Respectability Cascades

I.

I don’t know much about gay history, but the heavily mythicized version of it I heard goes like this:

At first open homosexuality was totally taboo. A few groups of respectable people with hilariously upper-class names like The Mattachine Society and The Daughters Of Bilitis quietly tried to influence elites in favor of more tolerance, using whatever backchannels elites use to influence one another. They had limited success, but they comforted themselves that at least they were presenting a likeable and respectable face for homosexuality that was improving the lifestyle’s public reputation.

Then a few totally-non-respectable outsiders with nothing to lose – addicts, drag queens, men with lots of chest hair who dressed in leather and called themselves “bears” – publicly came out as gay, held pride parades, shouted things about “WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER”, et cetera. They were very easy to dislike and most people easily disliked them. But once they did this enough, people who were maybe 10% of the way to being respectable – people not addicted to quite so many drugs, men without quite so much chest hair – felt comfortable joining in. Once enough of them were out, people who were 20% of the way to being respectable felt comfortable coming out, and so on. Then 30% respectable people, then 40% respectable people, all the way up to the present day where there are a bunch of openly gay members of Congress.

I know there are lots of debates over whether this kind of “respectability cascade” is the way it really happened, but it’s a neat model of a way that these things can happen.

II.

And it’s especially interesting because it’s the opposite of the way I usually think about these things.

When I did pre-med in college, I learned physiology from a distinguished professor whose focus was herpetology – the study of reptiles and amphibians. His pet issue was endocrine disruption – hormone-like pollutants that were changing the sexual maturation of frogs and other animals, and which were suspected to have deleterious effects on humans. He made us read a bunch of papers on this, all of which demonstrated a clear scientific consensus that this was a well-known environmental problem and all the respectable environmentalists and herpetologists were concerned about it.

After college I went about a decade without thinking about it. Then people started making fun of Alex Jones’ CHEMICALZ R TURNING TEH FROGZ GAY!!! shtick. I innocently said that this was definitely happening and definitely deserved our concern, and discovered that this was no longer an acceptable thing to talk about in the Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand And Whatever. Okay. Lesson learned.

We can imagine a world where endocrine disruptors proceeded the same way gay rights did. A few distinguished scientists sounded the warning in acceptable elite language to other elites, but they were a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Then 0% respectable conspiracy theorists took to Twitter to make all-caps posts about TURNING TEH FROGZ GAY!!! At first they were roundly despised, but a few 10%-respectable people saw the taboo was broken and joined in, and then 20% respectable people saw the taboo had weakened even further, and so on. Finally, the cascade catches up to members of Congress, who ban the polluting chemicals. The distinguished scientists thank God for sending Alex Jones to accomplish what they could not.

But in this world, my impression is that the scientists were making slow-but-non-zero progress, doing really good work, and then Jones’s adoption of the cause destroyed it. Now it’s much harder for the scientists to convince anyone to care, because caring has become a signal that you’re a conspiracy theorist or otherwise a disrespectable person. Jones hasn’t just failed to contribute to the fight against endocrine disruptors, he’s shot it in the foot. My professor should send him a private email asking him to shut up for the good of the cause, and to leave the issue to people who can wage it non-counterproductively, ie 100% respectable elite scientists.

This is the worldview I was trying to get across in Trump: A Setback For Trumpism. Polls show that ever since Trump entered the national stage, support for tariffs and border control have fallen. Probably this is for the same reason that concern about frog hormones would have fallen if anyone did a poll on it – the issue became associated with disreputable people, so the respectable people fled from it lest they be contaminated with low status.

It’s also related to the point I make about Voat here. Reddit makes some unpopular moderation policies. It has all sorts of users, from 0% respectable racist trolls to 100% respectable academics in AskHistorians who will answer your oddly specific questions on medieval Swiss dentistry. Maybe all of them have some concerns about the new moderation, but the 0% respectable trolls have the most concern and are vocal in the fight against it. This leads to opposing the moderation policies getting coded as “racist troll”, and means the other discussion sites that spring up as possible alternatives are so disreputable that nobody with any kind of a reputation dares to go there. Again, the 0% respectable people taking up a theme discourage anybody else from following, lest they be associated with toxic people.

III.

So we have two opposite lessons.

In the first, 0%-respectable-people taking up a cause is a good and necessary first step, and means that soon 10% and 20% respectable people will take it up. It is the beginning of a respectability cascade that will redeem the cause from the pit of taboo-ness permanently.

In the second, 0%-respectable-people taking up a cause dooms it forever. It is the beginning of a disrespectability cascade that will make the cause too toxic for anyone above that respectability level to ever dare associate with.

So what does one do?

I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism. My strategy so far has been to let Stephen Pinker and Jonathan Haidt do all the talking, and only talk myself if I feel like I can speak with the same level of dignity, respectability, and scientific backing they do. As for random people on Twitter who are likely to speak in ALL CAPS, on the rare occasions when they seek my opinion, I give them the advice of the great poet John Milton, who wrote “They also serve who only stand and wait and keep their idiot mouths shut”.

Yet I can’t help but notice that this is pursuing the same kind of strategy as the Mattachine Society and all of those other elite groups who never made more than the tiniest contribution to gay rights. “Get your most respectable members to serve as public spokespeople, and keep your least respectable members quiet so they don’t ruin your image” sounds like a good strategy. But it’s the opposite of the respectability cascade theory, and that theory is convincing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since that New York Times article on the “Intellectual Dark Web”, because those people seem like the second level of the respectability cascade. None of them are Congressmen yet, but all of them are a step beyond Milo Yiannopoulos. This has made me wonder if maybe there’s something to this after all?

Even beyond the strategic perspective, it’s just sort of embarrassing to have two good theories of how society and politics work that make opposite predictions from each other. What are some heuristics for when one would work rather than another?

Homosexuality started out as already maximally taboo; endocrine disruptors and immigration started out as merely under-discussed. Maybe disrespectable people can’t hurt an already-maximally-taboo cause, but can harm an under-discussed one?

Gay people – even 0%-respectable drug-addicted gay people – seem more sympathetic and likeable than Alex Jones or his fans, so maybe their visibility was more of a positive. But is this just me projecting my 2010s post-gay-victory values back on the past?

People leaving Reddit went to a specific alternative community – Voat – whereas people coming out as gay kept some of their existing relationships intact. Maybe socializing in a specific community made up of disrespectable people is a hard sell, but admitting to a lifestyle practiced by disrespectable people is easier?

Gay people had no choice but to be gay, whereas environmentalists (and conservatives) could pivot from caring about endocrine disruptors and immigration to some other environmental or conservative cause that might have mattered just as much to them. Maybe respectable people with lots of equally good alternatives are more likely to be repulsed by disrespectable people rather than throw their lot in with them?

But keeping all that in mind, what advice would you give Jonathan Haidt? Should he tell random disrespectable anti-SJW Twitter trolls to shut up? Or should he tell them to shout even louder? It still seems like a hard question.

741 thoughts on “Respectability Cascades

  1. kaleberg

    A quick scan of the literature shows that endocrine disruption is commonly accepted in the scientific community though the precise mechanisms are still being debated. There was a big argument that it was epigenetics, but the counter-argument was that EVERYTHING can’t be because of epigenetics. Back in the 1970s, endocrine disruption was considered a half crackpot theory raised by a bunch of upstate hippies who had smoked too much Whole Earth Catalog. (Of course, the big threat remains global warming, especially now that serious players like agribusinesses, public health workers and bond underwriters (drought risk mainly) are having to account for it in their planning.)

    Ragging Alex Jones about it is like ragging Elizabeth Warren about her native American ancestry. It’s a convenient button to press.

  2. dlr

    Most everyone runs away from ideas/behavior of lower status people, because they don’t want to be mistaken for those people. The exception is Democrats, in their professional capacity, who run towards low status people, or rather low status groups, with the goal of co-opting their grievances; Democrats are explicitly building the party of the outsiders. Thus, issues involving some identifiable minority with a grievance will prosper, politically, and thus socially, when publicized by low status people. It’s not a respectability cascade, it’s a political co-option.

    If Alex Jones had been a left wing nut-job instead of a right-wing nut-job, endocrine disruptors and gay frogs would not be as big an environmental issue as global warming. It will still probably become a popular environmental issue, if it is true, since gay frogs lead to species extinction, but Alex Jones has probably delayed things.

    I’d say protecting scientific integrity from regressive leftism is probably DOA regardless, it is one of those hard behaviors to convince people to engage in — it has enormous long term benefits, but it can be very painful in the short term. The only possibility would be if it is taken up by someone who’s ‘socially progressive’ credentials are impeccable, and who condemns it, explicitly, because it is detrimental to the greater cause of the triumph of leftism. But I think it is going to be an almost impossible sell, since the scientific truths they are trying hard to suppress strike at the very heart of progressive core beliefs.

    1. Aapje

      The exception is Democrats, in their professional capacity, who run towards low status people, or rather low status groups

      I’d argue that the people and groups they favor are chosen for the perceived disparity between what they deserve and what they get, not for being low status per se.

      This is why they often gravitate to people who are actually relatively high status, but are presumed to be held back due to oppression, but not to people they judge to deservedly be low status, like poor white men.

      1. albatross11

        I think they run high status people from low status groups. Barack Obama is not low status. He comes off as what he is–a smart guy with an Ivy League education who was reasonably successful before he ran for president, and was likely to be pretty successful even if he’d never come anywhere close to politics. A big part of his image was that he and his (smart Ivy-League educated) wife are both black and also successful high-status people.

        Similarly, Kamala Harris is “low status” in the sense that she’s mixed race between black and Indian, but she’s also the child of two people with PhDs (a cancer researcher and an economist) and has a JD herself.

        AOC was probably relatively low status before her political success, in the sense that she wasn’t powerful or wealthy before. And a lot of the attacks on Sarah Palin were about her and her family being low-status in various ways.

        1. Clutzy

          I think, however, they have to be successful in only a narrow range. I doubt a black woman who founded a non-tech $100million+ company, owned 100 Taco Bells or a couple dozen car dealerships would ever become a rising star in the Democratic Party.

          You have to kind of toe the academic/legal/governmental line of employment. Where you are white collar upper class, but not able to have “F-U money” so as to be out of their control.

  3. Trashionalist

    Like previous responders, I can’t ignore how unhelpful an example Alex Jones’s effect on endocrine disruptor research is, even if Scott just chose that one for humor’s sake. I’ve looked at a few of Scott’s replies, but I don’t recall him ever pointing to specific examples, or at least a detailed anecdote of someone dismissing endocrine disruptors because it reminded them of the Alex Jones meme. A detailed anecdote might’ve helped me overcome my disbelief that such dismissals are significant.

    I knew about endocrine disruptors before Alex Jones uttered “turning the frogs gay”. I think I saw it in a 60 Minutes piece, I think it even addressed the possible role of endocrine disruptors in humans, and intersex infants. Then I lived through Alex Jones talking about turning the frogs gay. Even without listening to the entire context, I figured he must’ve been referring to something like what I saw on 60 Minutes, but that didn’t make me think he sounded any less deranged. Obviously he was taking something grounded in real research and spinning it into a conspiracy appealing to rightwing paranoias, implying the government was purposely trying to turn humans gay, too.

    The closest thing to “people dismissing endocrine disruptors because Alex Jones mentioned it” I ever saw was a YouTube commenter dismissing mockery of Alex Jones’s rant by saying he was talking about gonadal developmental issues in the frogs. I’d acknowledge that that might lead people to dismiss the endocrine disruptor research, because the real issue is shoved in front of someone’s face and declared “what Alex Jones was talking about”, but such instances are probably vastly outnumbered by people seeing the clip of Alex Jones ranting about something only tenuously connected to the real issue.

    It’d be like if a bunch of people made fun of the most outlandish alien abduction story, and then someone came in and said, “You guys are all idiots for making fun of the abductee, he’s talking about how real astronomers estimate there are 11 billion habitable Earth-sized planets orbiting Sun-like stars in the galaxy.” Okay, maybe he used that as a framing device, but then he went on to declare that saucer men from one of those planets abducted him and that’s the only part that became a meme.

  4. Thisisausername

    The distinguished scientists thank God for sending Alex Jones to accomplish what they could not.

    tl;dr: Even a broken clock is right twice a day

  5. Don_Flamingo

    @PretorianAdvance
    Hmmm….
    Whenever and ideologue gains control over an institution, that is considered respectable, then that same institution quickly looses its status as a respectable institution.
    I don’t think, that the “New York Times” is widely considered a respectable institution, anymore. At least not even close to what it has been like before. Even in former prestigious outlets, it’s often just journalists tweeting first, using their brain later. This and other things have happened too often already, for the institution of journalism itself to have much value in this “struggle”. Who trusts the news, these days?
    Who trusts university professors? Who trusts Social Scientists?
    Only people who didn’t, used to be losers or cynics. Now you have to be naive to put much trust in any of those things. Or be deluded by the same pervasive ideology, but even then you have to mistrust them, because they could be doing the ideology wrong.
    And if nobody trusts them, they won’t be powerful either?
    I think any hypothetical ideology can’t conquer an institution, without also destroying much of it’s value.
    The institutional landscape is not like static territory that can just be seized without consequences. It is infrastructure for producing societal trust, that gets destroyed in the process of conquest.
    And there need not be anything respectable replacing it either. The society, where such things happen could just turn into a low-trust one.
    Jordan Peterson thinks, that the institution of the university won’t survive for much longer. Or at least not in this form or with this much power. [not quite sure, where he said it, and what his exact words were, can’t be bothered to find it again]
    I think he’s right about that.

    [dear God, please no JP is good/evil/a crustacean talk. I brought it up, because I think it’s one of the more interesting things he said. Not claiming it’s original or anything, it’s just the only time I’ve heard that prediction, outside of an “e-learning is the future”-perspective.]

    1. DavidFriedman

      I think Scientific American is a better example of your point than the New York Times. The Times has always been viewed, as far back as I remember, as a center-left institution. All that changed was that Trump’s election drove the center-left crazy.

      But I remember Scientific American, when I was growing up, as a respectable non-political journal specializing in science and related topics. At some point it became a partisan left-wing journal. Now, if I found that it had published an article supporting the left side of some issue, I would take that fact as zero evidence for that side.

  6. jhertzlinger

    I first heard about Voat from this article. Two days later, I stumbled into a gang of 0%-respectable people on Twitter and started looking for a refutation of some of their more absurd claims. I found it on Voat.

    A censorship-free site that allows in 0%-respectable people also attracts their opponents. That means you can be prepared for any increased popularity of 0%-respectable people.

  7. Null42

    Here’s another theory: gay people had a large reservoir of sympathizers in academia and journalism because quite a few of them were gay (closeted first of course). Haidt and Co. are fighting a right-wing rearguard action. They have no supporters among opinion-setters. We are likely to see woke SJWs convince more and more people until everyone simply accepts that PC is the right way to think. We’ll see STEM broken down by race and gender quotas as the Chinese, who have no such hangups, pull further and further ahead.

    Progress is not inevitable. Islam’s scientific renaissance ended, and the West pulled ahead; perhaps it is our turn. Perhaps Haidt and Murray will, like Averroes before them, remain without honor in their own country, even as they inspire Chinese scientists to eugenically engineer supergeniuses.

  8. Roger Sweeny

    The “highly mythisized version” is wrong because it is looking in the wrong places. Activism, respectable or otherwise, had surprisingly little to do with the tremendous increase in gay social status and legal rights. Instead, it was people’s perceptions of where “gay” comes from, in particular whether it is something that happens in a person’s life or if it is something they are born with. The two possibilities result in very different social equilibria.

    Start with the idea that parents want what is best for their children; they want their children to succeed in the world. They also generally want their kids to be like them, maybe to “give them grandchildren” or carry on the family name. That means a slant toward being straight. If the rest of society prefers straight people, that’s a big inclination to want non-gay kids. If you think gayness is something that people decide on (a “lifestyle choice”) or something they can fall into (like starting to smoke because a friend does), you will want to minimize the chance of that. So you talk down gayness and hope that “society” does too. You try to keep your kid away from anyone gay, which means trying to disappear any overt expression of same-sex attraction. This means people will rarely see respectable gays; the conventional wisdom will be that gays are perverts–and you don’t want to be a pervert. If you are gay, you’ll try to hide it. Non-parents also don’t want people to “turn gay” so they’ll act in the same anti-gay ways. This is a very stable equilibrium.

    But what if you think gay people are just “born that way”. What’s best for your child is now very different. It’s to be accepted, not just accepted but treated as just as good. It means telling everyone your kid is good and expecting “society” to say the same thing. It, of course, also means telling people that your Uncle Joe and niece Stephanie and brother Frank are fine, upstanding people and yeah, they’re gay. It means wanting all of them to have equal rights. The door is now ajar and activists can push it in.

    Somewhere between the beginning of AIDS and today, we cascaded from the first equilibrium to the second. Which leads to the question of why people started believing that “gay” is just something you’re born with, like blue eyes or Aspergers. Part, I suspect, was the general failure of “gay conversion therapy”. Perhaps the downfall of Freudian and Freud-like psychologies. But I just don’t know.

    1. Roger Sweeny

      In the first case, because gay is disapproved of, you don’t want your kid (or uncle or niece or brother) to be gay. In the second case, because your kid (or uncle or niece, or brother) is gay, you don’t want gay to be disapproved of.

    2. Robert Miles

      I used to get so irritated by “born this way”, because… can you imagine an argument that concedes more ground to your opponent? Someone accuses you of choosing to behave immorally, and your defence is that you just can’t help yourself and it’s in your nature? Even if that’s true, surely it’s better to refute the claim that what you’re doing is immoral, not the claim that you chose to do it?

      But it makes sense as a rhetorical move to bring about the shift you described. If that was a deliberate plan, then it’s a pretty impressive bit of meme-crafting.

      1. ARabbiAndAFrog

        I’m not sure whenever gay rights were cause and effect, but I feel a distinct sense that “born this way” vs “choice” has basically became a code for “You can’t just people for this” and “You can judge people for this”. This goes both way, successful and respectable people would also prefer a narrative of being genetically unremarkable everymen who just made the right choices.

      2. Roger Sweeny

        If you have an unshakable belief that gay sex or gay desire is inherently immoral, then their statement that they are “born that way” is indeed conceding ground. I was suggesting that people did not have such an unshakable belief. That in fact, their attitude was more of a folk belief. The gay people they knew about were pretty weird. Gay sex seemed icky. Being gay certainly seemed like something to condemn and to try to keep from happening. To keep from spreading from the perverts to the innocents.

        But if people with a desire for gay sex (and maybe even gay love) are otherwise ordinary, just with a different unshakable “born that way” sexual attraction, most people are open to a different attitude toward gay desire/gay sex. That it is not inherently immoral but like all sex can be misused–and can be properly used.

        (No doubt the mainstreaming of oral sex and the explosion of information about what people did sexually helped to bring down the ickiness factor.)

    3. Finlands_favorite_loveable_racist_cunt

      This raises the question, when did “Born that way” become the mainstream view on homosexuality’s origins? And how and by whom was that view popularized?

      1. ARabbiAndAFrog

        Probably at some point after eugenics fell out of favour and proper response to “I was born this way” switched to “Sorry I didn’t meant to judge, let me accomodate your difference” from “Stay where you are, I’ll fetch my euthanasia kit, you life unworthy of living, you.”

      2. Roger Sweeny

        When did “born that way” become the mainstream view? Certainly not before the 1980s. But maybe by the turn of the millennium. Certainly, the use of the term “lifestyle choice” or even of “lifestyle” rather than “orientation” had largely died among respectable people by then. Does anyone know if there are good opinion survey results on this? Can Google give you a graph by years of the use of the term “turn[ing] gay”?

  9. John Richards

    Are you concerned at all that even using the term “regressive left” the way that you do will permanently leave you ostracized from the Jacobin crowd, the Nathan J Robinson types?

      1. albatross11

        There’s an interesting problem here–any term we use for a broad social and political movement is going to miss the mark in a lot of places. (For comparison, in common use, “alt-right” seems to include a huge swath of thinkers, from Republicans who aren’t thrilled about illegal immigration all the way to genuine white nationalists who want a white homeland with no nonwhites or Jews allowed.).

        And yet, we need to be able to have a term to describe these broad social movements, even messily, in order to have discussions about them. “SJWs”, “the woke left”, “the regressive left”, or Sailer’s maybe-too-clever “the ctrl-left” (a play on “alt-right”) all work to capture the idea of a broad coalition of leftists who actively try to shut down opposing viewpoints by protests, riots, social media mobbing, doxxing, trying to get people fired, etc. The antifa guy who got arrested for bashing someone with a bike lock and some random student using an airhorn to keep Charles Murray from speaking at Middlebury are both broadly in this movement, even though they may not have much else in common.

        1. Nornagest

          I’m not sure I’d be happy with “the woke left”. That implicitly centers the term around the goal rather than the tactics, and in principle I’d be okay with someone who was in favor of “woke” social justice ideas but wasn’t okay with using those shame-and-silence tactics to push them.

          People like that don’t even seem very uncommon in person, although they are uncommon in the public sphere.

          1. DavidFriedman

            I agree that “woke” doesn’t necessarily imply those tactics. But it does strongly imply that was is involved is not disagreement among reasonable people but disagreement between people whose eyes are open and people who choose to keep theirs closed. From that attitude, it’s a lot easier to justify intolerance of those who disagree with you.

  10. Chamomile

    I tend to view this phenomenon in terms of the Overton Window. If your position is currently considered unthinkable, i.e. people literally refuse to even discuss it, then forcing people to engage with it is an improvement. Being viewed as radical is actually shifting the Overton Window in the right direction. Once a position is already considered radical, your goal is to normalize it, so that people sympathetic to that position can defend it without being associated with radicals and immediately losing lots of status. Simply being loud and attention-grabbing is no longer helpful. Chemical pollutants affecting local wildlife is an environmental issue and would already be considered normal. Some circles may consider it impractical or foolish, but it’s already gotten to the point of being a regular viewpoint that regular people hold. Being associated with crazy radicals pushes the Overton Window the wrong direction. Likewise, greater border security to prevent immigration is not some radical new idea that needed a loud and angry Trump to push it out of the realm of being totally unthinkable, nor the idea that trade agreements were bad, or that black people are the cause of their own problems and not discriminated against, or other Trumpist beliefs that are doing worse under Trump. These beliefs were considered unpopular but not insane. Having the face of those beliefs be someone who consistently pursues a divisive strategy that makes him seem radical is damaging to them because they were already past the point where radical efforts were beneficial when Trump got his hands on them.

  11. rusty_runcible

    George Lakoff’s work on the mind, within the framework of cognitive science, forms a fairly good answer to this question. Most political impetus seems to be reactionary toward some perceived conflict within culture, and virtually all the work of moving the status quo happens within the framing of the conflict.

    Where cultural capital is collected and spent, it is most often on behalf of a reaction to a current cultural phenomenon. The peace and love of hippies could never have arisen any other way than out of the fear, hatred and paranoia of the cold war. The ascendancy of a judgmental and total moral philosophy as found in evangelicalism could not have arisen any other way than out of the cultural relativism and hedonism of the peace and love movement and the 70s, respectively.

    People observe culture, see what they don’t like, and this dislike is the core of an emotional need to form a cultural bulwark against it. The details of that bulwark arise, like random mutation and selection of evolution, by the accident of the geography of the battlefield. It’s not that people have beliefs, it is that through beliefs their position against malign features in culture gains coherence and definition.

  12. jes5199

    Have you looked into Harry Hay, the founder of the Mattachine Society? He’s not a plainly respectable person – by mainstream standards, he was quite a weirdo

  13. Atlas

    I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve heard a different mythologized history (see e.g. here and here) of gay acceptance after irreparably damaging my brain through exposure to the internet reading far-right views about politics on the internet. (After having grown up in a Blue Tribe environment with the same “plucky radical activists” history.) To some extent this may also be the mainstream conservative narrative, but I am less familiar with that.

    The counter-narrative is that the 1960s saw the beginning of an ascendance of radicals to the commanding heights of American culture: the news and entertainment media, academia, government, etc. They hated traditional values and used the power of Culture to promote homosexuality as an attack on them. For whatever reason, conservatives aren’t currently as good at Culture, which meant that the ideological ground was swept from under them on the issue of homosexuality before they even realized what was happening.

    Thus, it was powerful, educated, maybe wealthy, people who, in this narrative, launched gay acceptance as a major cultural/political from the top down, not quirky marginalized street level activists doing provocative street demonstrations.

    Like I said, I haven’t really researched this enough to judge which narrative is accurate, but I think this is an alternative worth considering.

    1. 10240

      This narrative doesn’t explain why the radical left (or liberals or Jews) hate traditional culture. IMO in this case the most likely explanation is what they say, no conspiracy necessary: to the extent they hate traditionalism, it’s because (in their view) it unjustly oppresses certain groups, rather than the other way around.

      1. sourcreamus

        The radical left looked at all institutions as ways for the capitalists to oppress the working class. The family was a way to oppress women and children, sexual mores were ways to oppress the young and free, etc. All of the radical groups of the left thought that the bourgeoisie morality were ways to oppress people and thus needed to be overthrown. Thus the free love movement was against any sexual taboos, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, etc.

        That movement had never had any real influence because it led to unwanted pregnancies. dangerous abortions, and crippling STDs. With the advent of first antibiotics, then the pill, and then abortion on demand many of the more obvious downsides of sexual promiscuity were eliminated and the sexual revolution gained mainstream acceptance because it gave people a license to indulge in their appetites.

        1. 10240

          To me a claim that they promoted homosexuality in order to attack traditional values reads as saying that they hate and want to destroy traditional values for some different reason, and promoting the acceptance of homosexuality was thought to be instrumental to achieving it. What you say would still mean that they wanted homosexuality to be accepted because the lack of acceptance of homosexuality oppressed homosexuals, i.e. a straightforward (and more realistic) reason.

    2. LadyJane

      Yeah, I’m not going to put much stock in any theory that involves a shadowy conspiracy of powerful elites doing seemingly random things just For The Evulz. (Why do they want to destroy Western civilization, even though they apparently already have control over it? Because they’re bad guys, I guess. Or because they’re secret communists, despite being captains of industry in the capitalist system. Or because they’re Satanic cultists who do human sacrifice rituals to Moloch at Bohemian Grove every year.) Without exception, 100% of those theories turn out to be completely, totally, blatantly, egregiously, obviously wrong.

      If you really wanted to steelman this train wreck of a narrative, you could argue that since some percentage of the elites were themselves homosexual, they were able to use their resources to push acceptance of homosexuality from the top-down. No secret conspiracy or ulterior motives required, just a few individuals taking advantage of their political/economic power to pursue a social/cultural goal that means a lot to them personally. Of course, I also feel like that’s basically an entirely different theory that just has some surface resemblances to the first, so even calling it a steelman of the first is a pretty huge stretch.

      1. AnonYemous2

        Yeah, I’m not going to put much stock in any theory that involves a shadowy conspiracy of powerful elites doing seemingly random things just For The Evulz.

        I too refuse to put stock in theories that make my side look bad. Look, maybe you’re responding to the links he posted, but the theory he put forth seems pretty similar to what you yourself wrote:

        individuals taking advantage of their political/economic power to pursue a social/cultural goal that means a lot to them personally

        He certainly doesn’t mention the civilization being destroyed or captains of industry participating. The only thing that might be different between these two theories is the idea that radicals purposely took power to accomplish these goals, which isn’t explicitly stated in his post, but anyways is just an extension of your argument – individuals taking advantage of their abilities to gain power to pursue a social / cultural goal that means a lot to them personally. Still doesn’t require a conspiracy per se.

    3. Trashionalist

      I’ve come across a number of leftists who see leftism as a defense of traditionalism against capitalism rather than an attack on traditionalism. It’s just that what conservatives and reactionaries consider “traditional” isn’t really traditional, but merely a distorted mythic imagining of the past.

      For example, the nuclear family. Leftists may attack the nuclear family, but the nuclear family was never that traditional anyway. Tradition emphasizes the extended family, which the forces of capitalism splintered into smaller nuclear families, in this narrative. What’s behind the War on Christmas, or at least the secularization of the holiday, the loss of its true meaning? It’s capitalist commercialism, not socialism. The rise of LGBTQ acceptance isn’t anti-traditional. The American Indians had two-spirits, traditional cultures all over the world accepted homosexuality to various degrees. It’s the rigid, absolutist heteronormativity of modern times that’s new and weird.

  14. 10240

    Re: gay people: No matter what percentage of gay people come out, they are still a small percentage of the population. The respectability cascade among gay people doesn’t explain why straight people started to accept them. When, say, 30% respectable gay people started to come out, why didn’t they lose whatever respect they had, discouraging anyone more respectable from coming out?

    Note that among straight people, the acceptance of gay people didn’t start at the least respectable people, extending upwards; it started at the liberal elite. We should distinguish between the respectability spectrum of the gay people who come out among gay people, and the respectability spectrum of the people who accept homosexuality among the general population.

    When the core issue is itself an opinion, rather than something like homosexuality, the distinction is unclear if it exists at all: homosexuality becoming acceptable wasn’t going to make most people gay, but if a view becomes more acceptable, then generally more people will hold the view, too. Although there might still be some distinction between the spectrum of people who hold a view openly among the people who hold some fringe view from the get-go, and the spectrum of people who consider a view acceptable to speak.

    Re: Voat: This one is simple: Voat is still extreme right because Reddit still only censors the most extreme content. If Reddit started censoring more, more people would move over to Voat, making it more moderate in the course.

    Re: Strategies: I can see two possible strategies on the science issue (assuming for now that significant left-wing bias or suppression of results disliked by the left exists).
    (1) From the inside: Convince enough people inside the scientific community to reduce or eliminate said bias or suppression.
    (2) From the outside: Sic right-wing governments on the left-wing academics, e.g. get them to threaten to withhold funding unless they reduce said bias, or found and fund alternative non-left-wing institutions etc.

    (1) needs respectable professors. (2) requires swaying some part of the electorate (of whatever respectability) to support dropping the hammer on the academic leadership. (1) is more likely to get seriously attempted* and leads to a nicer result if it succeeds, (2) may be more likely to succeed if seriously attempted by right-wing parties.

    Also, to the extent the science in question has political consequences, swaying the electorate (of whatever respectability) reduces the effect of whatever bias may exist in social sciences.

    * In the West. In Hungary, the government just withdrew the accreditation of gender studies last year.

    1. Hyzenthlay

      No matter what percentage of gay people come out, they are still a small percentage of the population. The respectability cascade among gay people doesn’t explain why straight people started to accept them.

      Because lots of “straight” people also have the occasional gay fling or gay infatuation?

      People who are exclusively gay may be a minority, but bisexuals (or straight-leaning people who are at least a little bit bi) are a healthy percentage of the population. Many straight-identifying people therefore also had something to gain by becoming more accepting of gayness: their own options expanded, and their furtive same-sex fantasies or experiences were no longer weird, shameful secrets.

        1. Hyzenthlay

          If you’re talking about how people explicitly identify, it’s still below 10%. But if you’re looking at behavior it’s higher. From a CNN article from 2016:

          “More women reported having had sexual contact with other women: 17.4% in the current survey compared with 14.2% in the 2006-2010 survey.”

          And that’s just behavior; if you ask people about fantasies/attractions I’m guessing the number would be higher.

        2. jes5199

          the Kinsey Report in 1948 surveyed men and found that 37% had a homosexual experience. Do you think that number has gone down?

          1. 10240

            Not sure if “1 on the Kinsey scale” actually means they have done a homosexual act. Such numbers are hard to square with the fact that homosexuality was considered unacceptable for so long.

            It’s possible that it’s a situation where a slight majority appeared to be an overwhelming majority as people in the minority shut up and think they are alone, especially as people who are only slightly bisexual have relatively little incentive to fight for a change. However, it’s unclear why this situation would change if a tiny percentage of not-too-respectable people come out as gay: indeed, slightly bisexual people (or sometimes even fully gay ones) will readily join in in condemning homosexuality in a cultural context where it’s expected. If 30–40% of people are actually at least a little bisexual or gay, most of them still keep shut about it.

      1. Furslid

        Don’t forget that straight people have gay friends and family members.

        Consider the following coming out narrative.
        “Mom, dad, I’m gay.”
        “What does this mean. Are you like *insert 0% respectability group*. That’s crazy. I just can’t deal with this.”
        “No, no. You’ve met my friend Chris. We’ve been dating and want to be open about it.”
        “Whew, that’s a relief. I can accept that.”

        The visibility of low respectability gay people makes straight people more aware of homosexuality. It also makes straight people realize that accepting respectable gay people isn’t as big a request as it could be.

