnosis is indistinguishable from a correct diagnosis with a failure of effect of the treatment. This is about 2.5% of the children of MDs. About the same percent of non-MD descent population has itches and peeling due to weekend sunburns.

            1.5% of the non-MD descent population has paranoid delusions of itching caused by invisible bugs. This percentage is even higher in the indigent poorly educated population who only read about CM on the internet.

            The test for CNCMM costs $5,000. The treatment is really cheap – dollars per daily dose for less than a week – but causes permanent baldness and persistent flatulence in 1.2% of patients with CNCMM, and 10% of non-infected patients.

            Rare conditions are rare, *and* hard.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ keranih:

            Your post makes me feel vaguely disappointed that I no-longer work in EMS and can no longer mess with the medicals students by slipping conditions like Congenital Novel Corpse Mite Mange into patient histories.

      • anonymous says:

        Comment reported for being untrue, unnecessary and unkind.

        Plus that image was very racist.

        • JBeshir says:

          I think that there’s an approximately 90% chance this is a troll, but just in case it isn’t: I think everything in Murphy’s post is entirely right, and the manner in which they’re at threat for just talking about their academic results is a terrible thing which needs to be improved.

          There’s expecting people to keep to the post-WW2 consensus against the playing of ethnic tensions with actual ethnicities, and then there’s reacting harshly to anything which might conceivably be something someone doing that might find useful to say, and doing no validation or consideration of the alternative, and the latter is bad.

      • GTKRWN says:

        Thanks for the reply. However, it didn’t change my opinion, because I’m a human biodiversity advocate and I already agreed with you. Race is real, abilities and traits are vary by ancestry, and these distributions have meaningful social consequences.

        I prefer to use plain language when talking about race, so to me scientific racism isn’t necessarily a slur or false. Human biodiversity is a great rebrand of racism when talking outwardly but there’s no need to use politicized and awkward language internally.

        I don’t want to purge anyone, although obviously there’s going to be a lot of bad blood if and when public opinion changes in favor of genetic racial differences in ability.

        Also, my understanding was that GWAS of IQ genes were mostly turning up false positives because IQ was too polygenic for existing datasets. Is this just outdated?

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m afraid your choice of username wasn’t quite obvious enough.

          • Anonymous says:

            For anyone else who is wondering “Gas the kikes, race war now”. Now I have to go take a shower. Lovely people you alt right types associate with.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Wow. “Wew lad,” as they say.

          • Theo Jones says:

            @Anon
            Wow.
            I got that the guy was a racist from his posts (hell, he even self IDed as one) — but I didn’t get the hidden meaning in his username.

          • Murphy says:

            Honestly I tried googling the username and still turned up blank for what it actually stood for.

          • JBeshir says:

            Yeah, wow. I didn’t catch that, made the same mistake as Murphy here.

            Motte is “there are non-trivial differences in distribution of important traits between people from different ethnic backgrounds”, bailey is… yeah.

            Murphy’s criticisms remain valid. We shouldn’t assume anyone who discusses their motte stuff is part of their group, and it sucks that that happens. The enemy-hunting-to-show-goodness-and-loyalty-and-friendship dynamic exists and is a bad thing.

            But, yeah, the motte-and-bailey dynamic is also real and there are going to be people who are pretty obviously sensationalising the facts for political goals who are going to try to use “I’m just discussing the truth” as a defence, which means that defence can’t be automatically trusted either. Need to make reasonable judgement calls and tolerate others who make them differently.

          • Murphy says:

            Sure, people would use those things to make horrible claims.

            People genuinely used and still sometimes use survival-of-the-fittest arguments against the poor and sick.

            Lysenkoism was more ideologically appealing. ‘natural cooperation’ is much nicer than ‘natural selection’ and is much harder for Scrooge types to use to argue in favor of decreasing the surplus population.

            Somehow we’ve mostly managed to get people to stop fretting so much that beliefs in natural selection might imply the desire to kill poor and sick people.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Murphy
            Honestly I tried googling the username and still turned up blank for what it actually stood for.

            GTKRWN

            Googling? Too Kaffeine-Retarded; Will Not.

            Go To King Richard Without Notice!

            Gone To Kmart, Return When Needed.

            Gratitude Toward Kindly Rationalists; Who Knew?

          • Anonymous says:

            If I knew we’d stop engaging them in discussion and instead start clutching our pearls, I wouldn’t have brought it up.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Huh, you learn something new every day.

            GTKRWN banned for username

          • Has anyone offered any evidence that the interpretation of the name is what the user meant rather than an invention of the interpreter offering it? I haven’t seen any, but a lot of people seem to take it for granted.

          • Nita says:

            @ David Friedman

            Sure, it could be a tragic coincidence — this person could be a racist who takes a keen interest in race-related discussions and groups on the web, and yet happens to be unaware of this particular racist meme. What probability do you assign to that?

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman: You clearly haven’t understood what Reign of Terror means, when the cause is just, then “burden of proof” is just a shield for the wicked.

  26. Slacklawed says:

    Why is it that Deaf culture seems so much more cohesive than other tribes of people with disabilities (like the blind)? Is it the (sign) language difference?

    • NN says:

      Based on my conversations with a (hearing) friend who took some sign language classes in college, I’d put money on it being due to sign language.

    • Nita says:

      Most likely, yes. Basically, it’s the community and culture of sign language speakers users. Or, rather, communities and cultures, since there are many different sign languages.

      Becoming Deaf culturally can occur at different times for different people, depending on the circumstances of one’s life. A small proportion of deaf individuals acquire sign language and Deaf culture in infancy from Deaf parents, others acquire it through attendance at schools, and yet others may not be exposed to sign language and Deaf culture until college or a time after that.

      They also have something like a shared history, e.g., the period when sign language was suppressed in schools.

  27. Ghatanathoah says:

    I’ve heard that steelman of cultural appropriation before, and while I agree that it could happen in theory, I’m skeptical of how frequently that could happen in practice, especially in a large and pluralistic society. It seems like in most cases people should be adept enough to figure out new ways to filter out people who don’t share all their values. Why couldn’t the rappers in the hypothetical divide rap into two genres let’s call them “Old School” and “Founding Fathers” and then get a couple more markers to differentiate them? They do that in real life, there are different subgenres of rap!

    I have heard of some instances of people conducting hostile takeovers of subcultures, but it seems like eventually people who escaped the subcultures formed somewhere else. And the same norms of pluralism that occasionally result in subcultures getting taken over are also the ones that allow them to exist in the first place.

    Furthermore, there are many advantages to letting a culture spread. Sometimes the changes people make are genuine improvements. For instance, when comic books fandom was taken over by adult fans and started appealing to them instead of children, children benefited too because they now got to read cool violent comic books made for adults instead of dumbed down Bowdlerized comics made for kids. Sometimes “appropriated culture” can serve as a gateway into the old culture. I know a lot of people who have become fascinated by the history of rap music, learned a lot about it, and come to revere the earlier rappers.

    On the other hand, most of my objections to anti-cultural appropriation rhetoric would disappear if people replaced “You’re a horrible culture thief!” with “When you’re doing that, make sure not to accidentally trick people into thinking you have more in common with them than you really do. You might get their hopes up.”

    Of course, I say this from the perspective of someone who grew up in a small town where finding someone who was even mildly interested in the same fandoms as you are felt like finding a glass of water in Death Valley. I have a lot of trouble empathizing with people whose problem is that too many people like the same things they do.

    EDIT: To clarify what I’m saying, let me quote Scott’s Fake Consensualism Post:

    I no longer try to steelman BETA-MEALR arguments as utilitarian. When I do, I just end up yelling at my interlocutor, asking how she could possibly get her calculations so wrong, only for her to reasonably protest that she wasn’t make any calculations and what am I even talking about?

    I think the steelman of appropriation is giving it way too much credit, in the same way the idea that BETAMEALRs are doing utility calculations is. It seems like much of the reaction to appropriation is a knee-jerk emotional reaction. The whole steelman is a plausible ev-psych reason why such a reaction would have evolved, but it’s far from the only one (for instance, insisting that people treat the same things sacred as you is a good way to assert dominance over them).

    I think another thing to consider is that in a pluralistic society that instinctual knee-jerk reaction, even if it evolved to protect a culture, is much less useful in a dignity culture with rule of law. In a stone-age village your culture could be destroyed if its sacred values are mocked by other people. That’s still possible, but much harder in a society with rule of law and a right to privacy, where if people disrespect your tribe you can just hold tribal meetings in private places where they aren’t allowed in.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I dunno, I would use comic books fandom as an example of the exact opposite. I was a kid after the colonization of comic books, and I found my dad’s old comic book collection to be much more appealing than the overproduced alien nonsense that was currently for sale. Not all children want dark, gritty, hyperrealistic “cool violence”? The brighter, less complex stuff that people try to sell to children is that way because in general that’s what children want.

      Although I guess you framed it in terms of what benefits children, rather than what they want. Possibly watching Spawn rip someone’s spine from their body as detailed gore drips onto the panel boundary builds character or something.

      • Nornagest says:

        Can we really describe the situation with comics as a colonization process? The medium pivoted to adult fans through the early-to-mid Nineties, but those adult fans were there already, they just weren’t being catered to until someone noticed that collectors were buying a large fraction of issues. It’s more or less the opposite of the shift toward casual gaming, for example.

        Artsier, more literary titles like Watchmen and Sandman were involved in some of the contemporary changes in style and emphasis, but by and large the artsiest and most literary came out early on — the lessons the industry learned from them had less to do with complexity or sophistication and more to do with being adult in the sense of R-rated. Spawn is easily a less literary work than, say, Claremont-era X-Men, and Spawn was nowhere near the bottom of the barrel as Nineties titles went. Trust me, I’ve got a toy plastic suitcase somewhere full of the most miserable shit imaginable.

        • LHN says:

          It was in many ways the opposite of colonization: the pattern for the first few decades of comics was for kids to read them for a few years and then stop, to be replaced by the next wave of kids reaching the appropriate ages.

          But there was a slowly growing number who kept reading and talking about them. Some of those went into the creative side themselves, pushing in the direction of the sorts of stories they’d want to read. That overlapped with older readers who began to organize into communities, open and patronize specialized comics stores, and engage in dialog with the creators (first via letters columns, then through conventions, later through the net).

          The emergence of the direct market (nonreturnable sales to comics stores, vs. returnable newsstand distribution) was another push. DM books were more reliably profitable, and as sales declined overall comics became less attractive to newsstands.

          That was somewhat self-reinforcing, since if they’re not in places kids go with their non-fan parents, then those kids were unlikely to become part of the comics-reading audience at the traditional age. So the average reader age continued to creep up, and it made increasing sense to for the market to shift likewise.

          So it’s not colonization in the sense that new people came and pushed out the old. Rather, the old group decided not to leave as their predecessors had, and that reduced the space available for catering to newcomers.

          That said, given the decline of serial magazine fiction in every other field, increasing competition for kids’ attention from TV, video games, big-budget action movies, etc., and even other comic genres (mostly manga or manga-derived), it’s very possible that the alternative to that shift would have been for mainline superhero comics to fade out entirely.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Yeah I’ll agree that the cohort issues make the “colonization” metaphor a little strained here. I’m not saying that any particular person did anything wrong, just that it’s a shame what happened to comic books and not something we should be pointing to to demonstrate the wonders of cultural appropriation.

          • LHN says:

            It really seems as if it should have been possible for comics-for-kids and comics-for-fans to coexist. I’m not sure if it’s largely coincidence (a happy one for the continued survival of the industry) that decline in public availability and interest happened at about the same time fans began to emerge as a market. Or if the idea of stories being canonical combined with the sales power of crossovers meant one had to replace the other.

            (DC has done a fair number of all-ages books set outside the main DCU over the decades, some quite good. But none has really caught fire. It also firewalled the over-17 books in its Vertigo imprint for a while, but the mainstream books were still often filled with material most people wouldn’t give an eight-year-old.)

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      As with the re-definition of “X is X plus power,” new cultural appropriation discourse builds in harm as the impact of it. Under that framework, appropriation is when the older sub-category receives no benefits from the overall popularization engendered by the new sub-category. Often, the older sub-category is discriminated against for the same traits that make the new sub-category cool.

      For example, cheap ethnic food by original ethnic populations is mocked in the school cafeteria, sneered at by Yelp reviewers as dirty places for poor foreigners. They barely turn a profit, hence lacking the labor to clean the place.
      Ethnic food subsumed into fancy fusion venues, helmed by a majority ethnicity person who was so nobly inspired by ethnic food is critically praised and priced to match. Such places gentrify the area, and soon all of the original restaurants have to close shop because of the appropriation.
      Yes, I’m going to resent the non-Asians who never order anything but Glistening Orange Lumps and Glistening Brown Lumps and Fried Rice with Soy Sauce (which is a true abomination) who turn right around and deride the smell of my chives dumplings and make jokes about our eating dogs. But keep in mind that it’s the latter part that is the problem, and not the former all by itself.

      What exactly is being appropriated and why matters. Some people appropriate rap/black culture because they associate crime signifiers as edgy, taking on those traits makes them look/feel more badass. But they’re making money from that image, while a black person with the exact same posture/clothing gets profiled by the police.
      That’s where the harms in the new steelman of cultural appropriation are.

      For a geek example, consider “glasses make one look smart.” For hot people, that makes them look hot and smart, and thus even more attractive. For some geeks, that singled them out to be bullied back in the day. (“Know-it-all four-eyes!”)

      So it’s less “accidentally trick people into thinking you have more in common with them than you really do,” it’s that damaging stereotypes tend to be perpetuated by appropriation. Thinking the beat has a cool mathematical pattern and is very danceable, fine. Thinking the beat is edgy and exotic, not fine.

      Too bad most actual talk about appropriation doesn’t investigate the difference. Damn those baileys.

    • EyeballFrog says:

      It seems like most of the examples of cultural appropriation that are usually pointed to is stuff like white people wearing cornrows, which doesn’t fit the steelmanned definition of cultural appropriation at all. It’s an arbitrary way to shame people into submitting. In other words, it’s yet another example of Social Justice and Words Words Words.

    • Deiseach says:

      you can just hold tribal meetings in private places where they aren’t allowed in

      And then they go to court to force you to permit them entrance because under the law this is discrimination on the grounds of race/sex/belief etc., or they crash your events in the name of bold acts of striking a blow at patriarchy/equality/whatever.

      For instance, when comic books fandom was taken over by adult fans and started appealing to them instead of children, children benefited too because they now got to read cool violent comic books made for adults instead of dumbed down Bowdlerized comics made for kids.

      Um – what benefit is it that a twelve year old can now ogle zeppelin-sized breasts on a superheroine or read about blowing brains out in full Technicolour because grimdark is cool?

      Yeah, if you’re twelve, you probably are easily impressed by sex and violence being “adult” and ever so grown up. But the adult graphics novels lost out on the promise of “no easy black and white morality where the good guys always save the day and there are no hard decisions”, instead we got gray morality where the semi-good guys always save the day because killing the worse guys is the one sure answer to all problems. If you’re still impressed by this in your 20s, that’s a problem.

      The idea that, whether you’re talking about Batman or the Punisher, crime will always continue and as soon as you put one villain away in Arkham/blow up a Mafia headquarters, another one will come along to fill the power vacuum, so what is the real solution here is never raised except in rare instances; “Watchmen”, for all its faults, did raise that question because Alan Moore has a consistent philosophy of distrusting “heroes” and valorising “the little guy” (often to a romantically idealised extent); his solution is not “we need these superheroes and caped crusaders to help us” but “the ordinary rule of law by ordinary people, unsatisfactory and often flawed as it is, is what we need and the only thing we can rely on; the little people, the unheroic, the non-super, the plain men and women, trying to live fairly decent lives and not be too shitty to one another – that’s the society we should admire”.

      Too much adult comics is “Let’s portray as boobs and blood as we can get away” rather than trying to get depth. It’s the same underlying foundation (and there’s nothing wrong with a simple, mythic-style Good Guys versus Villains storyline) but dressed up as “now we talk about sex and murder, that makes it grown-up!”

  28. NoahB. says:

    So can we think of groups or cultures or societies where “average tribalism” is markedly lower than it is in, say, the US? My rough impression is that there is some substantial variation here, I’m not sure, at for example the cross-national level. I think this could speak to the conservation of tribalism idea that grabbed my attention. The extent to which we should be worried about trying to reduce patriotism backfiring on us by simply pushing people to substitute one kind of tribalism for another will depend on that rate of substitution. My guess is that Swedes are, on average, less tribal or at least less attached to their tribes than are Americans. So can we reduce American nationalist tribalism and end up with net less tribalism? I would like to think so. I’m not sure what factors might be behind any of my supposed cross-national (or cross-group) differences in tribalism, though. Education? Liberalism of the social space in which you grew up? A stable economic situation allowing you to not worry about competition with other groups for a nice, good life? Simple homogeneity? Rural-ish demographics?

    • Sastan says:

      I think there is a conservation of tribalism. The energy that Swedish tribes once directed at the German tribe, for instance, might now be focused on some internal conflict (the Swedish Democrats spring to mind). With peace and prosperity, the tribal divisions that matter shift to internal ones. The tribes that become important are within, rather than without the national one. It’s becoming similar in America. But because we’re the biggest thing going, we have to* be involved in all these outside disputes, and hence have to keep some small bit of nationalism going.

      *I mean, not really, but the people demand it.

      • NoahB. says:

        Sounds like a plausible and reasonable proposal. I’m not so ready to make the fairly strong assumption that all groups of people or all tribes have equal strength of tribalism. Certainly, as discussed in the post, some tribes seem inherently stronger than others, often due to an interlocking set of identities plus family ties, early socialization, and so on. And it seems reasonable to think that there is quite a bit of individual variation in how tribal one is — let’s say the individual-level sum of all tribal ties. I guess I’m just thinking that it’s quite plausible that some tribes, say, the Swedes, have successfully included a norm of “let’s be a bit less tribal about everything” into their tribe’s norms. Not zero tribalism, of course. Swedes still root for their sports teams, political parties, local cultures, and everything else. But already if they’re generally not very religious, not very nationalistic, not super strongly racially or ethnically identified, and more clustered around left-ish liberal-ish politics, we’ve already cut away some of the biggest tribalisms. Feelings about the social democrats vs greens or whatever seem likely to be less strong than those things.

        Or let’s take Germany as an example. Germans clearly set themselves a goal of essentially eliminating one sort of tribalism after WWII and they did pretty well at it. If conservation of tribalism held, wouldn’t we expect to see Germans being super-rabid about all sorts of things — way more rabid than the French or Brits or Swiss? I don’t feel like we see that. Political, sporting, religious, ethnic, cultural tribalisms all seem about the same or weaker to me in Germany compared to any number of other countries.

        • Sastan says:

          You may be right, but we’d have to wait for a semi-serious external threat to see for sure.

          If they’ve really become less tribal, it will be apparent. I suspect that peace, prosperity, and the US providing all the security muscle has lessened the need for tribalism displays, but it remains as strong as ever. I don’t know how one would test for that, and I could be completely wrong. If the mass influx of refugees continues and the attendant crimes rise more than would be probable, perhaps we will find out.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m just not sure what your point is.

            Yes, I believe that in the zombie apocalypse, tribalism and racism would become a lot stronger. That’s not too controversial. What is your takeaway from it, that causes you to keep bringing it up?

            Are you arguing we sharpen our tribalist instincts because things are likely going to collapse? Are you saying we should do more to promote economic prosperity so that tribalism doesn’t become stronger?

            Or are you just pointing it out for no reason? I imagine not, but I’m not sure what you want people to take away from your comments on the subject.

    • Psmith says:

      I’m not sure what factors might be behind any of my supposed cross-national (or cross-group) differences in tribalism, though

      Historical levels of inbreeding. See:
      https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/start-here/
      https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/clannishness-defined/
      https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/where-hbd-chicks-hypothesis-works/
      etc.

  29. Kevin C. says:

    When I read this:

    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.

    the part of me that likes to play Devil’s advocate asks, “well, why not?” History is full of people who’ve believed in forcefully exporting their “better” values (some groups seem to have made a habit of it). And can’t a consequentialist case be made, so long as the lost utility from coercing the change is outweighed by the utility gain from switching to the superior tribal values?

    • NN says:

      Historically the “lost utility from coercing the change” has frequently involved millions of deaths, even in the most successful cases like Japan after World War 2. And often times it doesn’t work. After all, Pakistan is itself the product of a centuries long attempt by Great Britain to forcefully export their “better” values.

  30. Kevin C. says:

    “Is there such a thing as conservation of tribalism? Get rid of one tribal identity and people just end up seizing on another?”

    According to Carl Schmitt’s “The Concept of the Political”, yes. For him, all politics ultimately reduces to the distinction between “friend” and “enemy”; to quote on his definition of the latter:

    The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible.

    The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy. A private person has no political enemies.

    In other words, the “enemy” is any group which your tribe would rather fight than allow to control your tribe and its way of life. And thus, Schmitt essentially says all politics comes down to tribal boundaries: who is in the tribe and who isn’t.

    Even without Schmitt, it seems clear to me that, given our evolution as small-group-social hunter-gatherer omnivore apes, tribalism of this sort appears pretty well “baked into” our make-up.

  31. -_- says:

    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.

    This seems to come out of nowhere? Like, why the assumption “Atheists take the claim ‘Christianity is about following the Bible’ at face value because they skew neurotypical”, rather than assuming it derives from either judging the Outgroup or just not caring enough to think about the nuances of other tribes? I’ve had to spend as much time explaining “I’m Jewish and I don’t believe in God” to atheists as well as Christians, I’m pretty sure. And just spend three seconds searching for “[tribe/group with a moral (sometimes factual) component] are hypocrites”.

  32. Lola says:

    Smiley face to you for articulating a bunch of things I have thought about. 🙂

    I try not to judge people based on tribal affiliation ever since I realized a handful of those things.

    However, I do think it is subtly detrimental to hold any detrimental (e.g. false) rallying flag. For my part, I often try to define my tribe membership either with no especial flag (“I just like hanging out with these people okay”) or with a flag I expect that people can accept or not with few consequences (e.g. we really like hexagons here).

  33. Bugmaster says:

    The flip side to all this is that, if your tribe is reasonably mature and has a decent number of members, then your tribe’s banner is probably just an empty symbol. Thus, if you truly believe that your tribe of like-minded people is saving souls for Jesus / protecting the primacy of the rightful Caliph / raising the sanity waterline / saving minorities from oppression / etc., then you’re wrong. All you and your people ever do is just hang out with each other, and bash all the other people who are not your people. That’s it — but then, maybe that’s already enough.

    Sure, there may be a few powerful and charismatic individuals in your movement who seem to be advancing the cause; but, most likely, they are just advancing their own personal agendas at your expense.

    • Minor point, to correct possible historical misunderstandings.

      The Shia don’t claim that one of theirs is the rightful caliph. They gave up the claim to the caliphate very early in the conflict and shifted to the position that their Imam, a descendant of Ali, was the inspired religious authority.

      According to the Ashari, the group running Iran, there were twelve Imams in the line of descent and the twelfth went into occlusion–is still invisibly around. Some other Shia recognize seven. There was no principle of primogeniture, so different Shia groups divided on which descendant to follow.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Granted, get a large enough group and you’ll find a lot of people sitting on their asses or just doing the bare minimum to maintain. Human’s gonna Human.

      But there are people who take up the burden and that too has a certain appeal to a certain sort of person. Where do you think all the money for “bed nets” (or whatever else) goes exactly?

  34. jes5199 says:

    I wish that there was something that captured the thing that Myers-Briggs types was dancing towards. I’m a member of a community that has an unusually high concentration of people who identify as INFP or other NF variants (I’m the only INTP in the group, as far as I know.)

    But everyone agrees that Myers-Briggs is bunk, right? So what’s going on?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Psychology is completely incapable of telling what’s bunk and what isn’t. Makes sense there’d be some false positives along with the false negatives.

    • Frog Do says:

      What is this INFP group, so I can join it.

      • jes5199 says:

        Your best bet would be to join everything2.com in the late 90s or early 2000s.

        (but a bunch of us ended up in Portland, Oregon. also Vancouver, B.C.)

        • Frog Do says:

          Well I have always been looking for reasons to head north and west.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve met a bunch of the Portland noders, though I was only ever peripherally involved in E2. Strikes me as a weird scene.

          • jes5199 says:

            and this place doesn’t?

          • Nornagest says:

            Did I say that?

          • The Facebook climate arguments strike me as a weird scene, full of people interested in strutting themselves and insulting those who disagree with them, with very little interest in actual arguments.

            This place strikes me as entirely normal. Most civil and mostly reasonable people talking about stuff.

    • Alraune says:

      The systemization is a lie. Some of the data points are real.

    • nomenym says:

      Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter is a better version of MBTI, mostly because it’s a lot more modest in its aims. That is, it’s mostly just a shorthand way of describing particulars clusters of personality traits. It may not be the best system, but it’s good enough for many purposes.

      It’s really not all that dissimilar to the five factor model. MBTI’s extraversion/introversion axis is more or less the same as the big five’s extraversion factor. MBTI’s judging/perceiving axis sort of folds together the big five’s conscientiousness and openness to experience factors. MBTI’s thinking/feeling axis sort of folds together the big five’s agreeableness and neuroticism factors. Finally, MBTI’s intutive/sensing axis is basically abstract vs. concrete thinking or communication and seems to be rather mixed up with IQ, though people tend to be kind of squeamish about acknowledging that.

    • onyomi says:

      Apparently a hugely disproportionate percentage of libertarians, like myself, get INTJ, so it must be measuring something, though maybe not exactly what it claims?

  35. AR says:

    I find that I’m thinking more and more these days of the “philes” (intentional tribes) in Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age.”

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve thought for a long time that the Death Eaters, as much as anything else, represent the ideas in the first half of The Diamond Age finally bubbling to the surface of geek culture in a big way. There had been rumblings before — I used to be friends with a guy who was trying to design a system of culture-neutral ideographs inspired by the book — but nothing on this scale.

      No obvious representation for the second half yet, but I’ll give it time.

      • jeorgun says:

        What would an obvious representation of the second half even look like?

        • anonymous user says:

          The Yellow Turban, Taiping, Zhang Xianzhong or Boxer rebellions, to name a few possibilities

          • jeorgun says:

            I wasn’t thinking of the Red Fists— it seems like They Who Must Not Be Named are perfectly happy to take up that mantle— so much as the Drummers and the Mouse Army.

    • Wrong Species says:

      This is one of the things that religion does better than secular institutions. Philes already exist all over the world. They’re called churches. Secular people just need to find a way to build that same sense of community without the spiritual aspect.

  36. stargirlprincesss says:

    Hail Scott the True Rightful Caliph.

    [The article is really great. Its hard to come up with anything to say except to praise the true king.]

  37. Cererean says:

    “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.”

    On the other hand, is there such thing as conservation of tribality? That is, the more tribes a person is a member of, the less strongly they associate with the average tribe of theirs. In which case, the way to bring down barriers between people would, ironically, be to promote the formation of lots and lots of tribes.

    Say that everyone is a member of three tribes – the left or right, up or down, back or forward tribes, which come in opposing pairs. But the tribes overlap such that there will never be a person who is left-up-back *and* a person who is right-down-forward, so any two people picked at random will both be members of at least one of the tribes…

    Alternatively, we could stick it to E.T. and give humanity something to aspire to, such as galactic supremacy. We don’t know if there are any aliens out there, but we do know this – humans are superior!