        1. 10240

          This doesn’t explain the order of acceptance among straight people. People tend to have friends and family of similar respectability/class, so if non-respectable gay people came out first, then non-respectable straight people should have accepted homosexuality first through having openly gay friends. Yet my impression is that acceptance of homosexuality, like similar liberal things, tends to start with educated people.

          1. Furslid

            I think you’re wrong about this. Some low respectability straight people (ex. rednecks) were late to the party. However other low respectability straight (counter culture types, underground artistic types) people were early. Educated liberals were reasonably early, but not the first.

    2. John Schilling

      Re: gay people: No matter what percentage of gay people come out, they are still a small percentage of the population. The respectability cascade among gay people doesn’t explain why straight people started to accept them.

      The postulated “respectability cascade” is not just gay people coming out as gay, it’s gay-accepting people coming out as gay-accepting.

  15. Douglas Knight

    Say Alex Jones had an effect. How can we tell whether that effect was due to respectability or whether it was due to political polarization and his politics being generally seen as right-wing and opposed to environmentalism? Most of Trump’s effect seems to have been to make specific issues salient, and thus polarize them to align with the general left-right axis.

    What are other examples where disreputable people hurt their causes?

      1. Nornagest

        Obama was middling popular for most of his tenure outside of hard right circles; slightly on the low side historically, but never anywhere close to the lows that George W. Bush (for example) reached late in his term. I’d blame this instead on structural weakness in the Democratic Party. It didn’t exactly cover itself in glory in the 2016 elections, either, and Obama (wisely) stayed out of those for the most part.

      2. Larry Kestenbaum

        Consider how many elected offices were held by Democratic politicians at the start of Obama’s presidency to how many there were at the end.

        The Presidency is the balance wheel of American politics. Whichever party holds the White House gradually loses everything that isn’t nailed down.

        Consider how many elected offices were held by Republican politicians at the start of George W. Bush’s presidency to how many there were at the end. Or apply this to any two-term president in modern times.

  16. DocKaon

    My logic would be as follows. First, for any political action you have to think about building a coalition of support. The question is do you join in coalition with the disreputable? I would ask the following questions:

    1) Do they actually share my goals? Here the disreputable supporters of gay rights pass and Alex Jones fails. I would think the goals of the endocrinologists is support for research into the subject and if it proves to be necessary reasonable and effective policies to eliminate the pollution. If you think Alex Jones supports that, I have a bridge to sell you.

    2) If they don’t share my goals, are they at least compatible? Here again Alex Jones fails. The Alex Jones doesn’t support political goals that are compatible with what the scientists want, i.e. scientific study and action on environmental issues. He supports far right reaction which would include gutting things like the EPA.

    3) If end goals differ, who has the power in the coalition? In other words, are the “disreputable” serving as foot soldiers for your goals or are you providing respectability for their goals. Obviously, Alex Jones has vastly more power as result of being prominent media figure with a strong following that scientists lack. Any support scientists give to Alex Jones on this issue is going to be bent toward Alex Jones’s goals and not the scientists’. History is filled with moderates and respectable people giving support to revolutions which eventually turn against them because the extremists and disreputable people are willing to act in ways the moderate and respectable aren’t.

    4) The final test is will my goals pay a larger political price for having the “disreputable” in coalition with me than what I will gain from having their support? This is a complicated question that depends on the specifics of the situation, but I think in general people overestimate the damage that “disreputable” support will do to a cause. At the very least, you can always play the deal with me rather than the extremists card.

    For Jonathan Haidt, I hope the trolls fail tests #1 and #2 for him, but I don’t really understand what the goals of the “respectable” anti-SJW crowd are. I definitely think they fail #3, I see no evidence that the “respectable” anti-SJW people have the power to control the trolls.

    1. CthulhuChild

      I think you have got it exactly, although I am not sure that 4 isn’t effectively a restatement of 1-3. And 3 seems tricky: it’s not obvious of Haidt has more or less power than trolls: power to tarnish vs power to convince? Need a better definition of power to make this workable.

      I was thinking it in other terms which are similar to yours: the reason why the bears, druggies and leatherdaddies were disreputable primarily BECAUSE they were gay. Them being low class and obnoxious and low status (by standards of the day, not trying to pick a fight here) was just the icing on the cake. By contrast, Jones is not disliked because of his opinions on frog ecology. He is disreputable for other reasons. So we have a difference where the old taboo was a pure taboo against the thing itself (being gay), while the new taboo (discussing gay frogs) is only taboo because it implies related taboo behavior (lunatic alt right beliefs). In the latter case, Alex Jones is reinforcing the taboo and scientists wish he would shut up. In the former case, exposure to the taboo is a good thing.

      So where anti SJW stuff is concerned, the question is whether the academic taboo is against anti-sjw beliefs in and of themselves, or if anti-sjw beliefs are a proxy for the taboo of “right wing thought”, or perhaps more dangerously “anti liberal thought”.

      I don’t think anti sjw has any inherent taboo, and I am not cynical enough to believe that academia has become so radical that all right wing beliefs are held in such contempt that even adjacent notions are contaminated. But I DO think that opposition to classical liberality (as in freedom, not the Dems) IS that odious.

      Thus, to answer Scott’s dillema, it depends on the troll. If anti sjw rhetoric is comming from Troll who are seen as low status people with some right wing beliefs (white male nerds?), the Cascade operates like gay rights. If the Trolls are seen as low status people who actively oppose liberal values (ie, white supremacists and neo Nazis), the Cascade operates like gay rights.

      Related: look how often the “respectable” anti-sjw crowd is asked to agree to denounce Nazis or racists among their supporters. I think this tension is because there is genuine confusion on whether the anti sjw position is compatible with liberal values. I obviously don’t believe there is a problem with being a classical liberal and also anti-sjw, any more than I see a problem with being opposed to the alt right and concerned about chemical effects on frog sexuality. But in the latter case, mainstream opinion is that if you are worried about gay frogs you MUST be a secret alt right conspiracy nut. Should that same associative effect fully bind “anti sjw rhetoric” and “literally the KKK”, the trolls will be a purely damaging force.

      Additional point: I think some of the more savvy PRO SJW types have realized this, or are crazy enough to believe this, and are trying to make that association as explicitly as possible.

      1. Galle

        I think I can safely say that the mainstream position here on the pro-SJW side is that anti-SJW attitudes are, in fact, fundamentally anti-liberal, and that our primary objective is to save liberalism. Some of us will admittedly get very angry if you call the thing we’re trying to save “liberalism”, but even they agree that the anti-SJW crowd is actively out to destroy something precious that underlies all of modern society.

        That said, we aren’t consciously trying to paint anti-SJW people as Nazis in a cynical way. We’re trying to make the association as explicit as possible, but only because we genuinely believe the association is real.

        1. DavidFriedman

          Can you define “liberalism” in this context? It’s a word that has a pretty sizable range of meanings. In particular:

          Is the central element having substantially more government intervention in the marketplace and more redistribution than in a laissez-faire system, but less than in a socialist system?

          Alternatively, is liberalism consistent with laissez-faire, as in the 19th century sense of the term, and suspicious of state power?

          Or is liberalism not centrally about all of those issues, but about tolerance of diversity–freedom of speech and related values?

          Or something else?

          1. Galle

            Can you define “liberalism” in this context?

            Probably not, but I’ll give it a try. Extensively, “liberalism” is the thing that Locke had more of than Hobbes, that the American Revolutionaries had more of than Great Britain, that the French Revolutionaries had more of than the ancien regime, that the Union had more of than the Confederacy, that the Allies had more of than the Axis, that Martin Luther King had more of than segregationists, and so on.

            As far as I can boil it down to basic tenets, they’d probably look at least a little bit like:

            1. The collective should exist for the benefit of the individual, not the individual for the benefit of the collective.
            2. Nobody is inherently more morally valuable than anybody else.

            I should point out two possible sources of confusion with this definition. First, just because someone is liberal does not necessarily mean they’re very good at it. Thomas Jefferson authored one of the most important works of liberal philosophy in history, yet he also owned slaves. This should be seen as hypocrisy, not an integral part of the character of liberalism.

            Second, just because something is described as “collectivist” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illiberal or anti-liberal. To run afoul of the first rule, you have to value the collective as an end unto itself, rather than as something that happens to benefit the individuals who make it up. This is why, despite their fondness for collectivization and the fact that they get very angry at me about it, I still count socialists as liberals. Socialist collectivization, despite the words used, is ultimately about benefiting the individuals who make up the collective, whereas something like nationalism is not.

          2. DavidFriedman

            Thanks.

            That sounds to me more like utilitarianism than liberalism.

            By your two criteria, someone who was in favor of a totalitarian system with slave labor and censorship of views he disapproved of could still count as a liberal, provided he believed that his system was better for the individuals in it than any alternative.

          3. Galle

            Like I said, I probably can’t define liberalism in this context. Better people than me have tried.

            I’m almost willing to bite the bullet on your counterexample, though, and argue that that person would be a liberal, just an exceptionally bad one. It’s sort of like asking if someone who chooses to shoot up a room full of small children because they believe that they are actually handing out candy could count as a pacifist – the definition isn’t designed to deal with people who are completely incorrect about the consequences of their actions.

          4. DavidFriedman

            @Galle:

            the definition isn’t designed to deal with people who are completely incorrect about the consequences of their actions.

            That works for “utilitarian,” but not, I think, for “liberal.” Someone who believes that the best possible society is a totalitarian dictatorship might be a utilitarian, but he is a totalitarian, not a liberal.

            Liberalism, in all its political senses, is in large part an opinion about what the best society would look like.

          5. LadyJane

            @Galle: I was actually working on an article which discusses this very topic. In short, I consider the following characteristics to be defining liberal values.

            1. Liberal democracy: popular sovereignty, rule of law, equality under the law, and civil rights (these are all interconnected enough that I count them together)
            2. Freedom to express ideas (while free speech and free expression are included within civil rights, a “free marketplace of ideas” is also valuable to liberalism in its own right)
            3. Social liberalism and civil libertarianism (basically, the idea that people should be allowed to do what they want as long as they’re not directly hurting anyone else; again, this is partially included under civil rights, but deserves special emphasis)
            4. Methodological individualism (judging people as individuals rather than on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, orientation, etc.)
            5. Rationality, empiricism, and objectivity (trust in logical reasoning, the scientific method, the existence of objective truth, and so forth)
            6. A positive-sum approach to human interaction (this is more tied to liberalism in the international relations sense, i.e. a preference for mutually-beneficial free trade over mutually-destructive wars of conquest and plunder)

        2. jermo sapiens

          That said, we aren’t consciously trying to paint anti-SJW people as Nazis in a cynical way. We’re trying to make the association as explicit as possible, but only because we genuinely believe the association is real.

          I dont mean to strawman what you are saying, but are you saying that anti-SJW people are proto-nazis? Please clarify.

    2. Furslid

      There’s another, possibly more important question. “Can I separate myself from the disreputable elements?” For homosexuality, this is somewhat possible. Some opponents of gay rights try to equate all gay people with low respectability gay people. Most straight people realize that this is a false equivocation or at least judge respectability on a case by case basis. This is helped by low respectability gay people having other markers (ex. bears wear leather) that higher respectability gay people obviously don’t have.

      How can a layman who believes “Hormone pollution messes up animal sexual expression” separate themselves from conspiracy nutjobs. There aren’t cultural markers for conspiracy nutjobs that they obviously lack. If they bring up hormone pollution, they are actually expressing an annoying trait they share with conspiracy nutjobs. Both groups are willing to believe non-mainstream theories and argue them when it’s inconvenient to the listener.

      1. albatross11

        This is exactly the problem with human b-odiversity issues. Knowing what the IQ statistics look like is necessary if you want to be able to make sense of what education in the US looks like. Knowing what the crime statistics look like (wrt race) is necessary if you want to be able to make sense of police shootings, racism in the criminal justice system, etc. But to bring those subjects up in public is to get pattern-matched to Nazis or Klansmen by a lot of people–some honestly, some strategically because they want to win the argument and don’t care how, and some strategically because they think those facts ought not to be spoken in public.

  17. CodProfundity

    I haven’t ready every single comment and reply but has no-one considered that the gay respectability phenomenon is a result of what, in the UK at least got called “the pink pound” that is there are any number of goods and services to be marketed to and bought by gay people as part of “gay culture”?

    1. sandoratthezoo

      I think that a service targeted to a niche can only be profitable once that niche hits a standard of respectability, right? I mean, there were people attracted to their own gender back infinitely far. They need a subculture in order to develop unique tastes in consumer goods, and they need a certain level of respectability in order to develop a subculture, and the more respectability they have, the more people will enter the subculture.

      So, basically, I think you have the cause-and-effect backwards. The “pink pound” is a result of whatever process made homosexuality respectable, not the other way around.

      1. albatross11

        Money made serving the needs and desires of pariahs spends just as well as money made in any number of other ways. This is one of the best (and sometimes worst) parts of capitalism.

      2. CodProfundity

        I could have it the wrong way round, but I’d say because the whole “pink pound” and marketing specifically to gay people started in the 90s when things like gay marriage were largely still unthinkable to most and we were still very close to the 80’s AIDS crisis the potential market helped make things more respectable rather then everything having to be respectable first before people realised they could make money from it.

        1. Furslid

          It started earlier. If you want a case study, look at The Village People. They were obviously (in retrospect) marketed to gay people.

        2. Don_Flamingo

          I’d expect that the AIDS-crisis killed off much more of the disrespectable part, relative to the respectable part of the gay population.
          If you were gay and still alive in the 90s, chances are, you’re not an addict or much of a thrill-seeker.
          Huh….
          Now I’m wondering if there would be gay marriage in the US already, if it weren’t for the AIDS crisis. Probably not the first one to have come up with that idea.

          Relevant for properly modelling the signalling cascade example, I think.

  18. Incandenza

    Maybe I’m naive, but it seems to me that an important factor here is that there… was a good argument for gay rights, based in already widely-accepted principles of personal liberty and civil rights traditions? Given broad acceptance of those antecedent principles, the “argumant” against it, such as it was, was untenable, and anti-gay sentiment was really supported only by residual feelings of irrational disgust. As gays became more socially visible, and more people personally knew them, a positive feedback occurred between reduced feelings of disgust, greater social acceptance, and more people being openly gay.

    There may be a good argument about the gay frogs too, but unless you’re a frog the stakes are so low that no one’s gonna care that much – there’s more utility in laughing at Alex Jones than in being up to date on the latest herpetological gender distortion research.

    As for the intellectual dark web people, I won’t weigh in specifically, since I disagree with most of what they say, and if one agrees with them I probably don’t have anything persuasive to say here. What I will say, though, is that “random disrespectable anti-SJW Twitter trolls” are definitely not making a good argument, and there is no equivalence whatsoever between them and early gay activists. Yes, both groups may be “socially disreputable” for their own time, but at the end of the day the insistence by some gays that they should have full rights was justified and grounded in a reasonable argument; the practice of tweeting racist and sexist things at people is not, even if Haidt et al. have some worthwhile points to make.

    1. albatross11

      Incandenza:

      Okay, but that argument on principles had existed since the founding of the country. Both the formal rights version and the informal but very-important-for-practical-freedom “No skin off my nose” and “None of your business if I do” versions[1]. There were still plenty of decades when you could be arrested, forcibly treated, denied a job, run out of town, etc., for being gay.

      I really think the thing that happened here is not a respectability cascade so much as a change in what everyone agreed that the norms were. It’s like the way a dictatorship seems to have the support of everyone and rebelling against it is hopeless, but then somehow it becomes possible for everyone to realize that everyone else hates the dictator, too, and soon, the ex-dictator is either in exile somewhere far away or dangling from a lamppost.

      Everyone knows the norms, even if they don’t personally believe them all that strongly, but each individual has a hard time knowing whether they’re alone in not believing them strongly or thinking they’re a little dumb. Supporting and enforcing social norms is standard required behavior for being a proper member of a society, and this includes being seen to yell at the norm-violator, whatever your actual feelings. At some point, there’s enough visible violation/challenging of those norms that more and more people feel safe *not* enforcing them, and then later not even supporting them verbally, and eventually the norm can die out or change.

      IMO, a huge part of the power of people at the top of media (news and entertainment) is that they can make some kinds of norm-questioning or norm-violation either more or less visible. They can try to impose their norms on the world by making sure everyone sees those norms enforced and doesn’t see them violated except by people clearly marked as wicked nasty norm-violators. And that’s one aspect to the IDW types that I find pretty interesting–by largely doing an end-run around the gatekeeping function of those media types, they’re able to question things in public that prestige media never allow to be questioned in public.

      [1] I suspect the informal versions were probably more important for practical gay rights when there was still a lot of revulsion and visceral hostility to homosexuality in US culture.

      1. Incandenza

        Oh I agree that there’s more to gay acceptance than just the abstract strength of the argument in an ahistorical sense – there’s a reason the movement picked up steam in the 60s and 70s, following the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, Boomer counterculture, etc. etc. I also like your point that the change in norms allowed for the increase in respectability – that makes some narrative sense to me. I’m not sure, though, that the change in norms is extricable from, or even a different phenomenon than, the growth in respectability.

        As for the intellectual dark web stuff – Harris, Pinker, Haidt, and Peterson are tenured professors and among the most well-known public intellectuals in North America and reach a large popular audience. They use their very large platforms to criticize those who are critical of the existing social order – i.e., they take the most broadly popular position on social politics, one than is ingrained in most institutional structures, including those of academia, even if their views are marginal among academics. The term “intellectual dark web” was, IIRC, popularized in a New York Times profile. The idea that they’re “able to question things in public that prestige media never allow to be questioned in public” is risible to me. (Having said that, I also don’t think they represent any sort of Ominous Threat to progress or anything, and if the most prominent proponents of reactionary social politics want to take us back to like the 1990s or whatever then I feel like the gains of social progress are fairly secure. (Even more, I’m open to the possibility that Haidt actually has some good points to make; the others, not so much.))

        1. albatross11

          Your characterization of their ideas sure doesn’t look much like what I’ve seen from them. Would you say that Harris and Pinker’s position on religion is the popular one in America rather than academia?

          My sense is that all four are pretty serious independent thinkers who feel constrained by the fairly narrow ideological bounds acceptable in certain parts of academia, and sometimes speak out against those bounds.

          1. Incandenza

            I’m referring solely to their stuff about social justice, the politics of academia, and the like. So not the atheism stuff. And some of their actual academic and even popular writing I’m a fan of – I like Pinker’s The Language Instinct, for instance.

            I also don’t doubt their sincerity or conviction. But I would say their positions on this stuff are not at all original, and they are not exactly pariahs for expressing their beliefs – tenure! book deals! popular podcasts! It is its own kind of bubble-dwelling to think that it requires bold courage to express the kind of ideas that, while broadly popuar in the mainstream, are frequently criticized within the narrow confines of (some of) academia.

          2. albatross11

            Incandenza:

            You might want to ask James Damore, Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, and Lindsay Shepherd whether anyone ever suffers nasty consequences for disagreeing with those ideas in public. Also, if you pay attention to their actual ideas, I think you’ll find that Sam Harris is quite politically liberal[1], as is Eric Weinstein. They’re disagreeing with a critique of society that they think is wrongheaded, but that has a lot of hold in the academic world and has been pretty successful there in shutting down criticism. This is exactly how we want to world of ideas to work.

            Anyway, we can all agree that none of these guys is a Solzhenitsyn–you might get fired or get a lot of jackasses calling you names on Twitter, but you’re not going to end up in a gulag for being an IDW type. But I’m interested in hearing intelligent conversations and ideas, and for that, the fact that these folks are able (thanks to end-runs around prestige media) to provide those to me makes me happy. Similarly, I think a publication like Quillette makes the world a richer place, and I’m glad it exists.

            [1] On one of his recent podcasts, he interviewed Geoffrey Miller and discussed polyamory and open relationships. Harris wasn’t a fan himself, but it was a respectful and evenhanded discussion, in which Miller was able to explain his own views and lifestyle clearly and without any kind of denunciation. That’s an instance of him giving a voice to a critic of current social arrangements.

          3. LadyJane

            I don’t have particularly strong opinions about the other people you mentioned (except for Haidt, who I respect for his theory of moral foundations), but I think Peterson deserves a lot of the scorn that’s been directed at him. Granted, people often make him out to be more extreme than he actually is, but he’s still got some very dubious views that are considered disreputable for good reasons.

            Mostly the problem is his whole obsession with “Cultural Marxism.” It’s a borderline nonsensical conspiracy theory that’s obviously false, and no serious academic would ever so much as entertain the notion (not because of political censorship, but because the idea makes about as much sense as those Freemason/Illuminati/Majestic-12 plots that crazy people talk about, and has about as much evidence backing it). Yet Peterson not only believes it but makes it central to his entire political worldview. The fact that this particular conspiracy theory is almost exclusively espoused by alt-right/alt-lite types and paleo-conservative wingnuts just makes it that much more damning.

            When Peterson made a post on his Twitter criticizing alt-rightists for anti-Semitism, countless people responded with some variant of “well what did you expect for spreading Nazi conspiracy theories about the Jews?!” Which is fair, considering the Nazis were the originators of the “Cultural Bolshevism” conspiracy theory (which is almost exactly the same theory as “Cultural Marxism” in content and purpose, except more overtly anti-Semitic). Although I suppose they were assuming bad faith on Peterson’s part, since he probably didn’t know that.

          4. 10240

            @LadyJane How nonsensical is it? I’m not familiar with the Cultural Marxism claims, but when I look up e.g. social justice concepts on Wikipedia, or some of the more radical feminists who are nevertheless approvingly cited by mainstream social justice discourse, I often very quickly end up at Critical theory, where I read “In sociology and political philosophy, the term “Critical Theory” describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School“. If some popular right-wing ideology or figures could be traced back to some fascist group in a similar way, people would notice. I also find the rhetoric about oppressors and oppressed similar(ly exaggerated) to (and plausibly originates from) Marxist rhetoric; that might cause worry that it may be attractive to many people but ultimately misguided for the same reasons as communism was attractive to many people but ultimately misguided.

            My impression (admittedly based on little information) is that Cultural Marxism is probably overstated and more conspiratorial than reality, but not quite total ridiculous nonsense.

          5. LadyJane

            It’s one thing to say that the identity politics movement has parallels to Marxism, and may have been inspired by it. It’s another to say that the identity politics movement literally is a form of Marxism.

            One of the key elements of Marxism is that it’s fundamentally an economic theory. Marx dismissed social and cultural factors as basically irrelevant, viewing them as nothing more than constructions of the economic system, effectively proposing a unicausal link where the political economy could affect society and culture but not vice-versa. (Which is nonsense in my opinion, but that’s besides the point.) So “Cultural Marxism” is just as much of a contradictory statement as “Cultural Keynesianism.” Sure, it makes sense if you’re using it to mean “a cultural theory of identity-based systemic conflict that parallels (an oversimplified understanding of) Marx’s economic theory of class-based systemic conflict,” but that’s not how the term “Cultural Marxism” is used.

            The idea behind “Cultural Marxism” is that actual Marxists in the government and academia are using identity politics to attack traditional values, break up the family structure, and undermine Western civilization in general, in order to make it easier to bring about an actual
            Soviet-style communist takeover. It’s classic McCarthyist/John Bircher conspiracy nonsense that dates back to the 50s, using the threat of communism to scare people into opposing social and cultural liberalism. The Nazi theories about “Cultural Bolshevism” blamed the Jews, the McCarthyists and John Birchers blamed the Soviets, and the modern “Cultural Marxists” are blaming the Frankfurt School and the Critical Theorists and their intellectual descendants in academia, but they’re all functionally the same conspiracy theory, just with a different set of conspirators at the top.

            Ironically, the truth is almost the exact opposite. At every turn it’s been capitalists who’ve encouraged social liberalization, driven forward identity politics, undermined traditional values and family structures, and so forth, all for the sake of profit. The anti-SJ anti-IdPol left realized that, and lately even populist conservatives like Tucker Carlson are starting to realize it and reject capitalism. The resurgence of the “Cultural Marxist” narrative is simply a desperate attempt by paleo-conservatives to restore the rapidly fracturing alliance between capitalists and social conservatives, a last grasp at clinging to Cold War fusionism. (Which is naturally doomed to fail now that there’s no longer an external enemy like the Soviet Union to unite the two groups against.)

          6. albatross11

            Is Cultural Marxism any wackier than the Patriarchy, in terms of being a useful model of the world/the opposition?

          7. cuke

            I’m with LadyJane on this. “Cultural Marxism” is an invented label that points to a collection of ideas and people in the real world without describing them with any accuracy. It’s like pointing to Tibetan Buddhists and calling them neo-enviro-Maoists.

            From where I sit, “cultural Marxism” is a label invented by a group of people who have strong objections to another group of people. But it’s not even like calling someone you disagree with a Fascist because there is at least a historic referent for such a thing as a fascist even if it’s used incorrectly in the current context.

            The word “patriarchy” is a word like “matriarchy,” “racism” or “system of oppression” or “democracy” or “hegemony.” These are all words that describe coherent ideas. A person may disagree with whether that word accurately describes any aspect of a particular context, but the word itself describes a coherent idea. Yes, people may negotiate over the precise bounds of the definition as people do over all big ideas, but the ideas themselves are generally seen as usefully and coherently describing something that exists in the world.

          8. jermo sapiens

            “Cultural Marxism” is an invented label that points to a collection of ideas and people in the real world without describing them with any accuracy.

            Yes it’s a label, and of course it was invented. Labels dont fall from the sky.

            When I see it, I have a fair understanding of what is being referred to, so I think it serves its purpose as a label.

            One of the key elements of Marxism is that it’s fundamentally an economic theory. Marx dismissed social and cultural factors as basically irrelevant, viewing them as nothing more than constructions of the economic system, effectively proposing a unicausal link where the political economy could affect society and culture but not vice-versa.

            This is why the “cultural” modifier is used. Economic Marxism seeks to give higher status to the economically disadvantaged. Cultural Marxism seeks to give higher status to the culturally disadvantaged.

            The idea behind “Cultural Marxism” is that actual Marxists in the government and academia are using identity politics to attack traditional values, break up the family structure, and undermine Western civilization in general, in order to make it easier to bring about an actual Soviet-style communist takeover.

            I think it’s quite clear that identity politics are used to attack traditional values, including the nuclear family, and undermine Western civilization in general. Many say so quite openly that this is their goal.

            As for whether their ultimate goal is Soviet-style communism, I couldnt say. Nor do I care much. But there are people in government and academia who are purporting to elevate the “culturally disadvantaged” (ie marginalized groups) by attacking traditional values, the nuclear family, and Western civilization. If you want to refer to these people as a group, you may call them “people in government and academia who are purporting to elevate the “culturally disadvantaged” (ie marginalized groups) by attacking traditional values, the nuclear family, and Western civilization” or “cultural marxists”.

          9. cuke

            Yes it’s a label, and of course it was invented. Labels dont fall from the sky.

            That this is what you took from what I said in order to argue against it suggests to me you didn’t understand what I said.

          10. Art Vandelay

            Is Cultural Marxism any wackier than the Patriarchy, in terms of being a useful model of the world/the opposition?

            I think it depends rather on how you use either of them. I could see both of them being useful but they are almost never used that way by the people who espouse them.

            Patriarchy can actually be useful for understanding dynamics in our society if you take the original meaning and see it as infusing our values and norms in some areas but is contradicted in others and definitely not a conspiracy. Ie. rule of the fathers(/older, powerful males) not society is organised, powerful men tend to occupy the most powerful positions, women are seen as less capable, are controlled and protected simultaneously, men who have not made it to the top are often in the worst position.

            The feminist movement as it exists today would then be a revolt against some aspects of this system while pushing in favour of others. For instance, women should not have their freedom limited or be controlled. At the same time we should take violence against women more seriously than violence against men, they are more worthy of protection. “End violence against women” is a continuation of “never hit a woman” or the idea men should sacrifice themselves in war to save the women back at home.

            I think this is why things like victim blaming become such flash points of extreme emotion for feminists — it’s precisely here that pushing against and pushing for patriarchy rub together. Restricting where you go, who you hang around alone with, how drunk you get, and how you present yourself are all ways that you can make yourself safer but all restrict your freedom. it is probably impossible to create a society in which doing these things won’t make you at least partly safer simply because we’ll never eliminate violence completely.

          11. jermo sapiens

            label that points to a collection of ideas and people in the real world without describing them with any accuracy.

            I believe it’s a reasonable label that has sufficient accuracy for its purposes. It’s an ideology that aims to lift the culturally disadvantaged and marxism is an ideology that aims to lift the economically disadvantaged.

            From where I sit, “cultural Marxism” is a label invented by a group of people who have strong objections to another group of people.

            I’m not sure where the term comes from but I’ll take your word for it.

            But it’s not even like calling someone you disagree with a Fascist because there is at least a historic referent for such a thing as a fascist even if it’s used incorrectly in the current context.

            I dont see why that’s a problem. Cultural marxism has commonalities with marxism, namely they are both designed to help disadvantaged people. The “cultural” modifier is a reasonable descriptor of the type of disadvantaged cultural marxism aims to help.

            The word “patriarchy” is a word like “matriarchy,” “racism” or “system of oppression” or “democracy” or “hegemony.” These are all words that describe coherent ideas. A person may disagree with whether that word accurately describes any aspect of a particular context, but the word itself describes a coherent idea. Yes, people may negotiate over the precise bounds of the definition as people do over all big ideas, but the ideas themselves are generally seen as usefully and coherently describing something that exists in the world.

            Are you saying cultural marxism describes something that does not exist? I would disagree, and most of what can also be described as woke SJWism is cultural marxism. Anybody you hear someone tell someone else to shut up because they have “white privilege” you are seeing cultural marxism in action.

            It’s a rhetorical device used to name an ideology, not a conspiracy theory. Others have called the same ideology “bioleninism”, which suggests a similar idea.

            That this is what you took from what I said in order to argue against it suggests to me you didn’t understand what I said.

            If I am still misunderstanding, I apologize. I thought the rest of my comment addressed most of the other issues you raised well, but addressed more directly the issues raised by @LadyJane, which is why I quoted her instead of you.

          12. DavidFriedman

            One of the key elements of Marxism is that it’s fundamentally an economic theory.

            On the other hand, self-identified Marxists seem much more common in English departments than in economics departments. The identification of lots of things not obviously economic with Marxism, whether logically correct or not, isn’t just an invention of the right wing.

          13. Hyzenthlay

            @cuke

            The word “patriarchy” is a word like “matriarchy,” “racism” or “system of oppression” or “democracy” or “hegemony.” These are all words that describe coherent ideas. A person may disagree with whether that word accurately describes any aspect of a particular context, but the word itself describes a coherent idea. Yes, people may negotiate over the precise bounds of the definition as people do over all big ideas, but the ideas themselves are generally seen as usefully and coherently describing something that exists in the world.

            And “cultural Marxism” feels like a coherent and useful concept to some people, just as the above concepts feel coherent and useful to you.

            I’d agree that “cultural Marxist” is vague and reductive, and kind of a made-up category. But I do understand what it’s gesturing at, just as I understand what “hegemony” is gesturing at (while also feeling that it’s vague and reductive). “Hegemony” is a more commonly used term but I don’t think it’s any more or less coherent.

            You could argue that its relative commonness is in and of itself is evidence that the term is more useful and descriptive, but if that’s the case, does that mean if “cultural Marxist” were popularized to the same extent that would make it equally valid?

          14. LadyJane

            @jermo sapiens: Even if “Cultural Marxism” describes a real phenomenon (which itself is debatable, it seems more like a lot of unrelated things are being grouped together under that label), it’s still a very misleading term. Marxism is a lot more complicated than “the economically downtrodden seek to take power for themselves,” you can’t just switch out “economically downtrodden” for any other arbitrary group and expect it to still make any sense whatsoever. Also, many proponents of the “Cultural Marxism” theory believe that the so-called Cultural Marxists are actual economic communists who are conspiring to bring about some kind of authoritarian socialist world state. That further inclines me to think that “Cultural Marxism” is a bad term, since it leads people to make crazy and nonsensical assumptions like that.

            So while I get how “Cultural Marxism” could be seen as a parallel to actual Marxism, actually equating it to a form of Marxism is an example of the non-central fallacy at best, and a complete and total falsehood at worst.

            Here’s an example: Fascism endorses a balance between capitalist and socialist economics. Social democracy does the same thing. Mutualism, a form of anarchism that combines elements of anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-socialism, also does the same thing. But referring to social democracy as “democratic fascism” and mutualism as “anarcho-fascism” would be extremely misleading, and it would likely cause people to make a lot of assumptions about social democracy and mutualism that weren’t actually true at all.