    • Sastan says:

      I would say probably.

      But always think in terms of status. If you belong to a lot of groups, you need to have pretty high status in your primary group. No one wants to be low man on the totem pole in sixty different groups. Hence, high status people often like to pretend to be “above” tribalism. Easy for them to say, the whole tribe is behind them. Low status people need their tribes, because it is the only way to increase their relative status above where it is in the larger society. You may be overweight and unemployed, but if you can tell a story, you can be DM! On the other hand, if you’re John Lennon, and you literally cannot fight off all the women trying to mount you like a pony, sure, “imagine no nations!”. When you are on top, enlarging the number of people in your tribe only benefits you. If you are on the bottom, it hurts you.

  38. A couple of points, separated by more than two centuries, on a desirable feature of tribes:

    Responding to Hume’s argument in favor of an established church to bribe the indolence of the clergy, Smith writes, of a member of a society with many small sects:

    “All his brother sectaries are, for the credit of the sect, interested to observe his conduct, and if he gives occasion to any scandal, if he deviates very much from those austere morals which they almost always require of one another, to punish
    him by what is always a very severe punishment, even where no civil effects attend it, expulsion or excommunication from the sect. In little religious sects, accordingly, the morals of the common people have been almost always remarkably regular and orderly; generally much more so than in the established church.”

    And David Skarbek, in his very interesting book on prison gangs, argues that a major part of their function is to maintain the reputation of their members. The gangs are racially defined, loosely speaking. The reason is that race provides a marker easily observed by outsiders that tells them “this person is part of gang X and they will punish him if he buys drugs from me on credit and then does not pay for them, or does anything else that lowers their group reputation.”

    • Sophie Grouchy says:

      I thought I had written a blog post about this exact thing, but it must have been a Facebook post :p.

      Amusingly, I was comparing how I felt that in personal situations I could trust SCA members (where anti-social behavior is noted and harms reputations, and people are often members of a visible groups/households) significantly more than I could trust members of the rationality community (who consider it a badge of honor to not care about someone’s personal qualities or anti-social behavior as long as they were interesting.)

  39. catullus63 says:

    The obvious response is that these issues are actually discussed at length and in detail, but in the social sciences, esp. anthropology and sociology, which are often not as familiar to hard science and comp science types.

    I would warn against assuming that there are pre-existing qualities that cause humans to form associations. Human beings naturally form associations and create the qualities that they feel distinguish them from other people. I’ve met comic book fans who were very sexually active, but this didn’t stop them from viewing themselves as basically sexually inept, and adopting the appropriate misogynistic beliefs to match. People rate their personal qualities very badly, but ascribe personal qualities very freely.

    • John Ohno says:

      A really important point, here. Scott seems to systematically overestimate the importance of genuine differences in early stage tribe differentiation, when really such differences can be arbitrary or (mostly to fully) imaginary.

    • Came here to basically say the first part of your comment. These sort of insights will be typically discussed in an undergrad course in more detail. I feel Scott and many others with an interest in this sort of thing would like sociology if they weren’t horribly put-off by the SJ theme that dominates the field’s image.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Some of us got tempted into economics because it offered the same thing but with math 🙂 It was a trap 🙁

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’ve read some sociology. They certainly discuss ingroups and outgroups forming over different things, and probably some sociologists understand this very well, but I felt like I didn’t understand it reading sociology until I figured it out for other reasons.

        • Fair enough, as always I think very highly of your writing, just was surprised how similar to sociology this felt when I know you’re not a huge fan of the field. It would probably be more helpful for me to try to be more specific too, but memory is fuzzy – Weber is obviously very big in sociology of religion (but takes a sort of inverse approach to this iirc, not so good on this part of Weber), and I think Focault is (despite being totally nuts) good at putting ideas into their historical and institutional context, but I know there’s probably better / other stuff I just can’t remember. Sociology of religion isn’t my strong point, maybe somebody else can make better suggestions.

  40. blacktrance says:

    One advantage of groups that rally around an idea is that they develop reputations based on their secondary characteristics, which reduces search costs – someone who wants to find similar people can just look for the flag. This causes the problems in the post, such as another group taking the flag from yours, or the flag being a belief that turns out to be false. But to what extent are flags actually necessary? On a small scale, there are groups of friends who have a lot in common with each other but aren’t united by anything in particular – maybe it’s possible to scale that up.

    Maybe there’s room for some kind of hybrid of Facebook, OkCupid, and Meetup.com, where people would be matched to social groups based on a combination of their interests and personality traits. Such a community wouldn’t be founded around an idea, so there would be no need to worry about a foundational belief being false, nor any single hobby, so they wouldn’t be able to identify as gamers, mountain climbers, etc, so they wouldn’t be threatened by people moving into any one hobby. And if you choose to leave a community, it would make it easier to find another.

  41. Stezinech says:

    Typo in section 4, fifth last paragraph: “On the other hand, in countries that have non-ethnic notions of heritage, patriotism has an opportunity to substite for racism.”

  42. discursive2 says:

    Re “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.”

    That’s every tribe. If an ideology isn’t faulty, it doesn’t make a good rallying point because everyone just agrees with it, insiders and outsiders. No one is forming the sky is often blue tribe.

    Ideologies always deviate from reality in smaller or larger ways (because reality is fluid and beliefs are fixed). As soon as your tribe is based on an ideology, changing your beliefs to adopt to new information becomes a source of friction.

    Some ideologies are closer to reality than others (creationism for instance), and some tribes have better internal processes for updating their flags so create less friction. But if you are really interested in aligning your beliefs to reality in the most immediate way possible, then tribalism is always an impediment.

    The rationalists are interesting and ironic to me because it is a tribe formed around the flag of eliminating cognitive biases, but tribe-building is one of the most powerful cognitive biases out there. The end result is that rationalists seem to develop strong controversial views on subjects that don’t lend themselves to easy empirical testing (ai risk, utilitarian ethics, etc).

    • stillnotking says:

      But if you are really interested in aligning your beliefs to reality in the most immediate way possible, then tribalism is always an impediment.

      I don’t think this is true. If you are an Allied soldier in WWII and Tokyo Rose tells you to lay down your weapons because the Allies have surrendered to Japan, you will greatly benefit from having the knee-jerk response of disbelieving everything Tokyo Rose says. This is the most likely explanation for why tribalism evolved in the first place. If it had no survival value (= reality congruence, at least to a first approximation), it wouldn’t exist.

      • discursive2 says:

        I’m not saying that ones’ tribes’ beliefs are always wrong. A broken clock is right twice a day. And incorrect beliefs that are empirically falsifiable tend to gradually disappear from a tribe’s set of flags over time (though it can take a while). I’m just saying, if your goal in life is having as correct a set of beliefs as you can, then tribalism is an impediment because you’re going to have a hard time in the cases where your tribes’ beliefs do diverge from reality (whereas, someone who wasn’t a patriotic american could still pretty easily reach the conclusion that Tokyo Rose wasn’t on the up-and-up).

        Re: why tribalism evolved, I’ve heard the theory that tribal beliefs are in fact likely to be costly to hold, because if it wasn’t costly to believe them, outgroup members would believe them too, and they would be a weak signal of tribal affiliation. In other words, the survival cost of reality-incongruent beliefs is outweighed by the survival benefits of having a bunch of people who trust you because you share their wacky theory of reality.

  43. TheAltar says:

    I witnessed some trends in rationalists during a visit in the Bay Area recently that make far more sense to me now when seen through the lens of your generation descriptions. The instrumental rationalists seemed to fit into 3 Generation type groups.

    Generation 1 agreed with 50% or greater of The Sequences and attempt to use the ideas from it, CFAR, and other sources in their daily lives to improve themselves. They seemed to take all of it quite seriously.

    Generation 2 possessed a mild respect for CFAR, less respect for The Sequences themselves (and likely read next to none of it), made sure to make a comment of disdain for EY almost as if it was a prerequisite to confirm tribe membership (maybe part of the “i’m not one of THOSE rationalists”?), and had a larger interest in books that their friends recommended for overall self-improvement.

    Generation 3 hadn’t read any of The Sequences, had read only a few blog posts, loosely understood some of the terms being regularly thrown around (near/far mode, far mode, object level, inside/outside view, map/territory etc.) but didn’t know the definitions well enough to actually use the mental actions of the techniques themselves, and considered themselves rationalists via group affiliation, showing up to events, and having friendships rather than being rationalists due to becoming more rational themselves and attempting to optimize their own lives and brains.

    I had limited exposure to the Bay Area and would be very interested if anyone else thinks these categories actually match the territory there. This also leaves out epistemic rationalists (some of whom I met) who don’t fit into the three generations presented above.

  44. ThrustVectoring says:

    This, in part, explains why I’ve heard reports of participating in social dance causing religious deconversion. Human natural abhors a social vacuum: most people will not drop their only or primary tribal affiliation.

    There’s an interesting language thing, too – you can often refer to, say, a Mormon person as just “a Mormon”. In some sense, people think of each other as instances of their tribal affiliation. It takes extra intellectual effort to not blur the line between being and belonging.

  45. Sam says:

    Sorry, I haven’t read all the comments so I don’t know if this is raised above—please forgive me if it is!

    Scott’s point about the rallying flag being wrong has a second angle to it: if you’re willing to commit *that* much to the tribe, by using such an obviously self-harmful signal, it must mean you care very much about being a member of the tribe, right? I recall Robin Hanson talking about this (or, if not, it’s definitely in the ‘something I can imagine Robin Hanson talking about’), and here’s a link to Paul Krugman: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/26/tattoos-incompetence-and-the-heritage-foundation/ (Actually, now I’m not sure that this wasn’t linked from an SSC linkspost…)

    So—in a sense, the ‘worse’ the rallying flag is, the stronger the (potential) tribe it can build, because the tribe’s members will be signalling their commitment to each other by violating the out-group’s mores (or offending their sense of logic or decency or…). Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that so many of the longest-lived, biggest, and just most successful tribes are, seen from a distance, based on obviously wrong premises and full of incompetents high-up in the hierarchy. (c.f., toxoplasma of rage—mutual agreement or even workable disagreement don’t generate enough heat and light to cultivate a bunker mentality and the bonding you get in a bunker.)

  46. Grob Nob says:

    As a deaf person I have to correct you — not all deaf people are patentedly ridiculous about their disability and enjoy the benefits of surgery. In fact, there are cochlear implant tribes (which are mostly correlated with the manufacturer of the individual’s implant) and they do function as support groups, and help each other with various things, nominally related to cochlear implants. Bearing a cochlear implant has its own trials, tribulations, and issues and it’s quite helpful to connect with other people who have shared life experience, obviously, since there are not a lot of us floating around.

  47. Steve Sailer says:

    Rap was highly integrated 35+ years ago. I heard “Rapper’s Delight” on AM Top 40 radio in December 1979 and it struck me as a fun novelty style (although obviously culturally appropriated from Jamaican toasting) that would be big for a year or two. In 1980-81, cutting edge white bands like Talking Heads (Crosseyed & Painless), The Clash (Magnificent Seven), and Blondie (Rapture) all had rap hits. I assumed at the time that blacks would simply invent more new styles, as they had so many times in the past.

    Instead, however, blacks dug their heels in and stopped innovating. At the time that was stunning. Since Scott Joplin in the 1890s, African Americans had been great pop music innovators. But now they were stuck in a rut (that’s now 37 years old).

    • Brad (the other one) says:

      >But now they were stuck in a rut (that’s now 37 years old).

      I can’t tell if you’re serious or not

      Because, clearly, this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5vw4ajnWGA) has zero innovation, right?

      • Thursday says:

        I’m not saying it’s bad, but it sounds like a lot of other hip hop songs.

        • Urstoff says:

          Which can be said about any song in a genre one doesn’t regularly listen to.

          • Thursday says:

            Or it could just be true.

          • Urstoff says:

            Could be. You’d need to ask someone that’s quite familiar with the genre, though.

          • Thursday says:

            I don’t put stock in the claim that you need to be deeply learned in the way of hip hop to make such a judgment, just like you don’t need to be some expert in classical music to tell that Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Tchaikovsky are all doing something really different. Even more obviously you don’t need to be an expert to tell that today’s hip hop vs. 1980s hip hop isn’t much of a stylistic innovation compared to the differences between jazz, gospel, blues, soul, reggae.

            Talk about stating the obvious.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Thursday
            Is that obvious? How different do Mozart and Beethoven sound to you? How do you think that compares to how different they would have considered gospel and soul?

          • Urstoff says:

            Seems odd not to accept that; it’s a basic principle of pattern learning. People of an unfamiliar race look quite similar until you spend a good amount of time around them. Sports generally look like unorganized chaos until you are quite familiar with them. Why would it be any different in music?

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            80s rap sounds almost completely different from 90s rap. The fundamental differences are in the way that they rap; so “Rapper’s Delight” sounds nothing like “Diary Of A Madman”.

            And then there’s rap/hip hop made in France that sounds markedly different than rap/hip hop made in Mexico.

          • Thursday says:

            Seems odd not to accept that; it’s a basic principle of pattern learning

            You’re wildly exaggerating how much experience is necessary. It’s pretty easy to tell jazz from reggae, for example.

            Incidentally, the example of a new development in rap that sweeneyrod links to before sounds like a riff on Ice-T.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Thursday To you maybe, but I think many others would consider switching time signature every 8 bars quite innovative (in rap). What about this or this?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I agree that that isn’t necessarily the best example of innovative hip hop (apart from anything else, it’s over 10 years old). But there’s been development from this to this (or even someone like Kanye’s stuff).

    • TheAltar says:

      A large portion of this may simply be changes that occurred in ownerships and popularizations of music around that time period rather than a reflection of the art being made. Billboard (who made the charts telling everyone what was a hit and what wasn’t) was bought by Affiliated Publications in 1987 and I’ve heard people complain that the methods used were changed along with the songs that started getting to the top of the charts. Billboard was later own by VNU/Nielson and now Prometheus Global Media.

      Currently, I am very strongly confident that massive amounts of innovation and creativity are taking place in music inside the US, but it all appears on youtube or other websites and outside of the public eye. The music I see while searching new and strange subgenres of music resembles nothing like what you hear on the radio or would easily come across unless you were looking for new and interesting music intentionally.

      • James Kabala says:

        At least for albums, the SoundScan-based charts of the 1990s were generally considered to be much more accurate than the previous charts. (I am less sure about the singles charts, since they included an airplay element, and I have no idea about today.)

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      But the question is: where is the new innovation coming from?

      The birth of genres has almost always coincided with the rise of new instrumentation/technology, and then the honing of how to play them. Blues and jazz arose from the guitar and saxophone, rock and funk driven by the creation of electrical guitar and bass, hip hop from the ability to sample and sequence.

      But the new genres? Synthesizers.
      So for a while, new music innovation became cost-prohibitive.

      Now that software-synths are becoming more and more available, no longer so hardware-bound, I expect innovation from some demographics to rebound.

      Another take is that innovation is just so global and cooperative now, that no one demographic is so solely responsible for the birth of new genres. Everyone’s jumping in at the beginning already. Location-based “scenes” never last as long as they used to. All roads lead to LA.

    • J Mann says:

      Tangential question: Has there been any major influential musical innovation by anyone in the last 20 years? It seems like psychedelic, disco, rap, and maybe even grunge are distinct musical fads, but has anything happened since then?

      I’ve been hearing more dubstep recently, but I think that’s just my listening habits changing. I guess there are a number of post-Amy Winehouse singers like Adelle or Elle King – does that count?

      • Nornagest says:

        The answer’s almost certainly yes, but it’s gonna be hard to distinguish a fad from a major influential musical innovation until its children have been around for a while and there’s a clear line of descent to study.

        We can easily say that for the likes of rap — twenty years ago (well, closer to twenty-five) was just about when it hit the mainstream, and now it’d be tough to find a mainstream genre that isn’t influenced by it in some way. The early electronic music scene too. But it’s gonna be hard to look at music today and use it to predict what weird little scenes will beget stuff that’ll take over the world in 2030, because that won’t happen until 2030.

        • J Mann says:

          Hmm. It seems like people who were into disco or new wave or punk knew they were into something new-ish. Those trends had distinct sounds, proponents, names, and sometimes even a fairly clear artistic aesthetic to separate it from everything else.

          I agree with you that it’s hard to know that punk would be seen as something more important than grunge when you’re in the middle of it, but is there anything like that now? Put another way, when my kids’ music annoys me, it’s because I think it’s a not-as-good example of something I’ve heard before.

          I’m going to chain off my Glee point below – I wonder if the popularity of Glee and singing competitions like American Idol mean that today’s kids are more comfortable buying stuff that’s more an update of past sounds than an innovation.

          Alternately, maybe I’m just too old, or my kids aren’t hip enough, for me to understand today’s innovations at all.

          • Here’s a general thought rather than a specific reply. By the late 60s/early 70s, I thought rock music (which I defined as music with a 4/4 rhythm and a great deal of its energy in the bass range) wasn’t going to last.

            It wasn’t that I didn’t like rock, but I’d bought the idea of young people as rebellious and innovative, and I thought there would be something as different from rock as rock was from Sinatra. I speculated that maybe there would be more complex rhythms or a return to romanticism.

            Instead, (I’m speaking as a person with pretty casual contact with popular music), rock never went away. Admittedly, techno has a faster and somewhat higher pitched beat. Rap is spoken rather than sung.

            There’s still new popular music which isn’t wildly different from the Motown I imprinted on. I will say I’m amazed at how mild the Stones sound to me now.

          • J Mann says:

            Nancy – it’s a Great Stagnation ™ of innovation! Clearly, musical innovation will continue to approach zero until we’re left with only repeating boy bands and Katy Perry clones.

          • Deiseach says:

            It seems like people who were into disco or new wave or punk knew they were into something new-ish.

            Anyone else remember the New Romantics? And the arguments about Spandau Ballet and were they promoting fascism with the release of Musclebound? 🙂

      • Hlynkacg says:

        I’d say that the mainstream acceptance of rap and the rise of EDM are probably the two most recent “innovations” that are readily identifiable as such. As Nornagest says, it’s hard to distinguish a major innovation from a passing fad until it’s children start showing up.

        As an aside I’ve been really enjoying the recent resurgence of old school blue-collar lyricism. (of which I would consider Adele an example) In the 50s it would have been classified as “country” but it is definitely it’s own thing now.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I was hearing Jamaican dub on the B-sides of Clash singles in 1979, just as I was hearing Jamaican toasting, which then was culturally appropriated by American rappers.

        There’s not all that much stylistically in big time pop music today that didn’t exist in some rudimentary form on, say, college radio stations in 1979. In contrast, 37 years before 1979 was 1942 and popular music was very different, so different that people who had liked 1942 music could only shake their heads at what kids in 1979 were listening to. But, instead, today I listen to, say, dubstep and say, oh, yeah, Lee Perry was screwing around like that in the 1970s.

        There’s much less of a generation gap today than in the past. My tuba-playing father-in-law (b. 1929), the head of the Chicago musician’s union, loved classical, liked jazz, and despised rock. You don’t see those kinds of generation gap anymore.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Mid-Century America used to have generation gaps because it didn’t have all that much of other kinds of diversity. For example, the Catholic vs. Protestant gap pretty much disappeared on 11/22/63, which opened the door for the Generation Gap of the Sixties to be launched on 2/9/64 with the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

          Now we have other forms of diversity that seem more important so there isn’t much room for generation gaps. For example, urban white people have been wearing Ramones t-shirts for four decades now. There are probably 13 year olds wearing a Ramones t-shirt whose grandfathers wore a Ramones t-shirt.

          • J Mann says:

            On another tangent:

            Based on my observations on my own teenager, one change from my day is that because American Idol, Glee, and the like, kids today know and enjoy many of the rock hits from the 70s on. If you go to a highschool dance, the girls are as likely to sing along to Journey or Madonna as to Pit Bull. Back in the late 80s, even stuff like the Doors or the Beatles was for music aficionados, not cool kids.

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        We should all remember that Classical Music spanned centuries. Individual eras were each roughly a century long.

        20 years without a paradigm change is not that dire.

        And most genres’ evolution and development have basically been re-discovering/inventing concepts already well-plumbed in classical music, anyways. Note that the critical pinnacle of any particular genre tends to be the rock opera, the rap opera, the jazz opera, the unified album, where the album concept was tailored to a physical format length chosen just because it could accommodate the entirety of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          But popular music changed rapidly in style for most of the 20th Century, so rapidly that it was closely associated with the Generation Gap.

          But then it stopped changing dramatically and rapidly. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s a big change in pop culture over the course of my lifetime.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            Sure, but I’m just not sure that it’s something to worry about.

            The beginning of the Baroque Era would also have been a time of change, as the various structures and instrumentation of classical music were invented for the first time, but subsequently, it spanned for centuries.

            So as current music structures and instrumentation have stabilized, we may be in for a few decades of relative stability.
            (Of course, to me, it’s more that experimentation is occurring at such a rate that it feels more like noise than signal. No unified movements because everything is boiling in new directions all of the time.)

  48. nomenym says:

    Remember, there are both inter- and intra-tribal forms of competition. That is, tribes compete with other tribes, but members also compete within the tribe. Presumably, we’ve evolved social instincts for both types of competition. The general rule seems to be that the red tribe is better at inter-tribal competition, and the blue tribe is better at intra-tribal competition. For example, many in the red tribe feel betrayed by people in the blue tribe, but they don’t feel betrayed by outsiders who oppose them (e.g. radical Muslims). Betrayal is a feeling reserved for members of your own tribe, or at least people who used to be in your tribe. Similarly, the blue tribe often feels embarrassed or ashamed by the red tribes sexism or parochialism. But again, despite universalist rhetoric, they don’t seem to feel embarrassed by outsiders who engage in even more extreme transgressions (e.g. radical Muslims). In other words, both continue to psychologically differentiate between the same groups, but it’s just that the blue tribe seems to invert many of the ordinary rules.

    The human monkey brain says that it’s better to have high status in a small tribe than to have middling status in the big tribe, so it’s often advantageous for social entrepreneurs to divide the group. However, it’s better to have middling status in a big tribe than to be conquered by another big tribe and reduced to low status.

    Perhaps this is why Cthulu always swims left. In times of relative peace and prosperity, people engage in more intra-tribal competition, and those who excel at intra-tribal competition will rise to the top. Intra-tribal competition also tends to fracture tribes into smaller units. It could be that modern identity politics is reaching the apotheosis of this trend, weakening the old religious and national identities by creating ever more antagonistic sub-groups that find it ever harder to coexist together in the same political system. The human propensity for intra-tribal competition is effectively running unchecked.

    The irony is that this slow dissolution of broad umbrella identities, like nationality and religion, that help bind large groups of diverse people together is being conducted in the name of universalism, but appears to just result in more fractured and narrow identities that are actually smaller and more homogeneous. Perhaps a good contemporary example would be the erosion of Britishness as an broad umbrella identity that bound together not just people of the British Isles, but even the extended British empire. Western elites have engaged in a sustained campaign of undermining that identity–framing it not as something to be proud of but rather ashamed of, or at least conflicted about. This was often achieved through universalist rhetoric and arguments, but the result has not been a flourishing of universalist sentiment. Rather, in the absence of a British identity, people are actually starting identify more strongly as English, Scottish, and Welsh, to such a point where Scotland very nearly and may yet leave the UK, while the UK is very close to leaving the EU.

    A broader and more inclusive identity is slowly being replaced by multiple narrower and less inclusive identities through intra-tribal competition which has so often takes the rhetorical form of left-wing universalism. Better to be high status in a small tribe than low status in a big tribe, right?

  49. ArlieS says:

    I am a software engineer of nerd-like disposition, clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum. I am also female. I’ve found myself very conflicted in the last few years, over attempts to make software development – and particularly open source development – more hospitable to women and girls.

    The problem, in a nutshell, is while I agree that people shouldn’t be excluded from a career for social reasons, most of the things deemed welcoming for women are somewhere between unpleasant and actively exclusionary for nerds, Aspies, and long time members of the tribe of software engineering geeks.

    I recently attended a gathering for women in tech which reminded me so severely of unpleasant exclusionary experiences in my past that I developed a serious headache and left the place early. I couldn’t decide whether I was, emotionally, back in high school, or at the one job in my past that stressed “social skills” over technical ability, where I developed a serious stress related illness. [Perhaps unsurprisingly, that employer has a good reputation for including women.]

    I listen to a lot of my fellow computer geeks, mostly white males, bemoaning adaptations being forced on us by well meaning people, and I’m extremely torn. On the one hand, there’s a lot of casual misogyny going on, and I’d like to see that stopped.

    But on the other hand, I don’t want to “pretend to be normal” in other to make a bunch of neurotypicals comfortable, at the cost of making myself uncomfortable. I don’t want their norms, of not talking shop during social events, not geeking out over tech toys, and especially of never ever saying what’s literally true. I don’t want my status based on my skill at a type of social interaction I experience as vicious politics and/or rampant ableism. And while I accept that I may well have lots of coworkers with whom I have nothing in common, I prefer a workplace where I enjoy hanging out with my coworkers – and I am really not going to _volunteer_ for an organization whose norms don’t accept me.

    What this article gives me is something to point to, in this context, to try to explain the positions of those nerdy male engineers who are a lot more outspoken on the subject than I am, but with whom I at least partially agree – without violating current taboos about what may and may not be said.

    It doesn’t help with the elephant in the room – tribes with power differentials, i.e. in this case the comparatively good financial prospects of software engineers, which make loads of social butterflies [= non-Aspie, non-nerds, non-compatible social style] want to join our tribe, at least briefly as a stepping stone to their true destiny in sales and/or management. [Sales and management being of course our anti-groups ;-)].

    But maybe pointing here may allow me to raise the issue without the usual predictable push back. I don’t care whether rampant extroverts enjoy programming, or get jobs doing it. But I want to hang out with my own kind, and not have my preferred style of social interaction actively rejected.

    • Thursday says:

      One of the things that is lost when mostly male groups are opened up to too many women is the bluntness, even rudeness that mostly male groups tolerate. That sort of moderate rough and tumble is really good for generating new ways to solve problems.

      You might want to take a look at this post by Jack Donovan:
      http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2014/07/donovans-10-law-of-female-sex-pollution/

      It’s interesting that there are some women who flourish better in these mostly male environments.

      —–

      I should note that there are (at least) two sorts of male style, nerd and Big Man:
      http://isteve.blogspot.ca/2007/08/nyt-says-nerds-are-hyperwhite.html

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s pretty amusing to track how Donovan swaps from guys, chicks, men, women in the first half (with one slip up) to the awkward males / females in the second half (with one slip up). Maybe he thinks his “law” is legitimate science and thinks the second usage sounds more science-y?

        In any event, in case anyone is trying to decide whether to click, it’s standard MRA nonsense.

        • gbdub says:

          I’m not into MRA, but the “groups of men are more blunt / rude than mixed groups” thing seems reasonably true, at least in a professional setting. And to some extent it’s a way to signal trust and in-groupness among peers. So when HR comes along and tells you not to do any of that lest you get fired and sued, it’s hard not to resent the policy – and the new employees that inspired it. And much as I hate to admit it, I do find myself being more guarded in my interactions with women at work, because a social faux pas that gets written off with “one of the guys” gets you canned if directed at a woman (or at least that’s the general feeling). It’s harder to trust / in-group someone you don’t feel you can be open around.