            And yet that’s still less misleading than “Cultural Marxism” because at least fascism, social democracy, and mutualism are all in the same category (political-economic ideology), whereas Marxism and the Social Justice movement are in completely separate categories (a purely economic theory vs. a purely sociocultural movement).

          15. Hyzenthlay

            And yet that’s still less misleading than “Cultural Marxism” because at least fascism, social democracy, and mutualism are all in the same category (political-economic ideology), whereas Marxism and the Social Justice movement are in completely separate categories (a purely economic theory vs. a purely sociocultural movement).

            Social Justice/progressivism and Marxism are not the same thing, no…and there are people who use the terms pretty interchangeably, which I think is sloppy. But I think it’s also misleading to suggest that there is virtually no connection or overlap between the two, or that economic/political theories exist in conceptual isolation from sociocultural movements. There’s generally an economic component to most social ideologies, even if it’s not uniform.

            I’d wager that most people’s exposure to Marxist concepts comes through movements like Social Justice, rather than reading the original texts.

            The idea behind “Cultural Marxism” is that actual Marxists in the government and academia are using identity politics to attack traditional values, break up the family structure, and undermine Western civilization in general, in order to make it easier to bring about an actual Soviet-style communist takeover.

            I don’t think there are many actual Marxists in government (and I don’t know who’s making that claim) but they are fairly common in academia and do indeed use identity politics as a lens to criticize a society they see as fundamentally oppressive (which includes a critical view of heteronormative nuclear families as the default) and many of them are also politically active and want to change the government to one that better fits their values, so…kind of, yes? But none of this is particularly secret or conspiratorial, it’s all out in the open. (Though some people might understate their own views in order to avoid seeming too radical.) Pointing out that this is a thing doesn’t mean that someone is endorsing conspiracy theories. Pointing out patterns and connections and using umbrella terms to describe those things doesn’t automatically equal “conspiracy” either.

            Scott’s recent post on what does or doesn’t count as a “conspiracy theory” seems relevant, because both sides of any conflict seem to commonly accuse the other of indulging in conspiracy theories.

          16. LadyJane

            I’d wager that most people’s exposure to Marxist concepts comes through movements like Social Justice, rather than reading the original texts.

            There are no Marxist concepts in the Social Justice movement. Marxism is an economic theory. It’s entirely centered around the idea of historical materialism, in which culture doesn’t matter, can’t matter, and won’t ever matter in terms of bringing about any kind of meaningful societal change, because economic factors are the only thing that can ever make a difference. If you have a theory in which cultural issues matter in their own right and supersede economic factors, then that theory is incompatible with Marxism and can’t meaningfully be described as Marxist.

            At most you can say that the Social Justice theory of identity conflict parallels the Marxist theory of class conflict. But even that’s based on a very shallow understanding of Marxism. Class conflict in itself isn’t necessarily Marxist, there were other socialist and communist ideologies at the time which proposed various forms of class conflict, and Marx rejected them. What defines Marxism as unique is the fact that it contextualizes class conflict within the framework of historical materialism. You can’t contextualize identity conflict within that framework in the same way, because it would make no sense.

            Again, it’s the equivalent of referring to social democracy as “democratic fascism” because both systems aim to find a balance between capitalism and socialism. It’s misleading because there are multiple systems that try to balance capitalism and socialism; fascism isn’t unique in that regard, and there are other defining aspects of fascism that outright conflict with democracy, which makes “democratic fascism” both a self-contradictory term and a terrible descriptor of social democracy. And since most Americans are opposed to fascism, the term “democratic fascism” is likely to make people view social democracy in a negative light, even if they would’ve otherwise been neutral or supportive of it.

            For another analogy, it would be like saying that some ancient polytheistic tribal religion practiced by remote Pacific Islanders was really just “polytheistic Christianity,” because both religions had ceremonies in which people ate bread and drank wine. Bread-eating and wine-drinking aren’t unique to Christianity, and the things that actually define Christianity as a unique religion (belief in Yahweh as the One True God who created the universe, belief in Jesus Christ being God and giving his life to save mankind) are all things that contradict the islanders’ belief system. Now imagine you go to a nearby island where the natives all vehemently hate Christianity due to some hostile encounters with Christian missionaries a few centuries ago. How do you think they’ll react if you describe the religion of their neighbors as “polytheistic Christianity”?

            I don’t think there are many actual Marxists in government (and I don’t know who’s making that claim) but they are fairly common in academia and do indeed use identity politics as a lens to criticize a society they see as fundamentally oppressive (which includes a critical view of heteronormative nuclear families as the default) and many of them are also politically active and want to change the government to one that better fits their values, so…kind of, yes?

            1. Marxists are very much a minority, even in academia. Many academics have studied Marx and engage with his work, because he’s one of the most influential political/economic thinkers of the modern age, but that doesn’t make them Marxists. In terms of people who actually believe in the tenets of Marxist economic theory, they’re fairly rare. They’re not completely unheard of, and I don’t doubt that they’re represented at a greater rate than among the general population, but they’re not “fairly common” at all, and they certainly don’t have a controlling influence over academic institutions like right-wing conspiracy theorists seem to think.

            2. This is tangential to my main point, but I feel like you’ve highlighted a major flaw with Anti-SJW thinking, which is that opponents of Social Justice view its advocates as being opposed to traditional values in and of themselves. Even if it’s not tied to “Cultural Marxism” or similar conspiracy theories, it demonstrates that they’re doing a very poor job of modeling the mindset of their ideological opponents. A few weeks ago, Scott mentioned that he just had an intuition that the “End Father’s Day” movement was a hoax, and this is precisely why that hoax was transparently obvious for anyone who wasn’t an Anti-SJW. Social Justice advocates don’t hate traditions simply for existing, they just don’t particularly value traditions, and thus oppose traditions when they conflict with the things that Social Justice advocates do value.

            They have a value system that’s orthogonal to the value system of social conservatives, not a perfectly reversed version of the same value system. They’re not just devoted to the social conservative version of evil, they don’t just oppose everything that social conservatives support and vice-versa. To assume they do is a mistake similar to assuming that atheists must be literal devil worshipers who believe in Satan and want him to win.

          17. Hyzenthlay

            There are no Marxist concepts in the Social Justice movement.

            There are Marxists in the Social Justice movement, though. You could say that they’re getting things wrong and are probably telling people incorrect things about Marxism, which they very well may be (since some may themselves be getting the info from a secondhand source rather than Marx himself), but saying they’re therefore not real Marxists is no-true-Scotsmanning. We call Christians Christians even when they get stuff wrong about Christianity (which many of them do, since lots of people who identify as Christians have not even read the whole Bible).

            I did grant earlier, you’ll remember, that using the term “cultural Marxist” as a stand-in for “Social Justice advocate” was sloppy and shouldn’t be done. But saying things like “there are no Marxist concepts in SJ” also seems like an unreasonably rigid and black-and-white view of reality. Marx’s influence was such that Marxism broadened into a wider movement which included lots of people with more diverse views. Insisting that people not use the word Marxist except under very narrow circumstances seems kind of like insisting that people stop calling soy milk “milk” because it didn’t come out of a cow and it will “mislead” people. No one is being misled; people understand what soy milk is and that it didn’t come out of a cow. In this context milk means “creamy beverage resembling dairy milk.” There’s still a limit to what counts as milk–it would be weird to call orange juice “orange milk,” for instance–and where that limit is is somewhat subjective, but the basic point is that words change meaning and frequently broaden to include things they didn’t originally include.

            And of course, this can be weaponized; people who use the term “cultural Marxism” are generally trying to say something critical about Social Justice values and highlight the parallels to a more controversial economic idea, and that’s why they use it. While that’s a reason for regarding it with suspicion, it doesn’t automatically disqualify it. I tend to be suspicious of the word “privilege” for the same reasons–it’s shifting the original meaning of the word in order to change the way people think about certain things, for the sake of pushing a certain worldview–but that doesn’t mean the term should be completely thrown out or that there are no valid circumstances for using it.

            In your example about polytheistic Christianity, I think that if a group of people started worshipping both Jesus and Mary as well as other Biblical figures as divine beings it wouldn’t be strange to refer to it as “polytheistic Christianity,” even if it contradicted some original tenets of Christianity (that Jesus is the one true god, for instance). Because that’s what happens with words and belief systems. They mutate and evolve.

            Nowhere did I state that progressives hate tradition for the sake of hating tradition. I said that they regard society as generally oppressive (which they do) and that they tend to be critical of the concept that the nuclear family is or should be the default building block of society (which is also true). That does make their values the polar opposite of social conservatives along certain axes, but I’m sure there are plenty of traditions they regard as neutral and innocuous.

            You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about my value system based on my pretty lukewarm defense of the term “cultural Marxist.” And I notice this in a later comment:

            So yeah, the whole concept of Cultural Marxism is dangerous. It’s a memetic hazard for people who don’t have defenses against it, a mindkiller, a zombie virus.

            Painting any idea or word as a “zombie virus” is absurd. You knew one guy who became more extreme when he started listening to people who were more extreme than him. And people in general became more extreme on both ends when Trump happened, because scary and volatile times are polarizing. I really doubt it was the word itself that did it to him.

            I mean, I’ve had bad experiences with friends embracing SJ ideology and their personalities changing to the point where they seemed like different people. Generally chill, open-minded people became angry and intolerant zealots who I was kind of afraid of. I think this is unfortunate, but it would be silly and dehumanizing to suggest that just hearing SJ ideas turned them into “zombies.” People become more extreme for different reasons–life circumstances, fluctuating mental health, the political climate. People who are scared and angry want certainty, and this is the case across the political spectrum.

          18. LadyJane

            There are Marxists in the Social Justice movement, though. You could say that they’re getting things wrong and are probably telling people incorrect things about Marxism, which they very well may be (since some may themselves be getting the info from a secondhand source rather than Marx himself), but saying they’re therefore not real Marxists is no-true-Scotsmanning.

            Yes, there are Marxists in the Social Justice movement, and for the sake of argument I’ll grant that they’re real Marxists (although they often have to make contrived arguments and jump through a lot of mental hoops to fit Marxism together with Social Justice ideas). Even then, their support of Marxism as an economic system is totally orthogonal to their support of Social Justice as a cultural movement. They didn’t become Marxists because they supported Social Justice or vice-versa (although they may have deeper underlying values that caused them to support both). There are environmentalists who are also Christians, but that doesn’t mean that it would be fair to describe all environmentalists as Christians, or all Christians as environmentalists.

            Insisting that people not use the word Marxist except under very narrow circumstances seems kind of like insisting that people stop calling soy milk “milk” because it didn’t come out of a cow and it will “mislead” people. No one is being misled; people understand what soy milk is and that it didn’t come out of a cow.

            But that’s precisely the problem, people don’t understand what Cultural Marxism is, and they are being misled. If someone thinks that supporting feminism and LGBT rights will lead to communism, or that they’re a result of communism, or that they’re connected to communism in any way, then they’re mistaken. Those things are totally orthogonal to communism. And so, any term or theory that causes people to make that particular mistake is misleading.

            I really doubt it was the word itself that did it to him.

            It’s not the term itself, it’s the concept implied by the term. I saw this post in a libertarian Facebook group the other day, and it doesn’t use the term Cultural Marxism at all, but it spells out the concept behind the idea in extensive detail. (And while this guy is clearly an unreliable crazy person, I’ve seen countless other people express the same concept in less crazy ways. It’s a very, very, very common argument.)

            I’m also not saying that it’s just the idea of Cultural Marxism that makes people become more politically extreme. Obviously, as you said, there are a lot of other factors. But it increases political polarization by causing people to assume that one’s stance on economic issues and one’s stance on social/cultural issues must be inherently linked. That has the effect of 1.) preventing people from taking a “right-wing” stance on one axis and a “left-wing” stance on another, because they now see those positions as incompatible, and 2.) prevents them from believing that other people can be socially progressive without being communists, and causes them to assume bad faith of anyone who claims that position (“either they’re lying or they’re useful idiots who don’t realize how they’re actually helping the commies”). And I think that’s a very bad thing, especially in an age that’s already prone to ideological polarization for all the other reasons you mentioned.

          19. DavidFriedman

            In terms of people who actually believe in the tenets of Marxist economic theory, they’re fairly rare.

            How about people who call themselves Marxists, whether or not they understand or accept the tenets of Marxist economic theory?

            Here are some figures. As of 2006, about 5% of professors in the humanities and 17.6 percent in the social scientists self-identified as Marxist.

            The web site of the English department of the University of Chicago has a page labeled “Marxism,” apparently a category under “approaches.” It lists ten faculty members. I haven’t located any description of what that means, so don’t know whether these are professors who call themselves Marxists or who think their work has something to do with Marxism–but it’s an English department.

          20. Hyzenthlay

            If someone thinks that supporting feminism and LGBT rights will lead to communism, or that they’re a result of communism, or that they’re connected to communism in any way, then they’re mistaken. Those things are totally orthogonal to communism.

            I’d agree. I don’t identify as feminist, but I am pro-choice, in favor of flexible gender roles, pro marriage equality, have a pretty mellow stance on trans issues, and am also a capitalist. And I’ve been frequently lectured by leftists on how you can’t truly support those things while being a capitalist because capitalism is a part of patriarchal heteronormativity and white supremacy, etc. This isn’t just a few random eccentric leftists either, there are huge numbers of people who casually use phrases like “the white patriarchal capitalist establishment.” If you haven’t run into any of them then I can just assume you’ve never been on Tumblr or Twitter. (Or at least, not the same parts of them I have.)

            The people who use phrases like “cultural Marxism” haven’t plucked it out of thin air; I think they’re observing this trend of progressives embracing Marxism (or a warped version of Marxism) and deciding to take these people at face value.

            If you’re fed up with people conflating communism with social liberalism, then instead of directing all your attention toward eliminating phrases like “cultural Marxism” (which are used fairly infrequently outside of a few small subcultures) I would direct it toward the thousands upon thousands of anti-capitalist SJ-advocates who loudly insist that those two things are inextricably linked and that capitalism is designed to oppress women and minorities.

          21. LadyJane

            If you’re fed up with people conflating communism with social liberalism, then instead of directing all your attention toward eliminating phrases like “cultural Marxism” (which are used fairly infrequently outside of a few small subcultures) I would direct it toward the thousands upon thousands of anti-capitalist SJ-advocates who loudly insist that those two things are inextricably linked and that capitalism is designed to oppress women and minorities.

            I can assure you, I do plenty of that too. The discussions I get into here are hardly representative of “all my attention.” But I see the “Cultural Marxism” argument come up every few days in some political groups, and that’s often enough for me to devote some of my attention to pushing back against that narrative.

          1. Incandenza

            Ah yeah, I read that post but had forgotten about it! And… well, I’ll save my disagreements for a more relevant thread. My original point here was just that racist twitter trolls are likely not clearing a space for more sophisticated IDW-type arguments because racist twitter trolls are – like Alex Jones, come to think of it – very stupid.

        2. Hyzenthlay

          They use their very large platforms to criticize those who are critical of the existing social order – i.e., they take the most broadly popular position on social politics

          There is no single “existing social order.” Society is not a monolith, it is a series of overlapping subcultures.

          I’d say Haidt and the others are members of one subculture/value system criticizing members of another subculture/value system, and both subcultures have roughly equal power and influence. Haidt and Co’s platforms are fairly large, but they aren’t larger than the platforms of people promoting the values that they’re criticizing. If anything I’d say they’re a bit smaller.

          Whether they take the most popular position really depends on what issue you’re talking about and how you’re interpreting it.

        3. Don_Flamingo

          @LadyJane
          The way I understand the whole “cultural marxism”-claim from JP is not that “the movment” is about trying to implement communism or that it’s related to Marxist economical ideas.
          It’s about there being a mass movement of True Believers becoming a credible threat to society. Movements are interchangeable, goals and values don’t matter.
          And JP isn’t worried about communism as an econ-theory either driving up the price of maple syrup; he’s scared to death by communism, because communists murdered people by the milions.
          That the “spectre of communism” turned out to live up to it’s name.
          Marx didn’t tell them to do that. Not part of communist propaganda or intellectual work either, really. So it doesn’t matter what the stated goals of a mass movement are.

          Basically it’s the 60-year old Eric Hoffer argument:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer
          Probably some Hannah Arendt thrown in the mix.
          Though I think he mentions something about postmodernism.
          Whatever.

          That’s the argument he should be making, anyway.
          I’m honestly not sure what JP is saying in detail. But are you sure, he’s saying what you’re claiming? That sounds too stupid.
          It seems to me, he’s just making an argument along those lines, perhaps unwisely calling it “cultural marxism”, which other people have already used for some kind of conspiracy theory. Í don’t think he means the same thing, that Buchanan or whoever meant, when they have used the term first.
          “Cultural Marxism” wasn’t even really a thing, before JP started using it. I can’t even find a wiki-article for it. It’s just a footnote to the Frankfurt school, which doesn’t mention JP. So it’s still not really a thing.
          Seems quite all right to call that argument “cultural marxism”, because why should he at all be concerned with some obscure American nutjobs in the 90s having grand ideas about something happening in Germany 60 to 70 years ago.
          AFAIK, JP never mentions the Frankfurt school or any paleoconservative Americans. Why would he even know about those? Are they important for the field of psychology or relevant for modern culture?
          This just strikes me as an uncharitable reading. It’s not damning at all, that he uses this term.
          [epistemic status: not super-certain, but I don’t really care to hunt for textual or audio evidence, if you’re saying that’s totally what JP is about, then fine, don’t care enough to check or argue, really. This was way too much work to get straight already.]

          1. LadyJane

            It wasn’t just some people in the 90s, modern alt-rightists and anti-SJWs use the term “Cultural Marxism” all the time to criticize any form of social progressivism as a communist plot. See this article, it’s definitely got a left-wing bias but it does a good job explaining the theory and cataloging the modern uses of the term.

            I see it all the time in libertarian groups, some far-rightist will come in explaining how they agree with being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” in theory, but modern social liberalism (feminism, gay marriage, trans rights, etc.) is actually a Cultural Marxist plot that’s incompatible with capitalism, so we need to oppose it to preserve capitalism. And that argument has been dangerously effective at convincing people who would otherwise be liberal or neutral on Culture War issues to side with extreme far-right cultural conservatives.

            I knew this guy, we went to high school together and had stayed in touch via Facebook for years. He had libertarian views and while he tended towards the conspiracy theory side of libertarianism, he was fairly reasonable overall. Back when the Syrian refugee crisis first started, he passionately defended the right of Syrian refugees to seek asylum in the West. He was strongly anti-war and basically saw them as victims of U.S. foreign policy, and believed that we had an obligation to take them in; after all, it was the least we could do after we ruined their country. And while his views on LGBT people weren’t exactly positive, he took a “live and let live” attitude (I remember him saying that he still considered Chelsea Manning to be a hero for her actions, even if he thought the whole gender change thing was really weird and uncomfortable). He was also adamantly opposed to Trump, seeing him as just another example of “controlled opposition” being used by the establishment to mislead people, no different than Obama.

            Then sometime around 2016, he internalized the whole Cultural Marxism meme, and he basically did a complete 180. He started talking about how we can’t let any immigrants in because the “globalists” are using them to replace the native population and bring about a socialist takeover. He started denouncing women’s rights and sexual liberation and the “gay agenda” and the “trans agenda” as part of a plot by the elite to undermine traditional values and destroy the nuclear family and bring down Western birth rates. He didn’t buy into the racism or anti-Semitism, but he fully bought into White supremacist conspiracy theories about Jews trying to eradicate White people through multiculturalism and feminism and homosexuality, he just mentally replaced “Jews” with “Marxist cosmopolitan elites” and “Whites” with “traditional Americans/Westerners.” He claimed that it would be better to lose some liberty fighting back against “communism” than to lose it all by letting the “communists” win. He became a die-hard Trump supporter, and started distancing himself from libertarians unless they were also pro-Trump paleo-conservative populists. He was a perfect example of the libertarian to alt-right pipeline, and I saw the entire transformation take place right in front of my eyes over the course of only a few weeks. Needless to say, we stopped being friends.

            So yeah, the whole concept of Cultural Marxism is dangerous. It’s a memetic hazard for people who don’t have defenses against it, a mindkiller, a zombie virus. And even if Peterson himself just picked up the term without realizing the full connotations of it, he’s still spreading the conspiracy theory, because his followers are going to look into Cultural Marxism on their own and get swept up in the conspiracy theory. He’s an asymptomatic carrier. That’s why when he expresses surprise about the existence of anti-Semites in his fan base, people respond with “well what the fuck did you expect to happen?!”

            And again, even leaving all of that aside, it’s a misleading term. Most people have negative opinions of communism and Marxism, so a term that associates social progressivism with those things is going to unfairly make social progressivism look bad, pretty much by definition.

          2. albatross11

            Lady Jane:

            I’ve seem the term “Cultural Marxism” tossed around on the right end of the blogosphere for years, as a kind of broad term for the whole SJW/postmodern/deconstructionist movement and worldview. I don’t think it usually changes people into crazy conspiracy theorists–the danger that leads in that direction is (IMO) iteratively restricting your information/news sources until you’re down to a small set that never allows any worldview-challenging facts or ideas to get through. It’s not clear to me that it’s a term that leads to sloppy thinking any more than “alt-right” for everyone from Bannon to Spencer, or “the patriarchy” for all the social/political forces that push back against feminist goals.

            Now, Peterson usually cares about precisely describing things, so it would be nice if he stuck with a more precise term. Though in the two or three interviews I’ve heard with him, I don’t recall him using the term at all. I remember him talking about postmodernism and decrying the state of the humanities in universities. I wasn’t specifically listening for the term, so maybe he used it, but it certainly wasn’t a big part of what he was saying.

          3. jermo sapiens

            the term Jordan Peterson uses all the time to describe his enemies is “post-modern neo-marxists”. I dont think i’ve ever heard him say cultural marxist although he may have said it.

          4. LadyJane

            It’s not clear to me that it’s a term that leads to sloppy thinking any more than “alt-right” for everyone from Bannon to Spencer, or “the patriarchy” for all the social/political forces that push back against feminist goals.

            First off, I agree that “alt-right” is a messy and overly broad term, and I’m skeptical of its usefulness, but I don’t think it’s as misleading as “Cultural Marxism.” It can definitely have the same effect, since it might cause people to think “racists are alt-right, these anti-establishment right-wingers identify as alt-right, therefore they must be racist.” That may even be a common assumption among leftists. For that reason, I’m inclined to think that “alt-right” is a term that gives off a lot more heat than light, and I’d greatly prefer for people to agree on a consistent definition for the term, or at least specify which definition they were going by when they used it. Or for people to just stop using the term altogether.

            Still, at least with “alt-right,” the misconception isn’t baked into the term itself like it is with “Cultural Marxism.” If the term was “alt-racist” and implied that anyone who supported tariffs (including left-wing protectionists like Bernie Sanders!) was trying to bring about a White supremacist takeover, that would be comparable to “Cultural Marxism.” (The Bernie Sanders comparison isn’t an exaggeration; I’ve literally seen die-hard supporters of free-market capitalism and even some anarcho-capitalists called “socialists” and “communists” by paleo-conservatives simply for supporting the “Cultural Marxism” of women’s equality, gay marriage, trans rights, and so forth.)

            “Patriarchy” doesn’t have the same problem as “Cultural Marxism” or “alt-right,” because it’s very clearly defined. Even when left-wing feminists criticize female politicians like Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris for supporting foreign wars and private prisons, they don’t typically accuse the Clinton/Harris types of supporting patriarchy, because that’s a term used specifically for gender issues. They’ll usually accuse the Clinton/Harris types of supporting “carceral feminism” or “imperialist feminism” or something like that.

            the term Jordan Peterson uses all the time to describe his enemies is “post-modern neo-marxists”. I dont think i’ve ever heard him say cultural marxist although he may have said it.

            That effectively amounts to the same thing. The exact words might be a little different, but the concept (“social progressivism is a form of Marxism, and will lead to authoritarianism just like other forms of Marxism”) is identical.

    2. 10240

      residual feelings of irrational disgust.

      Is it irrational to dislike spinach? To be disgusted with the idea of eating a bug? To find some sights beautiful, and others ugly and disgusting? I’d say these sorts of attitudes are arational: they don’t fall into the realm of reason. ‘Irrational’, as a negative term, should IMO be reserved for instrumental values you hold that you think are conducive to your terminal values, but reasoning shows that they actually aren’t.

      1. Incandenza

        Yeah, I hesitated in using the word ‘irrational,’ actually, precisely because I think it’s often not fruitful to think about social attitudes on a rational/irrational spectrum. To be a little more precise, then: what’s irrational is to be committed to the broadly accepted principles of personal liberty and civil rights, and yet to also hold that some people should be denied those rights simply based on one’s own feelings of personal disgust. Those are mutually contradictory positions.

        In principle, one could continue to feel personally disgusted by gay people yet fully support their civil rights, though I think this is probably rare. A maybe interesting question is the extent to which the abstract commitment to rights, etc., might lead one to overcome feelings of visceral disgust…

        1. Hyzenthlay

          In principle, one could continue to feel personally disgusted by gay people yet fully support their civil rights, though I think this is probably rare.

          I don’t think it’s rare at all. I know quite a few people (mostly men) who are fully on board with marriage equality and generally liberal socially but still get uncomfortable when they see two guys making out. They’re generally fine with watching women make out, though.

          I don’t think the discomfort goes away necessarily, because emotions aren’t all that responsive to what our rational minds think in general, but I think it is easier to put those feelings in perspective when you don’t attach moral significance to them. “This is unpleasant for me” doesn’t have to be a direct line to “this is objectively bad,” a lot of people just haven’t learned to keep their lizard brains on a leash.

          1. albatross11

            I think the thing we’re running into here is that taboos and social norms are usually not rationally argued-out things, whether they’re good or bad. For example, I find the idea of sleeping with my sister repulsive. There are good rational reasons for not having children with your siblings, and I understand them and can articulate them, but that’s not why it’s repulsive to me–it’s a reaction that’s burned in at a level below reason.

            You could use reason to convince me to tolerate[1] a married brother/sister couple who were careful not to have children, or to use some kind of genetic screening to protect their kids from too many nasty double-recessives. But I don’t think you could argue me into wanting to sleep with my sister.

            This is the level at which the strongest norms exist.

            [1] In the sense of not feeling like they need to be arrested or forcibly separated or forced into psychological treatment or something.

        2. 10240

          what’s irrational is to be committed to the broadly accepted principles of personal liberty and civil rights, and yet to also hold that some people should be denied those rights simply based on one’s own feelings of personal disgust.

          Agreed.

          1. LadyJane

            Should incest be legalized then? It absolutely disgusts me on a visceral level, yet I’m sure there are people who would consider my own sapphic indulgences just as disgusting. I used to argue that it should be illegal because of the possibility that it might produce deformed or disabled offspring, but the odds of that happening are fairly low (it’s typically only after several generations of incest that you start to see offspring with serious medical issues). And if the couple is using any kind of contraception, then even the odds of a pregnancy happening are fairly low. Plus that whole issue doesn’t apply to cases of homosexual incest, or people who are sterile/infertile. You can argue that it results in abusive power dynamics, and that works as a case against parent/child incest (which seems especially disturbing to me), but that’s not as strong of a case against sibling incest, especially if the siblings are close in age.

          2. 10240

            @LadyJane It should be legal as long as the risk of pregnancy and birth defects is not significant. Homosexual incest definitely. Heterosexual, I think I’ve read that even cousin pairings produce significantly higher (though not extreme) rates of birth defects; I’m not sure at what certainty of contraception (if any) should first-degree incest be legal.

          3. cuke

            Yes, I don’t see any reason to criminalize incest between consenting adults.

            I think a huge amount of “society” is about people learning to overcome limbic reactions in service to a more rational, civilized world.

            We humans are this funny mix of reptile brain and prefrontal cortex and that sets up all kinds of conflicts. But just because we *feel* something strongly doesn’t give it moral rightness. It just means we have strong feelings. Though reasoning from feelings is something we all commonly do (and is also worth resisting).

          4. hls2003

            But just because we *feel* something strongly doesn’t give it moral rightness. It just means we have strong feelings.

            I believe most right-of-center folks would endorse this sentiment, if it were evenly applied. At least, it is not uncommon in right-leaning spaces to see progressives as elevating certain personal feelings over every other consideration. This seems particularly relevant in the modern context of self-appointed gender identity.

          5. cuke

            My reading of history is that all positions on the political spectrum and on any specific issue are equally capable of emotional reasoning. It’s a human quality that is distributed through the population.

            My sense is that the tendency to engage in emotional reasoning is correlated with emotional reactivity, sometimes but not always lack of education, trauma history, and other combinations of genetic and environmental factors. To me it’s a question of what tools people have to regulate their emotions and how well do they access those tools when they encounter challenging circumstances.

            Because at this moment in history you find it particularly expressed in gender identity discussions is an artifact of your political position on that issue. I am confident we could find this quality in equal measure if we talked through every single group of people talking about every politically or morally salient issue of any time period. It doesn’t exist in equal measure in every single person, but neither side of the political spectrum is more “guilty” of it, and if you think they are, I would suggest that’s an instance of emotional reasoning.

            A friend of mine was threatened in her car while driving to work because in thick traffic she paused to allow someone to pull in front of her as they were coming out of a driveway. The traffic was thick enough that no one was getting anywhere faster than anyone else, this was evident. The person behind her pointed a weapon at her, screamed vile misogynist terms at her, threatened her with physical harm, and then eventually drove on when she began to video his behavior. He was able to get one car in front of her in the traffic. That’s a person at one far end of the spectrum of inability to regulate his emotions and this emotional reactivity swamping his ability to think rationally about the situation he was in. This is the ingredient that is spread through the human population and which manifests in milder versions in emotional reasoning in political conversations. I have it in me; you have it in you. We may not be the insane, irrational, raging man stuck in traffic threatening someone else to vent our suffering, but I believe we are all on that same spectrum somewhere.

            The guy who mowed down the woman in Charlottesville and the guy who shot up the Republican Congressmen on a baseball field also stand out as extremes on this same spectrum. Those of us not at the extreme end of this, we are all capable of causing harm because we don’t have a handle on our emotions.

          6. hls2003

            @cuke:

            Someone with violent road rage is an example of badly handling emotion, but it doesn’t seem to me to shed any light at all on the question you were discussing. For one thing, acting emotionally and experiencing feelings are not the same thing. I mean, I am fully in agreement with you that violent emotional responses are rarely productive in society (though see, e.g., combat). But the salient issue is whether that fellow feeling the road rage – the subjective internal experience, even if he merely grimaces and hangs on in quiet desperation rather than acting out – has itself some moral weight. Your point, it seemed to me, was that it does not. Someone feeling bad is not a harm. Your conviction on that leads you to support toleration of incest because the only harm it causes (in the hypo) is harm to the feelings of others.

            Of course neither side of the political spectrum is free from emotion, but the principle of “feelings do not create moral rightness” itself tends to have salience often because it is selectively applied, usually by assumption. For example, what harm has the incestuous couple suffered by being denied their desires? Is it not “hurt feelings” in some sense? Why should their feelings be given moral weight, but those of people in society none? What harm, other than to one’s feelings, does a trans person suffer by being called a non-preferred name?

            That being said, while each side no doubt privileges its own feelings over others – a common trait of humanity – given that the different sides of the political spectrum have different priorities (e.g. Haidt’s theory about progressives caring more about Care and Fairness) which can be seen in the policy issues they embrace and advocate for, why should it be surprising that one side or the other would perceive more benefit from invoking a facially neutral principle elevating feelings-based morality.

            EDIT: Also, to be clear about my original post, my observation is more-or-less empirical. I believe polling pretty consistently shows the left side of American politics is perceived to be more concerned (and in tune) with feelings, while the right side is generally seen to be less caring, more hard-hearted, and more dismissive of issues involving emotional harm. Regardless of how logical it is internally, I think it is objectively true that there is a public perception of that dichotomy externally, which would suggest that “those conservatives, always wanting to give feelings moral weight” would be counter to prevailing public perception and usage.

          7. cuke

            hls2003, I think the word “feelings” is serving multiple purposes here and perhaps needs to be clarified. I’ll read this again in a more coherent moment and see if I can respond at that level too. I think polling that shows liberals being more guided by “compassion” or whatever (and maybe we need to look at the same polling to make sure we’re talking about the same thing) is a different kind of use of “feeling” than what I’m talking about. I think liberals and conservatives are equally motivated by feelings, irrational impulses, and emotional reasoning. Different kinds of people may be more likely to update their priors based on evidence, I don’t know — ie, being willing to override emotion-based biases based on new information. Anyway, feeling is not a very precise word, so I’ll try to say this differently…

            I think not being able to regulate one’s emotions — and that includes not being able to refrain from acting on them — is a shared human experience that disrupts people’s ability to think and act rationally, and therefore leads them to reason from emotions instead (which isn’t actually reasoning, but is a form of distorted thinking).