          Sad / funny anecdote: A woman in our office (we’re engineers, maybe 20% female) recently left for another job. Now, this woman had recently lost 50+ pounds – clearly put a lot of work into it and was very successful and justifiably proud about it. At a going away event, she lamented that no one had commented on her weight loss. Now, obviously we’d all noticed, and were suitably impressed – but were all so afraid of HR policies that no one said anything. So she felt crappy that no one noticed her effort, and we all felt like we had to walk on eggshells, when really we all would have been happier being open.

          So any the trick is to be welcoming without losing the openness and in-grouping that good-natured inter-nerd ribbing can create. Not really sure how to do that.

        • Daniel Keys says:

          Does it have a quote from CS Lewis about how feminist women will be welcome in male spaces when they can adapt to the blunt speech used there? Because I was looking for that quote recently.

        • Anonymous says:

          Doesn’t read like nonsense to me.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m not into MRA, but the “groups of men are more blunt / rude than mixed groups” thing seems reasonably true, at least in a professional setting.

          Like you, I am an engineer – in a field that is maybe 10% female overall, and having worked in small remote sites where it was likely as not the only woman in the building was the secretary. I didn’t notice any general difference in the [generaly low] level of bluntness or rudeness between the no-women and few-women groups, nor even a change when women joined a previously all-male group. So I am skeptical of the claim that this is generally true in professional settings. The stereotype seems more appropriate to blue-collar settings, but I’m not in a strong position to comment on that.

          Top management sending down policies on how everyone had to behave themselves around women, that caused problems – but as much because of the inconsistent enforcement as the needlessly offensive nature of the policies.

          • I’ve heard that a shift in norms happens when a group is at least 10-15% women.

            I’m not sure whether secretaries count as part of the group so far as norms are concerned.

          • gbdub says:

            I would say the secretaries don’t, because they aren’t really “peers”. You go out of your way to be nice to them either way, because they’re the ones that keep the place running 😉

            John can you elaborate on the “Top management sending down policies on how everyone had to behave themselves around women, that caused problems “? Because that may actually be what I was getting at, I don’t necessarily think most women engineers here expect special treatment, just that a lot of men tend to treat them differently out of concern for the policies. You need a higher level of trust with your female co-workers before acting “natural” around them. (Then again there are a certain percentage of mostly old-timers that are legitimate anti-women-in-engineering, but they are a small and shrinking minority).

            It’s also entirely possible it’s company-specific, or that I and my direct peers are unusually conscientious about it. Or Nancy’s theory that you may be just below the norm threshold and we’re just above.

          • John Schilling says:

            Then again there are a certain percentage of mostly old-timers that are legitimate anti-women-in-engineering, but they are a small and shrinking minority

            This is certainly true, and part of the problem as I experienced it was that this minority of old-timers dominated the senior management, engaged in fairly blatant sexual harassment, while piously insisting on mandatory anti-sexual-harassment training and strict enforcement of ill-defined codes for everyone else.

            None of which resulted in any specific, useful guidance as to what sort of behaviors should or should not occur. Most of which sent the clear message that, if someone without a Y chromosome complained about sexual harassment, someone with a Y chromosome (but not old-guard management or their friends) would be thrown to the wolves in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit. This happened repeatedly and with disturbingly little correlation with actual sexual harassment.

            That was a particularly toxic environment, and one I am glad to be away from.

            Or Nancy’s theory that you may be just below the norm threshold and we’re just above.

            I have worked in groups of anywhere from 0% to 50% female engineers, and I haven’t seen any sign of a threshold effect.

            My hypothesis is that, aside from the oldest greybeards, pretty much everyone in engineering learned the profession at a college or university that was well above any “femaleness” threshold and so is accustomed to working professionally with women as intellectual equals. There’s no norm of e.g. posting centerfolds in your cubicle or other gross indecency – and on the other side, no expectation by female engineers that they will be working with male feminists carefully policing themselves against microaggressions. Everybody knows how to make this work.

            Management knows how to break it, and sometimes can’t help doing so because general demoralization and low productivity doesn’t end a management career but sexual harassment lawsuits sometimes do.

    • Andrew Wilcox says:

      ArlieS, I’d love hear what you’d like to see in terms of cultural norms or rules to avoid the problems with misogyny you’ve experienced.

      I think it would be great if we nerds and geeks came up with a code of conduct that would protect all of us while not damaging our style of social interaction.

      • ArlieS says:

        It’s a complicated thing and I don’t really have solutions. I know what would make me more comfortable, but I’m pretty sure others might want something else. The following are expressed in terms of women, but substitute any category you chose:

        There’s a continuum from:
        – active violence against women [with an internal continuum, from murder to e.g. butt pinching]
        – active exclusion of women [don’t hire her because she’s female, etc.]
        – reduced rewards to women for similar ability/activity etc. Including presuming that in a mixed team, the woman did the UI design etc.
        – regular derogatory references to women or girls as a category; also using the category itself as an insult [males refering to other males as “girls” to be insulting]
        – regular statements about all members of the category, as if we were all identical
        – requiring an individual woman/girl to deal with a male’s issues about women/girls. At it’s worst when the issue is that the male is unsuccessful at his desired heterosexual activities.
        – scheduling that tends to exclude women, such as the meeting at the strip joint, or conflicts with responsibilities more commonly imposed on women – which may be OK, if you know the people involved well enough, of if they are geek enough to speak up and push back, and you listen/negotiate.

        These are not things most nerds want to do to fellow nerds of any gender. But some are incredibly easy to do unconsciously, and others seem to result from a basic belief that few women are geeks, and that non-geeks want to muscle into geek social groups.

        Most of the casual derogatory references seem to be unconscious. I’ve discovered it’s hard to talk about someone whose behaviour I don’t like without using some none too accurate collective term as a handy pejorative shorthand. [Trying to stop doing this for 2 days was an amazing learning experience.]

        But the main thing is laziness, using heuristics to decide someone is “probably not a geek”, and coverting that to “can’t possibly be a geek”. So if a person doesn’t look like a geek, whether because they have breasts or because they are wearing a suit, better push them away without considering them as an individual 🙁 And besides, most geeks have a lot of grievances from past treatment, and between being triggered and wanting to “get back” at past oppressors, can easily act as someone else’s present oppressor.

        I believe we can and should work on overcoming these biases. But also that with some of the current inclusionary demands, we may not have sufficient motivation.

        Note also that I’ve intentionally left off the bottom of the usual continuum which would be cited by those trying to get more women and girls involved in just about anything. Those are often things which most geeks believe, with some reason, would not bother anyone who was a real geek.

        Thus for example, is it really worthwhile providing newcomers with a ration of idle social chit chat, or a face to face meeting, so that they will feel welcomed? Yes, if the goal is to get the job done, and data is gathered to demonstrate that newcomers who gravitate to such opportunities contribute to getting that job done – and no if they merely take a little longer, because of feeling welcomed, to decide that the project is not really for them. And also no if the goal is primarily to produce a congenial atmosphere for existing participants, and they regard social chit chat as slightly less attractive than e.g. a dental appointment ;-(

        Here’s an example that has stuck with me. I was late in discovering Stack Exchange, and when I found it, I loved it. My first question was not formatted according to community standards, and someone with sufficient privilege corrected it. I thereby learned the relevant standard, and followed it thereafter. Somewhat later, I attended an event for women in tech – a good one, overall. But it was taken as self evident there that Stack Exchange was an example of a nasty unwelcoming atmosphere, particularly uncongenial to women – because of precisely this behaviour. I frankly do not see this as a reasonable objection. And yet, I *have* seen some over the top knee jerk negative reactions on Stack Exchange, and recognize that the reason I don’t have them directed at me is fundamentally that I’m a member of the same basic subculture, and thus mostly do the right thing without being told – the very mind reading I object to when required of me elsewhere. With less feeling of belonging, perhaps I’d be expecting random people to “go off” at me, and avoid ever posting there.

        • Andrew Wilcox says:

          Derek Sivers had an observation that I found interesting: that the variation *among* men and the variation *among* women is greater than the *average* differences between men and women.

          For example, I’m a man, and I’d be very unhappy if I were pressured into attending a professional meeting at a strip joint. Some women would like to have a meeting at a strip joint. *On average*, of course, more men would like to have a meeting at a strip joint than women. Knowing the average however is not a strong predictor of individual preference.

          I think you’re right about laziness. I notice my instinctive brain (my “system 1” in Daniel Kahneman’s terminology) is highly attuned to noticing gender and prominently brings it to my attention. But of course just because my brain makes gender highly noticeable to me doesn’t mean I need to then be lazy and make no effort to learn anything else about a person.

          I wonder if much of what you describe could be covered by something like “don’t impose things on people that they don’t want that aren’t necessary for getting the job done”.

          Well that’s kind of a laborious formulation, but

          – if someone prefers a simple technical correction, or else prefers a warmer social interaction, don’t needlessly push them into a different form of interaction (even if currently most team members happen to prefer it)

          – if the job doesn’t require a schedule that would prevent someone from taking care of their kids, don’t force them into such a schedule (even if at present such a schedule wouldn’t be a problem for current employees)

          – don’t make derogatory comments about someone who doesn’t want that form of interaction (even if other people enjoy exchanging insults)

          – don’t impose your personal stuff on someone when that’s unwanted

          – this is kind of a stretch… but assuming that someone isn’t technical because they’re a woman, or paying them less because they’re a woman, or excluding someone because they’re a woman ~ sort of ~ fits — you’re making an imposition that’s unwanted and unnecessary.

          – and assault, aside from also being illegal (which some of this other stuff is too), also fits under “don’t do things that are unwanted and aren’t necessary for the job”

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Producing it is one thing, getting it accepted by a meaningful number of people (many of whom do not care about who gets swept aside, and a non-trivial number of whom are only interested in the subject because it gives them a socially acceptable way to hurt, ostracize, and bully others) is another.

  50. LTP says:

    I think this is a very interesting post, and one that resonates with me in many ways. I think trying to get the best of both worlds of tribalism and atomization is something that people should be thinking more about.

    That said, I do disagree with a couple things. First, I think you overstate how important the kind of intense tribalism you’re talking about is to developing a satisfying social life. Certainly being apart of a high-trust, smaller, cohesive tribe does make it easier, but I think most people aren’t apart of any of these intense tribes and at the same time are apart of many weaker less intense tribes with weaker rallying flags. Such people make friends with individuals across these tribes, but are not friends with all in a particular tribe.

    Also, I think that intense tribes don’t necessarily have to be threatened by appropriation and entryism. Maybe it makes it a little harder to find and maintain an intense tribe, but I know lots of really hardcore nerdy people who still find the community they want despite the widening popularity of nerd culture.

    • Sastan says:

      They are threatened because entryism is threatening.

      Smaller groups are easier to gain status in. If you’re going to be fully devoted to a group, you need to be getting status for it. Entryism and turning a group threatens the accumulated status of the members. If the entryists manage to change the core values of the group, the whole power dynamic changes.

  51. onyomi says:

    As a white, straight, cisgendered, secularish man whose ethnicity doesn’t mean much to him (can lay some claim to being Irish, but it’s not like I make a point of hanging out with other Irish Americans), I recall being jealous, as a child, of people who had some sort of natural group identity: the Chinese, the Jewish, the Greek-and-very-into-being-Greek.

    At the same time, in college, I always remember thinking that people who formed social groups on the basis of superficial similarity: the Asian American clique, the Jewish clique, the Indian American clique, were dumb. Of course, I ended up in my own clique of sorts–the nerdy white libertarianish-leaning male-dominated clique, though that seemed to me less dumb as it was, or at least seemed to be, based on modes of thinking which happened to occur more often in white men, but which were not inherent to being a white man.

    Though I also wonder if the dominance of white men in nerdy subcultures isn’t also an effect of the lack of other places for them to go and be around people like them: straight, white, male is the only identity which can’t be an explicit reason for a group because it is assumed to be evil.

    It still shocks me the extent to which, even in the most highly educated, tolerant, cosmopolitan groups, if you look at how people self-sort, they still tend to do so in accordance with superficial physical similarity: look around your ultra-progressive, elite university’s cafeteria for the black people table, the Asian table, and the Indian table. I was recently at a banquet for people studying China which consisted of about 75% Asians and 25% white people. There was no assigned seating. I somehow ended up at the white people table.

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe because the superficial similarity correlates with more meaningful personalty traits.
      Or, maybe skin color etc is just a handy jersey.

    • blacktrance says:

      My experience was the opposite. Growing up, doing things because of your ethnic identity and/or being really into it always struck me as wrong: you’re a person with lots of interests, why set them aside in favor of acting like people you’re very distantly related to?

      And at my relatively elite liberal arts college, there was a lot of racial diversity at most tables, the main exception being the Chinese international students who tended to stick together.

      • onyomi says:

        It struck me as wrong too, albeit more so after high school, but I also felt a little jealous of it because of the ready-made durability it offered. I was pretty socially awkward as a kid, though I still had a few friends. But my friendships were based on things like “we both like video games,” or “we just seem to get along well,” which is fine, but which could, and did, easily dissolve in many cases. If you’re Jewish-and-really-into-being-Jewish then you can always choose to stop being so into being Jewish, but that ready-made tribe doesn’t disappear, and is, to some extent, always there for you to fall back on if necessary.

        In college I moved more towards disliking that kind of thing because my university had a very strong tendency for all the Jewish kids to hang out with the Jewish kids, all the Korean kids to hang out with the Korean kids, etc. and that started to irk me more than inspire envy.

        • Some possibly contrasting observations from my own history:

          At some point my parents asked me if it had been a mistake not to bring me up within Jewish culture–going to Hebrew school, regularly celebrating the holidays, and such. My response was that I preferred to have been brought up within the religion I actually believed in, 18th century rationalism, the “religion” of Smith and Hume.

          On the other hand … . Some years ago I visited Israel. Talking with a stranger in the airport, someone local manning a desk, I felt more at home than I ever had in similar contexts elsewhere in the world.

          And, a very long time ago, I participated in a libertarian get together on Santa Catalina Island organized by Robert LeFevre (one of the models for Prof in _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_). That and the socializing that I think preceded it in the L.A. libertarian community, gave me a positive feeling of group membership that I cannot remember having ever had before.

    • Quixote says:

      Do you speak Mandarin or Cantonese?

    • Sastan says:

      Try going to jail for a bit, see how you feel about racial groupings after that.

      In a sufficiently protected and safe society, we have the luxury of allowing racial solidarity to decline, and that’s a good thing. But don’t think for a minute it is gone. It only awaits the situation which makes it important. Race is the ultimate tribe, and unless we maintain a very high standard of civilization, it will be returned to.

      • For more information on why racial classification is important in present day prisons, was much less important a few decades back, I recommend David Skarbek’s very interesting _The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System_.

      • NN says:

        Though one should note that the definition of “race” varies quite a bit from place to place. Virtually everyone who lived in Yugoslavia would be considered “white” in the US, but having the same skin color did exactly nothing to keep the Yugoslavs united after the fall of Communism.

        • onyomi says:

          I recall an interesting experience:

          I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty generic American white guy/mutt, though I can lay some claim to being Irish–I have a fair number of Irish ancestors, freckles, a sibling with red hair, etc.

          One day I was passing through the vast terminal of an international airport when someone carrying a sign labelled “Aer Lingus” and leading a herd of what appeared to be my long-lost cousins started beckoning at me furiously, since I clearly looked like I belonged in that particular herd.

          That was the first time that I realized there are sub-phylums of white people whose resemblance to me among other white people is arguably as salient as the resemblance I bear to all white people relative to say, Asian people.

          As a 21st-c. American it is always hard to imagine the days when, for example, Irish were the object of specific bias, because now Irish people just look like “white people” (also culturally integrated, and speaking with American accents now, of course) within the multi-racial world of much bigger differences we see in today’s US.

          But one can also imagine that, within a world of all white people, the difference between say, an Irish and an Italian might seem huge.

          It’s a movie cliche, but one imagines encountering aliens might unite humanity, as it would just give us a more different thing in comparison to which differences in skin color and language among humans might seem insignificant.

          • onyomi says:

            I think accents and voices work this way too. Sometimes I have the experience of thinking “so-and-so’s voice sounds a lot like so-and-so’s voice” only to later learn they’re from the same small town in Vermont or something. But neither of them sounds like they have an “accent.” But really they do–it’s just that it’s close enough to some abstract “standard American English” that variations are–wrongly–perceived as just individual idiosyncrasies.

    • Tibor says:

      I remember playing with the idea of buying the Jewish star pendant and wearing on a necklace it as a teenager (my mother is 1/4 Jewish, so I am not really Jewish in any meaningful way) to look “cool and special”. I never actually did that though.

      The sorting – yeah, this is unfortunately a real thing. I usually try to, if not actively avoid, then at least not to seek out the people from my country when I am abroad, but most people, regardless of where they are from, seem to do the opposite. It is also easier for me, since I come from a country of 10 million so I rarely meet many Czechs abroad anyway. But I would definitely go to the Asian table in your example.

      I had an English teacher in my hometown who had been living in Bohemia for some 10 years, but who had never learned any Czech and who would hang out with other English (and one Scotsman I think) in a local Irish pub. I wonder why he came to the country in the first place. Actually, at least based on my very limited experience, Americans tend to be more interested in interacting with “the locals” than the English, when they live abroad.

  52. moridinamael says:

    Dark Arts strategies for re-tribalizing the rationalsphere:

    – Synthesize or narratively construct a Hated Enemy. Establish the culture and beliefs of the Hated Enemy as being in opposition to Rationalist culture and beliefs. Bonus points if there actually exists a group of people who happen to coincide with the synthetic Hated Enemy.

    – Freely mythologize the formation of the Rationality Movement. Consistently refer to it as the Rationality Movement. Lionize the founders of the Movement.

    – Carefully establish a core dogma. Design it to be inclusive rather than exclusive, such that practically anybody can call themselves a Rationalist, similarly to how you can call yourself a Christian even if you don’t go to church and harbor serious doubts about major pillars of Christian ideology.

    – There are two ways of dealing with the heretical Post-Rationalists. The first, and superior option, is to insist that they are still Rationalists who just don’t see themselves as Joiners and so insist on calling themselves something different. This is a basic condescending/paternalistic approach, reminiscent of “you’ll grow out of those doubts.” The second option is to cast them as despicable infidels who undermine our Pure and True Rationalist Movement. I just don’t think this would work.

    – Choosing a costly, useless signaling token is difficult for Rationalists because they see themselves as exempt from such things by default. Something like “donate to effective-altruist causes” doesn’t count because it’s not viewed as useless signalling, it’s instrumentally valuable. The most organic way to create a costly-signal is to exaggerate something already associated with the core dogma. Brainstorming: invasive levels of Quantified Self practices (with obligatory sharing of data) are required; complete truthfulness at all times, like Eliezer does, is a commandment; etc.

    Feel free to contribute your own borderline-unethical suggestions below.

    • Jiro says:

      Something like “donate to effective-altruist causes” doesn’t count because it’s not viewed as useless signalling, it’s instrumentally valuable.

      Most members of groups don’t view their useless signalling as useless signalling. Try telling a Mormon, for instance, that the reason why Mormons become missionaries is to force Mormons to signal commitment to the religion rather than to actually gain converts.

      I would argue that effective altruism actually is such an example of signalling. It may technically be valuable, but gaining converts from missionaries is also valuable to the Mormons.

        • The whole point of signalling is that you signal characteristic X by doing something that is less costly to people who have characteristic X than to people who don’t. If contributing to EA charities is something less costly if you are a rationalist than if you are not, because rationalists want to do good in the most effective way, then it works as a signal of rationalism.

    • Bugmaster says:

      In terms of a costly signalling token, donating to MIRI and similar AI-risk organizations would work fairly well. Such donations have few (if any) tangible short to medium term benefits, and yet promise a nearly infinite payoff. Thus, they would work similarly to religious tithing.

      • Nita says:

        As far as I can tell, that was the intended result of the cluster of Eliezer’s ideas around “money is the unit of caring”, “purchase warm fuzzies and utilons separately”, “shut up and multiply”, and even “why our kind can’t cooperate”.

        But he kept it too subtle, so some people misunderstood and started donating to AMF instead.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          But he kept it too subtle, so some people misunderstood and started donating to AMF instead.

          Top kek.

  53. onyomi says:

    If there is such a thing as “outgroup exhaustion,” I think it may be a strong part of the cause of the growth of the alt-right and Donald Trump. The rural, white, straight, cisgendered, Christian man grew tired of being everyone’s favorite outgroup.

  54. Frog Do says:

    This is broadly what I was trying to get at in my comment thread on https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/03/09/links-316-rulink-class/ about how “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” can be understood as a reasonable statement. I suppose I failed to communicate this properly, which is why all of the sudden I was Defending Christendom Against The New Atheist Horde.

    Related to this, one thing that does bother me about the rationalist community is some kind of “performative incomprehension”. Not just to pick on drethelin, I know nostalgiabrist legitimately didn’t understand how people could have nonutilitarian ethical systems, or Scott’s occasional swing-and-misses when he comments on religion. Not understanding things is fine, I don’t understand nearly everything, but performative incomprehension I think is probably not helpful. Hopefully embracing tribalism makes everyone a bit more cosmopolitan.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I’m not seeing a connection between a post on tribalism and the use of the bible as an instruction manual.

      • Frog Do says:

        No, you probably wouldn’t. Reread Scott’s post and try it again.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I’m sorry, this is the charitable blog. You actually have to say what you mean and not be offended that people don’t read your mind.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I would think that it’s pretty clear he’s talking about this part here…

            … his argument is definitely filled with a lot of framing and language I immediately recognize. That said, I suspect a lot of these beliefs are there to sort of signal in-groupishness, so they are literally like a foreign language.

            Practically speaking, how much of your life alters if you go full creationist? Not the story you tell about your life, your actual lived experience?

            While a “Tribe” may be shaped by it’s “Ideology” it still exists independently. To put it another way, The Ideology Is Not The Movement.

            …Which leads us back to Scott’s own comments in this post and others about the importance of shibboleths and ritual when it comes to fostering cooperation and tribal cohesion.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            And? That has nothing to do with the bible.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            It has everything to do with the Bible.

            Were you not paying attention to the bit about …the importance of shibboleths and ritual when it comes to fostering cooperation and tribal cohesion?

            Or about how tribal membership is exists separately of ideology?

      • drethelin says:

        the connection is that it’s not, the real instruction manual is the friends you make along the way

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I’m pretty sure Frog Do’s believes his religion so that doesn’t work.

          • Frog Do says:

            What’s my religion, oh learned prophet?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            You talk about the bible so you are a Christian. Now are you going to have content to your response or is it all going to be passive aggressive shit flinging?

          • Frog Do says:

            “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

            “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

            “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

          • Samuel Skinner: “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

            Well, no. Which parts of the bible you talk about and what attitude you take towards them supplies some significant clues about whether you’re a Jew or a Christian.

            Or an ex-Jew or an ex-Christian.

            There’s some sort of chance that someone who talks about the bible is just someone who’s fascinated by biblical religion without having a personal connection to biblical religion, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          • Deiseach says:

            You talk about the bible so you are a Christian

            My avatar on here is Shiva, does that mean I am a Hindu? 🙂

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            He previous stated the New Testament was an instruction manual. It is pretty clear that is what he meant by the bible folks.

          • Frog Do says:

            “He previous stated the New Testament was an instruction manual.”
            You can’t just tell lies, Sam, no matter how much you wish they were true. I said “’The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.’ can be understood as a reasonable statement.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            If you talked glowingly about Hinduism instead of never ceasing to talk about Catholicism, I would assume you were a Hindu based on the contextual evidence. Even if you never explicitly said “I am a Hindu.”

            @ Frog Do:

            If you walk like a duck and quack like a duck, what kind of uncharitable asshole would assume you’re a duck?

            If you have a habit of speaking positively about Christianity and never give a disclaimer clarifying matters, people are going to assume you’re a Christian. It’s called inductive evidence.

            Instead of dragging this out with coy remarks, all you had to say (if you are indeed not a Christian): “I’m sorry I gave the wrong impression, but I’m actually not a Christian.” As it is, I still don’t know whether you’re really not one or just being pedantic.

          • Frog Do says:

            http://slatestarscratchpad.tumblr.com/post/142194796166/save-lambdaconf-and-an-open-society-by-status

            @Vox
            I have only ever replied to other people bring up Christianity. Saying that people say “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” might not be completely insane is now “speaking positively”? This is utterly ridiculous. Complete insanity should be the default assumption, then? I would have said the same thing about Hinduism, or Islam, or Objectivism, or Communism. But of course, the context is always lost in the rush to Defend Atheism Against The Christian Horde. Good grief, and I’m supposed to be insulting and lack charity. Do you hear what you’re saying?

            The fact that my identity needs to be a core of my arguments kind of says a lot about you, though. I refuse to answer that question for this reason. You desperately want to make this identity politics, and I refuse to play that game.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “might not be completely insane is now “speaking positively”?”

            Yes. There already is an instruction manual in the Abrahamic faith- it is called the Old Testament.

            “I would have said the same thing about Hinduism, or Islam, or Objectivism, or Communism. ”

            None of those are texts. If you are referring to Ayn Rand’s or Karl Marx’s output, claiming their writings are consistent with God trying to provide a blueprint for ethics, economics and psychology…

            As for Islam and Hinduism… their holy texts do not look like the New Testament. That is sort of an issue to claim they are all doing the same exact thing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            It’s not about “identity politics”, if you mean that to say I’m going to argue that whatever comes out of your mouth is inexorably determined by your identity in some kind of postmodernist way.

            It’s the fact that ideological “labels” are useful summaries of what people believe about important issues.

            I have only ever replied to other people bring up Christianity. Saying that people say “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” might not be completely insane is now “speaking positively”? This is utterly ridiculous. Complete insanity should be the default assumption, then? I would have said the same thing about Hinduism, or Islam, or Objectivism, or Communism. But of course, the context is always lost in the rush to Defend Atheism Against The Christian Horde. Good grief, and I’m supposed to be insulting and lack charity. Do you hear what you’re saying?

            If people are saying something bad about it and you counter them at length, yes, that’s defending it. As a general rule, the people who are most motivated and eager to defend something are people who endorse it. Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer inductively from the fact that someone is defending something that he endorses it. This is despite the fact that one can operate in the manner of a lawyer, giving the best case for something he does not endorse.

            That’s why if you want to defend something and don’t want to give the impression that you endorse it, it is common to make a remark to the effect of “I don’t endorse this, but…”

            For instance, I said a few threads ago that I can believe it’s possible that there were people who were honestly convinced of Nazism and therefore not to blame for supporting it. Since this is a partial defense of some Nazis, it was necessary for me to emphasize that I do not endorse any part of Nazism.

            I don’t know why you interpret the probabilistic inference that you were a Christian as uncharitable or an insult to you. Your M.O. seems to be to behave with maximal uncharitability and general orneriness—and then accuse everyone else of the same when they call you out on it. I’m sick of it.

          • Frog Do says:

            I see, I didn’t strenuously disparge the outgroup enough. I should ritualistically denounce people I disagree with before defending them, because my argument depends entirely on which group I belong to, so if I imply I belong to the wrong group, I am wrong by default. In fact, I should assume the outgroup is totally insane, this is the default “neutral” position, because if you say something with the right tone, it’s neutral, regardless of content. Furthermore, defending something is endorsing it by default, because no one, no one goes meta in rationalists spaces, ever. Seriously.

            s e r i o u s l y

            Being assumed to be Christian is not an insult to me, though I suppose it should be, if it means “assumed insane by default”. Being assumed to be Christian in a pattern of deliberately misinterpreting about what I said or literally (literally!) lying about it (because of course I’m lying about it, I’m the outgroup), that doesn’t sit well with me.