            So I directly connect “difficulty regulating one’s emotions” to “engaging in emotional reasoning.” And my view is that all of us humans are on a spectrum that way — from Buddha, let’s say, to the impulsively violent person. So that’s why I consider the road rage story to be relevant. Someone who can regulate their emotions better can access their reasoning function and say to themselves, “hey, easy now, this isn’t the end of the world that this driver let a car in, because we’re all in this traffic jam right now. She didn’t take anything from me.” or further, “I can tell I’m very agitated about being late for work and my anger at this other driver is displaced anger because I’m really frustrated at myself for not allowing enough time to get to work when I know there’s always traffic congestion at this spot.”

            This is a battle between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, speaking simplistically. And if a person never learned the tools to tend to that battle in one’s own head, the battle tends to get externalized onto other people. Versions of this happen routinely when people discuss subjects about which they have strong feelings. It happens routinely in this comment section.

            I don’t understand this part that you wrote, if you’d be willing to clarify:

            Someone feeling bad is not a harm. Your conviction on that leads you to support toleration of incest because the only harm it causes (in the hypo) is harm to the feelings of others.

          8. hls2003

            @cuke:

            Sure, let me try to briefly recap my reasoning.

            In the post to which we’re replying (now quite a ways above), 10240 approvingly quoted an even earlier post, apparently agreeing that even if others feel personal disgust when observing certain actions (in the discussed case, homosexual acts), that personal disgust should not allow the disgusted people to ban the acts. LadyJane then brought up the example of incest, by which she is personally disgusted, and argued that the principle “personal disgust shouldn’t suffice to ban things” would suggest allowing incest also.[1]

            You then responded by agreeing that consensual incest should not be prohibited. I took your stated reasoning to be the quote I highlighted: “But just because we *feel* something strongly doesn’t give it moral rightness. It just means we have strong feelings.” Thus arguing, as I saw it, that any disgust a person might feel at consensual incest, is just a feeling, and feelings don’t get moral weight in your worldview.

            Sorry for the recap, but the context helps explain the portion of my follow-up that you inquired about. Based on the hypothetical, I perceive your guiding principle to be “negative emotions or feelings do not suffice to bear moral weight.” My prior rejoinder on that point is that very often they do, but by assuming them sub silentio, rather than stating them explicitly. So if we stick with the incest hypothetical, what harm is there to the consensual incest couple in being banned from their preferred mode of sexual expression? They will presumably be sad and frustrated. But sadness and frustration are merely feelings. Disgust is also merely a feeling. You have used your principle to resolve the incest hypothetical by assuming that there is a moral weight to the forbidden lovers’ emotional experience, but no moral weight to the disgusted observer’s emotional experience. I think that equivocation and quiet assumption, rather than strict reasoning from the principle as such, adequately accounts for the “let the incest-ers incest” result.

            Hope that helps clarify.

            [1] Incidentally, this argument has been percolating for some time, even back in the early days of the gay rights movement in the ’80’s and ’90’s, but at that time it was usually heard amongst right-wing opponents as a reductio ad absurdum of the “consensualist” position. At that time, it was usually derided by left-leaning folk as an absurd slippery slope argument.

          9. cuke

            hls2003,

            Thanks for re-capping and clarifying.

            From my initial response on the incest issue, I said: “I think a huge amount of ‘society’ is about people learning to overcome limbic reactions in service to a more rational, civilized world.”

            So that was me intending to say, roughly, “I don’t support the state regulating private consensual sex acts between adults based on some people’s visceral revulsion responses.”

            If state policy were governed more by people’s revulsion reactions, we might have governments ban the eating of vile slimy cooked okra or the private nose-picking of some of its citizens. I want to be left to my nose-picking and okra-eating in peace.

            My response about incest was not about morally discounting the harm of some people while elevating the harm of others, based on secret, unacknowledged feelings in support of the incestuous couple. If I’m understanding you right, that’s what you’re proposing. I was basically saying I don’t think it’s the government’s job to pass laws restricting private consensual acts because some people not involved in those acts find them repellent.

            If people want to stuff overripe bananas up their nostrils, and it’s not exacting a cost on society or harming other people, do we want the state regulating that? I mean, my goodness, we let people drink and smoke themselves to death even though it costs us all collectively a huge amount. Maybe there is a different argument to be made about why the state should regulate incest, but the one based on “ewwww,” I don’t find compelling. If you can offer me another example of a state regulation based on “ewww” that you think I might find to be an appropriate use of government intervention, that might turn my head around on this.

            So if I’m taking a moral stance based on feelings here, it would be: “I don’t FEEL that visceral revulsion on the part of some people SHOULD be a sufficient criteria for a state to intervene. That’s my stance because I further FEEL that individuals and society are going to do better, be healthier, when the state’s role can be justified on some rational grounds.

            You quoted me saying “But just because we *feel* something strongly doesn’t give it moral rightness” and then as far as I can tell, you used that to indulge in blame-slinging at the group of people on the political spectrum you disagree with, I guess imagining that I was was part of that target group. I read your response to me to be essentially, “yeah I’d agree with that sentiment if you liberals weren’t such hypocrites.” It read as fairly passive aggressive to me. The passing comment about “self-appointed gender identity” on top of that, in a conversation about something else entirely, sounded along the lines of “those precious entitled trans people and bleeding-heart liberals’ expectation that we all accommodate to their delicate feelings which they want to elevate over every other conceivable consideration.” If I’ve misunderstood, I would welcome clarification. We could certainly have a conversation about how various people’s feelings play out in the CW debate about trans rights, but then let’s have the conversation rather than just accuse liberals of being all the things you feel that they are. What new understanding comes of that?

            I find this kind of drive-by venting of political animosity in this discussion space frustrating because it derails the conversation into another “and here’s why liberals suck more than conservatives.” But we were having a conversation before that about respectability, revulsion, and rationality. I think that’s pretty interesting stuff. How is it helpful to interject with, “and by the way, you liberals suck more”?

            I tried to engage with the content of what you said by saying that truly it seems to me that emotional reasoning is equally distributed across the political spectrum. And then I offered my theory about why that is — that it has more to do with a person’s capacity to regulate their emotions than it has to do with their political beliefs.

          10. 10240

            @hls2003 There are several different variations of the “it’s just emotions” thing.
            1) Emotional reactions to something that doesn’t affect me: e.g. I may be disgusted by the idea of two men having sex, but if they do it in the privacy of their homes, it doesn’t affect me so I have no reason to want to ban it.
            2) Emotions evoked by something that affects me: e.g. many people don’t like to see public nudity. That’s arational: a terminal preference with no rational explanation. But if many people have that preference, that’s a good enough reason to ban public indecency. If some people are sad because they are not allowed to have sex with their sibling, that falls into this category too: there is no further explanation for their preference, but banning them from doing so does make them sad, and we generally want to avoid making people sad unnecessarily.
            3) Emotions that are directly about morality. Terminal moral values (moral axioms) are also arational feelings. (I’m a moral non-cognitivist and emotivist, so I actually prefer to think about preferences rather than moral views.) Nevertheless if we have any opinions about what the laws should be (other than self-interest), these feelings necessarily affect what we do or don’t ban.

          11. hls2003

            @cuke:

            If you’re not enjoying the discussion, disengage. There’s no need to get upset.

            @10240

            Thomas Jefferson had a simple, though radical for the time, concept of harm: “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” If one adopts this principle, then nobody goes to jail for any religious bigotry or wrong thinking or even consensual sex because it is neither “breaking legs or picking pockets” – there is no physical harm. (That’s pretty close to my personal position, though it doesn’t particularly matter for this discussion). To use your framing, it is a non-rational position that nevertheless logically entails leaving people alone absent physical harm, regardless of how their wrongness may frustrate others.

            My issue is that I don’t think your category distinctions comport with the Jeffersonian concept. I think you are recognizing a category of harm that includes emotional harm. Once you have done that, then the attempt to barricade that category leads to arbitrariness. So the result ends up the same, but the reasoning is faulty. The reason to leave alone a gay couple is not “because otherwise they’ll be sad, and causing sadness is a cognizable harm.” The reason to leave them alone is “because they’re not picking anyone’s pocket.” If you switch the reasoning, I think the logic of the system suffers. If harm includes “frustrated desires,” then all frustrated desires should get weighed. Counting some as harm, but not others, is smuggling in assumptions.
            Let’s say that I see a gruesome accident, and it causes mental anguish.
            What if I am such a sensitive soul that simply hearing about the accident causes me similar anguish; there is no particular reason to count one but not the other as harmful. Now let’s say I’m so sensitive that merely knowing that such accidents occur keeps me awake at night. I then ban others’ risky behavior because it harms me. Thus I don’t see your category distinctions as following logically from the premises, in the way that default liberty under the Jeffersonian rule follows.

            Even though the result may end up the same, the reasoning matters. Under the Jefferson rule, gay couples do what they want. And Prudie disgust doesn’t register at all. That was what I thought cuke was gesturing at originally, though apparently he meant something else, and my point was that the Jeffersonian principle is actually a pretty popular live-and-let-live compromise, including with people who might otherwise be happy to ban gay sex or incest. But if you switch the reasoning instead to “hurting feelings is hurting people, and you’re not allowed to do that” – well, there’s lots of hurt feelings in the world, including the prudes, and others more sympathetic.

            If the default is “hurt feelings aren’t a hurt, so you can’t legislate,” I consider that compromise to be pretty stable. If the default instead is “you can’t legislate because your legislation hurts others’ feelings, and that is a real hurt that matters”, I think that is not stable, but ripe for arbitrary line-drawing.

          12. DavidFriedman

            @10240:

            If I am correctly following the argument, your implicit assumption is something like “utilitarianism of feelings.” On that basis, the bad feelings of homosexuals not allowed to make love to each other has the same status as the bad feelings of puritans who disapprove of homosexual sex. Bork made essentially that argument in an old journal article, the one I like to describe as his explanation of why he was not a libertarian.

            But some people are libertarians, or at least give libertarian moral intuitions some weight. From that standpoint, the question is not “what mimimizes bad feelings” but “what is required to justify violating someone else’s right to do what he likes with his own body.” The answer, I think to most people’s moral intuitions, distinguishes “hitting some else” from “living your life in a way that makes someone else feel bad.”

          13. LadyJane

            @DavidFriedman: Thank you, that was basically what I was about to say, and you probably argued it better than I would have.

            Saying there’s no ethical difference between “gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married because it will hurt other people’s feelings” and “gay people should be allowed to get married because preventing them from doing so will hurt their feelings” is a false equivalency. The second one doesn’t violate the principles of liberty or equality-under-the-law, the first one does. So if your ethical framework places any value on liberty or equality-under-the-law, then you have a clear reason to oppose one but not the other.

          14. 10240

            @hls2003 @DavidFriedman
            I consider 3 categories: things that harm my body; a gray zone of things that don’t harm my body but directly affect my senses such as sight, hearing or smell; and things I don’t see, hear or smell, which should be categorically considered not to affect me. Considerations of liberty often prevail in the gray zone too (for example, just hearing or reading about something should definitely not be considered significant enough, otherwise we would have excuses to ban anything), but not categorically.

            EDIT: examples of gray zone things include noise, obnoxious smell, public nudity, public urination, aesthetics of the exterior of buildings etc. These are the sort of local regulations that I consider acceptable (though I support relatively little of them), and which in a libertarian system could be handled by covenant communities by those who desire them.
            Within this gray zone, one could distinguish between things that disturb one’s senses at a low level (e.g. noise) and things that only cause bad feelings after some cognitive processing (e.g. bad aesthetics). The former have a stronger claim to being legally relevant, but I wouldn’t categorically exclude the latter either.

            The reason to leave alone a gay couple is not “because otherwise they’ll be sad, and causing sadness is a cognizable harm.” The reason to leave them alone is “because they’re not picking anyone’s pocket.”

            I agree, but I wanted to counter the idea that feelings of disgust at someone else having gay sex or incest, and feelings of sadness from having the sex you want to have. It always helps to not only show that not banning it shouldn’t be considered harmful (even if that’s enough to convince libertarians), but also that banning it is harmful. All the more so as we have reasons beyond disgust to ban incest in the form of birth defect risks: the consideration that the incestuous couple is sad if they are not allowed to have sex raises the risk threshold above which it should be banned a bit.

          15. Andrew Cady

            I consider 3 categories: things that harm my body; a gray zone of things that don’t harm my body but directly affect my senses such as sight, hearing or smell; and things I don’t see, hear or smell, which should be categorically considered not to affect me.

            You need another category. We’re talking about normalizing (or not) a sexual practice. Social norms are something in which you have an interest, but not for any of those reasons about your body or your senses.

          16. 10240

            @hls2003 @DavidFriedman It may have been unclear, but the reason for my comment about the different varieties of emotions was to distinguish these varieties, not to claim that they should be considered equally important emotions.

            @Andrew Cady That’s a different thing. I was mainly discussing categories of terminal values, of emotions evoked by different actions by others. I don’t have terminal values regarding social norms — or if I do, that falls in the category of things that should be considered not to affect me.

            Social norms may be relevant as instrumental values, as they may indirectly influence events that affect me. Nevertheless I consider it generally illiberal to enforce social norms against actions that don’t directly affect anyone just because of indirect effects, especially to enforce such norms by law.

  19. truthtaker

    I think you’re thinking along the wrong axis here. It’s not so much a matter of respectability as it is a group having both a demonstrated potential for violence/disruption/killing combined with the possibility of not being disruptive if ‘paid off’ with whatever their demands have to be.

    That’s why homosexual groups gained a huge spike in influence post-Stonewall. Before that you had activists protesting and letter writing, but not much demonstrated potential in the way of disruption.
    Then you have Stonewall. Homosexuals try and burn some cops to death, and try and smash in the skulls of a dozen more – see there, that demonstrates potential. That wakes up the sort of people already in power who want some more allies.

    Of course, this doesn’t work if you just have disruptors, or if the disruptors hurt too many people at once so that the cover people aren’t believable anymore.
    So for example if you just have a gang of mad killers, they’re certainly disruptive, but there’s no hope or promise of turning the disruption off. So everyone is against them.
    The other example would be unions – enough people got treated badly, or knew someone treated badly by a union, or got shoddy products due to union work, etc. so that direct personal sentiment was in the direction of “goddamn unions” for a lot of people.

    No disruptors or violence – no influence.
    No ‘beard’ or ‘moderate’ organisation – the public is receptive to crushing the disruptive group.

    It also helps to have demonstrated leaders that can turn the disruption on and off, or at least plausibly claim the ability to turn the disruption on and off. This is just an efficiency thing – it’s easier to negotiate/bribe/control a single leader than a headless mob. (You also need someone to go on TV for interviews!)

    Daniel Greenfield calls the ladder of which group gets the power the Minority Victim Value Index. He
    lays it out much clearer than I can here.

    edit:
    As for Jones himself, he’s an example of someone who doesn’t have any power to disrupt, or any real reliable influence with people who do. He’s not co-optable, and so there’s more value to those in power attaching him as a bundle of lead weights to their opponents.


    Another thought – is there a difference in claims here to consider? Homosexual groups make a claim for power (and subsequently respect), Jones makes a claim about facts.

    1. DavidS

      I don’t know about the history of Stonewall and suspect I disagree with a lot of your perspective on this (for starters ‘beard’ implies that the ‘moderates’ are in some sense a put-up job which seems unlikely to me, and I’m not sure pro-gay groups weren’t demanding respect (and equal treatment) in the first place rather than ‘power’ in some broader sense.

      All that said, from what I’ve seen, movements do benefit from having multiple groups/representatives in the way you describe. Here in the UK, the suffragettes used more ‘extreme’ methods whereas the suffragists were very peaceful/constitutional. There’s a fair argument that the former got the attention that meant things were actually done but the latter allowed discussions to proceed without it seeming like caving to unrespectable (and at times criminal) tactics. I have a very vague impression that Malcom X and others are the ‘suffragettes’ to Martin Luther King’s ‘suffragists’ but this really is very vague: it’s before my time and I don’t know much US history.

      In terms of Scott’s question the implication is probably that Jon Haidt should very much keep his distance from the ALL CAPS people – if he tells them to shout it blurs the break between the groups which is essential to the dynamic – but nevertheless those groups may actually help his cause in that they encourage others who would otherwise ignore him entirely to talk to ‘reasonable people like Jon Haidt rather than those awful ALL CAPS people’.

    2. philwelch

      So it’s more of a “good cop, bad cop” strategy. Another analogy might be Martin Luther King (the “good cop”) vs. Malcolm X (the “bad cop”).

      Which only goes on to answer Scott’s question–the reason the “good cop, bad cop” strategy doesn’t work anymore is because the “good cops” get successfully smeared by association. If the mainstream media in King’s day reported that Martin Luther King was a violent black nationalist no different from Malcolm X, he would have never been listened to.

      1. DavidS

        I think it still does work sometimes. The difference is whether the media etc. want to do said smearing by association and whether they succeed. Which itself is complex and depends on a bunch of factors.

      2. Trashionalist

        I’m not sure if the mainstream media of King’s day equated King with Malcolm X, but I’m fairly certain there were at least powerful groups that attempted to do so. J. Edgar Hoover, for starters. I’ve been led to question just how accepted MLK was by mainstream society back then, relative to X. Society may sanitize its own history by framing MLK as embraced by the public, but only frame it that way after history vindicated him.

        I felt like every time MLK is mentioned on reddit, there’s a squad of commenters who all point out, as if it’s never been pointed out before, that the public wouldn’t have embraced MLK without X present as a violent alternative. Now I find myself making a similar point, that MLK received as much hostility as X did, arguably justifying X’s approach. But regardless of the level of irrational hostility, I think the nonviolence had to make a difference, there’s only so much people can ignore. Maybe it would even have been easier for MLK’s message to gain acceptance if X wasn’t there for people to equate MLK with.

        1. philwelch

          To quote from the original COINTELPRO source document:

          Prevent the RISE OF A “MESSIAH” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah;” he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism. Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.

          My reading is that even Hoover grudgingly accepted that King was at least making a politically credible claim to moderation that held him back from becoming the “messiah” of black nationalism. In this respect, Hoover–whose true agenda was to stabilize rather than destabilize American society–observed that dishonestly equivocating between King’s positioning and X’s would be counterproductive. In contrast to Hoover, most people who operate in today’s political climate prefer to destabilize society to achieve their short-term political goals.

    3. JayT

      I actually think it’s the opposite of this hypothesis. One of the main reason there was such a change in acceptance of gay people in the last 40 years is because there were so few Stonewall-type events. It’s hard to stay angry/afraid of people that are upstanding members of the community that sometimes have big fun parades.

      The Asian communities in America followed a similar path, and now it seems they are all but considered white by the ardent culture warriors.

      1. truthtaker

        Well, the asians integrated well, and look at how their group power is set at near-zero! Without the force of a disruptive group, they don’t have the cultural or political power that those willing to use force do. Now they get squeezed out in places like Harvard.

        As for the homosexual population, you can already consider their star is waning without the old fighting core.
        Consider the establishment reaction to the Pulse nightclub shooting, and the extreme reluctance from mainstream power to address the shooter’s obvious Muslim reasoning for the attack – to the extent of trying to portray him as a self-hating gay instead.

        A thought experiment: consider for now is what I’ve heard referred to as the “Muslim Baker” hypothetical.
        If a gay man tries to order a gay wedding cake from a Muslim baker – who wins?

        1. JayT

          Asians might not have much group power in certain places like academia, but just judging by income, they have far more per-capita power than any other minority group in the US, and I would argue that is where the real power is. The same can be said for homosexuals (men at least, lesbians and trans people haven’t done as well).

          Also, by your definition of low group power white men are the least powerful people in the US, and that’s obviously not the case.

  20. hc

    “Skin in the game” by Nassim Taleb is about exactly this thing (or, a chapter or two are about this)

    His basic argument is that you get these cascades when you have:

    – an intolerant minority
    – a tolerant majority
    – an even(ish) distribution of intolerant people within the population

    And it’s amplified when the minority has skin in the game (negative consequences tied to not getting their desired outcome), and the majority doesn’t.

    The process he describes is more about the minority winning over a small group (their family, their team at the office, etc.) and the cascade moving up to larger groups that way. Rather than your model of the most extreme leading, and the slightly-less extreme following.

    I think your model can piggy-back on Taleb’s model, in the sense that once there’s more acceptance within a small group, the less extreme supporters can come out and strengthen the position. But, I think the even distribution and winning over ever-growing groups are more important than the gradient of extremism/palatability of the members.

    Other examples from the book include:
    – kosher stamps on every food sold
    – peanut bans
    – christianity/monotheism

    1. 10240

      – an intolerant minority
      – a tolerant majority

      Aren’t you mixing up tolerant and intolerant (regarding at least the initial state), based on the rest of your post? Or do you mean a situation with a persecuted minority, an intolerant minority persecuting the first minority, and an indifferent majority that tolerates the first minority?

      1. LadyJane

        I took it to mean “an intolerant [minority of people within the Majority group]” and “a tolerant [majority of people within the Majority group],” whereas the use of the word ‘minority’ in the skin in the game sentence was referring to the Minority group being persecuted. Yes, it was worded confusingly.

      2. Clutzy

        In this situation “intolerant” merely means people who have an extreme preference, while “tolerant” means people who don’t care much.

        For instance, imagine a new religion says bananas and apples should never touch. Their believers are fanatics and won’t buy fruit if these two are located near each other in the shop for fear that they did touch. You and I don’t care if there are pears between the apples and bananas, thus, even if these fruit fanatics are only 2% of the population, all fruit stands will be reorganized to comply.

        1. albatross11

          This fails to explain why all food sold in the US which could be kosher isn’t kosher, all food which could be vegetarian isn’t vegetarian, etc.

          1. The Nybbler

            This fails to explain why all food sold in the US which could be kosher isn’t kosher

            It mostly is. That is, food that can be made kosher with minimal cost, is.

          2. Clutzy

            Actually, a point Taleb makes is that almost everything that can be made Kosher for little cost is.

            The reason most things aren’t vegetarian or vegan is that its massively more expensive. You either have to convert your entire kitchen, or set up a duplicate kitchen.

            Also, people have a pretty high preference for meat if we are being honest.

          3. Eugene Dawn

            You either have to convert your entire kitchen, or set up a duplicate kitchen.

            Isn’t this true for Kosher as well though?

          4. John Schilling

            Isn’t this true for Kosher as well though?

            Not if you’re only going to do Kosher. The point is, that for a wide range of relevant foodstuffs, there is almost zero demand for an explictly-not-Kosher version and so lots of producers just go ahead and have one Kosher kitchen. In any case where vegan vs not-vegan is relevant, there is a fairly substantial demand for “Yes, I specifically want the one with meat in it” and you need two kitchens or you need to write off one segment of the market.

          5. Clutzy

            Isn’t this true for Kosher as well though?

            Not if you’re only going to do Kosher. The point is, that for a wide range of relevant foodstuffs, there is almost zero demand for an explictly-not-Kosher version and so lots of producers just go ahead and have one Kosher kitchen. In any case where vegan vs not-vegan is relevant, there is a fairly substantial demand for “Yes, I specifically want the one with meat in it” and you need two kitchens or you need to write off one segment of the market.

            Basically, its divided. Restaurants are almost all non-kosher non-vegan because you need to have a separate space within the restaurant. Butcher shops are either kosher (and don’t cut pork and the like) or are not, and have all the non-kosher items. Huge factories of pre-processed foods are almost all kosher unless they are dealing in non-kosher things. That means all your Coca Cola products are kosher, all your Mars Bars, etc.

          6. Eugene Dawn

            Huge factories of pre-processed foods are almost all kosher unless they are dealing in non-kosher things.

            Yeah, I get that, I just would have thought that the number of places dealing in non-kosher things was comparably sized to those dealing in non-vegetarian foods. Like, many products involving rennet, gelatin, or lard are non-kosher, which would seem to imply that plenty of Mars stuff isn’t kosher, for example.

            As another example, the Orthodox Union confirms that most cheese plants in the US and Europe are “non-kosher when not doing special kosher cheese productions. These plants schedule kosher campaigns sporadically in the midst of their normal nonkosher activity”–so an example of a class of huge factory that deals in non-kosher things but that still takes the time to clean their whole facilities up to occasionally dabble in the kosher market.

            And the percentage of kosher packaged food seems to have grown pretty dramatically in fairly recent years: 27% of packaged food sold in the US was certified kosher in 2009, up to 41% in 2014; I’d be interested to know what accounts for that growth. A master’s thesis I dug up online claims, in fact, that 38% of Americans who purchase kosher food do so for reasons of vegetarianism!

  21. LadyJane

    Alex Jones didn’t ruin anything. The scientists who are studying this problem are still studying it. No one cares about the gay frogs, because it doesn’t affect anyone’s day-to-day life. There was never going to be widespread concern about this issue one way or another. Even among environmentalists, it’s too niche for more than a small percentage of them to care about, especially when there are so many bigger environmental issues to deal with.

    Tolerance of homosexuality is something that has a major impact on people’s lives. Not just gay people, but all the people who know gay people. That’s why there was a path to social acceptability there. Until the frogs themselves start going to people’s weddings and applying for jobs and making Twitter accounts, their plight will remain nothing more than a weird factoid for people to casually reference, at best.

    I also feel like if you bring up the fact that frogs are becoming sterile due to chemical waste, most people won’t think you’re crazy. Yes, if someone else is making fun of Alex Jones’ bastardized version of the story and you chime in with “well actually…”, it’s going to sound like you’re defending Alex Jones. But that’s more about context than content. (I actually brought up this very topic on a date a few weeks ago, mentioning that Alex Jones’ gay frog theory was loosely inspired by a real phenomenon and explaining the details. My date didn’t think I was a crazy conspiracy theorist for saying it, she actually thought it was hilarious.)

    1. ManyCookies

      Pretty much exactly what I wanted to say, but better said.

      Alex Jones didn’t ruin anything. The scientists who are studying this problem are still studying it. No one cares about the gay frogs, because it doesn’t affect anyone’s day-to-day life.

      Yeah did the whole debacle actually impact endocrine research and perception, or is Scott taking the negative reaction to his corrections as total dismissal of the field?

      1. Plumber

        @ManyCookies

        “…. did the whole debacle actually impact endocrine research and perception, or is Scott taking the negative reaction to his corrections as total dismissal of the field?”

        Until our host’s post I’ve never heard of the frog thing and outside of SSC I’ve barely heard of Alex Jones at all, so I think both are extremely niche.

  22. Clutzy

    I am generally confused by this entire post. Maybe someone else who thinks they really understand it can transform it into a form that makes sense to people that are not Scott.

    Is is a speculative post? Is it normative? Is he trying to think about how to best propagandize?

    1. siduri

      Scott has been making lots of references to beliefs that he feels he cannot talk about because he would be unfairly dogpiled by liberals. I can’t describe these beliefs because he’s not specific about them, but they seem to be in the realm of IQ and race. So this is another post where he’s dancing around the things he refuses to talk about directly and imagining a path by which maybe someday he’ll be able to talk about them (if Jonathan Haidt and the “disreputables” win, I guess).

      I like Scott’s writing a lot but I find these posts very frustrating, because there’s no way to engage with his beliefs on a truth/fact basis, as he refuses to enumerate them. Instead he indicates support for people like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt, and possibly some Dark Web types like Shapiro? It’s hard to know. I got far enough as investigating Jordan Peterson after Scott posted a sympathetic book review before I decided I’d had quite enough of that.

      I think the cumulative effect of posts like this–posts that coyly hint at beliefs that would be considered outside the Overton window by mainstream commentators, but don’t endorse anything specific–is actually worse than if he just said what he believes, because every time he puts up another one I mentally shift him a little bit over to “probably more deplorable than I thought.” I currently have him pegged at James Watson levels which might be completely unfair! But it’s impossible to know!

      1. albatross11

        Siduri:

        Are you assuming he’s thinking of race and IQ because he’s implied it somewhere, or because it’s the unacceptable topic/idea you find most disturbing?

        I think one thing you’re running into here is that the existence of a large social movement dedicated to enforcing norms against believing or discussing certain topics makes it hard to know what people believe about those topics. If I know that expressing my views will probably get me hassled at work, I’ll probably be pretty careful about expressing those views. That makes it rather harder to know what anyone thinks.

        It also makes incorrect but unacceptable views a lot harder to counter. If the penalty for saying no women can code or there are no real black scientists is that you get fired and shunned, probably you don’t ever say it, but you still keep thinking it. Now, both ideas are completely wrong–they’re a consequence of not really understanding the nature of overlapping but different distributions. But who’s going to explain that, when to explain it clearly in public for a lay audience is to court an outrage mob trying to get you fired?

        1. gettin_schwifty

          Scott wrote that race and culture are about equally “real” (I believe the terminology was “statistically isomorphic”). IIRC the post was “Does race exist? Does culture?”
          He compared IQ to a coma scale (Glasgow?) and he believes in coma scales. So, it makes sense to think Scott may have unpopular views on those subjects.

          As for race and IQ, the population-level facts don’t matter in the overwhelming majority of situations. Maybe blacks average 120 IQ, maybe 80, but we don’t interact with populations. We interact with persons. You’ll quickly form an opinion about the person with whom you’re interacting, which (if you’re paying attention) will quickly overrule your preconceptions. I suppose this is SSC so I should say you have your priors and then you update based on evidence, something something Bayes, the evidence of the person in front of you overwhelms any priors.

          1. DavidFriedman

            As for race and IQ, the population-level facts don’t matter in the overwhelming majority of situations.

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

            Most discussions of the issue implicitly take it for granted that the distribution is the same, that different outcomes must be due to discrimination. Abandoning that article of faith weakens the argument for policies that most on the left strongly support.

          2. albatross11

            David:

            I think one other place they matter is when you’re dealing with someone with little prior interaction or knowledge. You see this a lot in hiring, in terms of looking at what school someone graduated from. Many employers just aren’t interested in applications from new graduates of most state universities–they prefer only grads from top schools. Now, the average IQ, work ethic, knowledge, etc., of a Stanford graduate is higher than that of a University of Maryland graduate. But after you’ve worked with someone for awhile, you’ll know way more than you get from their school (or GPA).

          3. jermo sapiens

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

            This belief, that unequal outcomes are evidence of discrimination, and the legal doctrine of disparate impact, are why these questions are not only relevant but absolutely need to be investigated. Which by the way is the worst part of these beliefs and legal doctrine. I would much rather to not open this can of worms, but if one side finds “evidence” of discrimination everywhere, and discrimination is the worst evil ever known, we really have no choice.

          4. cuke

            Scott’s post above does a thing that this conversation also seems to be doing, which is confusing one factor for THE factor.

            If respectability is one part of making social change happen, but there are a dozen other salient factors, wouldn’t we do well to consider all the factors when we talk about what makes social change happen?

            Should we accept lower wages in a group of people as an acceptable outcome of lower-on-average IQ even if we accepted the science on IQ in groups to be settled? Should people’s wages be determined even primarily by IQ?

            By what criteria do we set wages? Or put another way, what list of factors correlate with higher wages? I gather from my research on the psychology side that high conscientiousness and low neuroticism is correlated with better academic and job performance. Childhood adversity/trauma is correlated with poorer academic and career outcomes. How significant are these factors up against IQ? What other factors might be relevant — access to education and training, say? Availability of career mentoring, say? (we know mentoring/role-models have been important for women breaking into scientific fields)

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening. Wouldn’t that alone, without other kinds of evidence that we also have (the history of red-lining in real estate, disparate disciplinary treatment in schools, and so on) suggest that IQ average can’t alone be the whole relevant story? And if it’s not the whole relevant story, wouldn’t that suggest that our work on addressing social factors isn’t done?

          5. jermo sapiens

            Should people’s wages be determined even primarily by IQ?

            No, and they currently are not. Wages are determined by supply and demand of specific types of labor, and this only correlates with IQ to some degree. Nasseem Taleb recently made the point that 100 IQ entrepreneurs earn alot more than 130 IQ paper pushers, and he’s right. But the 130 IQ paper pusher probably makes more than the 100 IQ paper pusher who makes more than the 80 IQ janitor. Maybe entrepreneur’s income does not strictly qualify as “wages” but this distinction is not relevant here.

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening.

            That’s true. And some of that is due to the fact that many places have “ban the box” legislation. The rest is almost certainly actual bias.

            So IQ alone is absolutely not the whole story. And importantly, neither is discrimination.

          6. cuke

            I’m sorry jermo I wasn’t clear that I was responding to DavidFriedman’s comment:

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

          7. Clutzy

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening. Wouldn’t that alone, without other kinds of evidence that we also have (the history of red-lining in real estate, disparate disciplinary treatment in schools, and so on) suggest that IQ average can’t alone be the whole relevant story? And if it’s not the whole relevant story, wouldn’t that suggest that our work on addressing social factors isn’t done?

            Actually, this is a common misconception because everyone knows 2 things that are extremely prevalent in our world: 1) There is extreme affirmative action in our education system so there is no such thing as apples-to-apples; and 2) Discrimination lawsuits are extremely common when minorities are terminated, even for cause.

            This means there is never an apples to apples comparison (similar to women in hiring).

          8. Art Vandelay

            Actually, this is a common misconception because everyone knows 2 things that are extremely prevalent in our world: 1) There is extreme affirmative action in our education system so there is no such thing as apples-to-apples; and 2) Discrimination lawsuits are extremely common when minorities are terminated, even for cause.

            This means there is never an apples to apples comparison (similar to women in hiring).

            One of the most interesting arguments I’ve seen on this point (could well have been here) is that comparing Jamal and David (or whatever nondescript, coded white name they used) is not comparing apples for apples. You need to compare Jamal and Billy-Bob before you can start claiming it’s an issue of race rather than class.

          9. albatross11

            cuke:

            I don’t think we disagree here. I’d say:

            a. The existence of group differences in IQ, personality, interests, experiences, upbringing, situation, etc., mean that you can’t just look at few women in physics or few conservatives in sociology and infer discrimination–that may or may not be an important cause, and we’re going to have to dig a bit to figure it out.

            b. The existence of actual discrimination and animus in those fields against women or conservatives provides a reason to suspect that the different outcomes *may* be the result of discrimination or different treatment of some kind.

            My point is that if you exclude knowledge about group differences, you’re missing half the picture, and in fact, that missing part of the picture makes the case for discrimination as a cause of different outcomes look much stronger than it really is. And this is relevant because a lot of people, here and in the big wide world, argue that it is a very bad thing to discuss group differences in public–many even argue that it should be punished as a norm violation.

          10. albatross11

            Clutzy/Art Vandelay:

            I think this kind of study has been done a lot of times with many different comparisons. For example, I know it’s been done with professors getting people with Chinese or American sounding names in emails asking whether they’re looking for research assistants, as well as male vs female names. My recollection is that professors responded more often to males than females, and to American-sounding than Chinese-sounding people.

            Now, I don’t know this literature. It’s possible that we’re seeing publication bias or something. But it’s entirely consistent with an awareness of group differences.

            Suppose a professor looking for PhD students very slightly prefers men to women because (say) they’re less likely to drop out halfway through. If that professor knew the woman or man in question, he would likely have a much better sense of which one was likely to drop out halfway through, but when all he has is a name and a resume, it’s not shocking to me that he might be slightly more inclined to respond to the man than the woman. (The study I remember hearing about here showed this effect for both male and female professors.)

            This is actually a good justification for what I think was the original meaning of affirmative action–not quotas or preferences for underrepresented groups, but rather making an extra effort to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups.

          11. ARabbiAndAFrog

            A plea for equal opportunity is a claim of equal ability (Natural inclination to do things and keep doing things and not leaving being a subset of ability). Equal outcome is a stable equilibrium of recognizing people’s equal ability and giving them equal opportunity. Unequal opportunity is also stable equilibrium coming from recognising people as unequal in ability and treating them accordingly. Nobody demands toddlers to be admitted in college for example because they know toddlers lack in ability.

            It’s unlikely equal opportunity for those statistically unequal could be achieved, unless complete anonymity could be achieved.

          12. albatross11

            ARabbiAndAFrog:

            I disagree. A plea for equal opportunity is independent of your beliefs (if any) about group equality. Indeed, the best thing about equal opportunity is that we don’t need to know what the group ability/interest distribution is–we just want to make the requirements for becoming a physicist or psychologist or plumber the same for all groups, rather than (say) making it way tougher to enter some of those fields as a woman.

          13. Clutzy

            albatross11

            I think a very big problem is that there are both pre-employment and post employment trends that make all these comparisons much more difficult. And indeed, those trends might actually even be important for schools.

            Pre-employment I’ve already discussed with regards to AA (and there are other factors). Once employment starts there are other factors. For instance, female doctors are more likely to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours. Does this mean Medical Schools should not consider this reality when admitting students? Should they knowingly devote the same amount of resources to someone who is likely to be 50, 60, 70% the doctor?

            Females and minorities are more likely to sue if terminated. Should that not factor into hiring choices?

            This is actually a good justification for what I think was the original meaning of affirmative action–not quotas or preferences for underrepresented groups, but rather making an extra effort to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups.

            This has already been shown to be mostly effective. Its why pre-employment Wunderlich (and similar) testing and the like is actually on the rise again (I’ve taken 2 recently), despite Griggs v. Duke strongly discouraging it. There are too many risks once you’ve hired someone, or indeed agreed to a long form interview on the legal side.

          14. ARabbiAndAFrog

            albatross11:

            In theory equal opportunity should not go hand to hand with equal ability, but in practice, how can it not?

            If you are an employer and see that your prospective employee who’s likely going to have babies and stop working as hard, would you bother hiring them or would you try to ditch them in favour of someone with less ovaries? If, say, you are a teacher and you see that your student is going to waste all your effort by growing up a thug, why bother putting any effort in educating them when you can focus your effort on someone whiter? If ideas of difference in ability, if you announce that “Well, we gave them equal opportunity but they wasted it by being subhumans” become an acceptable notion to have, how can equal opportunity persist?

          15. DavidFriedman

            In theory equal opportunity should not go hand to hand with equal ability, but in practice, how can it not?

            That depends on whether you have better proxies than group membership. For your example of the woman who might drop out to have children, you may not. For your other example, there are likely to be better proxies for how likely someone is to be a thug than race.

            If ideas of difference in ability, if you announce that “Well, we gave them equal opportunity but they wasted it by being subhumans” become an acceptable notion to have, how can equal opportunity persist?

            If the group difference was a big as human vs subhumans, it probably couldn’t, but it isn’t. Thomas Sowell is not only an African-American, he is, judged by appearance, a pretty dark one. He is also obviously much smarter than the average white. One of my fellow grad students in the theoretical physics group at Chicago was an Ibo.

          16. albatross11

            If you think a 10 point difference in average IQ (2/3 of a standard deviation) is the same thing as deciding a whole racial group is subhuman, I suspect we don’t have enough overlap in our worldviews to meaningfully communicate.

            Imagine you have a job that requires a person to be at least six feet tall. You might decide to only hire men (tall men) for the job. But you could also allow equal opportunity for women–any women who are six feet tall or taller can get the job. Six-foot-tall women are rare but nonexistent, so if you open the job up to anyone qualified, you’ll probably get a few women, but mostly men, just due to statistics. None of this requires thinking that anyone is subhuman for being short.

            In fact, for demanding fields, most people just can’t do it. Most white kids will never, regardless of motivation or desire, be able to get through a EE program at a decent university[1]. The classes are just too hard. We don’t respond to this by saying that whites are subhuman because most of them can’t become electrical engineers, we select the subset who are interested and who seem likely to be able to get through the program.

            [1] If you object to EE programs, substitute in a PhD program in physics or math or philosophy. Most people are just not capable of doing the work necessary to get through such a program.

          17. ARabbiAndAFrog

            What I’m saying is that a lot of risks regarding other people are hidden and prospective. The person with a trait X might seem perfectly qualified now, but, say, we also accept that trait X is indicative of pre-disposition to crime, or dropping out to raise kids wasting all the training or something to this effect. So stopping forcibly ignoring those observations would make things really awkward. But keeping forcibly ignoring them is also awkward because you need to somehow explain how different races, or genders or whatever are performing differently despite having the same potential.

      2. Nietzsche

        I don’t understand why you are so concerned that Scott is not virtue signaling enough that you can confidently embrace him as a member of your tribe instead of just engaging with the reasoning he offers.

        1. siduri

          Because I think the reasoning suffers from being unmoored from fact. I mean Scott starts off by saying “I know there are lots of debates over whether this kind of ‘respectability cascade’ is the way it really happened, but it’s a neat model of a way that these things can happen.” So basically he made up a story and then used the story to support a model. But I think it matters that this is not, actually, how it really happened.

          I was involved in gay rights activism from the 1990s, and I agree with kerkeslager below that the model of “0% respectability to 10% respectability” etc. is oversimplified–that’s not how gay rights was achieved. The concerted push to bring people out of the closet was specifically because it relied on the strength of family ties and people unwilling to cast out their own children, no matter what society said. And THAT works because homosexuality is essentially randomly distributed across the population, and–unlike things like religious and political beliefs–is very resistant to being changed through cultural pressure.

          So the unique strength of “coming out” for the gay rights movement was that we had a really compelling message: we only had to convince people that they didn’t need to cast out their own children. It wasn’t that the least respectable people came out first, it’s that some of the people who came out first were disowned and shunned and therefore became unrespectable. But in a lot of cases family ties were stronger than social prejudice, and once the norm of “you really shouldn’t disown your children for homosexuality” was established, we were on a solid path toward full equal rights under the law.

          But other kinds of taboo beliefs aren’t randomly and naturally distributed across the population the same way homosexuality is, so the “coming out” strategy isn’t as powerful for proponents of those beliefs. It’s not going to work in the same way. One thing that’s going to matter an awful lot is *what* the taboo belief is, why it is considered harmful or repugnant, and what evidence for truth it has to support it.

          1. albatross11

            siduri:

            Wow, I never thought about the impact of homosexuality being randomly distributed on acceptance, but that makes a lot of sense. It’s sort-of like the way that it’s hard to maintain serious hatred between males and females, because you end up with parents and children and siblings of the opposite sex, and you probably don’t hate them. I suspect that trans acceptance has some of the same dynamic (albeit with a much lower rate of occurrence).

            Again, though, that can’t be the whole explanation, because presumably everyone had gay family members in 1880, too. Probably closeted for self-protection (plenty of gay couples have managed to be “roommates” for public consumption, through the years), but the more perceptive/worldly family members must have caught on. (As a not-very-worldly geeky kid in a small town in the midwest, a lot of this stuff was pretty obvious to me.).

            I guess there was a feedback loop of people coming out of the closet, right? The more people are out, the more can come out without worrying that much. But that could only happen if a lot of people were actually willing to leave them alone. Even absent government persecution, I expect that’s a lot harder to do in a very traditional society where lots of people really believe gays are evil. So it’s interesting to ask why this became possible when it did, or maybe why it didn’t happen in 1890 instead.

          2. siduri

            albatross11: Yes, it had to be a coordinated, widespread coming out. And this is off-the-cuff and I would want to research it more, but I think it’s possible that the galvanizing factor was gay communities forming in cities–showing that they could take care of their own, and live in their own way, and providing a safety net for those who came out and were exiled from their original communities. Before the existence of those communities, I’m not sure that such a successful push to get people to all come out could have happened. So some ground work definitely had to be laid before the mass coming-out strategy became viable, but it was remarkably effective once it took place.

          3. DavidFriedman

            Probably closeted for self-protection (plenty of gay couples have managed to be “roommates” for public consumption, through the years), but the more perceptive/worldly family members must have caught on.

            For what it is worth, one of my parents’ closest friends was a woman who had had one son, got divorced, and throughout the time I knew her, say starting in the early fifties, lived with another woman. Looking back at it, I’m almost certain they were lesbians, but it never occurred to me at the time and, if it occurred to my parents, they never mentioned it to me or in their autobiography, which mentions her—my mother describes her as the best human being she had known, or something similar.

          4. Larry Kestenbaum

            @ albatross11

            presumably everyone had gay family members in 1880, too.

            In 1880, the concept of being heterosexual or homosexual was hardly more than an academic discussion. Most people didn’t have language to identify as gay or straight.

          5. Enkidum

            @Larry Kestenbaum – I’ve always found this linguistic determnation argument to be specious in the extreme. There have always been people who greatly preferred having sex with those of the same sex/gender, and those who greatly preferred having sex with those of a different sex/gender. The terminology “gay/straight” may not have existed, but the concepts they describe did.

            That’s not to say that a lot of how being gay or straight manifests itself is not culturally influenced, but the idea that they didn’t exist because we didn’t talk about them seems like madness to me.

          6. albatross11

            Anyone with a minimal classical education would have had the concepts, and there were places that were (in)famous for having a lot of gay sex–the British navy, all-boys boarding schools, etc. So I suspect that at least the more worldly members of the society would have had the concept in their heads.

          7. jermo sapiens

            The terminology “gay/straight” may not have existed, but the concepts they describe did.

            That’s true of everything. If there isnt a word for “gay” or “straight”, and everybody is in heterosexual relationships, your brain doesnt conceive being gay as a thing. And then when someone develops attraction for the same sex, they cant tell themselves “oh Im gay”. They probably end up thinking they are some kind of mutant abomination. In Untitled, Scott speaks of Aaronson’s desire to castrate himself to avoid what he perceived as illegitimate desires. Imagine being attracted to something when there isnt even a word to describe your condition. You may even conclude you’re the only one with this attraction, because if it was a thing, there would be a word for it.

            Steve Sailer has done excellent work describing how the phenomenon of hate hoaxes is never named by the MSM because if it were, hate hoaxes would become a thing, and the many instances of it in the news would reinforce the concept in people’s minds. But this isnt a concept that the MSM wants to be acknowledged, so they refuse to give it a name.

            So, of course things exist without a name. But naming a thing seems to solidify the concept in people’s brains. It’s very important.

            Jordan Peterson speaks of this too in his discussion of the garden of eden story. God created the world by speaking the truth and naming things. It’s a bit more wishy washy, but it’s the same idea.

          8. albatross11

            I think what you need isn’t a word, it’s a concept. It’s like if we’re trying to talk about economics, and you don’t know what I mean by supply and demand. You have the words, but not the concepts. With the concepts, it’s easy to explain why I expect raising the minimum wage to decrease employment; without those concepts, explaining why I think that is possible, but it’s a more complicated argument.

          9. Enkidum

            Hmmm… I think I was arguing against a point that @Larry Kestenbaum wasn’t making. Apologies. I frequently wish I could turn off my “argue mode” when I come to this website, but there’s something about opening up a comment section that just gets me ready to rumble for no good reason.

            To state what I think is actually being claimed in this thread:

            According to @siduri, because of the random distribution of homosexuality (or random enough distribution), once people started talking about gay rights etc, enough people had gay family members that this became a huge part of why it was accepted, because they didn’t want to disown their kids, etc. I think this is true.

            @albatross11 said this can’t be the full explanation, because there have always been plenty of gay people around but gay rights wasn’t really a thing until 50 years ago or so.

            @Larry Kestenbaum responded that the language didn’t exist for gay/straight to be discussed. I mistook him as arguing for something like linguistic determination of sexuality, but (if I’m not mistaken) all he was saying was that this made it difficult for people to have the realization “my son is gay, he’s not a bad person, ergo gay people aren’t bad”.

            I think I agree with a weaker version of that. There was certainly widespread recognition of homosexual acts, to the point that they were codified into law. There’s also plenty of evidence from literature and the arts that gay lifestyles have been acknowledged and sometimes more-or-less accepted throughout history (cf. virtually the entirety of English pantomime and music hall, Boccaccio’s Decameron, etc). So it seems just false to say that there was just this blank nothingness in the conceptual/linguistic space surrounding sexuality.

            However, it’s also true that that space was a lot less well-defined than it is in today’s world. There certainly wasn’t anything along the lines of a society-level explicit acknowledgement and discussion of the fact that a substantial minority of the population like bumping uglies with people of the same sex/gender.

            And without that explicit discussion, it made it easier to avoid confronting the fact that when someone makes a f*g joke, they’re actually talking about people just like your son/daughter, or whatever. So as I said, I think I agree with a more watered-down and nuanced version of what Larry was getting at.

            Edit: And I think @albatross11 is saying much the same thing in their later comments.

          10. siduri

            I’ve thought about it more and yeah, I really think the following things are true about gay rights activism prior to 2000:

            a) The push to get everyone out of the closet was the main driver of our stunning successes at decriminalizing homosexuality and winning so many rights under the law in such a short period of time. And it really was a push. We used to organize “coming out balls” in colleges and we chanted things like “come out, come out, wherever you are” at marches and we made pins that said CLOSET = DEATH. We developed social norms around how much we could push each other to come out (the norm in the 90s was: you should not out someone without their consent because this can be dangerous for them, but you should refuse to date “closet cases” because it’s really important for everyone to come out).

            b) what made the “mass coming out” strategy so effective is that homosexuality is randomly distributed in the population and super resistant to being changed by social or cultural pressure

            and c) what made the “mass coming out” strategy even possible in the first place was the existence of gay communities in urban population centers. Over and over and over we would tell queer teens stuck in rural areas to get to the city. ‘Come out, and move to the city. We’ll take care of you. We can make good lives for ourselves here.’ That was the message. Come out and move to the city, it gets better.

            So actually I would say that people founding openly gay clubs and societies, and opening gay bars, was the thing that allowed us to be successful with the mass coming out strategy a generation later. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were in fact part of an absolutely critical step of social infrastructure/community-building that had to happen before we could convince people it was safe to come out. They were not at all useless in the struggle–they were pivotal–it’s just that their most important work was inward facing rather than outward facing. The political advocacy stuff was less important than the bars. (Remember the Daughters of Bilitis were a social thing first.)

            The implications of all this for Scott’s argument is that gay rights weren’t won through a “respectability cascade.” Like I get where he’s coming from, there is Stonewall, and you can build a narrative that starts with this bunch of 0% respectable queer sex workers spontaneously generating from barstools in Stonewall and then forcing everyone to notice how badly they’re being treated, and then the 10% respectable people stood up and said “hey we’re with them” and it cascaded all the way up to the 100% respectable gays (Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen, probably). But that’s really not how it happened. I’m dubious that it ever happens like that.

            So to answer the question posed by the original post: no, the all-caps people on Twitter are not helping their own side(s) at all. In order to promote ideas that society currently considers taboo what you probably want are two things. One: non-toxic, well moderated community forums where newbies can be directed and where arguments in favor of these ideas can be explored, aired, and strengthened (well-gated gardens, with the 0% respectable people firmly shushed and shuffled off the stage, or at least not allowed to be abusive to anyone). And two, charismatic and/or highly qualified spokespeople who can represent the ideas well and take them to the larger public. “And for more information visit us at well-gated-gardens dot com!”

          11. siduri

            Also, as others have said, it’s not true that scientists are no longer pursuing research into endocrine disruption because of Alex Jones. Most people have never heard of Alex Jones and he has not had a major impact on the field of research for good or ill.

            So, both the examples given of a “respectability cascade” are not actual examples of the model. I’m not sure respectability cascades are a thing at all–can anyone think of an actual real-world example?

          12. Viliam

            @siduri

            The concerted push to bring people out of the closet was specifically because it relied on the strength of family ties and people unwilling to cast out their own children, no matter what society said. And THAT works because homosexuality is essentially randomly distributed across the population

            So… is it possible that the greater intolerance towards homosexuality in some African or Islamic countries (I mean those with public executions etc.) is a result of different structure and relative strength of family ties?

            I mean, for a small atomic family, losing a child makes a huge difference. But for a clan, losing one member is less dramatic. And the family has to make a choice between losing a child and being expelled from the clan, which would put all family members in danger.

            Thus smaller families… and consequently the Western civilization as a whole… becomes less willing to hurt their children, and more accepting towards “behavior that traditionally brings shame”.

            (This turns around the usually suspected arrow of causality. Instead of “cultures suppress homosexuality to increase the number of their children” it becomes “cultures that have many children — or a structure where the fate of children is decided not only by their closest relatives — can afford to kill their children for various honor issues”.)

        2. DavidFriedman

          Probably closeted for self-protection (plenty of gay couples have managed to be “roommates” for public consumption, through the years), but the more perceptive/worldly family members must have caught on.

          For what it is worth, one of my parents’ closest friends was a woman who had had one son, got divorced, and throughout the time I knew her, say starting in the early fifties, lived with another woman. Looking back at it, I’m almost certain they were lesbians, but it never occurred to me at the time and, if it occurred to my parents, they never mentioned it to me or in their autobiography, which mentions her—my mother describes her as the best human being she had known, or something similar.

          1. albatross11

            The best teacher in my high school (widely acknowledged as such) had, before I started there, divorced her husband and moved in with the girls’ gym teacher–they were still together the last I heard. In the small midwestern town where this happened, I think they benefited from a kind of don’t ask-don’t tell phenomenon–everyone who wanted to know understood that they were a lesbian couple, but people who didn’t want to know that could manage to convince themselves that they were just close friends rooming together.

        1. albatross11

          Pinker is in a hard position, when it comes to socially unacceptable truth. Malcolm Gladwell or Thomas Friedman can fail to understand those things thanks to native inability–it’s not even all that hard, since they never did understand the difference between a distribution and an individual drawn from it, or between comparing means of distributions and comparing pairs of individuals. Pinker absolutely understands all that stuff, and can’t even convincingly pretend he doesn’t. So he just has to prudently leave the socially unacceptable things unstated–perhaps because he agrees with the idea that they shouldn’t be aired in front of the normies, perhaps because he wants to avoid an angry mob of outraged idiots.

      3. jermo sapiens

        Scott has been making lots of references to beliefs that he feels he cannot talk about because he would be unfairly dogpiled by liberals.

        I dont remember posts other than this one making that claim but I could have missed something. In any event, is it Scott’s fault for not wanting to be unfairly dogpiled, or is it liberals’ fault for unfairly dogpiling?

        To be clear, Scott doesnt need any defending from me and I want to make a broader point about anyone who is afraid to speak their mind for fear of a liberal progressive dogpiling.

        every time he puts up another one I mentally shift him a little bit over to “probably more deplorable than I thought.” I currently have him pegged at James Watson levels

        This doesnt mesh well with your previous statement of:

        I like Scott’s writing a lot but I find these posts very frustrating, because there’s no way to engage with his beliefs on a truth/fact basis

        Things that are true will continue to be true whether it’s politically correct to say them. If you want to engage on a “truth/fact basis”, you have to let people express beliefs without fear of repercussions, whether these beliefs are right or wrong.

        Also this is a good time to cite my favorite Moldbug quote:

        Where witch-hunting is a stable, lucrative career, and an amateur pastime enjoyed by hobbyists, there are no real witches worth a damn.

        1. albatross11

          The usual argument for a lot of SJW-adjacent witch hunting is not that the witches are dangerous to the witch hunters, but rather that they’re dangerous to the broader society. So the failure to find witch hunters dangling from a tree with heads shrunken to the size of walnuts doesn’t actually disprove the existence of this kind of witch.

          1. jermo sapiens

            Is this the “usual argument” or is it the argument you’re making?

            I will consider it further but my first inclination is to see if you can use the same argument with nazis and jews. (I’m not trying to be offensive here I’m just trying to see if nazis could use that argument in their persecution of jews, or more generally if [oppressors] can use that argument to justify oppressing [opppressed]).

            Jews are not dangerous to nazis, rather they’re dangerous to society. So the failure to find nazis killed by jews doesnt actually disprove that jews are evil.

            Sort of fits. It’s not great, but it’s not inconceivable either a nazi making that argument. The validity of it depends on whether the [oppressed] are actually dangerous to society. And I wouldnt take the word of the [oppressor] on that.

          2. albatross11

            I’m not sure how well this works as a parallel, because I think most of the Jews the Nazis rounded up were openly Jewish, not hidden. But I don’t know enough history of that time to be very confident about that.

            The basic problem here is: If you think of a witch as someone who has the individual power to hex people, then witch-hunting is a dangerous hobby. If you think of a witch as someone who poses a danger to the community (or to someone other than the witch hunters), then witch-hunting is a safe hobby. Moldbug’s argument makes sense in the context of the idea that witches can hex you or turn you into a frog, but not in the context of the idea that too many witches will cause a crop failure or a plague.

            If you claim that the Jewish Conspiracy is running the world and you’re witch-hunting against that, then Moldbug’s argument applies–if they’re so powerful, how come you’re still around? If you claim that the Jews are a threat to the state or master race or something, but don’t have much power within Germany, then rounding them up and murdering them is probably a reasonably safe thing to do–the fact that it’s going on doesn’t contradict your claims.

            A common thread of thought I’ve seen, here and elsewhere, is that covert or even unconscious racism is the explanation for why blacks are doing so badly, overall, in the US. In this model, the black/white performance gap in education is explained mostly by racist teachers, the disproportionate number of blacks in prison is explained mostly by racist cops and judges and juries, the lower average income of blacks is mostly explained by racist employers and loan officers and landlords and salesmen, etc. If you believe this model (I don’t, FWIW), then Moldbug’s argument doesn’t apply–the covert racists you’re hunting aren’t a danger to you specifically, they’re just having a bad effect on the world by subtly making blacks do badly in school, or arresting them for stuff they didn’t do, or denying them loans, or whatever.

            Another thread of argument I’ve seen, here and elsewhere, is that open discussion of human b-odiversity ideas is harmful to society. In this model, to inform the rubes about the {IQ, crime, legitimacy, graduation, poverty} statistics is damaging, because the rubes will get the wrong idea and support racist policies, or stop supporting civil rights, or stop caring that blacks are doing worse than whites in most everything we can measure. In this case, witch hunters who are hunting people who believe and spread human b-odiversity type arguments, again, have nothing to fear. The human b-odiversity people don’t have any power to shrink heads, they (we) just have knowledge of some statistics and genetics. It should be obvious that I don’t agree with this model either, but if you do agree with this model, then Moldbug’s argument doesn’t apply.

          3. Viliam

            The most convenient enemy is the one who is simultaneously extremely powerful (so we can justify our actions as necessary defense) and also extremely fragile (so our chance of victory is high).

            Yeah, there is a contradiction somewhere, but most people don’t care about logical contradictions, only about presence of the required emotions — justified hate, glorious victory in sight.

            (Similarly, whenever you are punching someone without feeling really really scared, you are punching down.)

      4. cuke

        siduri, I found your comment here really interesting and want to understand it better.

        What I gather you to be saying is that you think Scott is not writing this post (and maybe others) in good faith; rather, that he’s using “gay rights” and “contamination effects on frogs” and “respectability cascade” as stand-ins to work out his ideas about other subjects that he doesn’t feel he can openly talk about. Do I have that right?

        I agree with your comment below about one needing some grounding in the details of the history of the gay rights movement in order to make an argument about whether it was a respectability cascade or not. From Scott’s seeming lack of grounding in these details, it seems you conclude that he’s coyly talking about something else, since if he were making the argument in good faith about the history of gay rights, it would be obvious that there were more important factors at play.

        What do you think Scott is *actually* talking about here that he doesn’t feel he can talk about openly?

        My reaction was that he was simply trying on an idea without thinking it through very far, that he’s rather drawn to dichotomies in general, and that he likes to play with big ideas (like respectability cascades) without getting too “in the weeds” on the particulars of the examples. In this case, I also agree with you that the “weeds” are too central to the conversation to draw conclusions without them, but that leads me to feel the post was a bit sloppy rather than that it was actually about a different thing altogether.

        Like it’s one thing to say, “if you’re going to go test theories, please test them against enough evidence to be able to make an adequate assessment” and it’s another to say, “if you’re going to pretend to test theories while actually advancing your unspoken agenda, then I’d rather not read you.”

        Would you please clear up for me what I’m missing?

        1. cuke

          Scott ends with “But keeping all that in mind, what advice would you give Jonathan Haidt? Should he tell random disrespectable anti-SJW Twitter trolls to shut up? Or should he tell them to shout even louder? It still seems like a hard question.”

          I read this literally as Scott asking: “given that the role of disrespectable people seems to be helpful in nudging a cause along in some situations but undermining it in others, how do we decide when those kind of people are useful?” This is a question a lot of people have asked in other contexts and other moments in history. It strikes me as a perfectly good question to be asking. And as he often does, Scott uses examples from various sides of the culture wars, so as to keep the focus on the meta-question and not re-litigating CW topics (which still often doesn’t work in terms of the discussion that follows here, but it’s a worthwhile effort).

          Siduri seems to be saying that what Scott’s really saying is: “I want Murray’s bell curve claims about race and IQ to be seen as reputable, so I can talk openly about my agreement with them” — or something like that? Maybe Scott harbors this fantasy, I have no idea, but I don’t see evidence for this longing in his post.

          I can’t quite wrap my head around why Scott isn’t just doing what he appears to be doing which is asking whether we can come up with some theory about when people viewed as “deplorable” are useful to a cause and when they are harmful. It seems an interesting question in and of itself, without it having to masquerade as some whole other manipulative, nefarious thing.

          Given how much energy Scott has put into these years of writing here, and how much of himself he’s shared in that process, doesn’t it seem unlikely that he’s actually for real running a secret crypto-agenda? And if he is, who is it aimed at and to what effect? Are there folks on here who feel like Scott is secret-hand-shaking with them while pretending to write content as a cover for everyone else?

          I find this all fascinating and puzzling.

          I read Scott as someone who is genuinely sorting out his thoughts in front of us. Because he’s pretty smart and varied in his interests, watching him do this is interesting to me oftentimes. But the thoughts he’s sorting out don’t seem to me to be about picking sides on culture war issues or other political issues. I don’t at all have the sense that he’s secretly waging culture war positions while pretending to work through his ideas on meta-issues. I think he’s genuinely working through the meta-issues because that’s what interests him — ie, how to do we think and talk about the significant issues of our time. (separate from his psychiatry topics, which are often more just topical).

          1. siduri

            I’m definitely not saying that he’s writing in bad faith. I don’t think he’s *misrepresenting* his beliefs or purposefully lying. Scott is maybe the most careful and charitable and honest public thinker I know, which is why I like his blog even though on this particular issue I find his position very frustrating.

            But I do believe that he’s “using ‘gay rights’ and ‘contamination effects on frogs’ and ‘respectability cascade’ as stand-ins to work out his ideas about other subjects that he doesn’t feel he can openly talk about.” Yes. I think that’s a fair summary and he’d probably agree with it.

          2. cuke

            But I do believe that he’s “using ‘gay rights’ and ‘contamination effects on frogs’ and ‘respectability cascade’ as stand-ins to work out his ideas about other subjects that he doesn’t feel he can openly talk about.” Yes. I think that’s a fair summary and he’d probably agree with it.

            siduri, thank you for the link back to your prior discussion with albatross11. I’m not sure I found all of it, but I found some of it. I can’t tell, but it seems like maybe Scott’s post then echoes the same feeling for you as this one — ie, that he’s not really exploring respectability as an idea so much as that he’s trying to advance an agenda that will some day create more space for him to publicly support IDW ideas without taking a hit for it.

            So I hear you saying you don’t think he’s doing this in bad faith, but the quote I pasted above where you and I seem to understand each other, would be for me a central example of bad faith communication. To be purporting to write about one thing while “using” that writing to advance an essentially secret and different agenda. It may not be lying, but it does seem like bad faith writing.

            It’s not my perception of what Scott is doing, so I find myself wishing he would weigh in here. When you say “I think that’s a fair summary and he’d probably agree with it,” I am startled by that. If Scott agreed with your characterization, I would find his behavior to be disingenuous and unethical. Which makes me wonder if I’m still misunderstanding you or if I’m misreading Scott.

            I think public thinkers have a duty to a certain amount of intellectual integrity. It sounds like you do too. You say, “Scott is maybe the most careful and charitable and honest public thinker I know, which is why I like his blog even though on this particular issue I find his position very frustrating.” So I think I’m still unclear what you see “his position” as being in this case.

            If what you’re saying is true and Scott would concur with you, then it seems like not a position so much as that he isn’t being an honest public thinker, but rather a disingenuous and manipulative one. I get that we’re all imperfect and we all fall on a spectrum of honest/good behavior — it’s not all one or the other. But I’m having trouble matching your perception with my perception of this same public thinker who we both enjoy reading. So I find the disparity interesting.

          3. siduri

            So I think I’m still unclear what you see “his position” as being in this case.

            I think Scott’s position is that he believes some ideas society currently considers taboo in the realm of race and IQ may actually have truth to them, and that there should be a way to have honest and forthright discussion about these ideas. However, he feels that were he to attempt to engage in such a discussion here on SSC, there’s a high risk of him ending up suffering severe personal penalties such as being fired or cyber-mobbed. So he talks instead about how frustrating it is that the honest and forthright discussion is not possible and that the spirit of scientific inquiry is being stifled.

            That’s what I think his position is. If I have misrepresented it then I genuinely hope he’ll correct me, and I’ll offer a sincere apology.