            Your M. O. is being maximally rude in content as you are polite in tone, and being surprised when people don’t like it. Well, surprise.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Look, I really don’t just have a fundamental desire to get into yelling matches with you.

            What you are saying I am saying bears no resemblance to what I am actually saying, let alone intending. I don’t know why. I suspect it’s because you think I’m being rude to you, which is causing you to be rude to me, which is causing me to get angry at you and be rude to you for real, and so on.

            I’ll just point to the post I made right before this. Because I would like this conflict to stop.

          • Frog Do says:

            For the record, my response is also in the post above. Truce accepted.

          • Deiseach says:

            If you talked glowingly about Hinduism instead of never ceasing to talk about Catholicism

            Vox, can you be sure this is not a cunning plan of misdirection on my part and I am hoping to subliminally influence you all to become Shaivates by disgusting you all with Christianity via my “never-ceasing talk about Catholicism”?

            🙂

          • Jiro says:

            Being assumed to be Christian is not an insult to me, though I suppose it should be, if it means “assumed insane by default”. Being assumed to be Christian in a pattern of deliberately misinterpreting about what I said or literally (literally!) lying about it (because of course I’m lying about it, I’m the outgroup), that doesn’t sit well with me.

            You are being assumed to be Christian because you say things that it is much more likely that a Christian would say than anyone else, even if technically speaking it is possible for someone else to say them.

          • Frog Do says:

            @Jiro
            Yes, I know, and that doesn’t bother me, that’s an entirely reasonable assumption. But that assumption is not occuring in isolation here when Samuel Skinner uses it, he’s using it to attack me. Everything in context.

          • Jiro says:

            If it’s a reasonable assumption for anyone to make, it’s also a reasonable assumption for attackers to make.

          • Frog Do says:

            It is a reasonable assumption to make, full stop. However, Samuel Skinner doesn’t really understand reason, so the reasonableness of the assumption is not relevant. It is being used purely as a weapon to play identity politics, my claims (which are identical to Scott’s in this post) are being dismissed because he’s attempting to banish me to the Outgroup. Thus, all this “papiere bitte” nonsense.

            Given that Sam repeatedly cannot distinguish between “I endorse [x]” and ” ‘I endorse [x]’ can be understood as a reasonable statement” as statements, I feel claiming that he is doesn’t really understand reason is a fair claim. If one can’t go meta, why would one hang out with rationalists?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” my claims (which are identical to Scott’s in this post) ”

            No, your claims are not identical to Scott’s post. As I previously stated
            —There already is an instruction manual in the Abrahamic faith- it is called the Old Testament. —

            Unless your position is it makes sense because the statement is literally meaningless. Given
            “I would have said the same thing about Hinduism, or Islam, or Objectivism, or Communism. ”
            that might actually be the case. I don’t know because you decided to derail the conversation instead of expanding on it.

            “Thus, all this “papiere bitte” nonsense.”

            Previously
            —I’m pretty sure Frog Do’s believes his religion so that doesn’t work.—
            “What’s my religion, oh learned prophet?”
            —You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.—
            ” “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

            “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.”

            “You talk about the bible so you are a Christian.””

            (yes, he typed that three times. No, I don’t know why)

            You brought up a specific religion. You could have said “it is irrelevant” or “I wasn’t talking about myself”.

          • Frog Do says:

            If you keep repeating lies, it doesn’t make them true. Sorry, Sam.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            “What’s the best way to convince everyone that I’m the reasonable person in this dispute who’s being viciously misinterpreted?”

            “I bet it’s to keep repeating the same ‘clever’ line accusing my opponent of being a liar in a chummy sort of way. Maybe I’ll throw in some other insulting one-line posts while I’m at it. That’ll bring him around.”

            I don’t want to start anything up again between me and you, but even if you are being maliciously misinterpreted, your approach is not making anything better. In any case, I do not think Samuel Skinner is lying about how he interpreted your statements. He is perhaps wrong about what you meant—if so, it is probably because your intentions are not as transparent as you think they are.

          • Frog Do says:

            I am still being charitable, actually!

            I began with, ” ‘The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.’ can be understood as a reasonable statement”, together with the acknowledgement that I probably didn’t communicate that properly. The obvious interpretation is that I can understand how [x] can be a reasonable statement without necessarily endorsing [x]. Given that it’s a comment on this particular post, that interpretation should be obvious, given that drethelin and Hlynkacg chimed in, it should be obvious from perspectives that also aren’t mine. I’m sure even you understand what I’m getting at here, even given our past inability to understand each other.

            So, Samuel Skinner still wants me to defend endorsing [x], which of course I did not do and have said repeatedly I am not interested in doing. Various dogpiling happens, assumptions about my argument are made based on assumptions about my religion, the usual identity politics dumpster fire. So there are two options I have, as I see it. He either doesn’t understand the difference between endorsing [x] and endorsing “endorsing [x] can be understood to be reasonable”, or he is deliberately lying to play identity politics. Given that Scott’s post is about this difference, and given that other people have replied getting this difference, I do doubt I am being misunderstood. So these are the only two options: he’s either pretty clueless or deliberately lying. If he’s clueless, and I accuse him of lying, he gets to save face. If he is lying, then I’m right. So it’s a win-win. I obviously can’t convince him of anything he doesn’t want to convince himself of, of course, that’s not really how people work.

            And really, I get that “snark” is probably the safe default assumption of all internet conversation, especially with us nerds, but I don’t think my comments are particularly clever, and assuming my emotional state is probably not the most effective practice, given your past difficulties understanding me. When all I see is a nail, all I need is a hammer.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “He either doesn’t understand the difference between endorsing [x] and endorsing “endorsing [x] can be understood to be reasonable”, or he is deliberately lying to play identity politics.”

            This may shock you, but I really don’t care. All that matters is you support the argument you make. I keep on asking you to do that, and you keep refusing. Pick A or B, say you pick A or B and provide arguments in support of A or B. This is not complicated.

          • Frog Do says:

            I know you don’t care, you can’t, because you don’t see the difference.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            You are already aware of A

            For B
            —No, your claims are not identical to Scott’s post. As I previously stated
            —There already is an instruction manual in the Abrahamic faith- it is called the Old Testament. —

            Unless your position is it makes sense because the statement is literally meaningless. Given
            “I would have said the same thing about Hinduism, or Islam, or Objectivism, or Communism. ”
            that might actually be the case. I don’t know because you decided to derail the conversation instead of expanding on it.—

            Apparently asking if that was your position was too charitable. Perhaps I should have jumped straight to mocking you? Pointing out that if you ask Christians for examples they will freely give them? That the examples can be coherent? That most people don’t read moral philosophy for fun and so the bible is their main exposure? That “hard to read text decoded by specialists with years of training” describes, medicine, law, engineering and other fields and they might be treating this exactly the same way?

            Now, this is falsifiable. Do Christians turn to the New Testament when they have questions? Do they look to their pastors? These should be different if they actually consider that it has profound knowledge versus if it is just applause lights.

          • Frog Do says:

            You don’t understand the argument I am making, because you don’t understand the difference between [statements] and [statements about statements]. Take a basic course in mathematical logic, this kinda thing is all over Less Wrong.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Statement about statements? You mean B?

          • Frog Do says:

            If you understood B, you would understand how B has nothing to do with the Bible, or Christianity at all, it is making a statement about a statement. The statement (or, A) is about the Bible and Christianity, the statement about the statement (or, B) is not. So for the nth time, since you keep confusing A and B, you cannot properly distinguish A and B, thus you don’t understand my argument.

            This stuff is basic mathematical logic, in particular, it shows up a lot during the Metaethics Sequences in Less Wrong, and in the general background knowledge needed for the discussion of Lob’s Theorem. One cannot force somebody to learn things, they can only learn them themselves.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “So for the nth time, since you keep confusing A and B, you cannot properly distinguish A and B, thus you don’t understand my argument.”

            —Unless your position is it makes sense because the statement is literally meaningless. —

            B

            As is
            —Perhaps I should have jumped straight to mocking you? Pointing out that if you ask Christians for examples they will freely give them? That the examples can be coherent? That most people don’t read moral philosophy for fun and so the bible is their main exposure? That “hard to read text decoded by specialists with years of training” describes, medicine, law, engineering and other fields and they might be treating this exactly the same way?

            Now, this is falsifiable. Do Christians turn to the New Testament when they have questions? Do they look to their pastors? These should be different if they actually consider that it has profound knowledge versus if it is just applause lights. —

            If this isn’t relevant to your argument, say so and provide the argument.

          • Frog Do says:

            Statements about statements aren’t “literally meaningless”.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Then it would be about the statement itself, wouldn’t it?

          • Frog Do says:

            Statements have meanings. Statements about statements have different meanings. Neither are “literally meaningless”.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Statements have meanings.”

            Then state it.

          • Frog Do says:

            Statements about statements have meanings, too.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            And if you don’t actually say what the meaning is, no one has any idea what you are talking about. At no point have you actually written out anything, only rejected what I listed as what I thought you were talking about.

            If you are saying that what I think is your position is wrong, you are going to have to actually explicitly state your position so that other people can know what the heck you are saying.

          • Frog Do says:

            “This is broadly what I was trying to get at in my comment thread on https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/03/09/links-316-rulink-class/ about how ” “The New Testament reads like an instruction manual by our creator in terms of its helpfulness in this world, consistency with healthful psychology, ethics, and economics.” can be understood as a reasonable statement.” “

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m aware you wrote that. You need to actually elaborate why ‘can be understood as a reasonable statement’. You seem to be saying it can be seen as reasonable because it is totally meaningless; it only exists as an applause light. I’ve pointed out that does not mesh with how Christians actually behave so it is almost certainly not what they believe.

          • Frog Do says:

            I doubt anything is an applause light, something can only be used as an applause light, this is a crucial distinction. The founding documents obviously have influence on the culture and tradition of the tribes they serve, there are comment threads above discussing this. The statement is clearly reasonable because evangelical fundamentalist Christianity is a relatively long lasting revivalist type interpretation that I don’t think is going away any time soon. The meme lives, it reproduces, it’s successful. Given that most new religious interpretations fail, this is not trivial.

            But it’s okay, “Frog Do’s believes his religion so that doesn’t work”.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            We finally have your explanation; although I’m touched you can’t post it without also ranting about me as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t make any sense at all.

            Reasonable has a definite meaning.
            ===
            rea·son·a·ble
            /ˈrēz(ə)nəb(ə)l/
            adjective
            adjective: reasonable
            1. (of a person) having sound judgment; fair and sensible.
            “no reasonable person could have objected”
            synonyms: sensible, rational, logical, fair, fair-minded, just, equitable; More
            intelligent, wise, levelheaded, practical, realistic;
            sound, reasoned, well reasoned, valid, commonsensical;
            tenable, plausible, credible, believable
            “a reasonable man”

            •based on good sense.
            “it seems a reasonable enough request”

            •archaic
            (of a person or animal) able to think, understand, or form judgments by a logical process.
            “man is by nature reasonable”

            2. as much as is appropriate or fair; moderate.
            “a police officer may use reasonable force to gain entry”

            synonyms: within reason, practicable, sensible; More
            ===

            None of those are remotely related to “the tradition the statement belongs to lasted a long time”.

          • Frog Do says:

            I was reminding you of your Righteous Crusade Against The False Religion and how meaningful communication can happen once you stop being a True Believer Fighting The Heathen. I managed to dumb it down enough so that you could finally understand it days after everyone else did.

            Unfortunately, you continue to reveal your ignorance by misusing a dictionary. Dictionaries do not define words, they record their common uses, which you would know if you had a basic knowledge of linguistics. “Rationality” doesn’t translate to “winning”, either, but then, that’s why Yudkowsky said it. Context is key, which is something you still doesn’t really understand yet.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” how meaningful communication can happen ”

            Meaningful communication is apparently repeatedly insulting the person you are talking to and refusing to actually communicate by ignoring the content of their response.

            “I managed to dumb it down enough so that you could finally understand it days after everyone else did.”

            No one else in the thread has actually showed comprehension so I have no idea where you are getting ‘everyone else’. In fact h…cg gave an explanation and according to you, its wrong (it is the friends you make along the way) so the only other person who stated what your opinion was didn’t get it.

            “. Dictionaries do not define words”

            No. They do however show how other people are using them. If you use a word and the definition is not how another person is using it, you shouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t clued in to your definition. You should also explain what definition of the word you are using.

            As it is you seem to have grabbed a bunch of buzzwords but aren’t aware of the reason or wider meaning behind them.

          • Frog Do says:

            No, we’re now in the meaningful communication stage. I have to let True Believer types run themselves down, so they reveal where they’re ignorant and then communication happens. That doesn’t mean I have to just accept your attempt to attack me, obviously I’m going to fight back. Of course, when they outgroup defends themselves it’s always illegitmate, isn’t it. Which is especailly funny, because I’m not even in the outgroup, but there isn’t any reasoning with True Believers when they get all worked up.

            Making friends, though a little glib, is an excellent way for a meme to reproduce, especially if it’s focused on establishing community norms. Everyone but you participating in this comment thread has shown basic comphrension of this point, since it was also one of the points of Scott’s post.

            And I know your grasp of the English language leaves you reaching for the dictionary several times in the comments for this post, but don’t Typical Mind here, other people are perfectly aware of following conversations via contextual clues. Your ignorance is not general.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “No, we’re now in the meaningful communication stage.”

            No, we are not meaningfully communicating. You have still not explained what you mean. You continue to attack my motives and continue to resist putting up something coherent.

            “Making friends, though a little glib, is an excellent way for a meme to reproduce, especially if it’s focused on establishing community norms. ”

            Except that is an entirely different thing than being reasonable and a different thing from being good at reproducing itself. It also appears to be a total rejection of the idea that people could be actually communicating information; that they actually believe what they say and it isn’t just empty words.

            “Everyone but you ”

            Feel free to quote them. Only H…cg seems to have stated anything.

            ” but don’t Typical Mind here,”

            Jargon is not magic spells. If I don’t know what you are talking about because you are not using words in their normal definition, you use words in their normal definition or define what you are talking about. I could try to guess but you keep calling me a liar when I do that. So you are complaining when I don’t guess AND complaining when I do guess and since your position doesn’t appear to be logically coherent all attempts to make a logically coherent guess will be wrong.

          • Frog Do says:

            Well, we clearly aren’t communicating anymore.

            Words do not have precisely the definitions that are in whichever dictionary you’re using. Human languages are not computer code, and should not be treated like computer code. Languages that are not computer code are not “literally meaningless”, otherwise people couldn’t compile dictionaries. If you don’t understand this, I don’t know what to tell you. I’d say study lingustics, but this is such a massive gap in understanding I’m assuming an actual autistic lack of understanding at this point. Languages, communication, it really doesn’t work the way you think it does.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Reasonable has a definition. If you aren’t using that definition and someone points that out, you should explain what definition you are using. None of what you wrote does that.

        • Frog Do says:

          Dictionaries don’t work that way, which you still cannot comprehend. I am not your English teacher, nor your communication therapist.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If you are communicating with another person and they say “what does that word mean” and point out it isn’t the meaning in general usage, you are going to have to explain what you mean.

  55. eponymous says:

    This essay was really insightful. Among your best work. You have serious talent for ethnography.

    I also found it rather amusing, because I basically perfectly fit your description of the Rationalist crowd, except that I’m an Evangelical Christian.

    Now you might say that this is just an example of the “How can I be a rationalist if I lack defining feature X?” fallacy. But I haven’t told you the amusing part yet. You see, there *is* a tribe that I strongly identify with; a group of people who *also* fit your description of rationalists; a set of nerdy INTx types with interests in philosophy, math, science, science fiction, etc.

    This group is my Christian fellowship from college. Even years later it’s my primary tribal identity.

    It’s as if a bunch of your Christians-at-risk-for-atheism got together in college, bonded over how much they had hated high school youth group, and discovered that Christianity was really awesome once you could figure it out with a bunch of fellow rationalist nerds.

    • Evan Þ says:

      That sounds awesome! I think another half-dozen of us have managed to get together in my church’s young adult post-collegiate small group, too…

  56. onyomi says:

    Since you rightly suggest we look at the history, not the stated purpose, of tribes, why can’t we then judge statements like “x is a religion of peace” based on history? For example, while it’s true that one could found either a very pacifist or a very violent tribe based on the Qur’an or the Lotus Sutra, what is the actual history of groups which have used those books as rallying flags?

    To take an extreme example, it’s technically possible that the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky could become a rallying flag for people who love tarot cards, astrology, and knitting. It’s possible, but highly unlikely. And if they did, we might start noticing a weird trend of grannies unusually concerned with statistics and AI. Because it is a two-way street.

    • Thursday says:

      To take an extreme example, it’s technically possible that the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky could become a rallying flag for people who love tarot cards, astrology, and knitting. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.

      Right. The actual content of scriptures does matter. Not as much as some believers would say, but it does matter.

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        This is getting at something that’s been niggling at my brain for a while, which is:

        At what point can we dismiss the text?

        1. Pop culture source material analysis: there are schools of criticism that ignore the text (going beyond death of just the author) and focus on their societal ramifications. For certain short-term consequentialist mindsets, that’s good. Bad for any texts that are “misunderstood,” unless they’ve got a sizable audience promoting a redemptive reading. (Complex example, or the SJ criticism of Age of Ultron, or the excellent danceability of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines)
        (The general solution to this has been “just don’t consume them in a way that supports their continued existence,” like pirating, not participating in fandom, not promoting it to others, etc.)

        2. Movement leadership. As many compelling reasons I might read about The Donald’s potential leadership skills, there’s also a voice at the back of my mind reminding me that supporting him also validates his other supporters that I really do not want validated. And even if when in office, he does go about with his potential great leadership actions, his other supporters might go about their not-so-great actions because they’ve still been validated. Therefore, I ignore the “text,” in this case, who The Donald really is as a leader, and/or his policy positions.
        2a. Other way around also applies, where the leadership/text is problematic, but they’re relegated into the embarrassing old uncle corner, and the majority of the movement seems fine.

        3, 3a. Ideologies, wherein the text is the motte OR bailey. As the discussions concerning religion above show, certain text-mottes seem more slippery-slope prone than others, and should that be evaluated? Or in the other case, should we be more lenient on radical ideals fairly prone to being diluted into reasonable forms? (which I’ve seen for both far left and far right ideas)

        4. Gun culture (but I’m waaaaaaaay not prepared or that interested in having that discussion)

        • onyomi says:

          It is interesting how the foundational text can be either the motte or the bailey in different circumstances. Nowadays, it seems more often to be the bailey, because nobody reads (not that they ever did).*

          Reminds me of something I was thinking about a recent discussion here of Mein Kampf. Some mentioned that it is not especially inspiring or pleasant reading, but just as polemical and yucky as you might expect. But how many who weren’t already true believers actually read it in order to form their opinion of Hitler and the Nazis?

          Reminds me a bit of the ghost-written “books” presidential candidates always put out. I’m pretty sure very few people actually read them, but they need to be there, sort of like one’s doctoral dissertation, as something someone can point to to prove you are a Serious Thinker.

          Mao had his Red Book, Gaddafi his Green Book. True Believers may be required to read these, but no one believes it’s because of the brilliance of the writing in these that they wielded so much power, just as most of the people who voted for Obama never read Dreams from my Father.

          *I think the metaphor breaks down somewhat here, because what I mean when I say “bailey,” is “the crazier part,” but with cults, you save the crazy part until people are already deeply committed, whereas the motte and bailey thing is more about acting crazy but then retreating, rhetorically, to a more defensible position when challenged.

        • Thursday says:

          OT: why exactly did Blurred Lines attract so much hate? (Genuinely wanting to hear some theories.) As one of my friends said, “By hip hop standards, that’s children’s literature.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think it’s mostly the title, which pattern matches to a bingo square. The song’s lyrics describe crude propositions, not rape.

          • Anonymous says:

            Positive feedback.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Because it was popular.

          • Daniel Keys says:

            You say that like sexist children’s literature would be a good thing.

            There were a few parodies of the video, but I recall one that just reversed the sexes and had scantily-clad men dancing seemingly for the pleasure of be-suited women. And I recall The Dire Outgroup-Member saying she found this sexy, but we wouldn’t see music videos like it because our culture codes sexual objectification as gay/feminine.

          • Anonymous says:

            >You say that like sexist children’s literature would be a good thing.

            What?

            >The Dire Outgroup-Member

            Who?

            >saying she found this sexy, but we wouldn’t see music videos like it because our culture codes sexual objectification as gay/feminine.

            Most of the heavy criticism of the song came from the angle of “Rape Culture” as it pertained to the lyrics.

          • Proximity, I guess?

            I mean, I figure it’s some percentage of the author of Blurred Lines having the right race and sex to be hated, and some other percentage of the fact that the more aggresively bitches-and-hoes-esque hip-hop songs aren’t being played near where the people doing the hating have to listen.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            The Todd in the Shadows review (check Youtube or Vimeo) covers what even relatively “normal” people found creepy about it.

            But otherwise, yeah, the popularity. The other songs are so obviously Wrong they aren’t worth addressing, and the critics probably haven’t even heard of those songs, so they don’t have nearly as much reach as Blurred Lines.

          • Thursday says:

            These explanations mostly make sense, though some really harsh bitches-and-hoes material from Dre, Snoop and Eminem is not exactly unknown to the public at large.

          • Deiseach says:

            It wasn’t a particularly great song, the guy was your standard Whitebread trying for some easy cred by co-opting Rappers as backup/joint singers, and the general attitude of the lyrics was “I know what you want better than you do and what you want is to be slapped around and treated like a slut” which wasn’t any too flattering as a proto-love song:

            “But you’re an animal
            Baby, it’s in your nature
            Just let me liberate you” – is this about what she’s really like or his image of what he wants her to be like?

            “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” – yes, that’s what every woman wants from sex, that it is uncomfortable and makes her bleed.

            “Nothin’ like your last guy, he too square for you
            He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that” – see, you don’t want a Nice Guy, you want a Bad Boy to treat you mean and keep you keen

            All of which is your standard rap misogyny (unfortunately) but the real trouble was the chorus:

            “I hate these blurred lines
            I know you want it
            I know you want it
            I know you want it
            But you’re a good girl”

            In other words, “oh who can tell what ‘no’ really is or means?” and continuing on with the idea of “There are Good Girls who, for the sake of their reputation, have to say ‘no’ when they really want sex, so take it that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and keep insisting, even forcefully, until she gives in and does what she really wants all along, that is, have sex with you” (and the kind of “ripping your ass in two, work it like it hurts, slap her ass and pull her hair” sex is what she wants, not tender love-making like her last boyfriend who was too soft and tried to domesticate her, so treat her like a bitch and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer).

            Mainly it was a crappy song and the attitude on display was that of a fourteen year old boy adopting the bravado of his favourite rappers with regard to his first date, not an adult married (at the time) man.

            For ‘sleazy yet disarms you with sheer attitude and ends up charming you in spite of yourself’, Robert Palmer did it better with Addicted To Love 🙂

          • Thursday says:

            In other words, “oh who can tell what ‘no’ really is or means?” and continuing on with the idea of “There are Good Girls who, for the sake of their reputation, have to say ‘no’ when they really want sex, so take it that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and keep insisting, even forcefully, until she gives in and does what she really wants all along, that is, have sex with you” (and the kind of “ripping your ass in two, work it like it hurts, slap her ass and pull her hair” sex is what she wants, not tender love-making like her last boyfriend who was too soft and tried to domesticate her, so treat her like a bitch and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer).

            That’s seems like a plausible, but still rather tendentious reading of the lyrics.

            But thanks for the clear exposition.

          • Sastan says:

            @Deiseach

            I agree with you about the comparative merits of the song, but it’s worth noting that the “good girl secretly longing for a near-rape experience” trope is the standard one for romance novels (I did a study, don’t ask). This is fiction written by women, for women, so I think the fantasy is there at least. Of course, I assume that like many male fantasies, the dream is far more desirable than the reality. However, it’s hard to blame men for picking up on it and using it to sell whatever shit they’re peddling as well.

          • Sastan, I’ve been told that romances have moved away from the rape trope, but I don’t follow the genre. When were you researching this?

            For what it’s worth, there’s a lot of romance in sf that doesn’t seem rapey. On the other hand, if the back cover blurb is about a romance between a woman and an extremely scary man (half demon, half vampire), I put the book down. I don’t know whether the blurbs are accurate.

            I have a faint memory of a feminist (Germaine Greer?) complaining that romance novels were instruction manuals for seducers.

    • Frog Do says:

      Because history is path dependant. To do some comment thread necromancy, a while back I made the claim that there were a lot more oppertunities for Islam, say, to construct relatively fair laws to deal with Christians and Jews; while Christianity did not, because it came first. Only until Christian nations could reliably conquer Muslim nations did we get relatively fair laws for Muslims. (No one wanted to answer that objection, being obsessed with the treatment of Jews in Muslim Spain vs Christian Spain, but there you go, history is really hard to talk about.)

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “No one wanted to answer that objection”

        Because you didn’t actually make it there. But lets go over it, shall we?

        “a lot more oppertunities for Islam, say, to construct relatively fair laws to deal with Christians and Jews; while Christianity did not, because it came first.”

        “being obsessed with the treatment of Jews in Muslim Spain vs Christian Spain,”

        These two claims contradict each other. Unless you are claiming Jews did not come before Christians of course.

        “Only until Christian nations could reliably conquer Muslim nations did we get relatively fair laws for Muslims. ”

        You mean like the Reconquista? Or does that not count somehow?

        • Frog Do says:

          I did make that claim, several times, and it remains unanswered in your comment here. You’re a person who was in that comment thread, you should remember this, and if not, you can check the archive.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            No, you made a different claim. The two claims are not the same.

            You also ignored everything else I wrote. If you wanted people to ‘look at your argument’, you could have simply said you communicated poorly/I misinterpreted and move on to replying.

    • NN says:

      Since you rightly suggest we look at the history, not the stated purpose, of tribes, why can’t we then judge statements like “x is a religion of peace” based on history? For example, while it’s true that one could found either a very pacifist or a very violent tribe based on the Qur’an or the Lotus Sutra, what is the actual history of groups which have used those books as rallying flags?

      The Lotus Sutra is held in very high esteem in Japanese Buddhism, so one group that used the Lotus Sutra as a rallying flag was responsible for some of the most destructive wars in human history. Here is a small sample of statements made by Japanese Buddhist monks in favor of Japan’s 20th century imperialist wars:

      “[If ordered to] march: tramp, tramp, or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest Wisdom [of Enlightenment]. The unity of Zen and war of which I speak extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war [now under way].” – Harada Daiun Sogaku

      “Showing the utmost loyalty to the emperor is identical with engaging in the religious practice of Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Mahayana Buddhism is identical with the law of the sovereign.” — Seki Seisetsu

      “I wished to inspire our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble. I wish to convince them…. that this war is not a mere slaughter of their fellow-beings, but that they are combating an evil.” — Shaku Soen

      “In the present hostilities, into which Japan has entered with great reluctance, she pursues no egotistic purpose, but seeks the subjugation of evils hostile to civilization, peace and enlightenment.” — Shaku Soen

      “It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.” — Sawaki Kodo

      • onyomi says:

        The Lotus Sutra and Japanese Buddhism were not rallying flags for Japanese Imperialism. Not even close. The rallying flags were the Emperor and state Shinto and Bushido and Hagakure*…. The fact that some Japanese people who happened to be Buddhist monks supported something nearly every other Japanese person was supporting at the time that doesn’t prove their religion was a rallying flag.