          4. albatross11

            siduri:

            So, it seems like this is a pretty obvious downside of having a lot of people dedicated to punishing anyone who expresses those views in public. It becomes quite hard to know whether any given person secretly agrees with some forbidden idea, since saying so will get him a bunch of trouble.

          5. siduri

            Well, you see, I think that depends on what the beliefs are. My position, as opposed to my characterization of Scott’s position, is that it’s possible to have a careful, nuanced discussion of the science of IQ and race that would not get a hypothetical Scott-like blogger anything worse than maybe a moderation headache on the post in question. So every time he puts up one of these posts hinting at beliefs he dare not speak, I think to myself “gee it’s that bad, huh?”

          6. cuke

            siduri, thank you for hanging in there, you stated that very clearly and I get it now.

            So he talks instead about how frustrating it is that the honest and forthright discussion is not possible and that the spirit of scientific inquiry is being stifled.

            I’m thinking that your sense of this comes from multiple recent posts and my confusion was not seeing this — essentially a kind of displacement — happening here in this post.

            This raises further questions for me about what constitutes intellectual integrity. Because we all engage in various kinds of psychological displacement to manage frustrations we may not have faced head-on yet, or feel stymied about how to resolve. So I guess another question is — if Scott is doing this — is he aware of it? Is it a conscious strategy or just a brewing frustration coming out sideways.

            It seems to me in the life of any curious person that these kinds of frustrations can produce a constructive friction out of which comes growth. My sense was that you felt his doing this (if he is) is a kind of political betrayal. I don’t know if I have that right. In my case, I find it more intriguing just to watch a smart person grapple with intellectual tensions they feel and to see how those tensions play out and/or get resolved through growth.

            It seems to me intellectual integrity demands that we at least investigate our own intentions and motivations, that we evaluate our behavior up against our values, and aim to keep steering closer to our values. If you’re a person leading a group (as Scott essentially is here), then being as transparent/honest as possible about these things is also helpful.

          7. cuke

            it’s possible to have a careful, nuanced discussion of the science of IQ and race that would not get a hypothetical Scott-like blogger anything worse than maybe a moderation headache on the post in question.

            I agree with you as a hypothetical possible. I’m not sure I see it as worth the risk at this particular moment in history with this particular group of commentariat. The comments here are still quite unruly a lot of the time with people having trouble treating each other respectfully, taking each others’ comments wildly out of context or reading in the most uncharitable light, and inserting CW blame-throwing in the midst of conversations where it’s not relevant.

            Also, I don’t know what part of Scott’s income is dependent on this blog and associated advertising, but I could see a person weighing the risks of losing that over envelope-pushing that doesn’t feel urgent to push, and deciding to talk about other things.

            In any case, I don’t read it as his ideas being so bad that they can’t be spoken, but that the environment is not sufficiently safe. I guess that’s Albatross11’s point also, but my conclusion is a bit different. I think we’ve always lived in a world where some ideas are riskier than others to discuss and that some settings are riskier than others for discussing potentially controversial or easily misunderstood ideas. I think you two had a version of this conversation on the other thread. So I don’t consider this a tragedy or a new state of affairs — I see it as part of the complexity of navigating human society.

            In my mind, some ways to make difficult conversations less risky include:
            1. improving everyone’s listening and debate skills
            2. improving everyone’s emotional intelligence/self-regulation skills
            3. training good leaders/facilitators in helping people develop clear norms for conversation and holding people to those norms
            4. reducing the economic costs of speaking out by increasing job security and reducing the costs of job loss (ie, social safety net)
            5. encouraging people to take responsibility for the consequences of choosing to take risks based on whatever the current risks are — ie, people who do civil disobedience don’t cry foul when they get arrested. People who are genuine tax resisters don’t cry foul when they go to jail for not paying taxes.

            I don’t think the way through is by maligning the people on the other side who they feel make it riskier for them to speak their opinions — which seems to me to be what happens here often (not speaking about you or Albatross11 in this case). Slinging blame is a game people on all sides can play and it doesn’t lead anywhere good. People on both sides could be working together to support real first amendment causes as well as doing some of the things above. Demanding that your opponents stop behaving like flawed humans seems futile.

            Side note, I’m glad to see you on here siduri because your words are very clear and that makes the conversation so much better. Thanks.

          8. siduri

            I would not call it a political betrayal, no. It’s a frustration I experience as a reader because since I don’t know what his beliefs are, I can’t evaluate them for myself–and I can’t evaluate the meta-issues around them either, without knowing the facts on the ground.

            (I had not seen your second comment before I posted mine, so let me just edit to add that I also have enjoyed our conversation, thank you!)

          9. albatross11

            cuke:

            If we were in a discussion about whether or not the modesty taboos applied to women in Saudi Arabia were so restrictive that they were doing a lot of harm, I don’t think it would resolve anything to point out that all societies have modesty taboos that apply to women.

            Similarly, imagine if we lived in a world where open discussion of homosexuality was a taboo topic–you could maybe discuss it in academic or medical venues, or in intellectual discussions where you were careful to use academic language and terminology to keep out the rubes, but any open public discussion was likely to get you hounded out of your job. You could make exactly the same point there–every society has taboo topics, not being able to publicly acknowledge that your wife is your wife is just part of navigating society. That would be true, but it would still be a lousy situation.

            Our society has a set of topics that are taboo, in the sense that people who discuss them often suffer pretty unpleasant consequences. That’s always true of every society, but there are big differences–some societies have few intellectual taboos and a wide range of acceptable discussions and beliefs, others have many intellectual taboos and a narrow range of acceptable discussions and beliefs. The US and Saudi Arabia are different not just in having different sets of taboos, we’re different in that discussion in the US is enormously freer.

            My sense is that the range of taboo topics has expanded over time in our society. And I think having lots of taboo topics and beliefs is a bad thing. That’s not just because I hold some taboo beliefs (I do, but I think that’s pretty common). It’s because I think it’s destructive of our ability, as a society, to work through difficult topics and come to sensible decisions.

            Just like a society that couldn’t openly discuss homosexuality or condoms was going to have a really hard time responding well to AIDS, a society that can’t talk about lots of important aspects of human nature, life, and day-to-day experience is a society that is going to have a hard time responding sensibly to all kinds of stuff.

            Enforcing taboos on topics and ideas is a choice. It’s one I won’t go along with in most cases, even when I disagree intensely with the ideas being expressed, because I think it’s a force for evil in the world. I think we’d be much better off overall with a wider range of acceptable topics and ideas. And I think a big part of the appeal of the IDW and the blogosphere and SSC and podcasts is that the range of topics and ideas is much wider.

          10. cuke

            Huh, well Albatross11, I started to quote back to you the things you just said that I agree with, but it turns out I agree with everything you just said.

            So, I ask myself what do I disagree with in this general topic, and I think it’s not with anything you’ve said, but with the things that sometimes get said in the general vein of this topic. And that’s mostly about mud-slinging against the rabid PC feminist SJWs who want to censor everyone. As if these are the only people in our society who have been policing our public discourse and attempting to narrow the confines of acceptable discussion.

            Has the range of acceptable things to discuss narrowed? I don’t think so. Has it shifted unevenly so it now affects some people more than they used to be affected? Yes, perhaps. And so when those more newly-affected people raise hell about how they feel their speech rights are being violated or they’re being unfairly punished for their views, without a historical sense of how many people have come before them, or as if they are even the largest or most affected group of people suffering this fate, then it seems ignorant, precious, clueless, ahistorical, etc.

            But my overall feeling is that everyone getting more able to and comfortable with having difficult conversations with people who don’t share their views would be a very good thing. Cordoning off and tabooing whole arenas of subjects seems unhelpful that way.

            When you frame it as enforcing taboos, I find I am generally pretty against enforcing taboos. I disagree with this folks who say, “yes, good, shun those people for that behavior or for that speech; they should be shunned.” I don’t think anyone should be shunned, not even the KKK member. Yes, enforce laws. Yes, keep people safe. Yes, people get to decide who they spend time with, and even who they shun. But I don’t myself support shunning. I am interested in understanding.

            At the same time, I’m also pretty impatient with people’s outrage at experiencing the consequences of having taboos enforced on them when those taboos are very much in evidence. I would rather those same people supported first amendment causes, increased employment security for everyone, and invested in learning and teaching good listening skills. I don’t have a lot of patience for people who just want to vent their outrage. That’s a form of psychological/emotional stuckness that seems childish and narcissistic to me. Alas, it gets rewarded in a lot of quarters.

          11. albatross11

            cuke:

            Fair enough. I think the specific thing that upsets me (and probably others like me) is the rise of a political/social movement that explicitly seeks to punish people for holding or expressing the wrong beliefs, and that also explicitly seeks to narrow the range of acceptable beliefs a great deal. My not-very-confident impression is that there used to be a much stronger belief in freedom of speech, not just as a legal principle[1] but as a societal principle, especially in the academic world[2].

            The tech world has long been a place where weird people with weird beliefs and weird lifestyles could thrive–whether that was gay, trans, poly, BDSM, Mormon, atheist, libertarian, anarchist (left or right), conspiracy theorist, Wiccan, etc. There seems to be a very visible and public push to put an end to that–the kinds of weirdness the powerful people in those companies like can stick around, but the kind they dislike will become reasons to fire you. This seems like a terrible idea for a lot of reasons, but the most visceral one is that it strikes at a place I have found pretty wonderful, and that I see as having created a lot of amazing and wonderful things. (I also think having a focus on “can you do the work” rather than “are you one of us” or “are you the right color/shape/polarity” is a huge win for actually getting interesting and valuable things done.).

            [1] My sense is that the same political/social movement is broadly in favor of hate speech laws.

            [2] One interpretation here is that then the people with the power to shut down speech were mostly on the right, folks on the left felt a lot more urgency to defend free speech as a principle, whereas when the censors are on the left, their power to censor is valuable and their occasional overreaches are pardonable missteps.

          12. The Nybbler

            Fair enough. I think the specific thing that upsets me (and probably others like me) is the rise of a political/social movement that explicitly seeks to punish people for holding or expressing the wrong beliefs, and that also explicitly seeks to narrow the range of acceptable beliefs a great deal.

            It’s a great deal for them. If all you have to do to get your way is to declare it to be the Right Way and punish anyone for opposing, there’s no need for the difficult bits of convincing other people your ideas are good or at least helpful to those you’re trying to convince.

          13. cuke

            @Albatross11, I love this image you paint:

            The tech world has long been a place where weird people with weird beliefs and weird lifestyles could thrive–whether that was gay, trans, poly, BDSM, Mormon, atheist, libertarian, anarchist (left or right), conspiracy theorist, Wiccan, etc. There seems to be a very visible and public push to put an end to that–the kinds of weirdness the powerful people in those companies like can stick around, but the kind they dislike will become reasons to fire you.

            This conveys to me a really rich picture about your experience and I appreciate it. I lived in the Bay Area for a long time, but also in other parts of the west coast, the South, New England, mid-Atlantic, so I’ve sampled a number of sub-cultures in the U.S., also in and out of a couple of graduate programs and their subcultures (from social science-y to more science-y). It seems to me the rapid changes you’ve experienced in your part of the tech world have been profoundly affecting to a lot of people who share your experience.

            So when I try to put myself in your shoes (which I can’t fully obviously), I get a better handle on the sense of anger that one might want to vent at whoever is seen as causing this new Puritanism around norms, or whatever we might call it. Like someone came in and started burning down the home you’d been living in. From your description, it sounds like you blame the employers in those companies, and that seems like blame well-placed.

            The time I’ve spent with working class people in the South, both black and white, gives me another picture of really long histories of people living inside of very restrictive, suffocating norms and constantly feeling the pinch or stomp of taboo (or bias) enforcement by people who have power over their employment, and in towns where losing employment with one firm often means losing employment altogether and having to up and leave behind all the family you’ve ever known.

            Now I work in mental health and I see people who have been living with mental illness or other chronic illness for much of their lives who face stigma and taboo everywhere they turn. Even the most casual of conversations with strangers, can lead to soul-crushing shaming. “Oh you’re on disability? You don’t look sick. You just don’t want to work. I’d love to stay home and do nothing all day too…” and so on.

            I came into grad school in the 1980s at the turn to postmodernism in some departments, but with McCarthyism and its wake still fresh enough that some professors who merely wanted to read and talk about Marx had trouble getting hired or tenure simply for having the intellectual interest. In the 80s and part of the 90s in some places, to admit to being a liberal was to be shamed and ridiculed. I don’t suppose we even need to talk about what it meant to be gay at that time.

            I was raised in a big progressive city on the West Coast in the 70s and experienced consistent, grinding gender-stereotyping in my education that I can see now significantly narrowed my career options. And that was inside of an otherwise very privileged upbringing and being a student who was extremely good at math. I think it would have taken one well-placed woman mentor in the sciences to have changed the entire trajectory of my working life. I still feel the loss of that. I went on to get a PhD in another field and finishing my degree was held hostage to a man who sexually harassed me and went on to sexually harass a number of other women before he was finally quietly retired. All the years it took me to finish my PhD, I lived under the weight of his inappropriate attention, and my development as an intellectual was bent in some ways around that experience.

            We all have choices. I chose to live inside a suffocating system of twisted norms that would have denied me the PhD I’d worked very hard for if I said the wrong thing, if I objected to hearing about his sexual exploits for the nineteenth time, if I rebuffed his need for emotional validation too directly. I had to watch what I said all the time. So when we talk about the tyranny of Marxism in the academy or whatever, this is also part of what’s going on in the academy.

            We all bring pain to these conversations, I think.

            The tech world is necessarily populated by smart, educated, fortunate folks who are doing hard work. That they also managed to create some freedom and sense of welcoming for those participating in it is a wonderful thing. And I think the world would be a better place if it could sustain that. That that sense of freedom seems to be closing down some is a terrible thing for a lot of people, and probably even a wider group of people not directly affected, because of the loss of the example of what’s possible.

            I don’t speak about my pain or others’ pain online like this, in part because I am aware how much pain we all carry. There is absolutely nothing important or interesting about my particular pain. These things I’ve mentioned here also don’t rise to the top three or five most painful things I’ve experienced in my life — it doesn’t touch on the real losses, some of which also have to do with being silenced.

            I sit with people all day in my work and listen to their various forms of pain and loss. Oh my goodness, the women who came to me in the wake of #metoo and Kavanaugh to say they finally needed to face the consequences of the sexual assault they’d experienced five, ten, twenty years ago and how it had harmed and stunted their relationships with the men they love. And how no one at the time seemed to care that these things had happened to them. And that they weren’t even sure it was okay for them to speak about them now.

            So I feel like everyone gets to express their pain. And everyone deserves to have that pain honored and validated. And also. It feels to me like when we come talk in these spaces here about these painful things, that we need to remember that all of us carry this pain of having been shut down, shamed, tabooed, silenced, and so on. Every one of us at some time or another.

            If we don’t do that, then we just keep talking past each other. The women who grew up to be feminists, many many of whom love men, have been hurt; some of their behavior now is in response to that hurt, is in an effort to stop more hurt. This is worth acknowledging. The men who loved men have been hurt. The men who found a refuge from destructive status games and then found that refuge torn down have been hurt. The men who took care of women who were sexually assaulted have been hurt, and almost no one acknowledges their pain. Anyway, as you know it goes on and on. All of us who have been hurt, which is to say all of us, are going to keep hurting each other unless we find ways to acknowledge and accept the validity of each other’s injuries.

            I was having a conversation upthread with someone who stepped in to remind us that liberals are bigger hypocrites than conservatives. So when you say the liberals like free speech until it’s their turn to censor, I think to myself, how is this news? I mean, there are many many good people on all parts of the political spectrum who have put really significant parts of their life into supporting people’s right to speak, regardless of what they have to say. That we also experience periodic overcompensations, self-justifications, hypocrisies, retrenchments, and fear-induced rage is absolutely nothing new. The delusion is that any one group of people is more guilty of it than another.

            Even as the tech world reels from a kind of new Puritanism, we have a president who overtly calls the free press the enemy of the American people and we see an unsurprising spike in physical attacks on journalists world-wide. Power is distributed unevenly, such that blanket statements about who controls the speech norms at any given moment are likely to be inaccurate.

          14. The Nybbler

            If we don’t do that, then we just keep talking past each other’s pain.

            And your whole comment reads as an attempt to do exactly that, to dismiss the pain being deliberately inflicted on one group, by referencing other pain others have — pain that you implicitly state, by bringing it up in opposition, is much more important.

            The delusion is that any one group of people is more guilty of it than another.

            No. This is just the fallacy of grey.

          15. cuke

            My point didn’t communicate if it feels like I’m saying other people’s pain is more important. I’m in no position to make a hierarchy of pain. My point is that if we’re going to understand each other, it helps to remember we all bring pain. Albatross11 sharing a tiny corner of theirs makes their experience come alive to me in a way that’s helpful to understanding. It’s not their job to do that, but it enables empathy I think, an ingredient that’s missing in a lot of the blaming other groups game.

            So I was sharing some of the pain I have contact with, my own and others through my work that’s related to people being shamed and silenced. I tried explicitly to say there’s nothing important or special about my pain. It’s not more important than Albatross11’s or anyone else’s. I’m not using it to blame anyone.

            My examples were to say, we’ve been doing this to each other for a very long time, both shutting people down and arguing endlessly about who does it more or worse. The guy who sexually harassed me was a lefty intellectual. The employers enforcing strict norms on the southern workers I knew were Christian fundamentalists. The people who shut down some of the women assault survivors I worked with were their own parents and friends, also police, college administrators and so on.

            The fact that there’s other pain from experiencing silencing and that it’s been done to some people by other people for a long time doesn’t take away what’s happening in the tech world’s culture. In my mind it helps clarify that this is a human problem, that we shame and shut people down out of fear or when some people get power, rather than it being a problem of liberal hypocrisy. It don’t think we all move forward by the endless accusations of “you guys are worse.”

            Of course yes, all crimes are not equal, of course some groups or leaders have caused more harm than others. Google is not Stalin, yes. I don’t think that’s at play though when we’re talking about liberals versus conservatives in recent American history when it comes to censorship, literal or otherwise.

            I’m interested in what conversation is possible here when we don’t have to vent political animosity towards one group or another, when a conversation doesn’t get derailed because someone has to make a case for why “the liberals are worse” or other name-calling to either side. What’s the conversation look like when we can hold the picture that the story isn’t “they did this to us” so much as “we’ve all been doing this to each other” when it comes to groups of people who have ever had any access to power.

          16. cuke

            One more thought and then I’ll stop. I need to take a break from this space I think.

            I’m wondering if anyone has written well in any depth about this aspect of tolerance of social/cultural/political difference inside some parts of the tech world. It seems a fairly rare thing in human history these pockets of tolerance and relative freedom and like we could learn larger lessons from their experience.

            I lived in the Bay Area from the early 80s to the late 90s and while I love it there for many reasons, I found the social/political norms to be suffocating a bit as well. I don’t know if Albatross11 is in that geography, but it seems depending on how we define “tech world” that a big group of people, stretched across multiple geographies maybe, managed to create a really useful experiment in tolerance that we could all learn from. That the tolerance part might be going extinct is all the more reason maybe to document it in all its specific richness.

          17. DavidFriedman

            I lived in the Bay Area from the early 80s to the late 90s and while I love it there for many reasons, I found the social/political norms to be suffocating a bit as well.

            I’m curious. Could you describe what the norms you experienced and found suffocating were?

          18. cuke

            David Friedman, I’ll try. I don’t know that it will illuminate anyone’s experience other than my own.

            I’m an old lefty but a contrarian one, which is probably why I come here to this discussion space. I am fiercely independent and want us all to have the right to be contrarian and to come to our points of view without peer pressure. I get we will all be subject to all kinds of influences all the time, but I want maximum freedom over that to the extent I can. I don’t trust dogma and the downside to me of any “safe” community is dogma, blind spots, and a narrowing of perspective. I would rather be an outsider and not feel that I belong than lose sight.

            My perception was that from the 70s to the 80s in the Bay Area there was a shift from counter-culture as a kind of interesting experimental space to counter-culture as a tradition that we’re guarding and defending. I don’t know if people who lived in the Bay Area in previous or subsequent decades would say a similar thing and that my experience is just an artifact of my own perspective.

            So the adjectives that come to mind, in terms of qualities I found tiresome: precious, narcissistic, dogmatic, very very judgmental. This is gross generalization and I had a ton of amazing experiences during that time, contact with incredibly smart people in and out of universities, made life-long friends, learned a thousand things and so on. But there was a thread through it that I found constantly grating. I’m speaking here largely of my experience of educated, white people, though not exclusively.

            Living in various places in the South and doing fieldwork in other parts of the world and the country, I could see more clearly how distinctive that cultural milieu was. I think it’s hard to see it clearly if you haven’t lived outside of it. And I think if you live inside of it for a long time, you can lose perspective. I have a lot of friends and family in NYC and I see a similar dynamic there — totally different cultural sensibility than the Bay Area, but a similar kind of parochialism, if that’s the right word in this context.

            I’ve been a kind of outsider in most of the places I’ve lived, partly out of that fear I think of losing perspective and of getting lost in a dogma that I cannot see. There’s a cost to choosing to live that way, but again, I really value my autonomy. It makes me not a great team player, among other things.

          19. cuke

            I want to say too that in terms of the hypocrisy of the left, that I lived inside that for over 20 years. I ran progressive non-profits, helped lead movement organizations, got arrested, and so on. And I know in fine-grained detail what it looks and feels like to have people speak about justice and freedom and then treat each other like shit in the most un-self-aware ways. The thing is all my other lived experience tells me that this doesn’t just happen on the left. Dogma breeds hypocrisy, whether it’s the political left, the Catholic church, or the Republican party.

          20. albatross11

            cuke:

            Yeah, I don’t disagree with that. I’ve been a strong advocate of first amendment rights since I was old enough to care about politics (I remember being more-or-less the only person I knew in high school arguing that flag burning was free speech.).

            I want to establish and strengthen norms that say that nobody loses their job for their politics. And I’ve made the argument, here on SSC, that these norms matter at least as much for preventing liberal views from being suppressed as conservative ones. Damore got fired for expressing some heterodox ideas at Google, but he’s a super-smart guy with a PhD in a technical field–he has a lot of choices. By contrast, some guy who gets fired from his Wal-Mart job in Macon, Missouri for going to a pro-choice rally probably has a lot fewer choices available.

            Also, on a personal note, I’m sorry you got stuck in such a hard position for your PhD. My mother in law (retired, but with a PhD in psychology) has similar stories. I hope we’re getting better w.r.t. that stuff over time.

          21. Roger Sweeny

            There is absolutely nothing important or interesting about my particular pain.

            But there is, like there is to anyone’s pain. Moreover, it shows how varied the sources of pain can be, that it’s not all from one “side”.

            I think you have inaccurately characterized Donald Trump’s criticism of the press. It’s not criticism of the idea of a free press but of the way much of the press is acting (and is there really any question that much of the press hates Trump and feels that being a good journalist (and citizen!) requires giving people the information that will cause them to oppose him? Without that light, democracy dies.)

            I think of it like fans of the Cleveland Browns football team complaining for years because the team wasn’t winning and the higher ups were doing things that never seemed to work out. They didn’t hate the game of football. They didn’t hate the institution the Cleveland Browns. They didn’t hate the members of the team. They hated the owner and the management.

      5. Null42

        Dude said he wants to be a psychiatrist in Cali, which is a pretty high bar. If he were an electrician in Idaho he’d have a lot more leeway. But he probably wouldn’t have the platform he does now.

        I can state what I think is going on, but not sure if I’m actually going to get banned for ruining the guy’s career.

        I remember in a book on cryptic writing, the author gave an example of Machiavelli saying David was lying, and giving a Bible quote…but the Bible quote was actually about God. So it was a way of saying God was lying, without getting killed.

        Similarly, I think I know what Scott is getting at with the gay frogs; it’s something I’ve always wondered myself. Simply put, endocrine disruptors make frogs go sterile, but they also make frogs assume the wrong sex role in mating. I think I’ll leave it at that.

        1. DavidFriedman

          Dude said he wants to be a psychiatrist in Cali, which is a pretty high bar. If he were an electrician in Idaho he’d have a lot more leeway. But he probably wouldn’t have the platform he does now.

          Why not? People don’t read him because he’s a psychiatrist but because he is smart, original, writes well, and has a wide range of interests and enormous intellectual energy. If he had all those characteristics and was an electrician in Idaho we would still read him.

          1. Furslid

            True. But an electrician in Idaho can make good money even if his customers think he’s a little kooky or might be a little bit racist. The risk isn’t that he can’t write SSC. It’s that he can’t practice his profession.

          2. Null42

            The sort of person who usually winds up becoming an electrician in Idaho (smart guy good with his hands in rural America, I’m guessing) doesn’t have contact with Internet-savvy communities like rationalists and EA people who could help him spread visibility of his blog. He’s gotten to the point people in mainstream publications like the NYT cite him. *Of course* that’s because he’s smart enough to write good arguments, original enough to come up with things nobody’s said before, and cagey enough to stay just on the right side of the red line on hot-button topics. But if he were a rural guy in Idaho he’d just be the smartest of his group of friends and probably have be a successful electrician. Maybe run for office as a local school board member or something.

  23. sorrento

    The boring answer is that friendly attitudes in the media and academia helped homosexuality become respectable. The talking heads on the 11 o’clock news tell you about Gay Pride parades. They don’t talk about endocrine disruptors. To your average guy on the street, that makes gay pride parades an important topic, and endocrine disruptors an obscure one. With different media coverage of the Vietnam war or the civil rights era, things might have ended up very differently.

    1. cuke

      I just want to flag here that there’s a difference between asking “why has this movement for change had successes and this other one hasn’t?” and “what role did perceived respectability have to do with its success or failure?” I feel Scott’s post confuses these two questions.

      There are a lot of factors that go into why an agenda for change is successful. Some of the discussion here is proceeding as if “respectability” is the central factor determining change. Even the term “respectability cascade” suggests that the change itself is determined by this accelerating domino-falling process of some amorphous measure of mass perception.

      Memes might go viral based on this kind of perception dynamic, but actual change in the real world takes all kinds of things — mobilizing lots of people, articulating goals, gathering resources, developing leaders, building organizations that are semi-stable so they can shepherd agendas, filing lawsuits, lobbying politicians, etc. Lived history matters too — what came before that made this change more likely? Lived history isn’t just perceptions — it’s prior movements for change, court cases, protests, things that went terribly wrong and affected a lot of people, and so on. Much of this work and experience doesn’t have a lot to do with respectability.

      Friendly attitudes in the media and academia may help shift perceptions about various issues, and so they have a role in raising or lowering respectability of people and causes. But that’s but one small part of what’s involved in making actual change in the world. Maybe that was already obvious to you, so forgive me for putting this comment here if that’s the case. It seemed to me there were a number of places in this discussion where “changing things in the world” was being reduced to “changing perceptions.” The two things are obviously related, but they are not the same.

      I confess this is a thing I wrestle with in conversations in this space because it seems to me that some folks whose primary contact with “social justice types” is online or in college confuse rhetorical arguments with what it actually takes to shift policy around something like legalizing pot or desegregating schools or winning women and black people the right to vote or getting DDT banned or whatever.

      Like I get that rhetorical fights can spill into the real world when someone like Damore writes a memo and gets fired for it or someone expresses a view some other people don’t like and they get doxxed for it. But by and large for most of history, and still to this day, social change proceeds mainly through actions taken in the real world. Some of those actions are speech acts, yes, but behind and beyond the speech acts is a whole lot of non-rhetorical work (researching, organizing, litigating, campaigning, fundraising, and so on).

      1. cuke

        Shorter: as if social change could be reduced to a problem of “branding.” I think this is to misunderstand history.

        1. albatross11

          cuke:

          It seems like there’s a critical part of that change that comes from a change in social attitudes. If Americans had the attitudes toward womens’ rights that Afghans have, no number of court cases or elite pronouncements or laws would be sufficient to get anywhere close to equality. Imposing that level of social change more-or-less worked with the Civil Rights movement, but this involved a big regional split–lots of non-Southerners okay with sending the FBI or National Guard to force Alabama to integrate their schools. If most Americans had had Alabamans’ racial attitudes, no president would have ordered that, or if he did, he would have been voted out of office along with his whole party in the next election.

          I’m not disagreeing with you that changes in rhetoric and public image and attitude aren’t enough. But i do think they’re pretty important starting points for all kinds of social change.

          1. cuke

            Yes agreed, a critical part, as you say. My sense is that the critical change in social attitudes happens much later in the change process than is generally recognized by people who haven’t been neck-deep in said change efforts. So that a lot of the non-rhetorical work happens “off stage” for your average person for a long time. Once it bursts onto the stage, is when people who haven’t been part of the prior efforts recognize it as having “started” and so they tend to overestimate the importance of public image/branding. At least in my experience.

          2. cuke

            Side note: I think this misunderstanding about the centrality of “image” is a factor in some recent movement failures or weaknesses.

            I’m not prepared to argue this really well, but I’d suggest that the Women’s March is having difficulty translating a big mobilization into an effective movement because it was focused on making a big splash without having previously worked through longer-term goals and strategy, not to mention what kind of organizational vehicle to sustain it. It seems to me Occupy had similar problems. The civil rights movement, parts of the environmental movement, and the gay rights movement didn’t have these problems to the same extent, or rather, they built the processes and structures to work through them over time.

            I think it’s a danger of our heavily on-line society that we mistake twitter mobs and viral sharing with organizing — some of it is organizing in a very general way (getting people to contact politicians or mobilizing people for a rally say), but a lot of it is not.

            Movement organizing, like political campaigning or union organizing, is a science/art that people have been developing for generations. It has a knowledge base almost as extensive as the one surrounding the art of war and military strategy. But this knowledge base is often invisible to people who haven’t participated fairly deeply in a social movement (different from being a temporary foot soldier doing some door-knocking or showing up for rallies).

            This is me showing my age, but a little bit I worry about the loss of this knowledge base as a generation of very talented organizers retires and some of the new generation seems only vaguely aware of the depth of knowledge residing there.

            For what it’s worth, I see this happening in other fields, like my own which is counseling psychology. So maybe this is just me being crotchety. Psychotherapy training now, most of it, is pretty narrowly focused on formulaic CBT interventions or other technique/structure-heavy approaches (IFS, EMDR, DBT) without providing much training in the underlying relationship-building skills that all the research shows is central to good outcomes in therapy. These relationship building skills come out of psychotherapy practices one and two generations ago — psychodynamic and person-centered approaches, for instance. So using CBT alone is a little like thinking you can build an effective social movement with a good “message” and yes, it will get you a little ways, but then you have a lot of newly-trained therapists who aren’t even really aware of the terrain they’re missing, that underlies the efficacy of a lot of individual techniques. (I will stop ranting now) 🙂

          3. albatross11

            cuke:

            Have you read anything by Zeynep Tufekci? She is a sociologist at (I think) UNC who started out as a programmer, and is very technology-savvy. She has written a lot about exactly the issue you’re discussing w.r.t. Twitter movements vs actual political organizations. (I think the main focus of her research involves sociology in online groups.). I suspect you would find some of her writing interesting. She’s written at least one book, and many NYT op eds; she also has a web presence and is active on Twitter.

  24. ManyCookies

    I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism.

    Wait I thought “regressive leftism” was an Islamic Acceptance > Progressive Values criticism, isn’t that Sam Harris’ hobbyhorse way more than yours? Or is regressive leftism just being used as a boo-word here?

    1. Bugmaster

      FWIW, I interpret “regressive leftism” as “a prohibition of certain types of research because they have the potential to cast doubt on accepted leftist political opinions”. By comparison, if conservatives were in charge, Scott would probably be fighting against Creationism.

      1. marxbro

        By comparison, if conservatives were in charge, Scott would probably be fighting against Creationism.

        Conservatives are in charge though.

        If Scott isn’t just using “regressive leftism” as a sneer word designed to insult his political outgroup he should at least define what he’s talking about.

        1. Bugmaster

          I believe that, while conservatives are in charge of politics, liberals are in charge of academia.

          1. marxbro

            Liberals are not the left, though. Liberals are the centre. If you want to talk about regressive centrists then that would make slightly more sense.

            Secondly, I hear people talk about liberals being in charge of academia all the time, I’m not necessarily sure that’s true. Are there relevant studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration? Especially at the high levels (i.e. I’m not interested with who the secretaries or janitors affiliate with).

          2. P. George Stewart

            Conservatives are in charge of neither.

            Among other things, homosexuals would still be in the closet, and America would still be a largely ethnically White nation, if they were.

            The general trend has been inexorably, incrementally leftward since WWI. And by the looks of things it’s not going to end well.