        A lot of cardiologists supported the Nazis. Doesn’t make a treatise on heart surgery an equally good fascist rallying flag as Mein Kampf.

        *Hagakure, indeed, was only meant as a guide to samurai life at a time when samurai were 5% of the population. It certainly wasn’t intended to inspire fascism or act as the guiding ethos of a nation state. But it still lent itself better to that purpose than the Lotus Sutra could.

  57. walpolo says:

    Are there really white fans of rap who want it to become less violent? In my experience the edgy lyrics are a big part of what white fans appreciate about rap.

  58. Tor Klingberg says:

    1. Does this mean the Rationalism is doomed to be nothing more than a social club? A useful tool for its members to find like minded friends, but ultimately no more important to the word than a minor music genre or a book club?

    2. Sometimes tribes do not fully own their rallying flags. Various Christian denominations share the same bible. There are many who do not believe in god, yet are not part of the atheist tribe. There have always been many who play video games but are not part of the Reddit-style gamer tribe.

  59. Dirdle says:

    It seems like “we’re all rallied around the doesn’t-like-rallying-around-flags flag, and have all the corresponding tribal behaviours” is something you could meaningfully not want to know. Or at least, not want to become common knowledge. Then again, it would be hard for the community to be more fragmented and self-loathing, so…

    Wait, didn’t we go over this a while ago?

  60. Bettega says:

    There is a whole tradition of French liberalism which is concerned with what they call the “corps intermédiaires”, social institutions that stand between the central government and the common people and stand as “protective bodies”, restraining abuses and over-expansion of the central government at the expense of civil society. These French liberals, such as Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville and Bertrand de Jouvenel, criticize the Revolution for destroying such institutions in their drive to remodel society through political action, which could only be achieved through a massive centralization of the government. Jouvenel goes further and argues that a “high-low” alliance between the central government and those who either are not part of any social authority, or are oppressed inside the social authority they belong (think women in a Church or workers in a corporation) is one of the main features of democratic politics. According to him, central power can only expands at the expense of independent social authorities, what you call “tribes”.

    Now, that may explain something about the popularity of anti-tribalism across the state educational apparatus. I know many good libertarians are anti-tribalist because it harms individual thinking and yet they don’t recognize that the price of man’s absolute freedom from family and social authority constraints is submission to the state.

  61. mercrono says:

    Scott, this is a characteristically excellent and thoughtful post. In the All Debates Are Bravery Debates sense, this is helpful for me, because my instincts run toward “deafness is bad, curing it would be a no brainer”; “the Bible is wrong/contradictory/abhorrent, social/charitable communities should eschew all this religious claptrap; “cultural appropriation is a silly concept, people should enjoy whatever art they want.” But it’s worth acknowledging the real costs of attacking or abandoning even obviously silly rallying flags (while also trying to avoid planting such flags in the future — cf. “Don’t be born with a stupid prior.”).

    However, I wonder if you think it would be fair to characterize this post as “we should be a lot more sympathetic to Colonel F then I used to believe.” Because I can’t help but see this post as the mirror image of your LessWrong post on the same subject — both thoughtful and charitable, but taking close to opposite positions on how essential rallying flags are, and how much respect we should show them, even when they seem stupid from an outside perspective.

    In other words, I’d love to see a dialogue on this subject between 2009 Yvain and 2016 Scott Alexander.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, I admit my position on this subject has evolved a lot. I guess my main argument against Colonel Y is that it’s really hard to root out an entire culture and replace it with a better one, and that cost has to be balanced against corresponding benefits.

      On the other hand, the tribe of Germans is probably going to exist no matter what their ideology is, so might as well get rid of a terrible one.

      • JBeshir says:

        Germans are known for being very not-nationalist, though, even by European standards*, which are themselves way less nationalist than the US. Probably is a tradeoff here, but a worthwhile one to avoid resulting in people a generation or two down asking why their life sucks and deciding it’s because they’ve clearly abandoned the Obviously Correct principles they should be following, as has happened in other communities.

        (*American nationalism was downright creepily strong to me when I visited. Flags everywhere. I don’t know about everywhere in Europe, but by UK standards the compulsory state-worship was unsettling, even if in practice it is worship of some abstract state that doesn’t preclude a fiery hatred of the actual state. And the Germans are exceptionally not-nationalist from *my* perspective.)

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Germans are known for being very not-nationalist, though, even by European standards*, which are themselves way less nationalist than the US…

          *American nationalism was downright creepily strong to me when I visited. Flags everywhere. I don’t know about everywhere in Europe, but by UK standards the compulsory state-worship was unsettling… And the Germans are exceptionally not-nationalist from *my* perspective.)

          Reminds me of this video of Angela Merkel getting a look of visceral disgust on her face when someone handed her the German flag.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Something, Something… Looming over America… Something, Something?

        • JBeshir says:

          It’s mostly creepy because you see otherwise reasonable people need to suddenly kind of adopt this plastic posture and tone and exultation of the glories of the state and its past, which gives you the sense that they’d hate you if you revealed even a mostly positive but less than glowingly perfect opinion.

          The closest point of comparison I can make is that it’s like being in a church as a non-believer, or that it’s the same sense you get watching videos of North Koreans saluting Glorious Leader.

          It also results in unrealistic fictions about the past, with corresponding reactions to observing the imperfect present. And it makes discussion of the effectiveness of military action extremely divisive, and the predominant military power being like that is a problem for the world.

          This is countered by the probably-locally-predominant-in-the-Bay-Area counter-culture where being anti-patriotic is actively preferred, but that’s not really fixing anything. Either way the discourse lacks a realistic balanced measure of past performance.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Just how recent is German anti-nationalism, though? I get the impression from the history books that things were a lot different during (say) the 1920’s.

          • JBeshir says:

            Well, my point was that we might plausibly have seriously dented the strength of German nationality as a tribe in the post-WW2 Nazi purges, so we can’t quite write off those purges as having had no effect on the strength of national identity, and instead need to rest on the idea of it being a worthwhile tradeoff.

            If we could concretely date the lack of nationalism (and anti-nationalism, although I think that’s distinct, and possibly even opposed, because anti-nationalism and nationalism probably tend to be a toxoplasma) we could confirm or refute that.

        • NN says:

          In the 2008 German Movie The Wave, there is a scene early on where a class of high school students are discussing the role of nationalism in dictatorships, and someone brings up all of the flag-waving during the 2006 World Cup, describing it as “revolting.” Another student disagrees, saying, “If Germans can’t be proud of their country like everyone else, then it just lead to the opposite, to hatred of everyone else.”

          According to the director, much of the dialogue in this scene was taken from real conversations with actual German high school students.

        • Urstoff says:

          Nationalism is kind of silly, although it’s a pretty well-known fact that the American flag and national anthem are top notch.

          • suntzuanime says:

            ??? The national anthem is famous for being impossible to sing and the flag for being impossible to draw. Is this one of those hazing things where making it torturous to express your patriotism just ends up making your patriotism stronger?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The flag’s alright. The anthem is hideous.

            The French one is the best, and the Russian one is up there, too.

          • Urstoff says:

            Haters, all of you. The Star-Spangled Banner is not generic, church hymnal anthem #148 that you get with most countries (the Russian Anthem is also a good one that stands out). It’s got range!

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t know, the anthem is pretty good in the standard “Marines, explosions, and jet fighters” version. Drowns out the so-so tune.

            (And the flag is awesome. Yeah, bit hard to draw, but most of the alternatives are barely distinguishable tricolors)

          • sweeneyrod says:

            As a non-American, I certainly prefer the American national anthem to our dreary God Save The Queen (although Pomp And Circumstance, Jerusalem and I Vow To Thee, My Country are better than either). Can’t say I like the flag much.

          • Nornagest says:

            As an American, I gotta admit that the Soviet Union had a better anthem than we do.

            Our flag’s better, though. The hammer and sickle are nicely iconic on paper, but impossible to make out on an actual piece of cloth on a flagpole — same problem as with the Turkish flag, or the Brazilian. Canada does the national symbol bit well, though, and so does Israel.

          • roystgnr says:

            The American anthem only works when you sing at least half the verses. Verse one is all about jeopardy of the country and flag, it ends with “is the flag still flying?”, you need verse two for the answer, and the answer is not “Play ball!”

            (I understand the motivation for leaving out verse three, but even that’s borderline. It’s a shame to lose one of the best insults in history.)

          • Tibor says:

            My favourite anthem is probably that of Canada. I really like the melody of the German and Italian anthems, I also like the Czech one but I am probably a bit biased there (it probably less aggressively “we are the best and everyone else sucks” than most anthems though). The French has a really catchy melody but good grief the words! That is an anthem of a European country in the 21st century? “Let’s march, let’s march!, Let an impure blood soak our fields!” Really? :))

            The Russian just sounds ominous to me and I am not very comfortable about it but that might also have something to do with certain prejudices of mine. I wanted to point out that it is the same anthem (just different words) that the Soviet Union used and draw conclusions from there, but I realized that the German one also had the same melody during the Third Reich, so that would not be fair.

            The most boring anthem I’ve heard so far is probably the Swiss one. Even the words are kind of boring.

          • Ant says:

            The European one is the best. The ode to joy is one of the best of Beethoven. Hard to sing, but nice to hear.

          • Emile says:

            The US should just pick the Battle Hymn of the Republic as their national anthem. It’s *way* more rousing than the star-spangled banner. It would make a good “angry mob” song, like the Marseillaise.

        • gbdub says:

          On the other hand we Americans find that lack of nationalism a bit weird, especially for politicians. Like, why bother trying to run a country if you don’t think there’s anything particularly special about that country? It would be like Tim Cook showing up to the next Apple preview with a Samsung phone. It takes a lot of effort to get into Angela Merkel’s position – if she’s not at least a little proud of Germany, maybe her motives are selfish…

          For citizens, heck 1/3 of my labor goes toward supporting the state. If I’m not at least a little proud of it, what’s the point? Honestly I think this whole liberal representative democracy, nation of ideals instead of nation of ancestry, etc. etc. is a pretty great idea, even if we don’t often live up to it. If we stop believing that – well why not let those nice gentlemen over there with their beards and intolerance and honor killings come on in and do their thing. After all, all cultures are equally valid, no reason to worship the empty symbols of mine.

          Plus, when we stop rallying ’round Old Glory, people tend to fragment into other tribes and getting at each others’ throats, as Scott noted. This seems suboptimal.

        • Berna says:

          @gbdub “It takes a lot of effort to get into Angela Merkel’s position – if she’s not at least a little proud of Germany, maybe her motives are selfish…” No, why? You can want a country to be well-governed, just out of concern for the people who live in it. No pride necessary.

        • JBeshir says:

          What Berna said- I don’t see how pride in a thing relates to a desire to run it well. Same for a desire to contribute to a communal support system. Presumably you have to prefer its existence and effective operation to the opposite, but that’s far short of even pride, let alone Patriotism.

          And even if a bit of pride was psychologically helpful, there’s a fair difference between pride of the sort one can healthily have in oneself, and Patriotism, which involves pride of the sort that would make you incredibly narcissistic and a bit delusional to have of yourself- even if you were a pretty good person.

          Like being quietly satisfied that the EA organisation you run is doing good work would be great, but holding anything resembling Patriotism and the corresponding detachment from reality would probably cripple its effectiveness in short order.

        • gbdub says:

          “And even if a bit of pride was psychologically helpful, there’s a fair difference between pride of the sort one can healthily have in oneself, and Patriotism, which involves pride of the sort that would make you incredibly narcissistic and a bit delusional to have of yourself- even if you were a pretty good person.”

          Well sure, if you take all the negative aspects of “pride” and assign them to “patriotism”, then of course patriotism looks pretty bad. I don’t think that’s entirely fair though.

          “You can want a country to be well-governed, just out of concern for the people who live in it.”

          Then why have it continue to exist as an independent country, when so many other countries (some better, some worse) exist? Why do you have a concern for the people that live in your country in particular?

          Your leader doesn’t just quietly manage the country’s internal affairs in isolation – they are expected (especially in the American independent executive system) to be the face of the country to the world. Is “eh, we’re alright, beats the alternative” a strong face to put on when negotiating against actual adversaries? Maybe if the whole world goes non-tribal and non-competitive that will work, but at the moment a massive meteor strike seems more likely so I’m not going to hold my breath.

          Anyway, “patriotism” strikes me as useful shorthand, and frankly a “teambuilding” exercise. “We’re all Americans in this together” is more effective than “We’re Democrats and we hate you Republicans SO MUCH and YOU SUCK and oh crap while we’ve been arguing with each other the world just exploded”. In that sense a pause for flag-waving can be a sort of meditative togetherness moment, like “hey, let’s take a quick break from our intra-group conflict to remember at the end of the day we’re all on the same side here”.

        • SUT says:

          Erick Fromm’s Escape from Freedom which tried to diagnose what went wrong in Germany to start the War made made what I consider an interesting observation: Nationalism is the “poor man’s narcissism”. E.g. even if you’re this fat guy that works in a toll booth- hey at least you’re an Aryan, and they’re like the best!

          So what makes patriotism revolting? I’d argue it’s not the narcissism part, it’s the “poor man” part. It seems to signal – “I have nothing else going for me except being a member of this state that I just happen to be born into”.

          I’d leave you with one other thought experiment: Imagine a bunch of Harvard alum’s sitting around unemployed and one says- “Hey, at least we went to Harvard!” It’s not that school pride is bad, it’s just if it’s used as a crutch too often it becomes resented in certain circles.

        • blacktrance says:

          Then why have it continue to exist as an independent country, when so many other countries (some better, some worse) exist?

          In the case of the United States, it has a fairly unique set of institutions, many of which I think are superior to those of other countries. and worth preserving for that reason, e.g. relatively extensive protections for free speech. But if there were a country that had the positive aspects of the US and fewer of the negatives, there’d be a strong case for handing over rule to them. But there’s also the caveat that governments that work well locally may still do poorly with faraway territory.

          There’s a difference between “our country is the best because it’s ours, yay us, go team!” and “our country is the best at implementing [ideal], which is good”. If the second turns out to be false, maybe the country should sign away its independence.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          @ blacktrance:

          You don’t even have to think your country is “the best” at implementing a certain ideal (though that helps).

          Suppose you think New York City and Houston are exactly equally good places to live. Does that suggest some kind of reason why Houston should not exist as a separate city? Clearly not. The NYC government can’t run Houston, no matter how good they are; they’re extremely far apart and have totally different issues affecting them.

          So even if you think that Germany is no better or worse than any other European country (not that I think so), that doesn’t somehow suggest that it should not be independent. Maybe you think controlling everything from Brussels would be inefficient.

        • Ith says:

          >It takes a lot of effort to get into Angela Merkel’s position – if she’s not at least a little proud of Germany, maybe her motives are selfish…

          I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t been brought up, but European nationalism was a pretty big factor in the world wars, so after the second one we kinda decided to tone it down, I think. This goes triple for the Germans. I can guarantee you that a Proudly German Chancellor would provoke at the very least strong dismay in the rest of Europe. There is still a residual awareness that nationalism can be a very strong force.

          A second reason is that Western European national identities are by and large pretty strong, and in my view far more cohesive than that of the US. Thus, they don’t need reinforcing all that much, so anyone who starts waving the flag around is suspected of having goals other than strengthening national pride.

          Contrast this with Eastern Europe, where overt nationalism is more common and accepted. These are mostly pretty new countries in their current incarnations, so the need to bolster the national spirit/tribal markers is stronger.

          Incidentally, I think the strength of national identities in Europe is one of the reasons why you don’t see a Red/Blue tribe split there to anywhere near the extent you do in the US; the national tribe is still strong enough that it’s what most people still primarily identify with.

        • I think maybe a lot of the difference in attitudes to nationalism in Europe and the USA can be attributed to the fact that the USA is… actually a lot more powerful than any European country, and more of an independent, sovereign actor on the world stage. I think the key factor is how far a country asserts some degree of independent power against other countries. Some European countries like Britain and France are pretty powerful, but they largely do as the USA says when it comes to international politics. That doesn’t seem like a good position for inspiring strong nationalistic feelings. Russia doesn’t, and its population is much more nationalistic. Armenia and Azerbaijan are not powerful at all globally, and clearly have “protectors” in Russia and the USA respectively, but they have a conflict with each other in which they act independently, so I would guess their populations are also pretty nationalistic.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          I think you mean ‘patriotic’, he United states is so un-nationalistic it’s arguable wether or not its even a nation. Even the nativists have very unorthodox (by European standards) ideas about who is and isn’t American, and its drilled into us by the public education system (melting pot etc).

        • I think part of “if Angela Merkel isn’t a patriotic German why did she go to all the trouble of getting to her present position” argument has to do with two different sorts of incentives.

          Suppose I want to do X because my doing X, along with millions of other people doing X, has some desirable consequence. I might do it, but I might not, because of the public good problem—almost as much of X gets done without me and almost as much of the desirable consequence happens.

          But suppose I want to do X because I strongly feel that being someone who does X is good, is right, makes me the sort of person I want to be, is part of my identity. Now that problem disappears.

          “Making lots of Germans better off” is in the first category. “Working for Germany because you are a patriotic German” is more nearly in the second. So the latter does look like a more plausible explanation for Merkel’s past actions.

        • Anonymous says:

          American patriotism is so strong (and partly mandated) because of nation-building. Most western European countries have centuries of shared ethnic history, America is a nation of immigrants from all over.

          • Daniel Keys says:

            I would have said, ‘Because we are an empire that conquered most of the continent aside from the frozen north – we beat our hated southern neighbor but then let them go for racist reasons.’

            I know that China is an empire with strong nationalism – does anyone know how India compares to the US?

        • Tibor says:

          In Switzerland, you also have flags everywhere, albeit perhaps not as much as in the US.

        • Tibor says:

          @Ith:

          Counterexamples:

          1) Switzerland. Probably the most stable country in Europe. In a sense more nationalistic than probably any other European country (depends on whether we include Russia in Europe or not).

          2) Belgium. A very instable country constantly being on a verge of splitting into two. Based on your hypothesis one would expect quite a lot of nationalism to compensate for the insecurity. This does not seem to be the case.

          3) Czech republic. Unlike in Poland or Hungary which seem (Poland especially) quite nationalistic, nationalism is not very common there. In fact, I don’t know any other country whose language (which is spoken only there) has a derogative term for its own population.

          4) France. The French are very nationalist to the point that some of them refuse to talk English or German to you even when understand you sometimes (in France) and you don’t speak French. And that includes people working in the tourist industry.

          Also, most countries in Central and Central-Eastern Europe have changed regimes fairly recently, but have not changed borders since 1945, sometimes longer than that.

          The two exceptions are Czechoslovakia which however split in a rather mundane way (no wars or other serious conflicts) and Germany which unified at the same time Czechoslovakia split. Germany indeed has a very low level of nationalism which however goes against your thesis. Czech republic has a rather low level of nationalism too, Slovakia is perhaps slightly more nationalistic, I think and also an entirely new country (there has never been any Slovakian country prior to 1993), so that would be one, albeit rather weak (as the Slovaks are not nearly as nationalistic as the Hungarians or the French), datapoint for your thesis.

        • Ant says:

          Most of the French who won’t speak to you in any language but French don’t do it out of nationalism but because they consider that not talking the language of the country you are in is rude and impolite.

          Nationalism itself is associated as far right and a poor excuse to be racist. And American nationalism sounds weird to me: a similar emotion would be someone who is very proud about his ancestor.

        • Civilis says:

          Could it be that American nationalism is a state-based tribalism that takes the place of more ethnic tribalism? As an American with scattered ancestry, it’s hard to distinguish nationalism based on the nation of France from ethnic tribalism based on the ‘French’ ethnic group (which, admittedly, is a bit more coherently defined than the ‘German’ ethnic group).

          I pick France rather than Germany as an example, because I see what to me like some form of French tribalism as widespread that would be unacceptable in America, in part because of the close and highly visible example of the quasi-French Quebec. America, while it has US flags everywhere, doesn’t have the need to block foreign concepts with laws about the minimum of American-sourced content in media (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-34402849) or attempts to block foreign words from entering the language.

          I guess because I’m an American, seeing US flags everywhere doesn’t set off alarm bells, and my trips abroad, I don’t notice the absence of local flags. I do notice a lot of non-American nationalism in the US with regard to certain ethnic groups, predominantly central American but also Filipino, Portuguese, and Irish where they will make prominent use of the flags both the US and their ancestral homeland, so perhaps flags in general are an American thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Could it be that American nationalism is a state-based tribalism that takes the place of more ethnic tribalism?

            Outside of Texas, Alaska, and Hawaii, very few Americans identify with their state of birth and/or residence at anything resembling a tribal level. I can see where you are coming from, because the United States clearly does host strong tribal identifications at a sub-national level and you can sort of map these to states, but that’s mostly a matter of coincidence when you look at it closely.

            The media tried to map this as “Red State” vs “Blue State” a few election cycles back, but outside the realm of electoral politics that doesn’t really work. Scott’s attempt to reframe this as Red, Blue and Grey tribes is an improvement, and if we add a few more colors we might be getting somewhere.

            But explicit state-based tribalism, not really a big thing here.

          • Jordan D. says:

            My impression of flags in America looks like this-

            1) American flags flown in abundance signal Republican tendencies, but people and businesses do occasionally just fly them. It doesn’t seem to me that the people who fly an individual flag are all that much more likely to be any discernible tribe than their neighbor.

            2) State flags, outside of Texas, signal that you’re probably on that state’s property because nobody else flies them.

            3) Football paraphernalia tells you which tribe somebody’s in.

            So for example, the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a very purple state, with a lot of Democratic voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and a lot of Republican voters throughout the rural areas between.

            In Pennsylvania, you’ll see the American flag flying over a lot of businesses and on houses, but that doesn’t signal much about the area. Only in Harrisburg will you see a lot of State flags, because much of the city is State property. All of this is because the state is actually divided into three parts- Philly people, Pittsburgh people and people who live near a rural town and don’t care for either. (Sometimes I call those people ‘State College People’ since that’s usually the largest city they speak highly of.)

            Now, neither Pittsburgh nor Philly have flags, but that’s fine because you can identify them based on whether they’ve got gold-and-black decorations or green-and-white ones. This isn’t just a football thing- people from Pittsburgh and people from Philadelphia have *pretty different* cultures, accents and even values, and there’s a stunning rivalry between the regions those cities are located in.

            Now obviously people are members of a lot of different tribes, but I often perceive Pennsylvania’s state government as less an institution and more a contained and sustained cultural battle between Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the interior counties.

          • BBA says:

            Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, like many cities, do have flags that nobody but the city government ever flies. The only US city flag I’ve seen used in a non-governmental context is Chicago’s.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I doubt this comment will ever be seen or read by anyone, lost as it is within the great mass and 5 days late, but here in St. Louis lots of people fly the city flag or feature it prominently on their cars or houses.

            St. Louis seems like an especially tribal city to me, however.

          • brad says:

            I was in Chicago last weekend and saw the city flag pattern, if not the actual flag itself, in a bunch of different places. I don’t even have any idea what the NYC (where I’m from) flag looks like. Maybe it’s a mid-west thing?

          • Nornagest says:

            Oakland, CA doesn’t fly its flag a lot; I’d actually never seen it until I looked it up just now. But the oak tree on its street signs (similar to, but more stylized than, the one on the flag) shows up in a lot of places, not all of them governmental.

        • Tibor says:

          @Ant:

          Well, actually that already sounds quite nationalist to me. I would not expect any foreigner to speak Czech, especially not a tourist. Most tourists who visit France probably don’t speak French either. They are so impolite to visit France before learning the language! :)) Even in Germany where it would be a bit more understandable (German being spoken by way more people than Czech) people won’t be offended by the tourists not speaking German to them. In fact they are not going to expect that at all and you can run into the opposite problem if you want to improve your German – people will try to make it easy for you and speak in English if they can. After I started my PhD here in Germany, I had to take some courses to improve my then rather poor German to be able talk to people in German without them switching to English after two sentences. Of course, in English speaking countries it is different, but English is the lingua franca of our time and so people, even tourists, can be assumed to speak some English.

          Also, France even has a law which prescribes the percentage of songs that have to be in French on the radio…that still does not sound nationalist to you?

        • Lyyce says:

          @Tibor A lot french refuse to speak others languages because they struggle at them, especially the older generation.

          There is some brand of nationalism in France, but it is focused on the culture, like the language, the food rather than being proud of the country (which is indeed branded far right).

          My impression is that France is as a whole less nationalist than USA but more than Germany.

        • Tibor says:

          @Lyyce: That sounds about right.

          I am not sure what the difference of being proud of the culture and “of the country” is though. What is there to be proud of in a country which is not based on an ideal (such as the US) other than the culture?

        • Creutzer says:

          Well, actually that already sounds quite nationalist to me. I would not expect any foreigner to speak Czech, especially not a tourist. Most tourists who visit France probably don’t speak French either. They are so impolite to visit France before learning the language!

          There is a difference here, though. The French simply haven’t quite got the message that not everybody learns French anymore and their language is not a lingua franca. The Czech are under no delusion that anybody learns Czech.

          The French are indeed attached to their language and culture, and they are actually rather xenophobic in some ways. Even if you’re fluent in French, it’s generally difficult to fully integrate socially, even for intelligent, educated immigrants from other western nations. But here is my theory of why this is sort of rendered impotent and doesn’t give rise to substantive patriotism/nationalism: France also has an identity as an egalitarian and meritocratic country; so they cannot just say “this is our place, we don’t want you here”. They have to pretend that if you do everything right (which of course includes speaking French), you’re just as good as them. And why wouldn’t you want to? My impression is that they’re quite baffled by the existence of fellow French citizens who blow up people: They’ve overlooked that it is now quite possible to be a French citizen without feeling cultural allegiance to France. How could people not adopt such an obviously superior culture, to which they (allegedly) have access since they’re born there? There is a sort of disconnect between the cultural borders and the legal and geographical borders, but there is an impediment to bridging that gap: With language and culture, you can pretend these things aren’t fixed and not just matters of luck, unlike place of birth and genetics. But once you take seriously things that are immutable and matters of chance, that’s not meritocratic and much too close to the… infelicitous kinds of nationalism that Europe has seen in the past.

        • Tibor says:

          @Creutzer:

          Sure, not Czechs. But there are more German speakers worldwide than French speakers and the Germans do not expect the tourists to speak German either. Not even the Spanish do it, even though Spanish is just after English in the number of speakers (and before English in the number of native speakers), and it might even surpass English in a few decades.

          What about this:

          http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/04/06/spain-to-france-dont-dump-90000-bottles-of-our-wine-into-your-streets/

          “The Spanish Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement Wednesday that Monday’s rampage, which took place around 10 miles from the Spanish border, was a violation of European Union rules that allow goods from member states to travel freely throughout the government bloc.

          French winemakers disagree. Denis Pigouche, president of a Pyrenees-Orientales winemaker association, told reporters that the Spanish “have no place in France.”

          “What’s more they’re not even necessarily European,” he said. “I suspect they are from South America and then ‘Hispanicized’ in Barcelona and then Europeanized, or even Frenchified in France.” ”

          The last paragraph…wow. Of course a winemakers’ union does not represent all of France but still.