          3. marxbro

            @P. George Stewart

            I don’t think looking at just two elements of the political position of conservatives from decades ago is a very good metric to judge if the conservatives of today are in charge or not.

          4. Cliff

            Liberals are not the left, though. Liberals are the centre.

            In America, liberal and left are literally used synonymously. If you live in Europe maybe you think liberals are libertarianish types? They’re not in the U.S.

            And yes, universities are dominated at least 10-1 by the left. I mean communist professors abound but communists in general are unicorns. The administration is absolutely complicit in all the shenanigans, otherwise you wouldn’t see absurd things like professors being intimidated with violent rhetoric into leaving campus for a day of white retreat.

          5. marxbro

            @Cliff I consider the left to be communists and anarchists, who are clearly underrepresented in American politics generally.

            I’m sure there’s a handful of communist professors in certain departments at American universities. However, this is not really what I would consider “in charge” of anything. Again I’d like to see a study of the political affiliations of the top brass at universities – everyone always assumes they’re liberal but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen actual numbers.

          6. Enkidum

            Speaking as someone who has spent virtually my entire life in academia (child of a professor, still pretending I’ll become one), in both hard sciences and the humanities, I’ve met exactly one communist professor, and heard of maybe one or two more. They are incredibly rare.

            It’s certainly true that on average profs are more left wing than society as a whole (although not that much). I have no idea what the administration’s tendency’s are, I would suspect substantially more right-wing.

          7. John Schilling

            Are there relevant studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration?

            Yes. Yes there are. Many of them.

            I’m certain you can contrive narrow definitions of “liberal” and “academia” that allow you to claim that nobody has ever really studied liberal dominance of academia, but I think this would instead be an appropriate time for you to take stock of the number of people who have told you about this, the weight of evidence they have, the casual nature of your own dismissal(*), and engage in a nice hefty dose of self-criticism. You’re not merely wrong on this, you’re stubbornly foolishly wrong.

            * You couldn’t even be bothered to cut-and-paste “studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration” into a search engine, on this or any of the previous occasions when you’ve heard people talk about the subject.

          8. DavidFriedman

            @John Schilling:
            I didn’t read everything at your links, but so far as I could tell they were about the affiliation of university faculty, not of university administrators, which was the question being asked.

          9. Nietzsche

            John Schilling is absolutely correct. I’ve spent my whole life in academia (SLAC undergrad, Ivy PhD, tenured prof state university). I have a vocal communist in my own department, and my university is middle-of-the-road politically. Which is to say, overwhelmingly dominated by the left, but not stridently so. Deans routinely command affirmative action diversity searches and hires. Not exactly a sign that they are secret conservatives.

          10. Cliff

            @Cliff I consider the left to be communists and anarchists, who are clearly underrepresented in American politics generally.

            Please stop that. Left means “left of center” and everybody knows that and uses the term that way, so please don’t make outrageous claims based on unique definitions you decided to use to purposefully confuse people.

            I’m not sure why you think they are “clearly underrepresented” either. Are you saying that on average, globally, most countries have a higher proportion?

          11. Nornagest

            Left means “left of center” and everybody knows that and uses the term that way, so please don’t make outrageous claims based on unique definitions you decided to use to purposefully confuse people.

            To be fair, the “communists and anarchists” definition is the standard one in Marxist circles. Which isn’t too surprising given that Marxists’ view of politics is based on writings anywhere between eighty and a hundred and fifty years old, and communist and anarchism really would have been significant political forces back then; insisting on it here and now is fairly transparently (and somewhat pathetically) a bid for pushing the Overton window back that way, but it’s not like he’s just making it up.

            On the other hand, even if we’re talking about Communists and anarchists, I’m pretty sure they’re overrepresented in (humanities and social sciences) academia. John already gave some of the actual studies involved, but anecdotally, out of twenty or so professors and TAs in those fields that I had in school, maybe half a dozen were some flavor of anarchist or revolutionary socialist. A similar fraction of the far leftists I’ve met since have some kind of advanced degree. Unless a huge fraction of the workers of the world are staying up late to sew hammer-and-sickle banners by the light of a flickering coal grate and just not telling anyone about it, that almost certainly points to overrepresentation.

          12. Art Vandelay

            I believe that, while conservatives are in charge of politics, liberals are in charge of academia.

            I think there’s something to David Graeber’s that the left (broadly conceived) are in charge of the creation of people while the right (broadly conceived) are in charge of the creation of things.

      2. Trashionalist

        To me, what makes the phrase “regressive leftism” so promising is what “regressive” implies about “progressive”. If “regressive” is used in a derogatory term, that implies that “progressive” is good. Regressive leftism is to be avoided because it reverses progress, progress in the leftist sense. Regressive leftism is when progressive leftism is made to counter progressive leftism, in the name of progressive leftism.

        Ideally, no one who isn’t a progressive or a leftist should use “regressive leftism” as a derogatory term, because using it implies progressive ends are good. Obviously that didn’t bear out, and rightists use the term constantly as if to say all leftism is regressive, and worse still “regressive” is used as if it were a synonym of “degenerate” as a /pol/ user would use it.

        The annoying part of being an anti-SJW/PC/regressive leftist is convincing the rest of the left that all anti-SJW/PC/regressives claiming to be left aren’t just rightists pretending to be left. They think anyone saying “I’m a leftist, I just feel as a leftist I want to protect the left from its worst elements” today will end up saying “I’ve #WalkedAway from the left, become a classical liberal who wants to leave most things to free markets and build the wall” tomorrow, and with examples like Dave Rubin I don’t exactly blame them. The term “regressive leftist” should have been a fool-proof way to ensure an anti-PC leftism uninfected by rightism, but I guess we need something stronger.

        1. The Nybbler

          I think you’re overthinking it. The term “regressive left” is an insult; it does not imply that those using it think “progressive” is positive”. Those using it know that the targets think “progressive” is positive; that’s sufficient. Also, “regressive” is a word with negative connotations; even those who would truly go backwards don’t call themselves that.

  25. John Schilling

    A confounding factor in the gay-rights example is that, even before there was any real visibility among the bottom-10% respectability homosexual population, there were top-1% elites from Oscar Wilde to Rock Hudson who were all but openly gay within their social and professional communities but with an informal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to make sure the rubes didn’t know about it.

    The “respectability cascade” up from the bottom 10% is highly visible, but cascades aren’t normally known for going in the up direction. People don’t normally take their status cues from others lower than them on the ladder.

    The bit where “Don’t ask, don’t tell, the rubes couldn’t handle it” evolves through “…but you can nod and wink real suggestively” to “OK, maybe talk quietly about the generic but no names” to “If one of us gets outed we can still be seen with him” and onward to there, is necessarily less blatant in its visibility before the end stage. But it’s happening at the very top of the status ladder, where people are accustomed to looking for such cues and small signals have magnified effect.

    So it’s hard to know which effect is dominant. Particularly if, as you note, there’s real debate over what really happened w/re gay rights. I think we need a few more unambiguous cases, where there was no soft pull from above and only the cascade up from below.

    And I can’t think of any offhand. Anyone else got any candidates?

    1. Garrett

      One analogy I keep looking at is the open-carry gun-rights people in comparison to the gay-pride parades. They’re all about normalizing what is viewed as deviant behavior, and largely make people uncomfortable in the process.

      1. arlie

        Now that’s an interesting comparison, particularly given my reaction to people carrying guns. I quite possibly have a similar revulsion to that reported by various people justifiably labelled homophobes – that is, I think they might be dangerous to me, and are surely disgusting. This seems much like the kind of homophobe who sees any gay man as a potential rapist of straight men such as themselves. I make theoretical exceptions for some categories of gun carriers (cops, soldiers, hunters, etc.) – but I’m nonetheless uncomfortable with them too. And I wasn’t at all thrilled when my nephew was considering a career in law enforcement, though I hope I managed to conceal the bad reaction from him.

    2. Conrad Honcho

      And I can’t think of any offhand. Anyone else got any candidates?

      Trans? There’s Caitlyn Jenner and that’s about it on the top end.

      1. John Schilling

        I’d add the Wachowskis, but I think openly- or quasi-openly-trans elites are a lagging indicator, quite unlike the case with (male) homosexuals.

      2. albatross11

        In the more intellectual sphere, there’s Dierdre McClosky. And I think the top female CEO in the US is a transwoman.

  26. Charlie Lima

    It seems odd to me to consider gay acceptance in isolation. Consider what other groups society has come to accept without comment over the years:
    Divorcees
    Men who visit prostitutes
    Couples who use birth control
    Couples who have sex before marriage
    Couples who cohabit before marriage
    Women who have children out of wedlock
    Couples who never marry
    Gay couples
    Polyamorous uples

    A very parsimonious option is that the low respectability gay activists had little positive to do with things. Instead as the dominoes fell on the old sexual order over decades, society cared less and less about people perceived as having trangressive sexuality. Seeing polls like this suggests to me that gays were just a more slowly adopted part of larger trend.

    After all divorce got a leg up with an English king, movie stars, and a bunch of gilded age millionaires. Prostitution had help from all the GIs in WWII. Premarital sex was advocated by all the best and brightest college kids. It seems like people just had more exposure to the first to be accepted sexual transgressions. Looked at from a wider angle, gay rights seem to be just another step along the “more respectable” to “less respectable” continuum.

    The only violations of the old sexual mores I can think of that have become less acceptable have been (maybe) cheating, pedophilia, and MeToo type coercion. The latter two certainly fit into their own long arcs of historical struggle. Childhood has been ever more protected with bans on most child labor, heavy restrictions on corporal punishment, and ever increasing efforts at safety on all fronts; feminism has moved from voting rights to anti-discrimination and on to greater gender equalization.

    Regardless, it just seems really odd to look at gay history in isolation from the other major changes in sexual mores.

  27. The Nybbler

    I don’t think Alex Jones harmed anything about the cause of endocrine disrupters (such as it was) anyway. Before Jones, a few people knew and cared about them — scientists, environmentalists, and some disreputable types who blamed it for drops in testosterone and a reduction of masculine behavior in men. Now, as far as I can tell, those same people know and care about them, and most of them don’t even connect it to Jones’s “MAKING THE FROGS GAY” thing. It’s not like you can be talking about endocrine disrupters and someone will point and laugh and say “HA HA, YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT IS MAKING THE FROGS GAY”. Unless they do that in Berkeley?

    I don’t know if I believe in a respectability cascade either. But I do believe it’s better to have something said and heard (even by Alex Jones, some hairy man in a leather G-string, or the Devil himself) than to have it unsaid or said so quietly it is not heard at all. You can build on infamy, not so much on silence.

    And as others have pointed out, on the gripping hand, the Twitter trolls aren’t going to listen to Haidt anyway.

  28. zzzzort

    But is this just me projecting my 2010s post-gay-victory values back on the past?

    Arguably that’s the right way to look at it. As homosexuality became more acceptable, the original supporters became less disreputable. This is an additional positive feedback group to more respectable people joining a more respectable cause; as more respectable people join everyone in the group becomes more respectable. This process transforms the Stonewall patrons from rioting sexual perverts to civil rights heroes. I doubt that any consensus on endocrine disruptors could redeem Alex Jones.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      It’s fun to imagine a few centuries from now Jones gets treated like John Dee is today, some sort of mystical figure whose wrongness about everything means he was larger than life and in touch with deeper truths.

      1. philwelch

        The fate of Alex Jones and conspiracy theorism in general is interesting. It feels like back in the 90’s, conspiracy theories were treated with a sort of whimsical dismissal by the surrounding culture. There was even a movie titled Conspiracy Theory in 1997, and a ten-year run of The X-Files. Is this just because the conspiracy theorists of the 90’s were less overtly political? Art Bell never got deplatformed.

        1. Jesse E

          Conspiracy theorists of the 90’s were relatively unassuming, non-political, and were questioning things there were actually questions about – JFK’s assassination, aliens, etc. Some were a little nutty, but they were nutty in a ‘weird uncle’ way, not a ‘let’s take down the government’ way.

          OTOH, more recent conspiracy theorists either are trying to create conspiracies around things millions of people saw on live TV (9/11) or things with no actual connection to reality (ie. most of what’s on Infowars) and it’s more directly connected to politics than in the past.

          1. Enkidum

            I think we ran in very different circles in the 90’s, but I assure you your memory of the older conspiracy theorists is faulty.

            Jones has been around since the late 80’s. His schtick has barely changed at all. As for not being about ‘let’s take down the government’… the militia movement starts in the early 90’s (and has much longer roots than that) Ruby Ridge, Waco, MOVE, there’s plenty of other examples.

          2. albatross11

            The counterexample that comes to mind is the conspiracy theory that the US government had created AIDS to kill off blacks (or maybe blacks and gays).

  29. Bugmaster

    Could this simply be a matter of numbers ? About 4% of the population are gay, although I’ve heard claims that the value could be as high as 10% if you count in anyone who’s “bi-curious”. What percentage of the population are honest-to-Jones government chemtrail conspiracy nuts ?

    1. Conrad Honcho

      According to Wikipedia, before the InfoWars youtube channel was removed it had 2.4 million subscribers. If you assume they’re all American, that’s less than 1% of the population.

      1. philwelch

        “Percentage of Americans who subscribe to a specific YouTube channel” isn’t really a good comparison to “percentage of Americans who are gay”. A better analogy might be:

        Opinion polls taken in various locations have shown that between 6% and 20% of Americans, 25% of Britons, and 28% of Russians surveyed believe that the manned landings were faked.

        (Wikipedia)

        1. Conrad Honcho

          I think that’s a more widespread and slightly more plausible conspiracy theory than what Bugmaster described as “honest-to-Jones government chemtrail conspiracy nuts.” I don’t think the moon landings were faked, but at least there’s a plausible reason to do so: beat the Russians at the PR game. With regards to chemtrails, according to Wikipedia that’s a 2.6% belief, because what’s the point?

          At such percentages we’re getting into Lizardman Constant territory. Interrupt me during dinner to ask me if the government is turning frogs gay to stop the coming lizardmen from the hollow earth apocalypse and I’ll probably say “yes” just to screw with you, too.

  30. Wency

    “What are some heuristics for when one works and the other doesn’t?” asks Scott.

    I feel I have no choice but to say, “Cthulhu always swims left”. I browsed the comments and this seems to align with every example given, yet no one seems to have said it in so many words.

    How do you resist SJW encroachment in science (or anything else)? Well, not via “respectability cascades”, to be sure. On the Jonathan Haidt question, this means they are better off suppressed and ridiculed, not given a megaphone.

    1. Bugmaster

      This might be a bit off-topic, but doesn’t “Cthulhu always swim left” pretty much by definition ? Conservatives want to preserve the social order in exactly the same state as it exists now (or rather, as it was during their youth). Therefore, any social change whatsoever is a loss for conservatives and a gain for progressives. Given that social change is inevitable, short of some sort of a truly brutal Stalinist dictatorship, Cthulhu is pretty much guaranteed to keep swimming.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        Social change could move right. That’s kind of the political definition of “reaction.”
        Any time there’s a “great awakening” in church attendance, that’s social change swimming right.

        1. Uribe

          Any time there’s a “great awakening” in church attendance, that’s social change swimming right.

          Are you sure? Weren’t the Great Awakenings in the 19th Century closely associated with progressive causes like abolition, education and temperance?

      2. Uribe

        That’s what I was thinking. Seems like anyone pushing for change is by definition progressive. Weren’t the eugenicists considered progressive in the 30’s? Weren’t the gun rights people considered progressive in the 60’s? Wasn’t both the Temperance Movement and the Anti-Temperance Movement progressive? Isn’t racial segregation on college campuses these days considered progressive?

        Edit: Note that gun rights activists in the 60s actually moved the needle on the “right to bear arms”.

        1. dick

          I think the “Cthulhu swims left” meme is generally interpreted in the narrow context of modern progressive/feminist/SJW causes. If it included things like taxation and gun control and military spending and union membership and social safety nets then Cthulhu would be doing rather a lot of zig-zagging.

      3. DavidFriedman

        You are assuming that “conservative” in the political context has its more general meaning. It doesn’t.

        Consider the conflict between someone who wants to reverse some of the New Deal changes or sharply reduce government spending and someone who opposes those changes. The former is the conservative, politically speaking, the latter is the one who is against change.

        Similarly for “progressive.” Progressives are not people in favor of change, they are people in favor of change in particular directions. The label assumes away the question of whether those particular changes represent progress.

        1. Bugmaster

          Progressives are not people in favor of change, they are people in favor of change in particular directions.

          I’m tempted to agree with you, but: how do you define those directions, objectively ? You could say, “Progressives support social policy X and vehemently oppose not-X”, but that’s a subjective example that only holds true for the current Progressives of $currentYear. Can you formulate a more general pattern that will hold (mostly) true throughout history ?

          1. 10240

            While your question is interesting, I think the “Cthulhu always swims left” statement is understood as left by today’s definitions, not then-current ones.

      4. jhertzlinger

        One reason the left appears to win is that failed left-wing movements are no longer considered Left. Another reason is that victorious right-wing movements are frequently reclassified as Left.

        You can see these phenomena most clearly in the case of the aftermath of the American Civil War. The losing side engaged in a “long march through the institutions” which first caused a Yankee withdrawal from the occupation of Dixie. It was followed by the growing respectability of eugenics and it then culminated in the capture of the Presidency in 1912.

        Come to think of it, the standard left-wing rhetoric about indigenous movements might have been injected into liberalism by Wilson, who might have been looking for an excuse for Confederate independence.

        On the other hand, after eugenics failed, racism was re-re-classified as right-wing. (Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, comrade!)

        1. Conrad Honcho

          Agreed. See also “the parties switched sides after the Civil Rights Act!” No, the Republicans wanted colorblindness before the CRA and want colorblindness after the CRA. The Democrats want power and when they could get that by pandering to whites and demonizing blacks they did so, and when the culture since shifted such that they could gain power by pandering to blacks and demonizing whites, they do so. If this ever reverses they will be the first to advocate reinstating slavery.

          Also, I suspect the Right Side of History will be anti-abortion as we generally move towards more care of the defenseless and away from murdering the defenseless. When that battle is eventually won in 2050 or so the left will cast themselves as champions of the unborn and the right as the monsters ripping infants from their mothers’ wombs.

          1. 10240

            First paragraph: I agree about how the “they switched sides” claim is bogus, but the “Democrats want power” (implicitly more than the Republicans) was a needless partisan jab. Every politician wants power, and it’s implausible that being more ruthless in fighting for power is a natural tendency of Democrats through generation after generation of politicians.

            Second paragraph: only if the majority will view fetuses as persons (or at least conscious enough to matter) in the morally relevant sense.

          2. Humbert McHumbert

            I would say you’re half right: the Republicans didn’t switch sides, but the Democrats did in fact switch sides. It wasn’t as if a group of anti-black Democrats decided to change their specific ideology to being pro-black. There were a few cynical fence-sitters who sort of did that. But the genuine anti-black racists were replaced by different politicians (eg, the Kennedies) whose ideology we would now categorize as progressive. As that process intensified, people like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond changed parties since there was no longer a way to effectively form a racist coalition and the best they could do was join a mostly colorblind coalition. It wasn’t like Helms and Thurmond and their ilk were pure power-seekers who were happy to switch from Jim Crow to affirmative action.

            Also, I suspect the Right Side of History will be anti-abortion as we generally move towards more care of the defenseless and away from murdering the defenseless. When that battle is eventually won in 2050 or so the left will cast themselves as champions of the unborn and the right as the monsters ripping infants from their mothers’ wombs.

            The only way I could see this playing out (but it is a serious possibility) is if we end up with highly cheap and effective artificial wombs by 2050 so that aborting and carrying to term are no longer the only options. It’s similar to the situation with vegetarianism. I could see everyone becoming “vegetarian” if good artificial meat is developed, and then looking back on past generations as evil. But minus the vat-grown meat, there’s no way. People like meat too much, and they like consequence-free sex too much.

            (I say all this as someone who doesn’t believe the fetus is a person, at least not until pretty late in a pregnancy, and is happy with abortion on demand at least until the third trimester.)

          3. 10240

            if we end up with highly cheap and effective artificial wombs by 2050 so that aborting and carrying to term are no longer the only options.

            @Humbert McHumbert Or possibly with 100% secure and side-effect-free contraception.

            is happy with abortion on demand at least until the third trimester.

            Mistake? What’s the “at most” then?

          4. Humbert McHumbert

            Not a typo. I’m certain I approve of abortions prior to the third trimester, and uncertain whether to disapprove of them starting at some point during the third trimester.

          5. 10240

            @Humbert McHumbert OK, my bad understanding of English then. I thought “until the third trimester” meant “up to an including the third trimester”.

      5. Wency

        It might seem to be true by definition, and yet, it seems very true in all the examples in this topic that I saw. Far-left activists are able to make an issue more acceptable to those slightly less far-left. But far-right activists have a way of making an issue anathema to everyone. They certainly don’t bring any more support to a cause.

        This ties into the concept of Salami tactics, which are effective against the Right but not nearly so effective against the Left.

        And indeed, a shift to the Right is possible and by definition reaction. The only real example of this in our lifetimes though would seem to be Eastern Europe, and even there the verdict is mixed once you get beyond the immediate impact of Communism’s fall and the reasserting of Christian identity in some places.

        As for how you define Left and Right in ways that are consistent across all times and places, it mostly breaks down to a personality type and a way of thinking.

        In the past 150 years or so of U.S. history, part of the issue is that modernism is sometimes viewed as a right-wing and sometimes a left-wing cause, depending on who its opponents are. Traditionalism is always on the Right. Nationalism, liberal economic policies, and scientific/technocratic thinking began as modernist ideas opposed largely by traditionalists, so were viewed as being on the Left. Later they largely reconciled and allied with traditionalists to oppose the mutual enemy Communism, and so came to be viewed as Rightist.

        This seems to be shifting again as that alliance has largely broken down over modernists’ support (or acceptance) of LGBT causes.

        1. Uribe

          As for how you define Left and Right in ways that are consistent across all times and places, it mostly breaks down to a personality type and a way of thinking.

          This makes sense. The only way to know if a cause is truly Left or Right is to find the kind of dudes you know would have to be on the Right side of an issue, then figure out what they support. Then the solution to why Cthulu swims Left would be that more Left than Right personality types are being produced now because Leftism is in the water supply, just ASK TEH GAY FROGS!!!

  31. TomMustang

    This sounds silly to say about Scott of all people, but uh, guys…. Scott isn’t accounting for the flow of incentives.

    In the case of gay acceptance, there is a large group of people, gay people, who have a very strong incentive to remove the taboo around homosexuality. At first, it was too costly for high-status gays to be publicly gay, but once the bears came out of the closet, it became less costly for the more high-status gays to come out of the closet. The high-status gays have innate incentives for gay acceptance so the weirdos made it less costly for them to follow their innate incentives.

    In the case of the frogs though, no one has any emotional stakes. There is no group of highly incentivized people holding their tongues because it’s too costly to come out of the frog closet. There are no incentives in play, so the crazies don’t make it easier for people to come out of the frog closet. No higher status group was incentivized to come out of the frog closest but stayed there because it was too costly. No real group of people have emotional stakes. Why would a cascade happen without preexisting incentives and lowered cost of following those incentives[which is what happened in the gay case]?

    But I’m guessing Scott knew all of this and wanted us to complete the puzzle. In the case of Pinker and Hadit, there are people who are highly incentivized to agree with them[smart people who don’t wanna rock the boat but are bothered], if only it were less costly to do so. Therefore if the Pinker group can get some major names, IDK, Singer, Tao, Knuth, Ed Witten, people who radiate status, it would suddenly be less costly for smart people who wanna say something, but who are afraid, to come out of the closet. The only of these people who seem likely to come out of the closet, or even is in the closet, is Singer. Maybe Aranson + Bostrom or something?

    Before I go on, Scott is the puzzle that you wanted us to solve? Were we supposed to reason to the salient difference between gays and frogs [the flow of incentives] and then apply that reasoning to Pinker and co? Or did I miss the boat, reading too deeply into your blog posts; treating your posts as if you were writing Gemara, and not just jotting down some thoughts when you had a quick break ?

    1. Anonymous`

      Or did I miss the boat, reading too deeply into your blog posts; treating your posts as if you were writing Gemara, and not just jotting down some thoughts when you had a quick break ?

      His blog has been much more on the latter side of that spectrum over the past couple years.

    2. Scott Alexander Post author

      I am basically never misrepresenting my own epistemic status as a puzzle for others.

      1. TomMustang

        In that case, aren’t you failing to account for the fairly obvious flow of incentives in the case of gays?

  32. Maxwell

    This reminds me of the American practice of putting medicine into the public water supply (“fluoridation”). It’s an eccentric idea that you wouldn’t think would appeal to many people. And it doesn’t really. But everyone has heard that bad people (e.g. fanatical anti-communist conspiracy theorists) oppose it, so that settles it, it’s good. Non-respectable opposition, or maybe just the rumor of it, generated stable support for something that would otherwise have none.

      1. Maxwell

        The problem in general with putting medicine in the water supply is the dose is poorly controlled, and if you play it safe, will be too low to do anything.

        Plus don’t you find reducing cavities to be a rather frivolous objective given the drastic means? Like if you could put something in the water to prevent a contagious disease, then maybe as an emergency measure it could make sense, maybe.

        1. Kuiperdolin

          “if you could put something in the water to prevent a contagious disease”

          You can, it’s called chlorination. More or less everyone in the First World does it as an ongoing precaution, not an emergency measure, including, if a two-minute Google search can be trusted, the US of A.

        2. Enkidum

          I hadn’t ever really thought to check, but reading the wikipedia article on fluoridation suggests that there is some pushback to the notion of its effectiveness. In general the quality of evidence either way seems rather poor, which is surprising to me.

          However I will say that if it’s the case that water fluoridation decreases the rate of cavities without a comparable rise in other issues, then yes I would 100% support doing it, and I am certain that my stance on this is far more common than yours. Without any doubt at all, your claim that it would have no support without the respectability issues due to John Birch morons is just false.

          “if you play it safe, will be too low to do anything.”

          This is an empirical claim which strikes me as pulled out of thin air.

        3. Zeno of Citium

          Fluoride has an advantage in that the downside to have somewhat too much is low – mild fluoridosis, which is a discoloration of tooth enamel. You need a lot of fluoride in the water, relatively speaking, for this to happen. Actual problems from excess fluoride in the water are basically impossible to get, particularly since it’s easy to figure out how much you need to add. Fluoride in public water isn’t drastic at all, it’s a very safe intervention.

    1. The Nybbler

      We’re still holding back the contamination of our precious bodily fluids (with added fluoride; hexavalent chromium is another issue entirely) in New Jersey.

  33. GigaFauna

    An example of a “respectability cascade” that doesn’t fit either of these archetypes is that of the “Gravity Research Foundation” essay contest.

    Founded by a rich lunatic who considered the force of gravity to be “Our Enemy No. 1”, it was for a number of years utterly disreputable, its sole entries and sole winners being from the crackpot fringe. Then an essay was submitted by Stephen Hawking, who was awarded 2nd (!) prize. This rendered it respectable in the eyes of the academic community, who did a reverse-takeover, and it has been respectable ever since.

    This seems related to the adage that “only Nixon can go to China”.

    1. Simulated Knave

      https://www.gravityresearchfoundation.org/year/

      A quick google of most of the first place winners for several years before Hawking shows that he’s certainly not responsible.

      Bryce DeWitt’s Wikipedia page basically seems to give him credit. He won in 1953 (the page says 55, but the essay’s on the GRF website under 53).

  34. J Mann

    Public belief in science is probably substantially different, but is the idea that “IQ is a useful predictive measurement” in the course of a respectability cascade? My rough mythology is:

    – 30 years ago, it was politically incorrect to argue that IQ is a valid measurement that predicts future outcomes effectively.

    – Then Andrew Sullivan let an issue of The New Republic argue the point.

    – Then people like Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein moved to “of *course* IQ is a valid measurement with a lot of predictive power, but these other beliefs *about* IQ should be considered morally suspect.”

    1. Uribe

      And 40 years ago the idea that IQ is predictive of future outcomes was part of popular culture. I can remember watching an early episode of the TV show The Facts of Life from the late 70’s in which the plot of the episode was the kids all finding out each others’ IQ scores. The headmaster had announced confidently to Ms. Garret: “These IQ scores will tell us how these girls will academically perform the rest of their lives.” or something like that. (Now that I tell it I realize perhaps part of the point of the episode was to try to make fun of IQ-determinism, but there was nothing Culture War-y about it.)

      I’m pretty sure the anti-IQ stuff started after the Bell Curve and not because of the claim that IQ was heritable but because it interwove with the race stuff. So to combat the race-IQ stuff, opponents also attacked the heritability angle, just to be sure.

      P.S. In 1983 there was a made for TV movie starring Gary Coleman called The Kid with the 200 IQ. This example pretty well illustrates that society used to have no trouble with IQ as a concept as long as racial differences weren’t part of the concept. CM overturned this orthodoxy.

      1. albatross11

        I don’t think so–Linda Gottfriedson talks about having been subject to a lot of social pressure not to study IQ, before The Bell Curve was published. When it came out, a smart and sensible friend of mine compared publishing it to publishing formulas for making bioweapons.

    2. mobile

      But 60 years ago, it was pretty uncontroversial that IQ was useful, and it was the contrary point of view that had a respectability cascade.

  35. kerkeslager

    Two things:

    1. Respectability isn’t an objective value. Respectability is in the eye of the beholder: it’s subjective. I’d like to separate this term “respectability” into two kinds of respectability: “popular respectability” (you are respectable in a certain percentage of people) and demographic respectability (you are respectable in a certain demographic). I don’t think it’s useful to think in terms of percentages of respectability, but rather in terms of demographics which a) overlap (i.e. a person is a member of both demographics) or b) are respectable to each other (i.e. Jews have some level of respectability with Christians, as compared to other religions, because of the roots of the respective religions).

    I don’t think that looking at popular respectability gives you a good understanding of what’s going on.

    2. Respectability cascades need a “path” to cascade along. Alex Jones doesn’t catalyze a more respectable group to take action on endocrine disruption because the other respectable groups which might take action on endocrine disruption (i.e. scientists, journalists) don’t respect Alex Jones. Alt-right Voat users don’t catalyze more a respectable group to move to Reddit-like platforms which value free speech, because other groups which are concerned about free speech (i.e. social liberals) don’t respect alt-right Voat users.

    This is sort of where looking only at popular respectability (as I defined earlier) gets in the way. It kind of gives you a vague “path” idea (10% respectable people persuade 20% respectable people, who then persuade 30% respectable people, and so on). But looking at the gay movement, it hides the fact that there’s a much more direct path of demographic respectability which gay people have: friends and family members. If we assume 1 in 10 people are gay, with gay people being born in a wide variety of demographics, nearly everyone knows someone who is gay. And out gay people have a sort of respectability with the people close to them: love. If your son or daughter comes out as gay, you’re much more likely to become positive about homosexuality. And that factor exists for gays who would be respected by any percentage of people: drug using drag queens and openly gay senators both have families.

    And note that because homosexuality is an identity belief, it’s much harder for a family member of a gay person to “agree to disagree”. It’s easy to say you love your son if they believe in endocrine disruption and you don’t. It’s much harder to say you love your son if they are gay, and you think homosexuality is wrong. So this makes the “respectability path” between gays and their family members particularly strong with regard to the belief being propagated.

    This “path” I’m talking about was identified by Harvey Milk, and I think was the basis of his campaigning for gays all over America to come out to their friends and relatives. Milk was acutely aware of the effect that someone coming out as gay has on the beliefs of the people close to them.

    1. cuke

      This strikes me as very well argued.

      This question of the role of respectability perhaps connects to the body of research about what makes a social movement successful. We’re talking about a path of change on a scale larger than the individual. In general, what produces change seems to be poorly understood in complex systems.

      Social change theorists have spent a lot of ink arguing about what are key factors that make change more likely: successfully mobilizing resources, having good leaders, getting elites over to their side, finding historic openings, transitioning to institutional structures, and so on.

      So my contribution here is just to say that anytime you see a change path — which a respectability cascade would be — it seems like the conversation needs to get down to the level of talking about specific factors at play. The “no exit” aspect that @kerkeslager raises for gay people is a powerful one — they can’t just switch issues; they are “stuck” with their identity, and likewise, their loved ones are “stuck” with them as loved ones (though obviously and painfully, not always, as we know). So that’s two powerful no-exit factors working on that path, that can be seen as raising guardrails to keep people on the path.