          By the way, I met a Taiwanese guy recently (in Germany) who learns (and already speaks very well) Czech. That was a big surprise to me, obviously. I asked him why he learned Czech and he said he really likes Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal and wants to read their books in the original (although, he’d have to learn French for Kundera too 🙂 ).

        • Creutzer says:

          Wow. That surprises me and I don’t really know what to say or think of it. It’s not something I’d have expected anyone to think is acceptable. But I’m also too lazy to look up what French news sources say about it.

          Yeah, unfortunately, there is an extremely good translation of Švejk into German, which really removes a major incentive. 🙂

        • keranih says:

          This sort of commerical-thuggery-as-political-nationalism has been the tool of choice for rural/ag nationalist in France for quite some time.

          I don’t have the reference, but part of the Marie Antoniette/”Let them eat cake” economic mess was meddling with the global (national?) price of wheat by forbidding transport of foodstuffs between different regions, in order to serve as a price protection for the products of the region.

        • Creutzer says:

          Well, yes, the French can be quite fiercely protective of their economic situation. What puzzles me is that the guy is basically overtly racist about it.

          EDIT: Actually… I just realised that “they are not even necessarily European” most likely means wines, not people. I understood it the other way at first because the previous sentence, which wasn’t a quotation, was that “the Spanish have no place in France”. I thought he was objecting to immigrants working in Spanish wine production and transport, which would be really messed-up. I mean, the whole thing is still messed-up, but in not quite the same way.

        • Tibor says:

          @Creutzer:

          Švejk – really? I ought to pick something in German to read, I’ve already read Švejk in Czech, so I know what’s going on and it might be a relatively easy read (compared to reading Kafka in the German original, I don’t think I would manage that yet), so I might just start with that.

          Wines/Spanish. Oh, I also understood it as being about people. It actually makes more sense when it is about wines. But it is still pretty nationalist (and extremely protectionist, mercantilists would be proud).

        • Creutzer says:

          I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Švejk (I’m talking about the translation by Grete Reiner) to start with, because it has certain peculiarities. The language is in part somewhat period-specific, and it crucially makes use of (a codified, stylised version of) the German of Czech immigrants in the Austro-Hungarian empire. If Švejk had learned German, that might have been how he’d have spoken. The result is, and this is what I think makes it great, that the book doesn’t read like a translation. It is something that could be an original written by a German-speaking Czech or Austrian author. At the same time, I suspect that the feel of the translation might be quite a bit different from the original.

          One early-20th-century writer whose language is pretty simple is Josef Roth.

        • Tibor says:

          @Creutzer:

          Thanks. In the Czech original, Švejk (and other characters) uses a lot of German words, or “Czechized” German words of which there are quite a lot still in use in the language today, some with no Czech equivalent (mandle = Mandel, mince = Münze, hák = Haken, trychtýř = Trichter, šroub, = Schraube, lavina = Lawine,…), some with a Czech version and a “German version” of which the German is then usually colloquial and the Czech is the “Hochsprache” (for example “šnek = Schneke”, but also “hlemýžď”, šnek is more common, “sicherhajcka = Sicherheitsnadel”, but properly “spínací špendlík” although nobody ever uses the proper version in everyday speech). Švejk also uses some “German” words which have dropped out of use since “Švejk’s” time (forháňky/ Vorhängen for example). Although he mostly uses military-related words like “obrlajtnant, mašírplatz, feldkurát” which Czechs would understand today but would use the Czech variant instead.

          It seems like a smart choice for the translator to simulate that feeling of language with using a lot of Austrian German or Germanized Czech words (Powidl, Kolatschen, Palatschinken … although I guess Švejk does not talk about food so much). Anyway, it looks like it could be fun to read it in German, if perhaps a bit later. Right now my level of German is something around very good B2 or a rather weak C1. I guess I ought to wait till it’s closer to C2.

          I’ll check Josef Roth out. I am not looking for early 20th-century writers in particular, just something relatively simple but not a studying book designed for learning the language (those are usually a bit too easy and also boring). So far I’ve only read the news, which is also useful, although the language journalists use tends to be quite specific (for example I’ve never heard anyone use the Konjunktiv I in real life)

      • Jiro says:

        In the Colonel F example, Hitler is an actual historical figure who believed and wrote specific things. You can reinterpret him how you want, but there’s only one straightforward way to interpret him, and the straightforward way is always going to exert a pull in its direction, because it is so straightforward.

        Not all tribes are based around such things, and I think a distinction can be made between ones which are and ones which aren’t. There is no holy text of leftism, so the fact that the left once believed in eugenics doesn’t mean that people on the left today will be drawn back towards eugenics because it’s easier to interpret their holy book that way.

        • NN says:

          On the other hand, Hitler’s modern followers have shown themselves to be pretty flexible in their interpretations of him and his work. For example, an estimated one half of the world’s Neo-Nazis are Russian even though Hitler hated Russians (and most Slavs in general) almost as much as he hated Jews. For an even more extreme example, there are gay Russian Neo-Nazi groups.

          • Mirzhan Irkegulov says:

            As a Russian-speaking person, who engaged with various anarchist/Marxist/antifa/trad-skin/punk people both personally and online for at least 5 years, I am 80% sure this GASH group doesn’t exist and is a troll.

            It’s an old pastime of Russian antifa to make fun of Nazi-skinheads’ homophobia by telling them they are latent gays.

            For example, I’ve seen this picture (NSFW) in many antifa groups in VK.com (Russian Facebook analog) and I’m pretty sure it was created by some antifa to make fun of neo-Nazis.

            Jokes include “Gay whites against women and straights”, “Russian, jerk off your fellow Russian!” (play on neo-Nazi slogan “Russian, help your fellow Russian”), “I fuck in the ass for Rus’” and so on.

          • TD says:

            “It’s an old pastime of Russian antifa to make fun of Nazi-skinheads’ homophobia by telling them they are latent gays.”

            I’ve always wondered to what degree this tendency itself is concealing homophobia.

          • Jiro says:

            Somehow nobody claims that Democrats who call Republicans racists are secretly racists themselves.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Jiro:
            They don’t?

            I’ve heard numerous variations on “If you hear dog whistles you’re the dog”. Or to be a bit more blunt…

          • keranih says:

            Yeah, I’m with hlynkacg here. The non-rational, rather sophomoric return taunt of “oh yeah? well, you’re the racist/stupid/bigot/retard/traitor/bad person” is a lot more prevalent than I’d like.

            To me, looking at the facts on the ground, there is a great deal of room to discuss widespread racial and sexual identity bias on the part of the left, but the accusation doesn’t help the discussion.

            Of course, the original accusations weren’t intended to help the discussion, either, so there is that.

          • TD says:

            @Jiro

            That’s a different thing. The actual equivalent would be if Republicans were calling black people the N word, and then Democrats turned up and insinuated that Republicans were the N word, which obviously doesn’t happen. Republicans aren’t sneaking around at night wearing bandanas and having rap battles in public bathrooms.

            With homophobia we have social conservative right wingers (far-right wingers, so relax moderate cons) calling people faggots as an insult and generally hating gays. They do so because they consider homosexuality to be a very bad thing worthy of attack and ridicule. This is group A.

            Then we have left wingers, moderates, and right-liberals/libertarians coming along and calling the socons out as secret homosexuals in denial, usually very very gleefully. This is group B.

            Group B claims that the reason a closet gay homophobe is funny is merely because of the poetic justice involved and the humor involved in the cognitive dissonance.

            There’s no way of proving that this isn’t the case, and I’m not making any positive claim here, but I do wonder since most of the mockery of someone like Ted Haggard consists of drawing attention to the visceral sex acts he must have engaged in. Without it being explained what the context is, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the joke is “Haha! He’s a confused idiot!” and not “Haha! He sucks dick!” This is what all of the humor around it actually looks like.

            Trying to turn something back on the opponent is often a bad idea, because it allows those same values to be expressed stealthily on your own side.

        • mercrono says:

          Whether or not you’re right about Hitler and Nazism in particular, that’s not what Scott/Yvain’s 2009 post was really about. Rather, it was in response to debates about religious experience and the value of religious community, even on the supposition that actual religious assertions are wrong. The point of the post-war Germany framing is to show that the clever arguments you could make in favor of preserving religious traditions (which many might find reasonable) are isomorphic to arguments in favor of preserving Nazi texts and symbols (which most would find abhorrent, and which was historically unnecessary to preserve German culture). To wit, the most upvoted comment on that post states in its entirety “Reading this article is one of the things that caused me to become an atheist.”

          Now of course, it’s perfectly fair to say, as Scott basically does above “yeah, sometimes removing a rallying flag and dissolving a community is worth it, and in the case of Nazism, it probably was; in other cases, it’s hard to say, and you have to weigh costs against the benefits.” There’s no reason you always have to pick the same side on “preserve a problematic rallying flag: yes or no?”

          But in terms of a general gestalt on the subject, there’s a major difference between the two posts. And I find that interesting, because it’s an issue I feel torn on. I was nodding along to this post thinking “yeah, that makes sense, good point” — and then realized I could still go back and read “A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies” and nod along in basically the opposite direction.

          Again, maybe this is just an “All Debates Are Bravery Debates” kind of issue, and different people need to be reminded of different sides, without there being a “correct” answer. But given that Scott has written on both sides of this, I’m curious about what specifically induced his evolution in general attitude.

          • Jiro says:

            Whether or not you’re right about Hitler and Nazism in particular, that’s not what Scott/Yvain’s 2009 post was really about. Rather, it was in response to debates about religious experience and the value of religious community,

            Religions have holy books with one straightforward reading (and a lot of interpretation that ignores it) just like Hitler does in Scott’s comparison.

            (Using previous examples, I do believe that violent Koran verses have had some influence on the level of violence accepted in Islam, and that the interpretation of the Constitution of the US is affected by the literal wording stating a right to bear arms.)

        • On the leftism changing case:

          Back when Obama was first running for president, I thought there was a possibility, although not a high probability, that he might end up being pretty good. The reason was his association, in my mind and to some extent in reality, with a group of intellectuals connected with the University Chicago who, as I saw it, were people who identified with leftism, had accepted a good deal of the Chicago School critique of leftism, and wanted to remold leftism accordingly. That included Cass Sunstein and Austin Goolsby, who ended up playing some role in the Obama administration, and Larry Lessig, who didn’t.

          It did not work out as I had hoped so far as the administration was concerned—as I think my wife put it, Obama wasn’t a Kenyan or a Communist, he was a Chicago machine Democrat. I don’t think it is working out that way in the intellectual world of leftism either, although I’m not enough of an observer of that to be sure.

          For my comments back then, see:

          http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/05/thoughts-on-obama.html

          • Deiseach says:

            as I think my wife put it, Obama wasn’t a Kenyan or a Communist, he was a Chicago machine Democrat

            Then your wife and I were of the same opinion, and may I congratulate you on your good fortune in such an intelligent, insightful spouse 🙂

        • Daniel Keys says:

          I downvoted Yvain’s post, back when I encountered it, because it didn’t have enough content to justify going Godwin. And that rule is important.

    • Alex says:

      “However, I wonder if you think it would be fair to characterize this post as “we should be a lot more sympathetic to Colonel F then I used to believe.” Because I can’t help but see this post as the mirror image of your LessWrong post on the same subject — both thoughtful and charitable, but taking close to opposite positions on how essential rallying flags are, and how much respect we should show them, even when they seem stupid from an outside perspective.

      In other words, I’d love to see a dialogue on this subject between 2009 Yvain and 2016 Scott Alexander.”

      In terms of the article at hand (The Ideology is Not the Movement), the Colonel F parable is about the magical and instantaneous transformation of a world with identity of ideology and movement (i. e. the actual third reich) into a world without this identity (i. e. the post-war society as envisioned by the parable).

      There is an actual word for “identity of ideology and movement”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleichschaltung and my interpretation is that it was Hitler’s/Goebbel’s expressed goal to achieve such identity.

      As far as I understand the Colonel F parable is to say that since we implicitly know that such magical conversions as described by the parable, do not happen in reality, we should not assume that [ideology] has in fact converted from its [atrocious past].

      And this is likely true on a few years timescale but is it true e. g. on a timescale from The Spanish Inquisition till now?

      Conclusion:

      – The article at hand should probably be “… not ALWAYS …” with the third reich as a prominent counterexample to the absolute.

      – The author goes to some length to explain that the ralley flag is not arbitrary (atheism vs. white nerd male) but seems to shun the conclusion that sometimes, especially in the early stages, the movement is very much about (and identical to) the movement.

      – Separation of ideology and movement can take long timescales, especially for strong (how should we define strong here? Salient?) ideologies.

      – Bad ideologies can give rise to overall good movements but only when viewed from a (temporary) distance.

      Im less sure about the last point. Illustrative example:

      Europe has witnessed a rise of “right-wing populism”, whatever that might be, over the last decade or something. This surely gave many red tribers an actual tribe, because Europe is scarce when it comes to institutional red tribes (I assume: in contrast to the US). This is a good thing. However I fear if this new tribe is going to have its ideological way, people will get hurt. Which would be a bad thing. Best case scenario is that they separate their ideology from the movement as fast as possible so that they can have a tribe without hurting anyone.

      And there comes Colonel Y and says that this “best case” is just wishful thinking.

      • Best case is that they morph their ideology into a critique of parts of the current orthodoxy that are wrong.

        • Alex says:

          I’m not sure if I understand.

          To gloss over _a lot_ of details:

          In the following I will use “we” to refer to blue tribe and “them” to refer to people who flock to the likes of Marine Le Pen in lack of a real red tribe. I am aware that both groups are defined incredibly vaguely.

          What Scott Alexander, the SSC “commentariat” and Donald Trump made me realize, is that my tribe and its ideology insofar as they are different constantly inflicts harm on their tribe by having stacked the deck of the game we call society vastly against them. [Tangetially, I used to believe (again simplified) that the stackedness was perfectly described by wealth distribution and from there on its all Pareto. But there seems to be more to it, one might call it culture or, if so inclined, “the Cathedral”]. There is a war going on, and I am on the winning team. Yay!

          Their tribe I cannot understand for I am not part of it. Their ideology, however, seems to involve things very close to shooting refugees at borders. [Another tangent: I have been to Calais twice the last 18 month, once on Eurostar once by car on the infamous motorway through the so called “Jungle”. Political positions aside, it is heartbreaking what a dehumanized place of fear Europe has become.]

          So here is the thing. I come from a mindset where the deck being stacked is just the way things are and shooting fellow humans is a very bad thing to do. But: I find it very easy to imagine the opposite mindset, where shooting intruders is a natural right but stacking the deck of society is a crime against humanity.

          In other words: when I wrote about people getting hurt in the post above, I was aware that I used a very biased definition of “hurt” of the sticks and stones variety. “… but being an outcast from the culture of mainstream success can never harm me”.

          And, I find it very hard to see how this problem could be framed in terms of orthodoxy and wrongness. Perhaps you could elaborate.

          • EU orthodoxy, especially in Germany, combined two incompatible policies–generous subsidies to refugees and easy immigration of people claiming to be refugees.

            One possible, and I think desirable, solution is to eliminate the subsidies, make no serious attempt to check whether people are refugees, not even require the claim. People who want to come to work and support themselves come. People who want to come because they are desperate come. People who want to come to free ride on European level welfare payments do not come. That, as I understand it, is pretty much the current Czech policy.

            People hostile to the current orthodoxy could conceivably modify their position in that direction. Their enemies are then not all foreigners but foreign freeloaders. Still an out group to define themselves against–along with the outgroup of the current political ins who support the current policy.

            I don’t know the movements well enough to guess whether that particular example works, and I don’t know enough about the EU to offer other suggestions of mistaken orthodoxies that could be organized against.

          • Alex says:

            David:

            Thank you for the reply.

            I guess what you are missing, is that “red tribe as defined by Le Pen (the stereotype, not actual Marine Le Pen)” itself heavily relies on subsidies. There is no way they would be taken serious with the claim to “cut their subsidies not ours” and I assume that they are very well aware, that a more general claim will harm their own (you might say shortsighted) interest.

            Anecdotes:

            – We get newspaper coverage along the lines of “Good patriotic mother of two thrown out of her house to make room for filthy immigrants” where close inspection reveals that it was not in fact “her” house but communal owned. She just happened to live there for whatever sad story of her life.

            – Knowing this, Germany is on the verge of an arms race in terms of who gets more subsidies (patriots or newcomers), which might revert the belated Thatcherism of the last 20 years. This is actively discussed on the level of federal government. Keynes might have applauded, but I assume you might not.

            – Germany’s local brand of Le Pennists was founded by an economist along the lines of your reasoning but was practically overrun by the disenfrachised “no, lets not do that, better shoot at borders” types. I have zero hope that this is reversible. Or phrased differently: actual events are the precise opposite of your best case, sadly enough.

          • John Schilling says:

            – We get newspaper coverage along the lines of “Good patriotic mother of two thrown out of her house to make room for filthy immigrants” where close inspection reveals that it was not in fact “her” house but communal owned. She just happened to live there for whatever sad story of her life.

            I am reminded of the fact that most of the pre-1948 residents of That Bit Of Land Between The Jordan And The Med, didn’t own their homes and farms but happened to live there until the legal owners decided to sell the land to someone with more money. Such was the sad story of their lives. Now they are part of an exciting new story…

            Please understand that people who live in a place for a long time will, regardless of legal ownership, come to think of that place as home. And as theirs. A claim whose moral legitimacy will be recognized by all their tribe. If there is any contention on that point, they will take what is theirs with fire and blood. And without close examination of newspaper reports saying that your team is and ought to be winning, yay.

          • Alex says:

            John:

            I feel that you could have phrased that with less mockery of my post. Regarding “saying that your team is and ought to be winning, yay.” I suspect, you misread my intentions. Other than that, insightful, as always.

            Maybe I came across less charitable than I thought. Heck, maybe I _am_ less charitable than I thoght in that regard. I actively hate entitlement. I find it to be one of the greatest bugs in human psyche. If a public entity cannot give a poor woman (I did certainly not say the sad story part in cynism) a home without her gradually feeling that she has a natural right not to social security in the abstract, but to this particular home, from were I’m coming that is a problem. Though not her fault of course.

            In the abstract it is society’s job to ensure that this woman is not dependent on communal alms and society has terribly failed. This in the spirit of the Scott Alexander piece “Burdens”.

            But in the particular, this house is not hers and I find myself unable of mercy. Probably my fault.

            EDIT: One other thing. The Palestine analogy does not hold because a new state was established. I’m talking about consensus of ownership within a state. If you throw that under the bus, I’m unsure what is left of modern capitalist society ™.

          • Tibor says:

            @David: Almost the Czech policy. You still need to get a working visa. I think it is relatively easy, demonstrated by the fact that many Ukrainians and Vietnamese usually with rather low qualifications work in the country (I think that the Vietnamese usually plan to immigrate, Ukrainians more often do not plan to stay). Still, an ideal policy from my (and I believe your) perspective would be to abolish those working visas (which would probably not be even possible from the EU perspective if for no other reason) and to introduce tax deductions for the immigrants before they are eligible for welfare, so that they would not have to contribute to the welfare system they do not profit from (this is politically completely impossible).

            What I find especially annoying about the current German policy is that a lot of its advocates talk about the needed “Arbeitskräfte” and how the refugees will provide this workforce for Germany, but do not seem to make much efforts to make it easier for non-EU citizens who already have decent qualifications (regardless of whether they come form Syria, Albania, Bolivia or Vietnam) to immigrate and work in the country. This suggests to me that they do not really care about open borders but about something else, I am not sure what exactly to be honest and I don’t quite understand it.

            @Alex:
            As for Frauke Petry’s “shooting of immigrants at the borders”, this is a little bit twisted. What she said was that there should be a limit on the number of refugee immigrants and that one should stop them at the borders. The journalists asked her whether that would mean shooting at people and she said something like “yes, if it were absolutely necessary to stop them”. I am no fan of AfD (past Bernd Lucke, who was much less conservative and much more libertarian), but I don’t like when someone’s words are twisted like this. I am not saying that you are twisting them, the media simply reported “Petry wants to shoot refugees at the borders”, which is a very uncharitable interpretation of what she said. That said, there probably are people among the AfD supporters who actually would not shy away from shooting people at the borders, there are probably some outright neonazis who vote for them. At the same time, there are probably radical communists who vote Labour in the UK, who would want to nationalize the economy and purge the country of the “bourgeoisie”, who are just as awful. It would be misleading to say that all Labour voters are like that though. Similarly, AfD draws supporters for various reasons and it is not even all about the Refugee politics (even though it is a major factor). The problem with German politics today is that Merkel managed to create something akin to a “national unity government” with no real opposition and many people are displeased with that. Other questionable issues which make people either vote the FDP (kind of like a very very moderate libertarian party) or AfD are the way Merkel has moved her CDU much further to the left (in economic issues, for example she caved in to the SPD and introduced the minimum wage law which the CDU was strongly against), her sudden change of mind after Fukushima, when she worked hard in the Bundestag to push through a legislation to postpone the closing date of a lot of German nuclear plants and a few months after she did that (i.e. after the Fukushima accident) she turned around 180° and decided to close the nuclear plants much faster than even originally planned (which causes quite a lot of problems in Germany since it is a big change and too fast). Many people were also displeased with the way she dealt with the Greek debt crisis and generally about her inconsistent politics. AfD gains supporters for all of these reasons, it is definitely not as simple as “there is a bunch of ‘ignorant red tribers’ who want to shoot foreigners at the borders”.

          • @Alex:

            Why can’t the Le Pen people take the position that good French people are entitled to subsidies but foreigners are only welcome to come it they are willing to pay their way? Most people in most countries take it for granted that fellow citizens get better treatment than others.

            Indeed, they could argue that letting foreigners come in and go on welfare threatens the needy and deserving French welfare recipients, whereas letting foreigners come in and pay taxes helps support them.

          • At something of a tangent, but relevant to the Le Pen movement (pere).

            Many years ago I was invited to a conference on something or other in Paris. A little while before it was due to happen I was told that many of the American participants had withdrawn in protest of a French fascist being invited.

            My reaction was that that was a reason to go. Fascism had obviously been an ideology that appealed to lots of people, talking with a fascist would help me understand it, and I had never before had a good opportunity to do so.

            As it turned out, the “fascist” withdrew in counter-protest, but I managed to arrange to have dinner with him. He was part of Le Pen’s movement, hence the label. But I wouldn’t call him a fascist–for one thing he was as down on Christianity as on Judaism, perhaps more so. He thought classical antiquity had been the high point of European civilization and it had been all downhill since then.

            His view of America was wall to wall McDonalds, so I enjoyed telling him about the Society for Creative Anachronism. Interesting dinner.

            Apologies if I have told this story here before, as is possible.

          • Creutzer says:

            As for Frauke Petry’s “shooting of immigrants at the borders”, this is a little bit twisted. What she said was that there should be a limit on the number of refugee immigrants and that one should stop them at the borders. The journalists asked her whether that would mean shooting at people and she said something like “yes, if it were absolutely necessary to stop them”. I am no fan of AfD (past Bernd Lucke, who was much less conservative and much more libertarian), but I don’t like when someone’s words are twisted like this.

            On the one hand, you’re right, of course. On the other hand, given that we know how the press behaves, it strikes me as a really dumb mistake on her part to utter the word “yes” as part of her response. She should have said “only if it were absolutely necessary to stop them”, which is quite a bit harder to twist.

          • Alex says:

            Tibor:

            Nah. “Shooting people at borders” was me, vastly oversimplifying how “my tribe” perceives “their ideology”. I thought I made that transparent. I even put “very close to” in there to signal that I realize that shooting might be an extreme stance within “their tribe”. It was intended as an image to convey the tone of the discussion to non european readers. Might have failed.

            I have basically no interest in discussing what Mrs. Petry in particular might or might not believe. For one thing I do not see how we could get reliable insight into that question. (David might say: revealed preferences. As far as I am aware she has not actually shot someone so there is that.)

            David: Re: “Why can’t the Le Pen people..”

            I hope I have not given the false impression of being a Frenchman. I choose Le Pen as my stereotype because I suspected she was best known internationally. For the purpose of the narrative of “my tribe” (it might have becaome apparent by now that I am reluctant to really identify as blue tribe, but who would I be kidding) it could have been Geert Wilders or aformentioned Frauke Petry or even Victor Orban (i. e. someone in an actual position of power).

            That being said, what you suggest might be inside the Overton window in France, I really don’t know. “Here” it would come across as incredibly hypocritical.

            [And while some might have been able to guess my actual country of origin, I’d like to maintain plausible deniablity for anonymity reasons.]

          • Creutzer says:

            @David, Alex:

            Why can’t the Le Pen people take the position that good French people are entitled to subsidies but foreigners are only welcome to come it they are willing to pay their way? Most people in most countries take it for granted that fellow citizens get better treatment than others.

            I’m actually not sure of the extent to which this is still taken for granted in the EU. The Nazis have made everything within a vast perimeter around turf-based or ethnocentric nationalism completely untouchable.

            The Germans have tried a workaround: Be proud of the country’s institutions and your contribution to them. But that leaves out in the rain precisely all those who are too unfortunate to be able to make a meaningful contribution to society. If you do not contribute to the institution, you have no basis for claiming that you’re more deserving than a foreigner.

            The French are in a similar predicament: They like to think they’re egalitarian and meritocratic, so if you come there and behave well, what grounds does a Frenchman have to claim that you’re still not as good as him?

          • Alex says:

            What Creutzer said.

          • Tibor says:

            @Creutzer:
            You’re absolutely correct. But then it becomes a criticism of her political skill and not of her opinions.

            @all:
            I am not sure to which extend the other “far-right” parties in Europe are actually as socialist as Marine Le Pen. I know that Lucke’s AfD was a bit socially conservative and quite economically liberal. I think Petry’s AfD is definitely way more conservative but I am not sure the party if has also become more economically socialist or not. I have no idea about Geert Wilders’ or Orban’s economic policies. UKIP seems to be quite economically liberal. All of those parties get some votes from the “angry working class” who mostly also prefer the welfare state (and who used to vote some kind of social democratic parties), some votes (at least in the case of UKIP and probably still AfD) from people who are economically liberal and willing to “bite the conservative bullet” (or are also socially conservative), finding it the lesser of two evils. The question is how much these parties depend on the votes of “the working class” for whom cutting welfare to everyone would be a no-go and how much on the votes of economic liberals who would actually applaud cutting the welfare state down, or reducing it at least. My impression is that the first care more about limiting welfare immigration than about keeping the welfare state (at least in Germany) at the current level.

            Also, there are different welfare programs with different payments and rules for the citizens who are “in need” and for the asylum seekers. So the system in Europe (or at least in Germany) as it is today actually does favour the citizens. Saying that it should favour them even more is not such a big step further, I would imagine. In Germany, it also probably depends a lot on the Bundesland. I think that in Bavaria or in the former DDR, “welfare for us, not for them” would not be met with any serious opposition. In NRW, I would expect the opposite.