      On the other side, the evidence that environmental contamination is affecting animals may be an issue that has a lot of exit possibilities — the impact is diffuse and impersonal, there are other environmental issues one could focus on, the sense of urgency and the consequences of inaction are not going to be as evident to the average person (as having a son or daughter who is gay and who has unmet needs and rights claims).

      Perhaps early efforts at bringing gay rights to the forefront of society’s attention also displayed negative respectability cycles. Maybe earlier on the path, there was backwards progress due to the exploits of disreputable people, but that was later overcome by a confluence of helpful factors (civil rights movement creating a template? AIDS crisis producing new militant activists? specific historic advances in local geographies like San Francisco and NYC?).

      When we see contradictory effects, it seems like sometimes it’s guidance to move up or down in the level of generality of the analysis.

    2. Scott Alexander Post author

      I think if we were asked to rate the respectability of various people and institutions (not how much we personally respected them, but their vague respectability) we would get very similar lists. I think that’s because respectability is kind of a common-knowledge problem: it doesn’t mean I respect someone, it means I think other people think other people think (…) that other people respect them.

      I respect Eliezer Yudkowsky a huge amount, but I wouldn’t call him especially “respectable”. I don’t have much respect for a lot of the New York Times’ reporting, but I agree they’re super “respectable”.

      If Eliezer were to say that some taboo behavior I engage in is okay, I might feel secretly vindicated but I wouldn’t feel much more comfortable engaging in (except maybe inside the rationalist community where Eliezer is more respected). If the New York Times said it was okay, almost by definition that means society has decided to stop worrying about it and I would feel I could be more open.

    3. Null42

      Bit of a nitpick, but the common roots of Christianity and Judaism were actually the cause of quite a bit of antisemitism in the Middle Ages and after. Either Jesus is the Messiah, or he isn’t, so Judaism and Christianity can’t be true at the same time; as Christianity started as a Jewish sect, early Christian writers had to spend a lot of time arguing that Judaism wasn’t true anymore and that’s why you get stuff like ‘synagogue of Satan’ in the New Testament.

  36. kevin

    Before I start, take a look at this photo. I’ll wait.

    http://screenprism.com/assets/img/article/right_thing_4.png

    This is a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther “I have been to the mountaintop” King Jr. shaking hands with Malcolm “By any means necessary” X. They are both happy in each other’s company. Among white Americans at the time King was at about 65% respectability and Malcolm X was at about 0%. The photo plays a pivotal role in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”.

    Both King and Malcolm X were critical to the fight for civil rights in this country. A kind of revolution. Revolutions are messy, ugly things. You need a lot of people to make a revolution. You need a lot of different kinds of people to make a revolution. King was working for a peaceful revolution, X was going to have a revolution one way or another.

    King and X presented a clear choice to white Americans. The civil rights revolution was coming, it was ineluctable. Whites could have the revolution King’s way or X’s way. Burning cities and riots figured at least as much as peaceful marches in the calculations of white politicians enacting civil rights legislation. The Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers provided a necessary contrast to King’s civil disobedience.

    So my argument would be that you need both the professors and the (figurative) bomb-throwers in a revolution. In effect, you say to your opponents, “Right now you’re dealing with me. I’m reasonable. But if you and I can’t come to a deal then you’re going to have to deal with the crazies over there.”

    Revolutions require that people be affected. The vast majority of us would not inconvenience ourselves over the fate of herps. I think the role of bomb-throwers in removing endocrine disruptors will only be useful when endocrine disruptors in the environment are demonstrated to have direct and dire effects on middle class Americans.

    1. Jliw

      Was Malcolm X “critical”, relative to other factors (e.g. the obvious)? At least today, he’s vastly less influential than King; I don’t think I ever heard about him as a kid or teenager.

      It’s also not my impression that most of the nation was afraid that the fraction of black males (already only 5% of the population) who were committed and violent followers of Malcolm X were on the brink of conquering or ravaging the land — and if the rest of the nation really wasn’t sympathetic, a few terrorists wouldn’t change its mind.

      I think the fact that a majority of the population agreed with King’s ideals and sympathized with his cause is the main driver here; it would have done it with votes without any threats. Too, “we hate them but just give them what they want!” sounds implausible as a motivator for more than a few. I think being forced into a position that is odious to you is more likely to breed anger than capitulation, especially for a group in a stronger position.

    2. Scott Alexander Post author

      This still seems to have the “half the time it works this way, half the time it works the opposite way” problem.

      Does anybody think that the existence of violent neo-Nazis is making people more willing to work with respectable establishment nativists and immigration opponents? Or that the existence of Muslim terrorists makes people like moderate Muslims more? If this were true, how come far-left people and far-anti-Muslim people try to cover neo-Nazis and terrorists as much as they can, whereas moderate rightists and moderate Muslims try to pretend they don’t exist? You’d expect the opposite!

      1. RalMirrorAd

        I don’t think extremists work by generating sympathy, but what extremists can do is either;
        1. intimidate the opposition or otherwise just make life miserable for them (assaulting them at rallies or carving out territory in neighborhoods depending on who we’re talking about)
        2. gain concessions through appeasement

        The question is whether #1 and #2 are worth the risk of a public backlash followed by a legal crackdown. If public backlash is mitigated through PR damage control, and/or the legislature is unwilling or unable to capitalize on the backlash with laws that target the extremists [and non-extremists] then their existence is beneficial to the movement. [for better or worse]

      2. John Schilling

        Does anybody think that the existence of violent neo-Nazis is making people more willing to work with respectable establishment nativists and immigration opponents? Or that the existence of Muslim terrorists makes people like moderate Muslims more?

        For that to happen, at least per this hypothesis, I think you’d need a respectable-nativist Gandhi, a moderate-Muslim MLK, and in either case of significant public stature. “Good cop, bad cop” is a different thing than “bad cop gets results”.

        It is possible that the reason we don’t have a respectable-nativist Gandhi is that anyone who tries to play that role, to lead a large non-violent protest movement against (illegal) immigration, is ridiculed and/or demonized into irrelevance by the media and other great influencers of society, in which case there’s the problem. We have a somewhat organized power group that can marginalize peaceful civil disobedience when they like, leaving only violent resistance of a sort people will feel good about crushing, and so the media-centric power group wins forever.

        It is also possible that there’s just something about nativism and/or Islam that makes non-violent civil disobedience internally unappealing, so that nobody ever manages to reach MLK/Gandhi levels in those groups, they just keep trying violence at too small a scale and with too little sympathy to avoid being crushed and that’s all on them.

        And it is hard to distinguish these possibilities from the outside, because one of the competing hypotheses includes deliberate distortion of the usual information feeds.

    3. albatross11

      The other way you could see this working out is that the Southern policemen bashing heads to enforce Jim Crow get seen, not as norm-violating mistreatment of protesters by the cops, but instead as “the only thing these people understand” after lots of Americans were frightened by cities burning, riots, looting, and terrorist attacks. I don’t think it was at all inevitable that we took the path we took–if the civil rights movement had been violent and threatening to large numbers of the whites who were broadly sympathetic to it in our timeline, violent suppression of the movement “by any means necessary” might very well have been politically acceptable, and then it would have happened.

    4. sourcreamus

      This is just historically inaccurate. The rioting and city burning did not really happen until 1967 by which time all of the major civil rights legislation had already been passed. MLK was active from 1955-1968 in which time there was the Civil Rights act of 1957, the Civil Rights act of 1960, the Civil Rights act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which was signed one week after King’s death. By contrast the Black Panther Party was founded in 1966, received its first attention in 1967, lasted until 1982 and never achieved anything.

      What actually happened was the leaders of the civil rights movement tried to heighten the differences between them and their opponents so they seemed reasonable and their opponents unreasonable. This is why iconic images are of well dressed peaceful people being attacked by dogs or fire hoses, and primly dressed schoolgirls being screamed at by lunatics.

  37. fluorocarbon

    I like this post in general, but I feel like there’s a misunderstanding about the “gay frogs” conspiracy theory. As far as I can tell, the “gay frogs” meme started with a 2015 YouTube video by Alex Jones called “The Gay Bomb Rant.” In it, he says:

    What do you think tap water is? It’s a gay bomb, baby. And I’m not saying people didn’t naturally have homosexual feelings. I’m not even getting into it, quite frankly. I mean, give me a break. Do you think I’m like, oh, shocked by it, so I’m up here bashing it because I don’t like gay people? I don’t like ’em putting chemicals in the water that turn the freakin’ frogs gay! Do you understand that? I’m sick of being social engineered, it’s not funny!

    Jones is claiming that the government is poisoning the tap water with a “gay bomb” in order to make everyone super gay. I assume that when he prepared that rant he Googled something like “turning gay water” and cited anything he found. He and his conspiracy friends don’t give a damn about the frogs. They think the government is turning people gay and they’ll believe this regardless of whatever’s happening with actual frogs.

    I would argue that it’s not even taboo to talk about. If you were having a conversation with some respectable person and said “industrial waste includes hormone-like pollutants that are changing the sexual maturation of frogs and other animals, and which are suspected to have deleterious effects on humans” they would probably agree with you—most respectable people are at least vaguely environmentalist (in fact, a number of respectable people were quite upset (in a respectable way) with the recent EPA rollback of wetlands protections). If, on the other hand, you cite gay frogs as proof that the government is trying to gayify the population, then they’ll think you’re crazy.

    1. Tim van Beek

      Parts of the show are still online (e.g. youtube excerpt. As one can see from the excerpt, the froggots are just one comical punchline, the main point is a government conspiracy.

      Nevertheless, the conflation and binary classification of arguments is a phenomenon, meaning that if a set of different points contain one obviously false one, people tend to reject all of them: If there is no Santa, there cannot be a north pole. I don’t get it.

      Anyway, I don’t know if Scott is speaking from experience, but I can confirm that the “Alex Jones believes in a government conspiracy to turn frogs gay” thing is a meme, and trying to engage people in a constructive discussion via “well, about the gay frogs thing…” is futile (mostly).

    2. zzzzort

      Not to defend Alex Jones, but there is a very fine distinction between ‘the government is poisoning the water’ and ‘the government is knowingly allowing the water to be poisoned.’

      1. fluorocarbon

        … there is a very fine distinction between ‘the government is poisoning the water’ and ‘the government is knowingly allowing the water to be poisoned.’

        I strongly disagree: there’s a huge massive visible-from-outer-space difference between them. Compare, “the government is printing newspapers telling people bad things will happen if they vote for the opposition” and “the government is knowingly allowing newspapers to be printed telling people bad things will happen if they vote for the opposition.” The first happens in a dictatorship, the second is a normal part of democracy.

        There are a lot of regular non-nefarious reasons why a government would allow agricultural chemicals in the water supply. A few of them below:

        1 – Ignorance: they may be aware these chemicals are getting into the water supply but they don’t know how harmful they are.

        2 – Balancing priorities: farmers get larger yields using these chemicals, is it better for chemicals to get into some rural water supplies or for people in cities to go hungry? A government has to balance these issues and it’s not always easy.

        3 – Unenforceability: governments aren’t all-powerful gods, they have very limited resources. Is it worth it to them to investigate every small farmer for some chemical if it means those resources aren’t used for protecting national parks or taking down drug cartels or whatever?

        1. zzzzort

          Granted, but implicit was the assumption that the government has the power and responsibility to regulate pollution. As to the other points:
          -Alex Jones shouldn’t know about public health concerns before the EPA. And the standard for widespread public usage of novel chemicals should not be, ‘we’re not sure that it’ll kill you’.
          -Agriculture as a whole is like 6% of US GDP, so it’s almost certainly not worth any serious pollution.
          -The government bans a lot of chemicals, and seems to do an ok job at it most of the time. At the very least if something is a danger to public health, they can ban it and then worry about enforceability.

    3. Scott Alexander Post author

      I don’t think this is a misunderstanding in this post, I think it’s part of the point. Jones’ ridiculous, unbelievable frog-related story is poisoning the well (no pun intended) against different, more respectable, frog-related stories.

      I realize that’s slightly different from “Jones is saying the exact same thing as scientists, but he is bad and they are good”, and maybe I should have made that more clear.

      1. fluorocarbon

        Reading the post, it sounded to me like you were suggesting that Alex Jones really did care about frogs. It turns out the misunderstanding was on my side.

        Whether or not it’s a misunderstanding, I think the rest of my argument stands: that the gay rights and gay frogs movements can’t be directly compared because Jones doesn’t care about the frogs and that it’s not taboo to talk about pesticide impact on amphibians. I did a little more googling research and found that atrazine, the gay frog pesticide, is banned in the EU and that the EPA is currently monitoring its health and ecological effects. Whatever Alex Jones has done to the respectability of gay frog discussion among the general public, scientists are still taking the issue seriously.

        More generally, I think that comparing these two things may lead to seeing a common theme underlying both that doesn’t actually exist. I’m not sure how to explain it except by making up a hypothetical:

        Let’s assume that we live in a world very much like ours except that some geologists came up with a new theory called “instant canyons.” They argue that there are flaws in traditional canyon formation theory and that some types of canyons form in only a few thousand years instead of millions of years, as previously assumed.

        The creationists hear about this new theory and jump on it at once. They’re the largest and loudest group of supporters. Like Alex Jones and his gay frogs, they don’t care about the science. They start with a theory and believe any evidence that supports it while ignoring any evidence that does not.

        Now let’s travel 20 years forward and examine two different futures:

        Future A, instant canyon theory is true: the “instant canyon” theory follows the path of other scientific theories. At first, there’s a small group of supporters and most scientists reject it, then it gains more followers, eventually it’s common knowledge and included in introductory geology textbooks. (It obviously doesn’t prove creationism.)

        Future B, instant canyon theory is false: the instant canyon group correctly identified flaws in canyon formation theory, but it turns out that these are explained better by a new “super slow canyon” theory. The scientific community has rejected instant canyons and now only a few cranks still believe the theory. (The creationists still believe in creationism.)

        Now let’s look at these developments through the lens of respectability. In Future A, it would seem to follow the less respectable to more respectable path with creationists being the Alex Joneses and the drug addicts. In Future B, it would seem to follow the opposite path, where originally it had a small group of supporters, then the low-status creationists jumped on, it became toxic, and now nobody believes it. The reality is that respectability didn’t have much to do with what happened. While it may appear like it did to the outside observer, it followed the same path as most other scientific theories. That’s because there’s a third variable (actual truth) that determines the acceptance of the theory and the whole respectability thing is just a side-effect.

    4. Galle

      I think part of the problem here is that “chemicals in the water turning frogs gay” just sounds ridiculous. The reason it’s become emblematic of Jones is because, if you aren’t previously aware that in fact there are chemicals in the water actually turning frogs gay, it sounds like the ramblings of a delusional madman. The association with Jones brought it up a level, and now it’s a stock example of the ramblings of a delusional madman. Before the meme, an environmentalist saying that chemicals in the water were turning frogs gay would get filed under “expert saying weird things”. After the meme, an environmental saying that chemicals in the water were turning frogs gay gets filed under “literally Alex Jones”.

      1. Trashionalist

        Would it kill us to note that the environmentalist would say that chemicals in the water are masculinizing female frogs and feminizing male frogs, and not that the chemicals are making the frogs gayer?

        I mean, I’d guess that masculinization and feminization brings with it a higher incidence of homosexual behavior in the affected frogs, but even then I wouldn’t assume so. I’d guess the more common effect is frogs trying to mate with frogs of the opposite sex but doing so with nonfunctioning gonads and gametes. That’d be the primary attribute, not the gayness, and even then the concept of “gay” has all these cultural associations beyond just “frogmen who have sex with frogmen”.

  38. RalMirrorAd

    When public figures make pronouncements about the effects of climate change that fall outside any realistic scenario generated by the most recent IPCC report, does this suppress the findings of climate scientists? I personally take climate advocacy less seriously because so many people have deviated from IPCC, but i don’t get the impression that view is widespread.

    Epistemic status; low

    My answer to this general question you’re posing is a very cynical one and few will be happy about it. [Hence the low epistemic status] But I think there is an innate asymmetry when it comes to unsavory behavior (I hesitate to call it radicalism but radicalism is somewhat related to this) when the cause or actors in question are considered left wing or right wing.

    A right wing extremist engaging in unsavory behavior can do quite a lot of damage because the reaction against it is swift, aggressive, and people in the general vicinity that are on the same side are not as willing to defend the behavior (in the court of law or in the court of public opinion). Left wingers are more tolerant of their radicals and more willing to provide media apologia / legal defenses than right wingers.

    Part of the reason far-right twitter is a thing is because you have a large number of relatively young men who look at left wing radicals and came to the conclusion that offense is the best defense. Never apologize for anything, never criticism your extremists, never purge for respectability. Of course this sort of thing has its limits, because inevitably someone will get hurt and you’ll come into conflict with the law then all that matters is whether the police, courts, and legal profession are sympathetic to you or not.

    ______________

    If any of the above is considered offensive I apologize and I’ll make a more general argument:

    The effectiveness of the respectability strategy, or deviating from it, depends on how effectively the cause is capable of performing damage control and conversely as well how effectively the opposition can capitalize on seemingly outrageous behavior by fringe actors.

    1. Le Maistre Chat

      Part of the reason far-right twitter is a thing is because you have a large number of relatively young men who look at left wing radicals and came to the conclusion that offense is the best defense. Never apologize for anything, never criticism your extremists, never purge for respectability. Of course this sort of thing has its limits, because inevitably someone will get hurt and you’ll come into conflict with the law then all that matters is whether the police, courts, and legal profession are sympathetic to you or not.

      isn’t this exactly Moldbug’s theory?

  39. Ben Landau-Taylor

    To me it looks like respectability matters a lot for how good it feels to be in a movement, but doesn’t have much direct impact on whether the movement succeeds at its goals. To take some nearby examples: the AI safety movement hasn’t been hindered much by lack of respectability (its progress has been shocking, and its biggest liabilities are [1] reliance of esoteric arguments and [2] making recommendations that go against the short-term interests of the major actors in the field, not the fact that it’s championed by a bunch of weirdos). Meanwhile, the EA movement’s large gains in respectability over the past ~5 years haven’t helped it achieve its goals almost at all, and coincided with the end of its previously stunning growth.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      My impression was that the AI safety movement did a great job bootstrapping from 0% respectability to high respectability because as soon as more respectable people got involved, the less respectable people slipped out of the spotlight and let the more respectable people take over.

      It seems to me the EA movement is achieving many of its goals, and I’m interested to hear where we differ.

      1. Bugmaster

        I guess I’m not sure how you’re measuring respectability in this specific case. Most normies have no idea what the AI safety movement is, and they dismiss any and all discussion about AIs, ems, Singularity, etc. as science fiction (assuming they think about them at all). If you asked the average person to pick his favorite charity to donate to, MIRI would be at the bottom of his list. On the other hand, some high-profile academics do engage with these concepts quite seriously (either positively or negatively).

        Contrast this with the homosexuality situation, where most people have at least heard of the concept, and many more have informed opinions on the subject; as well as with the Alex Jones situation, where most people have simply heard of the meme.

      2. Ben Landau-Taylor

        I’d say the AI safety movement did a great job bootstrapping from 0% respectability to *low* respectability, and stopped there because that turned out to be sufficient. Most people still think AI risk is crazy sci fi about robots with glowing red eyes and/or incremental self-driving car stuff. Among actual AI researchers, AFAICT the dominant attitude towards AI safety is “exasperation”. Yudkowsky definitely did fade out to make room for Tegmark et al, but those guys quickly got supplanted by Elon Musk as the standard-bearer, and Musk is many things but “respectable” isn’t really one of them. Nevertheless the movement is doing quite well at persuading the relevant decisionmakers because the arguments are hard to refute, and that matters a great deal for its target audience (which is not the general public *or* the median AI researcher).

        I agree that EA is achieving many of its goals. Most notably, it’s doing quite well on “move money to Givewellish causes”, and thereby saves many lives. My point is that it’s not doing *better* at its goals since it made the turn towards respectability. To oversimplify, 2015 was the year when the movement started prioritizing respectability in a big way; e.g. that’s the year when the flagship EA conference was handed from Leverage Research to the Centre for Effective Altruism, and also the year when political pressures from the upcoming presidential election started exerting a mainstreaming influence on EA. IIRC 2015 was also the last in a string of years where EA tripled in size, and I do not think this is a coincidence. It looks like non-Moskovitz donations to Givewell plateaued in 2015 as well (at $40m/year, which is pretty damn good.) As for EA’s other goals, like “change the broader culture of giving” or “figure out the most effective causes and interventions” (remember the search for “Cause X”?), I think it’s fair to say that there’s been negligible progress since 2015.

  40. MariaD

    In the Star Wars universe, a Dark Side character gains the power from the actions that reduce the power of a Light Side character, and vice versa. What if respectability cascades work one way for harsh, ruthless ideas – and the opposite way for ideas centered on care and acceptance?

    1. Baeraad

      Good point. Could very well be. If your argument is that you should open your heart and embrace people, then it falls natural to also embrace weird, hairy gay guys. But if your argument is that you should be careful about contamination, then it falls natural to be careful not to be contaminated by association with Alex Jones.

  41. bayesianinvestor

    I don’t think it’s at all obvious whether early gay activists helped or hurt the cause.

    If they helped, it was partly because, unlike with gay frogs, some of their message already had close to 50% support, e.g. that gay sex shouldn’t be punished by jail. Gay activists also experimented with messages that failed to cascade, e.g. using “breeder” as an insult.

    See also the book Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, by Timur Kuran.

  42. Lyle_L

    At the end of the day, doesn’t this largely come down to social status and what movements are considered cool? I came of age in what I think of as the height of the “we’re here, we’re queer” pride parade era – in my fairly mainstream, moderate christian peer group pride parades were seen as counterculture, but in a campy, fun way that generated sympathy rather than hostility. Whereas there are few communities in which being an Alex Jones fan is cool.

    I see the Occupy Wall St movement and the yellow vests as an interesting example of this. At a high level, my sense is that both movements have similar ideological frameworks. But there is a pretty dramatic difference in the cool factor between the two. OWS was seen as led by young, urban trendsetters, while the yellow vests are seen as older, rural folks who have “had enough of modernity” Which leads to OWS being seen more sympathetically by folks on the left, while the yellow vests have more appeal on the right (at least in the US, I think its a bit more complicated on the ground in Europe).

  43. skybrian

    I know little about either these, but it’s my impression that LGBT folks have a lot of practical obstacles trying to live their lives and this is strong motivation to move the needle on respectability in practical ways.

    Meanwhile, almost nobody is doing experiments on endocrine disruptors. Other than the scientists themselves, what is there for most people to do other than talk about it? I guess you could have people who are into really into frog-spotting, or raising frogs as pets, or something? (The closest thing is probably outdoorsy types leading the way on environmentalism.)

    I’m guessing you don’t get a respectability cascade just by talking about things you don’t understand well and don’t have a deep interest in, and this is why it doesn’t really work for non-scientists casually supporting science, but does work for the sort of personally-important issues that sometimes lead to identity politics.

  44. arlie

    I don’t know whether you are old enough to remember the change in the respectability and acceptability of smoking, in particular smoking in the workplace. At the start of my career, it was polite to ask if it was OK to smoke in someone else’s workspace, but socially frowned upon to refuse permission unless you were e.g. asthmatic. Over a period of less than a decade, probably less than 5 years, it became forbidden to smoke – first in the office building, and then outside it, within some significant distance from its entrance.

    This flip flop happened much faster than the change in the acceptability of homosexuality – that one was slow enough you can almost imagine it’s simply the result of anti-gay generations dying out, and new generations taking over.

    And AFAICT, it didn’t have any kind of pattern of changing respectability – the rules simply changed. But now smoking is generally regarded (outside of tobacco producing areas) as a filthy habit, and the chaneg as long overdue.

    I think any general theory should also account for this change.

    1. Walter

      I feel like there’s a coefficient in how hard it is to get people to take your gripe as legit to how good you are at linking the thing you hate to sad/dead kids.

      Like, any time you see people dunking on gay folks (in any remotely effective sense, see Russia) they are always doing it in the third person. “Think Of The Children! It isn’t that you or I, dear reader, have a problem with this behavior, but imagine a child who happened to…” Small coefficient, not persuasive.

      Draft dodging was nefarious when you were failing to protect Free Kids from Communist Menace, but much more approved when you were motivated by not wanting to slaughter enemy kids at the behest of your warmonger masters.

      Abortion is, of course, the ultimate example of the power of this. Pro choice haven’t been able to move the dial in 50 years of total domination, because the other side’s coefficient is mad big.

      Smoking had a very high coefficient. “Smokers are trying to give kids cancer” is short and punchy, and very hard to refute without seeming like you hate kids. Second Hand Smoke studies turned out to be essentially fabricated, but by that time it was too late, the smokers had gone from cool to monstrous.

      1. DavidFriedman

        Second Hand Smoke studies turned out to be essentially fabricated

        Do you have good cites on this? It was pretty much my conclusion after trying to trace the source of a particular claim, but I don’t know how widely it holds.

        1. SamChevre

          I don’t have a good cite, but I’ve noted for years that if second-hand smoke was seriously harmful on average, life insurers would use it in underwriting. So far as I know, they do not. (I don’t have access to an underwriting manual in my current role, but that was the case for all the major manuals in 2010 or so.)

          1. Simon_Jester

            I can think of things that would mask the effect of secondhand smoke exposure from insurance underwriting.

            Firstly, the ubiquity of the effect. Prior to, oh… 2000 or so, maybe 1990, there wasn’t a lot you could do to avoid secondhand smoke if you went into the same kinds of buildings everyone else did. When everyone is being exposed to nearly the same risk factor, then to insurance underwriters it’s indistinguishable from the baseline risks everyone already experiences.

            The only people who got to live lives truly free of secondhand smoke would be, say, people who worked outdoors, didn’t go into nightclulbs or bars or anything, and didn’t smoke themselves… and then their increased health would probably just be attributed to their lifestyle- the idea being that the 10% who aren’t breathing smoke happen to be healthier for some not-directly-smoke-related reason.

            Secondly, the flip side of that: the fact that it’d be hard to isolate from other factors. You can’t directly ask people “do you breathe a lot of cigarette smoke,” because they won’t be able to measure it accurately. So you’d have to get your actuarial data on the risks of secondhand smoke inhalation from things like “do you go to nightclubs and bars a lot” and “does your profession involve being indoors with a lot of stressed-out heavy smokers.” It’d be very easy for someone to miss the common “smoke inhalation is knocking two months off these people’s life expectancy” factor in favor of the arguably more Occam-compliant explanations “being in an office full of stressed out people is bad for you whether they smoke or not, and going to nightclubs and bars a lot promotes a dissolute lifestyle that’s bad for your health.”

          2. dick

            There are lots and lots of things that are definitely provably bad for you and also not used by life insurers. Is this based on being more familiar than most of us with the underwriting process, or just “it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true”? It sounds totally implausible.

          3. SamChevre

            I’m a life insurance actuary, and started my career with a carrier that wrote term primarily. (Term is the most underwriting-dependent of the life insurance products.) So I would expect that my familiarity with life insurance underwriting is above average, yes. And a tremendous amount of research went into questions like “which measurements of blood cholesterol are most predictive of mortality” and “how should we measure liver enzyme levels.”

            So if low exposure to secondhand smoke–typical 1980 workplace–was significantly harmful, there would at least be questions about the items that really boost exposure like “do you live in the same household as a smoker who smokes inside.”

          4. Jaskologist

            @SamChevre

            Are they limited from taking certain factors into account? The specific example I have in mind is religiosity. I’ve seen a lot about how that correlates to longer life span, but I don’t think insurers ask about it. Is that evidence that it doesn’t make a difference, or would that be considered illegal religious discrimination?

          5. SamChevre

            Jaskologist

            I do not know. I know it’s perfectly legal to ask about sex, and definitely illegal to ask about race–but I don’t know if asking about religion is legal or not. It’s certainly been studied–here’s a quick PDF link–but I do not know if it can legally be used.

          6. Eugene Dawn

            I found this discussion from 1997 on the difficulties of accounting for secondhand smoke in risk classification and underwriting; @SamChevre is almost certainly more likely to be able to draw interesting conclusions from it, but it seems to me that broadly speaking, they recognize that secondhand smoke presents a real risk, but there are enough practical difficulties that most insurance companies don’t bother with it.

            A report from the Society of Actuaries in 2005 seems to agree. They compute about 40,000 additional excess deaths per year due to secondhand smoke; however they also conclude that “The lower magnitude of ETS [Environmental Tobacco Smoke] effects, combined with the fact that exposure to ETS is correlated with criteria already used lead to the conclusion that the value of ETS exposure as an underwriting criterion is substantially less than the value of active smoking”; in particular the sensitivity of the cotinine tests necessary to detect ETS ensure that it is “much more expensive to use cotinine to evaluate exposure of nonsmokers to ETS than to use a cotinine test as a screen for smokers”, but that trying to detect ETS by means of a survey runs a “high risk of evasion on the part of applicants”, and ultimately decide that “it would not seem practical to use ETS exposure as an underwriting criterion”.

          7. Simon_Jester

            Suffice to say that I think the issue is complicated enough that we shouldn’t take it as axiomatic that “if secondhand smoke were harmful, actuaries would have gotten insurance companies to look for it in their calculations of insurance premiums.”

            “combined with the fact that exposure to ETS is correlated with criteria already used” ties into my second point, which is that in a society where secondhand smoke exposure is endemic, only a relatively small slice of the population has a risk associated with ETS that isn’t captured by other factors like “where do you work?”

            There might have been some extra information to be captured by “so are you related to a heavy smoker who smokes in the house a lot,” but I don’t think the efficient market hypothesis (or its actuarial science equivalent) truly guarantees that the opportunity to more accurately price health insurance or life insurance wouldn’t have been missed.

  45. Dan_Devore

    I think the anti-male circumcision movement springs from many factors including:
    – A general distain among the “blue team” for things considered traditional or religious
    – A general preference among the “blue team” for things considered “natural” or vaguely “European”
    – Some degree of actual concern for the potential physical pain felt by a baby boy
    – The general anti-medical-intervention bent of some members of the far left. I bet the overlap between unvaxxed boys and uncircumcised boys is huge.

    -I’m totally agnostic about the issue other than finding supposed parallels or analogies to female genital mutilation and cutting as absurd. Each year there are thousands of adult males in the western world who consciously choose to undergo circumcision (under anesthetic) for various reasons. How many adult females hire a surgeon to remove their labia or clitoris?

    1. ksdale

      I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a body modification as female genital mutilation, but my big objection is it being done to infants.

      It’s more analogous to me to something like cutting off a baby’s earlobes for aesthetic reasons. That’s something an adult might want to do that doesn’t really affect bodily function, but it’s seems very odd to do something like that to a baby for no reason other than that it’s been done to a lot of people for a long time.

      FWIW I’m uncircumcised, and my wife and I decided not to circumcise our 3 boys. I’m not opposed to it as a religious ritual because it does seem long term harmless, it just seems weird to me how casually people do it. They research the hell out of which organic baby food is best, but then they just slice off a piece of baby skin without thinking about it (usually because that’s the way dad is). Growing up, I was the only uncircumcised guy in my friend group, and no one in our group is Jewish.

      1. Dan_Devore

        I agree that the amount of research and anxiety many parents put into other tiny decisions is vast given the small time input spent deciding to circumcise or not based on tradition.

        I also think it’s a good point to note that infants can’t consent. Obviously parents and to some extent society must choose a number of things for non-consent-able infants, but I do agree that our collective bias regarding permanent body modifications ought be to one of caution.

      2. ChrisA

        There are many social clustering phenomena that are bi-stable, where when you are in one of two states that state is positively reinforced. Circumcision is one example. If everyone (or nearly everyone) is circumcised then if you don’t do it to your kids, you are odd and the barriers to doing it are low (you have to almost positively resist). So you have countries like the UK where almost no-one is circumcised and then countries like the US where almost everyone is and both countries considering the other one weird for being in that other state. Smoking is another of these – if almost everyone smokes, then the barrier to smoking is very low – so everyone smokes. Flipping sometimes happens to these bi-stable social clustering phenomena. Smoking did that a few years ago in many countries when being able to smoke was made so hard. I think gay hatred did the same as did perhaps racism in the US due to hard work by (yes) social justice warriors (of the old style). Possibly what happened with gay frogs is that Alex Jones flipped the social cluster one way and it would need someone of equal prominence (who doesn’t exist) to flip it back.

      3. Hyzenthlay

        It’s more analogous to me to something like cutting off a baby’s earlobes for aesthetic reasons.

        I think it’s a bit more serious than that. There are claims that circumcision affects sexual sensitivity (which is hard to verify scientifically but seems pretty plausible). And there are occasionally serious complications even if it’s done right.

    2. maintain

      It’s pretty useful to compare male and female circumcision. At the very least