            Denmark seems to be particularly stern with the refugees (even confiscating their property on arrival and using it to finance the welfare payments) and for the Danes the idea of “welfare for us, not for them” seems to be quite natural. It might have been different 10 years ago, but with the Folkeparti as a de facto part of the government (and perhaps still on the rise), it looks like that is the current Danish mainstream. In Austria, my impression is that the government is keeping the FPÖ at bay more or less by doing the FPÖs program. France seems to try to get rid of the refugees about as much as Austria, which does not strike me as very egalitarian or “it does not matter whether you are French or not”. Keeping the welfare recipients away from the country or limiting their numbers based on their nationality is just another way of saying “welfare for our citizens is more important than for other people”. Even Germany is indirectly limiting the number of new welfare recipients in the country – by the (IMO horrible) deal with Turkey and also by relying on Austria and the Balkans to keep their borders shut.

          • Tibor says:

            @Alex: Ok, sorry I did not get that. I’ve just heard some people say things more or less like “look at them, they all want to shoot foreigners at the borders, they are all nazis with a different name”. And that is just too easy. I would have objections against the AfD (but also against the current German government) but the objections ought to be about concrete policies or suggested policies, not about who was caught saying this or that outrageous thing in the media (especially when it was in fact at least a bit less outrageous than it appears) which is unfortunately what it boils down to most of the time. And because of that, I jumped into a conclusion that you are also one of those people. So sorry again for that.

  62. Urstoff says:

    For better or worse, my compulsive contrarianism and severe skepticism of any strongly-held belief has kept me out of most belief-based tribes. That’s why I find the rationalist community (along with most other online communities, as well as religions, political parties, etc.) personally distasteful. I would imagine a society full of skeptical, compulsive contrarians would disintegrate within a year, though.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There are a bunch of societies full of skeptical compulsive contrarians! This is probably one of them! Classical skeptic groups like CSICOP and so on are another. I admit they are not perfectly contrarian, in the sense that the CSICOP people generally don’t go “Wait, what if there’s paranormal stuff after all” to annoy other CSICOP members, but I’ve seen some college atheist groups that degenerate to that level, and rationalists definitely do.

      • Urstoff says:

        That’s true about the SSC comments, which is why I visit here every day. Other skeptic groups always seem to be too adversarial to me. I got over being overtly mad at religion and other non-science nonsense as an undergrad. I consider it kind of unfortunate that the word “skeptic” conjures images of angry internet atheists rather than, say, Pyrrho, Sextus Empiricus, or Hume.

  63. I found the post very helpful in thinking about how people change throughout their lives – they slide into new tribes, although possibly alongside their peers.

    This isn’t exactly an ‘ages of man or woman’ explanation, but it seems to me that children probably align with different tribes than teenagers. Teenagers in general form strong tribes to identify themselves and seek partners. Adults definitely join different tribes when they have children, and also when they find(!) settled employment. Older people (personal anecdote) find it hard to find a new tribe once they leave or are expelled from their work tribe. I guess really old people join the ‘not as young as I used to be’ tribe and stereotypically spend time with other members of the tribe comparing medical histories.

    Your mileage may vary.

    • Richard Gadsden says:

      My parents found the U3A tribe when they retired from work (they’re Silents, of course they were able to retire, says the Xer).

      As far as I can tell, they don’t do much of the actual learning stuff, just the tribe-building stuff.

  64. gattsuru says:

    It doesn’t have much of an outgroup yet – maybe just bioethicists and evil robots.

    Nah. We rail against RationalWiki, we hiss and repel from Arthur Chu’s articles, and even if we oppose trash journalism like Fox News it’s the stuff putting on airs of respectability like Vox we can’t stand. Even the folks that are fairly friendly to feminism as a goal will get in tooth-and-nail fights with Social Justice as a competing tribe, especially in the tumblrsphere: see the interactions with StormingTheIvory or even RedDragDiva.

    I think the outgroups defines a tribe as much, or maybe even more, than the rallying flag or even the pre-existing differences. There’s a reason that some of the strongest tribes in video games were Horde or Alliance, or the mess going on in EVE, instead of simple unopposed affiliation. That’s probably the big danger.

    ((This raises that question of whether you can mitigate the negatives, such as by having an outgroup that you can’t harm or maybe isn’t even real people.))

    • stillnotking says:

      ((This raises that question of whether you can mitigate the negatives, such as by having an outgroup that you can’t harm or maybe isn’t even real people.))

      This seems to be the implicit purpose of a good deal of fantasy & sci-fi. The most effective means is to portray the outgroup as real-ish, but possessing entirely negative qualities so that their outgroup-ness is natural or inevitable, like Tolkien’s orcs.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I think that last bit has been tried, at least- I know a number of Christian sources, for example, who use Satan primarily as a way to try to redirect natural disgust reactions and antipathy away from real people. Hate the sin, love the sinner.

      Results have been mixed.

    • Horde or Alliance was a weird case, because a fair number of players had characters on both sides.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Wasn’t there a dynamic where horde players were the nerdier more focused ones, while alliance were more casual. (The mechanism I heard was that nerdier people like playing as Orcs and Undead while more normal people liked to play as the more humanlike races.

        I know that Horde guilds dominated which guilds cleared new dungeons first.

        • Sivaas says:

          The dichotomy I’ve always seen, and experienced in-game, is that Horde players are stronger at the game, but less forgiving of mistakes, which leads to more unpleasant interaction (“git gud, scrub”). Alliance players, on the other hand, were much nicer to interact with, but would get much worse results in progression content, potentially because poor players would be able to get by without being called out for a much longer time.

          This may have been because for a long time Horde had mathematically superior racial abilities for PvE content, so the top raiding guilds always had an edge by picking Horde (although there were always high-end competitive guilds on both sides). It wasn’t a huge advantage, but it led to a slow drift towards Horde, and thus players still playing Alliance were picking the look of the races, their friends, and/or identification with the Alliance in the storyline over a slight increase in effectiveness in the game. Unsurprisingly, the players who are more interested in the slight effectiveness edge make for more successful group content.

          • Sastan says:

            Pretty much this. I played both, but primarily Alliance, but my horde toon was by far the most advanced, even with much less play time. Both sides had progression-focused people, but the Horde ratio of those to casuals was much, much higher.

            And because of path dependence, once this was established by the early-game mechanics, it became self-sustaining even after the mathematical advantages were mostly balanced or eliminated.

          • Andrew says:

            This is approximately correct, but was a lot smaller in effect than it was usually purported to be. I dropped out of college the first-time thanks to being a member of a high-end Alliance raiding guild for a while- and also did Gladiator-level PVP as Alliance – but also raided somewhat more casually as Horde, so got to see both sides pretty thoroughly. One of the larger bits I noticed was that you’d see a LOT more women on Alliance-side, which generally made larger raid groups much more enjoyable. Mixed-gender groups are generally more polite and more constructive, I’ve found, in most cases. Smaller 5-man groups were far less dependent on such dynamics, and I had an impression that it was easier to find reliable hard-core “random” mates for 5-man or 10-man content as Horde. But once you started looking at 40-man/25-man stuff, it was far less stressful in the better-organized less-hateful Alliance guilds.

            EDIT – I’d like to stress that the differences were minor, though. We’re talking 99% similar between the factions, so the changes I’m talking about are quite marginal.

          • Sivaas says:

            Yeah, it’s important to note that you can find a group at any level of skill in either faction (although top-end progression has pretty much been dominated by Horde for a while now).

            I think the effect magnifies though: if the Horde is just a LITTLE more rude/effective, you’ll typically hear about this at some point, and may end up choosing a faction based on “well I want to succeed” or “I want nicer people to play with”. So now you have, in addition to the original impetus, self-selection for success or niceness over the other. Now more people are noticing the differences, and maybe they take it a little more seriously, and more people feel like they need to take these stereotypes into account, and then the differences widen, etc.

            I think one of the advantages of large-group raiding like you mention is that there’s less individual responsibility. One of the common problem in a raid group is a player who isn’t doing his job well, but is well-liked within the group. In legitimately challenging 5 or 10-man content this is a non-starter, the player is such a large percentage of the group that every time they mess up significantly it’s almost a guaranteed failure. In a 25-man or 40-man raid, their contribution is something that can easily be accounted for, and maybe a pleasant raiding environment counts for more than a couple other players having to work a little harder. Of course as the skill required increases, this becomes less and less possible, and the stress factor becomes less about the raid leader pressuring you and more about the actual challenges of the raid.

    • Wrong Species says:

      What Scott is referring to when he says rationalists and the people who comment here are not quite the same group of people.

  65. RobertKerans says:

    Really good post. I think Randall Collins’ ritual chains theories are pretty relevant to the ideas discussed, certainly re how groups/tribes sustain themselves (Nice overview/review of Interaction Ritual Chains and Randall Collins’ blog is generally interesting).

  66. SUT says:

    The volume knob on these inter-group conflicts comes down to one question: “Do we need a central authority that exerts power of both you and I?”

    For example, when the Pope was the most powerful man in Europe, and controlled “the media” (all writing and thinking), had implicit control over vast properties in every country (church estates), there were wars over who would be Pope. People fought, because the reward was worth it.

    When Christians came to America, there wasn’t some eureka moment of tolerance, there was just enough space to spread out among groups at each other’s throats. And there was no need to create a central authority who would govern the intractable divide between the Puritans in Boston and the Puritans in Rhode Island – to each his own.

    Now the Sunni/Shia thing is driven by the need to have state government which will get paid with the oil money. And then distribute that wealth. If you’re a Sunni minority in Iraq you’ve got a problem: the Shia think they might as well cut you out, and distribute more wealth to themselves. And the same thing happens when the Sunni controlled Iraq. There is no pie growth, only ways to make it get cut up into less pieces. Remove the imperative to have a state oil money comptroller, and this conflict goes away.

  67. Nero tol Scaeva says:

    I always felt I was weird because I never really got the burning need to belong to a tribe. I just sorta float between tribes without any loyalty. But a lot of my hobbies I see as super tribal: My first real deep dive into a particular culture was the metal subculture back in the late 90s. This was around the time that Nu-metal started getting popular and there was SO MUCH HAET for it among the “real” metalheads. I mean, I didn’t particularly care about nu-metal because I preferred faster/heavier stuff but man! This one band called Nevermore decided to tune their guitars down and there was a collective apoplexy among my “community”; which was really just a few message boards since I lived in the middle of nowhere.

    Speaking of that, the reason I lived in the middle of nowhere was because I was in the military. Again, lots of tribal stuff in that culture goes without saying, but I was still somewhat not drinking all of the Kool-Aid (I did enjoy inter-service cracks like “Do you know what ARMY stands for? Aren’t Really Marines Yet! LOL!”); hell I was even on the honor guard — performing funerals/folding flags for WWII veterans and their families, being in charge of the colors at official military functions — but that honor guard subculture of the military was probably the closest I came to being super absorbed in the tribalism bug that I really felt it was my identity.

    And then it wasn’t until I got out of the military that I was able to actually meet nerds in real life: I found people who were passionate about video games like I was (since I had been playing video games for as long as I can remember) and who also thought it was cool to listen to video game music as well. I also met some atheists in real life too. And then I started getting involved in the dance scene, which is another community besides the rationalist one where, on the male side at least, 90% of the people are in some STEM field. I always found that pretty odd. How/why does social dance attract male nerds? Though I fit in pretty well since I’m a programmer as my day job and I’m also in grad school for computer science.

    But tribalism exists in the dance scene too! At some early lindy hop exchanges late at night (e.g., 3am) some people would start playing blues music in a separate room because it was slower to dance to and it’s freaking 3am people get tired! Blues dance then congealed into its own thing and then the swing/blues scene became standoff-ish (no blues music at lindy events!!). A couple of years later there would be camaraderie among the two scenes and then a few years later more standoffness. This seems to cycle every 4-5 years. And then there’s the tribalism between lindy hop/east coast swing and west coast swing (lindy hop is by black people! West coast is by stuffy white people mangling the original black people lindy hop! Etc).

    It actually looks like a modern version of the Shia/Sunni split. East coast/lindy hoppers try to recreate the original form of lindy hop, whereas west coasters are more affluent/flashy and more popular.

    And then some ethnogenesis happened in the blues dance scene too: Some people started doing blues dance to (gasp!) non-blues music! And then these dancers dancing to non-blues music started incorporating other dance styles into the dance (e.g., west coast swing, salsa, tango, etc.). As you might predict, this created some more heated debates and cries of things resembling “contamination”; we had blues dance and blues-fusion dance — which is still a thing to a lot of peoples’ chagrin — and now there’s a separate category of fusion dance.

    Fusion dance is probably the tribe I identify with mostly these days, since its very nature is a joining of multiple different dancer-tribes. Which fits my float-between-tribes lifestyle: Non-tribalism seems to be my tribe.

    • Urstoff says:

      Jeff Loomis destroys.

      Fortunately, I think that the metal subculture, such as it exists today, tends to make fun of the TRVE KVLT type of metal fan as much as anyone else.

      • Nero tol Scaeva says:

        BLACK METAL IST KRIEG!

        Also, as one of my waffling-between-tribes acts, I’m writing a fusion-dance song that’s actually a cover/remix of a My Dying Bride song.

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      > How/why does social dance attract male nerds?

      My pet theory is that both math and dance express some base un-named thing, only math is much more abstract (and uses the verbal/rational part of the brain instead of the kinesthetic). I’m not sure how exactly to communicate what that thing is – playing around with communicating ideas?

      In any case, blues dancing has a lot of interesting things for nerd out over, and it’s in a very different area than a lot of more traditional nerd interests. Like, perhaps the demographic is “nerds that stopped wanting to be seen as clever”

      • Psmith says:

        I think the explanation is much simpler than that. It’s really nice to have an activity that’s explicitly structured around interacting with members of the opposite sex where the rules are not just written down but actually posted in multiple locations in the venues.

        • ThrustVectoring says:

          Right, so it’s not selecting for male nerds, it’s selecting for people with anxiety over accidentally violating social norms.

    • Anon says:

      Fusion dance, as a community, also puts deliberate effort into community building: witness for example recess. For myself, I’ve felt more community at recess than at almost anything else I can recall – hundreds of people, most of whom I didn’t know, yet I smiling at strangers and passers-by stop to sit around our fire and talk.

      • Nero tol Scaeva says:

        Yeah, I enjoyed recess, but the explicit community-ness just rubs me and my not-wanting-to-be-in-a-tribe feels the wrong way.

  68. Arthur B. says:

    “I’ve found that I enjoy being in tribes as much as anyone else.”

    Of course you do, much like you probably enjoy refined sugars and oversleeping. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to give in to the cushy sensation of turning off your individuality and joining the tribe. If you interiorize what tribalism does, it should disgust you so much that you can’t even enjoy partaking in it.

    • Frog Do says:

      A bad analogy, you still sleep and consume carbs, you just don’t overconsume them. Similarly with tribalism, unless you want to be a beast or a god.

      • Rowan says:

        “A beast or a god” sounds so cool a way to describe it that I’m half-tempted to oppose tribalism for that reason alone.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You lost me when you compared not being in a tribe to not oversleeping. You’ll drag my sleeping-until-noon-on-weekends from my cold dead hands.

  69. Steven Hales says:

    An excellent post. All throughout it I couldn’t stop thinking about Nietzsche’s idea that in their origin gods were a community rallying point, a sort of tribal mascot that then changed and altered over time to a kind of abstract flashpoint for a rule-governed religion. I think Nietzsche was on to something when he argued that this change in remit might not be a good thing—we could be enslaved by an outmoded tribalism that is harmful to our lives in modernity. So it’s not just a matter of in-group/out-group, or an archipelago of tribes, but maybe some tribal loyalties really ought to be replaced with better ones.

  70. Brendon says:

    If you are interested in the subject of tribalism, you’ll want to read “Becoming the Barbarian” by Jack Donovan – one of the best books on tribalism I’ve ever read. Just came out – highly recommend.

  71. stillnotking says:

    I’m glad this essay departs from the usual “tribalism, boo!” shtick that so many have been guilty of — including, if I may say so, you. It isn’t going anywhere, and all efforts to overcome it merely result in some variant of an anti-tribalism tribe, uninhibited and terrible in its self-righteousness, like Red Guards. The only thing that works is the establishment of supra-tribal norms and authorities to ensure that sectarian conflict is limited to speech. Even that only sort of works, but the good news is we’ve gotten quite good at it over the centuries and don’t need to start from scratch. Or some of us have. The Muslim world never has gotten its act together in that respect, for a variety of historical reasons, some of which you mentioned (lack of established clerical hierarchy being the biggie).

    • Sastan says:

      Anti tribalists are usually just in denial about their tribal membership.

      “I don’t belong to a tribe! I just have like minded people who are all more intelligent and moral than those evil tribalists over there, who are clearly inferior!”

      Claiming to not belong to a tribe is usually either out of immaturity (fish don’t see the water), or as a dodge to conceal a different allegiance. Everyone has tribes. Some more than others, fanatics often have only one, moderates are usually squishy members of many. But we all have them.

  72. Erik says:

    If you’re looking for further reading on the subject of tribalism, I’d recommend http://smile.amazon.com/Us-Them-Understanding-Your-Tribal/dp/0316090301/. I remember it as a thorough overview of what tribes are, how they form, and how they behave, that didn’t challenge any of my pre-existing biases. Basically a longer version of this exact post.

  73. Anthony says:

    A topic I’ve thought a lot about!

    One of the things I find most interesting about this is that the membership of what you call “tribes,” and I call “societies,” often overlap. These overlaps create awkward situations for individuals who find themselves beholden to two (or more) mutually incompatible ethical codes. An example:

    My girlfriend’s family own property in a little religious community on the shores of a Great Lake. The religious community is explicitly Christian, and you need a letter from a pastor declaring you as such before you can have full voting rights as a community member. One member, a fairly wealthy man, would like to sell his property to a non-Christian (easy decision: bigger market == higher price), and he’s suing the community on the basis that their rules are discriminatory and thus in violation of the US constitution.

    Members of the community are in a bind. On the one hand, they’re Americans — members of a large community whose established mores explicitly prohibit religiously discriminatory economic practices. On the other hand, they’re members of a small lake community, whose families have known each other for generations, who grew up as children together and who hope that their children will grow up together, and they understandably want to preserve that. They know that many members of their community are (not so) secretly unreligious, but they also know that if they take down the religious requirement, demand for lakefront property will drastically increase their home values, until individual families begin selling because to not do so would be insane. And once families start selling to strangers, well, that’s the end of their idyllic anti-Molochian community.

    The community is acting, in other words, to protect itself against both internal and external interference. “External interference,” however, refers to interference by regular citizens of the United States — which every community member is. The United States is the very country which protects their property rights, and allows their smaller community to exist in the first place!

    I don’t really have an opinion on who should win in this case. I think that members of the organization will fight for their integrity, and eventually lose, but they’ll provide their children with nice, social, connected childhoods as long as they can. Those children will eventually leave, even without high property values, because you can’t keep the 19th century going into the 21st, and religious hypocrisy is an actual burden to carry with you. It’s a tragedy all around.

    • John Schilling says:

      One member, a fairly wealthy man, would like to sell his property to a non-Christian (easy decision: bigger market == higher price)

      This member is proposing to sell a plot of residential property to someone who will not be admitted into the local community. If he discloses this, his market is effectively limited to various hermits, misanthropes, and loners, which is probably a smaller market than Christians and which will likely use that circumstance to negotiate a lower price. If he does not disclose this, he is proposing a fraud. Seems to me that selling to a Christian would be both easier and more lucrative.

      It would be better still for this man if the local community didn’t exist or didn’t hold its present attitudes, of course, and wishing for reality to be other than it is has a lot going for it in every respect except efficacy.

      • Anthony says:

        You have the situation exactly, except for one thing: if the local community’s bylaws are erased, there will be no restrictions on sale for anyone, and the seller thinks (as do the community members) that this will lead to a general sell-off, as individual members jump ship and cohesion is lost.

        The fragility of the situation has a lot to do with the fact that the religious community is geographically contained inside a larger, more ordinary town, with the usual Great-Lake-tourism summer-renters. If the walls come down, that larger community would engulf the smaller religious one.

        • John Schilling says:

          Ah, so this man wishes the local community didn’t exist, thinks it might be within his power to destroy it, and proposes to do so for his personal financial gain.

          And he’s still proposing fraud if he doesn’t disclose to potential buyers that they will be playing a crucial and highly visible role in his master plan to destroy a community that might not take kindly to being destroyed.

          • Anthony says:

            I think you’re overstating the nefariousness of these plans, or the conspiratorial nature of them. It’s quite simple: there are currently laws in place which give this community special rights to restrict the rights of non-Christians. As you understood, these laws serve as a “keep out” sign to average vacation-house buyers, and depress prices. If these laws were declared unconstitutional, prices would rise as consumers realized, correctly, that they were not buying into a legally closed-off community.

            Anyways, I don’t think anyone is talking about anything that amounts to fraud or criminality or even conspiracy, and I don’t think that any of that is really relevant to what I’ve written.

    • gbdub says:

      Is there a particular reason you’re not disclosing the name of the particular association? Just curious because there’s a chance it’s one in my hometown.

      • Anthony says:

        Uh, yeah — it’s not my town, but my girlfriend’s, and while I don’t think it’s a private matter, I don’t think it would be appropriate for a non-resident whose information is all second-hand to act as an authority on an issue where outside interference has an actual impact on people’s lives and families. I’m not excessively worried — really, I just don’t want this coming up in search results.

  74. ButYouDisagree says:

    This reminds me of what Scott Atran has written about Muslim terrorists.

    I think the “tribal theory of groups” has some limits.

    For one thing, even if many people’s motivation for joining and upholding groups is tribal, the theory kind of treats the details as arbitrary. But it makes a huge difference what texts, beliefs, and rituals groups use to bind themselves together. If you observe a bunch of atheists celebrating Saturnalia, you might want to know why they’re doing that. And the tribal theory of groups gives you part of the answer: these are people who have certain personality and intellectual traits, and they’re forming positive feelings of in-groupishness with others who share those traits. But you might not be satisfied with that answer. Why are they doing that ritual in particular? To get the full answer, it would be helpful to understand the content of atheism. More broadly, if we can decently predict the behavior of different groups based on the content that defines them, we should spend a lot of time thinking about that content and not just round off all group behavior to tribalism.

    I’m also skeptical that the “tribal theory of groups” succeeds for all the groups we would want it to explain. For Orthodox Jews, it seems like the ideology is the movement. You can’t really be in the group unless you follow basically 100% of the religious proscriptions. Apikorsim who share the history, cultural references, etc. are not in the movement. At the same time, the movement contains Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, who have significantly different history, customs, appearance, etc. (Of course there are also insular subgroups who are all about coming from the same small geographical region.)

  75. I’m still hoping that at some point you will notice the points in your own politics that you would not be “tempted to defend for any other reason.” Actually this has already happened to some extent, but there are still a few egregious examples where you appear to be totally oblivious.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Lucky I have people like you with perfect unmediated access to the truth to point out when I deviate from it.

  76. Anon. says:

    If there is such a thing as conservation of tribalism, Cleisthenes’ solution is absolutely brilliant. You can weaken geographic/religious/economic/ideological/etc tribes by using state power to force a _completely_ arbitrary tribal structure. It actually worked quite well.

    Imagine if congressmen were not elected from gerrymandered geographical areas but from a randomly selected 1/435th slice of the population.

    • Murphy says:

      Then there would be no constituency. If the slices are randomized each election then you have no congressman looking to serve your interests.

      Right now, say you’re an unpopular minority but living in a community of such. You’re a voting block in your local constituency and have a decent chance of bartering that voting block for decent representation from your representative.

      On the other hand, with the random system if there’s only a few thousand of you he knows that next election he’s likely only going to have one or 2 of you among his voters.

      Random constituencies would appear to pretty much only help the largest demographic groups since every politician will have an almost perfectly even incentive to serve them and only them.

      Liquid democracy would appear to be somewhat preferable.

      • Anon. says:

        >Random constituencies would appear to pretty much only help the largest demographic groups since every politician will have an almost perfectly even incentive to serve them and only them.

        Well that’s just a technical detail. You can split into fewer groups, and have them elect multiple candidates. That way minority candidates are electable.

        A similar issue that is not easy to solve is that sufficient geographic concentration would make it profitable for candidates to pander to a single area (e.g. New York City) because it has a sufficient number of people to elect them.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        Proportional systems can do this really well – if you’re a disliked minority, but you’re more than 1/435 of the population, then you can get a congressman of your own.

        • BBA says:

          Which is precisely why we don’t care for proportional systems in America. For a few years the New York City Council was elected by Single Transferable Vote, which led to a solid anti-Tammany majority on the Council for the first time in decades. Then the Communist Party won a couple of seats, there was a massive outcry, and the Council went back to single-member districts. (And, in what I’m sure was totally a coincidence, Tammany Hall went back to winning everything.)

          For similar reasons, every other city council with PR did away with it around the same time, except for Cambridge, Mass., where the Communist Party would win an election under any system.

  77. Mary says:

    ” 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. ”

    One wonders how the former contradicts the latter. . . .

  78. Mary says:

    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”.

    Oh, that’s very old usage. At least in the formal, legal sense. A lot of “bad things the Nazis did” got lumped under “genocide.” For instance, the systemic kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of children from eastern Europe (particularly Poland) for “racially valuable traits.” “When we see a blue-eyed child we are surprised that she is speaking Polish…. if we were to bring up this child in a German spirit, she will grow up as a beautiful German girl.” — Hans Frank

    The problem is, of course, that in ordinary speech it means “mass murder,” and lumping them all together is problematic to say the least.

  79. Leonard says:

    Is there such a thing as conservation of tribalism?

    Interesting, but I don’t think precisely correct. I think a bit closer is conservation of happiness + tribalism. Modern consumer society tends to dissolve all the tribes, without replacing them with anything; this leads to people feeling rootless, alienated, etc. Unhappy.

  80. John Ohno says:

    So, one thing you gloss over entirely that I find incredibly interesting is shibboleth formation / exclusionary behavior. After all, the defining attribute of a tribe is rarely one of those pre-existing differences — often it’s something purely artificial, emerging spontaneously under the pressure of group growth, as a proxy for either these differences or for group loyalty. When a shibboleth is a proxy for group loyalty, it often has next to nothing to do with the attributes of the group in question and everything to do with sacrificing a member’s ability to later operate in some other group. Sometimes these shibboleths are ritualized and become hazing rituals or initiation rituals (such as masturbating on a stolen skull to join the Skull & Bones society — performing an illegal and embarrassing act surrounded by your peers in order to open yourself up to blackmail in the case of some future defection), while others involve body modification (prison or biker tattoos, or the removal of finger joints in the yakuza — which, while ostensibly a punishment, is common enough that it’s an indicator of group membership to outsiders). On the far side is fashion: fashion of teenage counterculture movements is fairly temporary (no missing limbs — the most long-lasting side effect visible to outsiders comes from earrings) but consists largely of wearing things that would be considered explicitly unreasonable in more conservative groups (a dedicated punk or goth could not find employment, outside of dedicated shops intended to cater to punks or goths, without removing their group membership badges, and this is important to their operation as shibboleths). Even the good old ‘nerd purity test’ slots in here as a shibboleth mostly of loyalty demonstration: one sacrifices one’s time and effort to learn objectively useless information in order to demonstrate one’s dedication to group membership, and as the group grows the loyalty test becomes more extensive (up until it becomes profitable and a mirror version of the group appears wherein group membership is determined by spending money on objectively useless objects).

    • Sastan says:

      I don’t have much to add, other than to say I agree.

      And who can forget the last scene of “SLC Punk” when the protagonist slicks down his mohawk, dons a suit, and leaves the tribe for law school!

  81. I have a theory about group self-congratulation.

    People want to believe that they are made of good stuff, which is to say, better stuff than other people. This is hard to sustain by yourself, but easier if you’ve got a bunch of people agreeing with each other that they’re made of better stuff than their neighbors.

    As far as I can tell, group self-congratulation isn’t built around total delusion so much as it is built around overvaluing traits the group actually has.

    Heaven help you if you get caught up in some opposing group’s self-congratulation because that can leave you feeling as though your traits are intrinsically inferior.

    My alternate phrasing for “applause light” is “We…Like…Us”.

    • William Newman says:

      “built around overvaluing traits the group actually has”

      Overvaluing connotes incorrectness: a mistake or dishonesty. But there’s a possibility of honest disagreement, too.

      Periodically people will report a survey about what a high proportion of people think of themselves as above average drivers, and how a high proportion shows that people are poor observers or otherwise fundamentally mistaken. Seldom do people seem to think about how it can also show that surveys are often carelessly constructed. A very cautious driver tends to be a person who thinks being very cautious is particularly important and honestly assesses himself as above average, while a fast driver can easily be someone who thinks it is important and gets irritated at the very cautious driver and thinks of himself (and various other fast drivers) as above average.

      I don’t know if there are many groups of very cautious drivers or fast drivers forming themselves into tribes, but if there were they could have tribal solidarity in their disagreement about the values of these traits, and it still might be misleading to say that they were “overvaluing” them. (Because there are some reasons to prefer one, some reasons to prefer the other.)

    • Sastan says:

      Extend that a little more. What all tribes need to perpetuate themselves is status independence. They* need to be able to reward members with the respect of men and sexual access to women. If your group is not large enough or cohesive enough that good deeds done for the group result in either of these things, it will not last. As an aside, any group without sufficient women must either fail quickly or parasitize other tribes. So, for instance, militaries are sub-tribes of larger tribes, capable of providing respect, but not sexual access. If status within the military does not translate into status in the larger tribe, the military will either be terrible, or get its sexual access through more direct and less consensual means.

      Subtribes provide a smaller pond in which to be a comparatively larger fish. Unless your path is easier to status within a smaller group, there is no reason to join it other than temporary interest. These groups form and crumble quickly. It’s the difference between a cult and a book club.

      *Not to suggest that groups or leaders of them do this all that intentionally, it’s just an outgrowth of how things happen usually. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes not.

      • “They* need to be able to reward members with the respect of men and sexual access to women”

        So women don’t have tribes or status for women doesn’t matter?

        I suggest at least including access to help with raising children and getting increased status for grandchildren.

        Recommended reading: Mother Nature by Sarah Hrdy. It’s about the complex process mothers (both human and non-human) go through for getting and allocating resources.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          So women don’t have tribes or status for women doesn’t matter?

          More like women’s status exists independently of men’s I think.

          There is a dynamic I’ve observed where women who compete in, and are successful in, men’s status games seem to loose status among their fellow women even as they gain status among the men and vice versa.

        • Anonymous says:

          Woman, excuse me, females aren’t real people. Just objects to be won.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            It’s weird to me that so many erstwhile “adults” don’t seem to understand where babies come from.

            Have you ever watched a nature program?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s weird to me that so many erstwhile “adults” don’t seem to understand where babies come from.

            Have you ever watched a nature program?

            It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s non sequitur man!

          • Randy M says:

            Do you think that there is some idealized world without competition for mates?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            That males compete for female attention / breeding rights is such a basic component of both biology and sociology that one would think it would go without saying.

            It should also go without saying that females compete amongst themselves to attract high status males.

            The fact that you seem to find this idea controversial says a lot more about you and your biases than it does Sastan.

            That or you’re just being shitty.

          • Anonymous says:

            The comment says “What all tribes need to perpetuate themselves is status independence. They* need to be able to reward members with the respect of men and sexual access to women.” It doesn’t say “Tribes need to help members find high quality mates”. It presupposes that men are the only people that matter.

            If you can’t see that then try spending less time around misogynists.

            Also MA you must be very happy that ESR is posting in this thread. It means you aren’t most pretentious ass.

          • NN says:

            That males compete for female attention / breeding rights is such a basic component of both biology and sociology that one would think it would go without saying.

            It should also go without saying that females compete amongst themselves to attract high status males.

            Except in the countless human societies that arranged marriages. From what I’ve read, that includes the vast majority of known human cultures throughout history, including forager cultures.

            The existence of prostitution in every known human culture also throws a wrench into the idea of human males constantly competing with each other for “sexual access to females.”

            Which is not to say that this never happens, but claiming it to be a human (let alone animal) universal seems to require ignoring a lot of alternative practices.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ NN:
            As a general rule, those arrangements are being made by mothers and fathers who are trying to secure the most advantageous match possible for their offspring. Not by drawing lots.

            The fact that the bulk of the competition occurs between parents rather than individual sons and daughters seems to have little bearing on the underlying mechanism.

            I’m also unclear on why you think the existence of prostitution undermines this theory, especially when considering the transactional nature of it.

            @ Anonymous:
            Did you stop to wonder where those mates are coming from? or are you going to insist on taking the “just being shitty” option?

          • Hlynkacg:

            “That males compete for female attention / breeding rights is such a basic component of both biology and sociology that one would think it would go without saying.”

            If it should go without saying, I don’t know why people keep saying it and saying it.

            “It should also go without saying that females compete amongst themselves to attract high status males.”

            I don’t know whether you noticed it, but that’s not what I said. I said females compete with each other for resources for their offspring.

            Sometimes those resources come from high status males, but (by definition, almost), that’s not most of what’s happening. Females also get resources themselves, from lowish and medium status males, from each other, and from family members.

            Even if you ordered a copy of Mother Nature immediately, you haven’t had time to read much of it, so I’ll tell you about the beginning. Scientists (mostly or entirely male) studied maternal behavior in animals by putting a mother and child in a cage and observing what the mother did. This left out the complexities of having more than one child, needing to get food, and social relationships within the mother’s species.

            It was “objectivity” of a sort which eliminated most of what was going on.

            I suspect you’re hypnotized by the fascinatingness of high-status people and you’re not seeing most of the world.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Hlynkacg
            Why don’t you try sketching out an actual argument instead of just waving vaguely in the direction of evo psyche?

          • NN says:

            As a general rule, those arrangements are made by mothers and fathers who are trying to secure the most advantageous match possible for their offspring. Not by drawing lots.

            The fact that the bulk of the competition occurs between parents rather than individual sons and daughters has little bearing on the underlying mechanism.

            How, exactly, does Bob’s mother and father meeting up with Alice’s mother and father and arranging a marriage between Bob and Alice qualify as “males competing for sexual access to females and females competing for the attention of high status males”?

            For one thing, the opposite sex parent (and often opposite sex members of the extended family) frequently has a lot of input on who their son or daughter marries, so saying that “males compete” or “females compete” is obviously inaccurate. For another thing, arrangements are often made based on factors that have nothing to do with the man or woman’s individual quality as a mate, including things like how big a dowry Alice’s family is willing to pay, or whether a marriage between the two families would create a useful alliance or end a feud, or any number of other things.

            Even ignoring all of that, parents trying to find the best possible match for their offspring is obviously a very different sort of competition from two male deer fighting with their antlers to determine who goes home with a female.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ Nancy Lebovitz:
            Maybe I’m just “hypnotized by the fascinatingness of high-status people” but it seems kind of obvious to me that male status is almost entirely determined by the potential resources and utility they bring to the table either as allies or potential mates. As such trying to count them separately from the resources/utility they provide feels a bit like equivocation to me.

            That said, there is probably an interesting argument lurking in your post about how a lack of scarcity basically makes the concept of fatherhood obsolete but I don’t think I have the knowledge or background required to make it.

            @ NN:
            Because, as a general rule (especially in a society where arranged marriages are the norm) Bob’s mother isn’t thinking about finding Bob a nice gay partner to settle down with. Bob’s mother is thinking about grandbabies.

            That means convincing Alice’s family that marrying Bob is a better deal than marrying Carl. Meanwhile Alice’s family might have their eyes on Dave the second son of a wealthy family from the next town over who in turn is wooing Edith…

            …and so it goes.

            It’s the exact same mechanism in play, just with the parents acting as their children’s proxies.

          • Nita says:

            @ Hlynkacg

            Have you ever watched a nature program?

            I’ve watched a few nature documentaries. Can’t say I’ve ever heard “a pride needs to reward its members with sexual access to females”. In fact, that would be a rather odd thing to say.

            After all, female lions themselves are members of the pride, so:
            – clearly you can’t reward them as described, unless they’re lesbian lions;
            – it’s odd to imagine the pride as a separate entity that keeps a stash of female lions and hands them out for good behavior.

          • It was only found out recently through DNA tests that female chimpanzees were having covert sex with members of other troupes.

            I thought it was hilarious that the female chimpanzees weren’t just fooling the males of their own troupe, they’d been fooling the scientists.

            http://www.deseretnews.com/article/562673/Female-chimps-are-sneaking-off-with-neighboring-hunks.html?pg=all

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Nita: A pride is a stash of female lions that male lions compete for sexual access to.

          • Nita says:

            No, a pride is a family of female hunters, their cubs, and one or two adult males useful for sex and defending the food.

          • hlynkacg says:

            As jaimeastorga2000 said a “pride” is a stash of female lions that male lions compete for sexual access to.

            The reason you almost never see prides with more than one or two adult males is that the competition for mates is literally cut-throat.

          • Nita says:

            the competition for mates is literally cut-throat

            Yeah, adult male lions are not very good at social cohesion — they also don’t do much hunting or cub-raising. The females value and feed the males while they’re in their prime, but attack them when they get old. So the males are more like outsiders living with the long-term social group for a few years, whose main contribution to the group is driving other outsiders away. (And this is why male coalitions exist at all — prides with better protection raise more offspring, which creates an evolutionary pressure on males to coexist in peace.)

            Of course, in other species, such as African wild dogs or humans, males are as social as females and fully participate in the life of the tribe. There is a lot of diversity in nature.

          • Nita:

            “There is a lot of diversity in nature.”

            I which people go into for psych bio and soc bio would remember this more thoroughly.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            There is a lot of diversity in nature.

            Yes there is, and yet “males compete for access to females” appears to be a universal mammalian trait, and quite common as far as the wider category of warm-blooded macro-organisms is concerned.

            You might think this is “evo pysch” nonsense but sooner or later you either have to admit that biology influences outcomes, or make the claim that humans were created out of a whole cloth rather than evolving naturally.

        • Sastan says:

          That’s a rather uncharitable characterization of what I wrote, Nancy.

          I’ll be the first to confess, I don’t understand female status games, but I know they exist. And I know that sexual access to the most desirable men is part of it. Women are a part of almost all tribes, but their status seeking will always be different in some ways than male. If you’d like to write up your take on female status games within tribalism, I’d love to read it.

          • “They* [tribes] need to be able to reward members with the respect of men and sexual access to women.”

            I don’t think I’m being uncharitable. I think the quoted bit implies that you don’t see women as members of tribes. I’m trying to imagine a set-up where functioning tribes make lesbian sex easier, and I just can’t manage it.

            Part of what I hate about soc bio is that it’s got a (presumably male) excessive focus on sex. Obviously (until fairly recent tech), sex is the first filter– no sex, no children. However, it’s not the only filter. We are an R species. Raising children takes a lot of post-birth support. You need to pay attention to how that works if you want to understand people and other R species.

            I don’t know much about how competition between women works in tribalism, so I can’t write you something about it, though I do think it would be a good idea for you to read Mother Nature.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nancy Lebovitz:

            I agree. The problem with the general “one-line evopsych answer to everything” is that it’s motte and bailey.

            The initial claim will be something like “all of human love and relationships reduces to women competing to get impregnated by high-status men, and men trying to impregnate as many women as possible.” Then someone says, “Really? Everything?” And the first person says, “Well, that’s involved somehow.”

          • Sastan says:

            It “implies” nothing of the sort. My main point was that groups need to be able to provide status which (for men) mostly breaks down into those two things. Money, power and all the rest seem to map onto those well enough that we can dispense with the secondary tokens as descriptors. Whatever the analog is for women applies just as strongly. This isn’t an evo psych argument, has nothing to do with genetics, is all about tribes and how they need to provide a benefit to go along with the costs they impose.

            A tribe which cannot enhance the status of those who sacrifice for the group will not last. Sometimes this is just an organic thing. Think how being in Fugazi is a status enhancer within the punk/hardcore community for refusing all recording contracts for so long and “living” the punk lifestyle. No one gets together and says “welp, best reward them with respect and hoes!”, but because they exemplify the values of the group so well, and have proven their dedication, they are seen as the anti-sellout. And so they get respect. And being a successful sub-genre musician has always translated into sexual access.

            For a more concrete and direct example, look at the Shia veterans of the Iraq/Iran war. The state of Iran, the supreme leader and his mullahs made a very public push glorifying the fallen, painting their portraits on buildings, etc. But for the survivors, many of whom were horribly disfigured by poison gas, with lifelong disabilities, they preached that it was the “jihad”, the holy struggle, of devout young muslim women, to marry and care for these veterans.

            The ways in which women attain status vary somewhat from society to society. And once again, here I’m on less sure footing. I’m in a bind, if I talk badly and wrongly about something I obviously understand less well, because I’m a man and have lived my life mostly in male spaces, then you get to accuse me of sexism for misunderstanding. If I just leave them out of the partial formulation, I am accused of not thinking they can be tribe members? So let me talk about status and my mom.

            My family belonged to a cult back in the ’80s. Sort of faith-healing, proto-quiverfullers. So, if you’re going to encourage women to have lots of kids, you had damned well better reward them for it with status. When women spoke to each other in the group, they would almost always ask how many kids someone had. “Seven!? Oh how wonderful!”. When I tell normal people that I’m one of seven kids, they say one of two things about her: either “So she didn’t have a job?” or “your poor mom!”. She married a prominent member of the cult (my dad), had seven kids, and was well-respected within the church. What she did was low status in the secular world, but high status in her tribe.

          • Nita says:

            @ Sastan

            If I just leave them out of the partial formulation, I am accused of not thinking they can be tribe members?

            You could have written, “a tribe needs to reward its members — e.g., for male members, these rewards can be the respect of other men and sex with the women”.

          • Sastan says:

            I could have written many things, Nita. Somehow I doubt anything I could have written would have been well crafted enough to dodge the charges of misogyny some people feel the need to scatter like confetti at a VE day parade. And honestly, I don’t care that much. If this be misogyny, make the most of it.

          • Nita says:

            @ Sastan

            Seriously? Look, everyone accidentally says something they don’t mean sometimes. It’s OK. You don’t have to make defiant political declarations every time it happens.

  82. Anon. says:

    You say you “enjoy being in tribes as much as anyone else”. Well no shit, memes proliferate because they’re good at proliferating. They wouldn’t be successful if they didn’t make you feel good. It’s not even that you’re voluntarily subordinating yourself to memes, it’s even worse: it’s involuntary subordination that the meme then tricked you into thinking is voluntary.

    It’s a parasite that has manipulated you into liking it.

    • Murphy says:

      I dunno, there’s some very successful tribes/religions with strong shame themes that work very hard to make people feel a great deal of shame for everyday stuff.

      • Self-hatred has an emotional hook to it for at least quite a few people. It’s not pleasure in the ordinary sense of the word.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz

          I have a lot that I want to say on this topic but I’m not sure I have the vocabulary. It ties into your rant further down about Joan of Arc.

          I’ve got a bit of an odd background, I spent 8 years in the Navy but spent most of my time attached to Marines or in foreign stations rather than going to sea. I’ve been a boxer and a shift a supervisor in a major metropolitan ER. I even did a short stint as a “Private Military Contractor” (aka mercenary). Eventually I got tired, and went back to school to be an engineer.

          I offer this background information because I’ve noticed that pretty much all of my previous occupations attract a particular personality “type” that to me is immediately recognizable but at the same time very difficult to describe. One of, if not the, defining characteristics seems to be an attraction to hardship and physical/mental “tests” that borders on (and in some cases ends up) being self-destructive. I wouldn’t call it “self hatred” so much as an “impulse towards martyrdom”.

          It pops up in discussions and in literature as “the spark” or “the bug” and “so-and-so has a terminal case”. The “Hook” that I think you are looking for is the veneration of “Grit”, and the sense of clarity, self-actualization, and being “in the zone” that comes from mind and body operating at the limit of their design spec. Joan of Arc definitely had it, and I suspect that it is this quality that her fellow soldiers latched on to.

          • Thank you very much for the information, but you’re talking about something completely different from sitting in a safe place thinking that I’m should kill myself because I still like books by white male authors with white male main characters. I’m past that one, but I haven’t solved the general problem.

            During racefail, there was some discussion of including neurodiversity, but the project never went anywhere. I can’t see any way to build a movement that includes people who are (at least) highly tolerant of conflict and people who are highly conflict averse.

          • keranih says:

            [I] should kill myself because I still like books by white male authors with white male main characters.

            …*shakes head* Damn those fuckers.

            Yes, yes some of them were very decent people and some of them were dear friends and some of them were both…but. Damn those fuckers.

            I can’t see any way to build a movement that includes people who are (at least) highly tolerant of conflict and people who are highly conflict averse.

            I won’t say there isn’t any way for that to happen, because the horse may yet sing, but in the same way, I see any movement/society/group that tries to be equal things to smart people and to dumb people, to socially outgoing people and to shy people, to wealthy people and people who only own the clothes they are standing in, to people who speak the local language well and to people with a bad lisp, to literate and illiterate people both, and to people who need ten hours of sleep and people who do very well on only five hours…

            It all comes out Harrison Bergeron, no matter the best intent – and that’s on the good days.

          • Just to clarify– I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t making plans or having an intention. I was obsessively thinking that I should kill myself, and part of it was feeling that I couldn’t live up to people’s standards and didn’t want to, and part it was “look at how bad these people are for making me feel so bad”.

            Still, by their standards, intention doesn’t matter, only effect… if their feelings and the feelings of those they choose to defend are hurt. They get to do what they please because they mean well.

            I’m not sure whether this is fair, but I see “ally” as meaning that if you grovel hard enough, you get to be an enforcer.

            As you say, damn those fuckers.

            By the way, Mieville’s Railsea is a threefer. Doesn’t read it if you care about scientific versimillitude, but it’s quite a good thrill ride with some charming meta humor. White male author, white male main character, and Eric Raymond doesn’t like Mieville for being a communist.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ Nancy
            I was trying to describe the impulsive drive towards self-destruction, and how it can be adaptive and even freeing in it’s own way.

            I hear undertones of it in in your described case, as the fear of being weighed and found wanting is always burbling just under the surface, but there seems to be an inferential step missing. Specifically “why this specific thing”, why is liking “books by white male authors with white male main characters” so much worse than *randomly selected horrible thing*?

          • I’m not very sure about what’s going on, though I clearly have an attraction to standards I can’t or don’t want to meet.

            I’m inclined to think that the real problem is the background “want to die” stuff, which is somewhat hard to get at– superficially, it isn’t emotionally charged, while the stuff about Social Justice is highly charged.

      • TheAltar says:

        Pleasure isn’t the only addictive emotion and behavior. It’s a common and easily observed, but it’s not the only one there is.

        • Granted, but how do non-pleasure addictions work?

          We’ve identified the “do it” hook (the one that drives video gaming, but what’s the hook on self-hatred?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            hope.

          • pjz says:

            “… but it feels so good when I stop.” ?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            to elaborate, making the self-hatred explicit rather than a free-floating feeling allows you to make it explicit, therefore finite, therefore conceivably solvable. That allows you to hope, and hope is what keeps you alive.

          • “to elaborate, making the self-hatred explicit rather than a free-floating feeling allows you to make it explicit, therefore finite, therefore conceivably solvable. That allows you to hope, and hope is what keeps you alive.”

            People’s experience varies a lot. In my case, putting that feeling of aggravation with myself into words made things *much* worse. There were other factors which amplified the problem, but giving self-hatred a voice was very bad for me.

            My tentative theory is that self-hatred has a strong emotional hook because it involves identifying with a part of oneself which is claiming high status, even if the total effect is destructive. It’s almost a luxury.

    • Brad (the other one) says:

      >It’s a parasite that has manipulated you into liking it.

      So? My pet dog is “cute” because she has a lot of neonatal features than make me want to cuddle her and she mostly functions as a financial drain, but I’m not going to throw her out any time soon.

  83. JBeshir says:

    I think this is a great post.

    I think the biggest insight was that the initial flag brings already-like-minded people together; this would explain why you can’t just grab any conceivable flag and immediately get a working tribe, but also why the range of things which do create tribes is so wide.

    And this has useful implications to any efforts to artificially create tribes to provide structures of support and belonging and fun social interactions, and might even be the key insight needed to do so. And that- if they can be set up to avoid some of the nastier traits of tribes- could be a valuable endeavour, and not just because it’d potentially weaken some of the more pernicious tribes.

    It also has useful implications for efforts to fix some of the troublesome elements of tribalism in tribes we are in; can we find alternative things which would still draw in and connect people-like-us, maintain boundaries, etc, but don’t have the same troublesome nature? Which aren’t an incorrect ideology and don’t involve mocking outgroup membrs or whatever? (Doing this for tribes you aren’t in would probably best involve convincing people who ARE in it to do it)

    For me, this crystallised that I probably need to grudgingly accept that tribalism itself shouldn’t be suppressed entirely even if it could be.

    It remains that the suppression of tribal stuff in the West and resulting atomisation is probably responsible for a lot of its success- its reduced levels of corruption, the creation of internally cooperating nations rather than competing subtribes, its peaceful nature, the mutually supporting welfare systems and similar- so we don’t want to go too far in favour of tribalism. I think it’s even likely that reducing tribalism further would lead to more cosmopolitanism and less international tension. We do need to keep Enlightenment, universal/egalitarian values, and consider tribalism being allowed to violate them to be wrong, and find ways to strongly suppress the whole defecting-on-everyone-else-to-benefit-the-tribe impulse.

    Ditto for needing to deal with the “ideology becomes twisted towards identification of enemies, who can then be punished to show how loyal I am to my tribe, whose members care more about demonstration of loyalty than they care about ethics” problem, and others.

    But we probably shouldn’t do this by trying to suppress tribalism entirely. Maybe we can just limit tribalism to the construction of fun social groups of like-minded people of similar interests with mutual support, and encourage lots of those so people don’t get so tribal about other things? But then there’s the whole associations game talked about in Ethnic Tension and Meaningless Arguments which suggests we might find important things being caught up in the tribalism anyway. Is there a way to disassociate things from tribal connotations or prevent them forming? It’s a tricky problem.

    • Vaniver says:

      Which aren’t an incorrect ideology and don’t involve mocking outgroup membrs or whatever?

      The first part is a feature, sure. But is the second part?

      • JBeshir says:

        Well, to declare that mockery is an okay thing for you to do, means declaring that it’s an okay thing for everyone, and giving up any grounds to complain about it until such time as you commit to not doing it yourself.

        It’s the old speech norm problem; egalitarian “I can do X without receiving Y” norms require that sets X and Y be disjunct. You can’t put something in X while also having it in Y, can’t expect to be able to say a thing then complain about mistreatment when other people say the same to you.

        You can (and probably do) want to go for complicated ideas of how bad various kinds of mockery are as a result, but tribal-based mockery is some of the worst and most misrepresenting, so it’s hard to see how it could be okay. I certainly wouldn’t want to give up the ability to complain when it happens to me.

        Maybe some could be if it stayed in private? In which case “public mockery” would be what you’d want to prevent.

    • I think that we need to look back at the walled garden model here. The idea, the hope, is that we can get a bunch of people from a bunch of tribes and form a tribal coalition based on actual shared values of “Don’t be evil.” and all that, and conspicuously offer the benefits of the tribal coalition to people who embrace Don’t Be Evil, and turn away from ones who do, no matter what other tribes they belong to.

      In practice, I strongly suspect any walled garden that’s got humans in it will get co-opted by tribalism sooner or later, and Evil will get quietly redefined to What The Current Tribal Leaders Don’t Like.

      Tribalism look like one of those cognitive states most people are hard-wired to fall into, and it offers a lot of advantages against a diffuse coalition of people working together under abstract principles. I don’t think we can really get rid of it or outcompete it; the best I think we can do is be aware of it, and extra-aware of what our own tribes are up to.

  84. Vaniver says:

    As well try to predict the warlike or peaceful nature of the United Kingdom by looking at a topographical map of Great Britain.

    I think this undersells the effect of geography on politics. One cannot predict the weather from a topographical map, but one can predict the climate.

  85. g says:

    Scott, your third stage is called “differentiation” at one point in the article but “development” everywhere else. I’m guessing you changed your mind about the terminology. You might want to make it consistent.

  86. Murphy says:

    Reminded me of “The Conscience of a Hacker”

    http://phrack.org/issues/7/3.html

    a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought… a board is
    found.
    “This is it… this is where I belong…”
    I know everyone here… even if I’ve never met them, never talked to
    them, may never hear from them again… I know you all…

    It also pattern matches strongly to my local hackspace. I like giving tours to newbies and it’s generally not hard to spot who’s going to be there for a few weeks using it as a utility for a project and who’s going to be part of the community long term. I’ve seen a lonely old man tear up saying that it felt “like coming home”.

    Some people suddenly find themselves in a room full of people like themselves.

    The kind of people who can’t see something broken without their fingers itching with the need to take it apart and fix it.

    It’s particularly cute to see members bringing their kids along and seeing a 7 year old who can pick a lock, disassemble something, fix solder joints and close it up again working.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60P1xG32Feo

  87. Peter says:

    There’s a flip side to all this; outsiders who have something to do with the rallying flag, but who don’t get on with the community associated with the flag. Like there’s something there which is supposedly there for you, but when you turn up, you don’t actually fit in. Or maybe you don’t change and the community does and you end up feeling like a stranger in your own community.

    I suppose a lot of the social justice arguments in the last decade or so – on both various sides – have revolved around this issue.

    Of personal interest – the autistic spectrum issue. There are some formal explicit movements and groups specifically for these people – where it’s the rallying flag, there are also various other movements or groups or vague ill-defined things where people on the spectrum end up fairly well represented. The classic example is various bits of nerd/geek culture but there are some others too. I got my diagnosis fairly late in life. Nerd/geek culture feels like home to me, the explicitly, specifically autistic-spectrum stuff doesn’t so much. That said, there’s a lot of variety within the latter. Anyway, one effect of this seems to be that I’m a lot less anti-cure than many; the “autistic spectrum” community doesn’t feel like my community, I don’t have any special attachment to it.

  88. Emile says:

    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.

    I think the two are pretty much the same thing – or at least, the role “race” plays in American society is pretty much the same role “ethnicity” (as a mix of language and ancestry and sometimes religion) plays in Belgium or Yugoslavia or China or Rwanda or Russia. -they are identifiable subgroups with their own cultures and grievances, and varying degrees of assimilation and state “enforcement of one culture”.

    There are two reasons Americans talk of “race” and not “ethnicity”:

    * America ended up with a mix of people from *very* different origin, pretty much as different as humans can be – so “race” becomes a better way of describing the differences than it would in e.g. Yugoslavia
    * Some major aspects of America’s society (Emancipation of slaves, mass immigration from Europe) were formed in the 19th century / early 20th century, when “scientific racist” ideas were much more popular than they are today

    … so now the old word is still used even to talk about differences that are *exactly* like those in Yugoslavia and Belgium etc. i.e. Latinos.

    • Nita says: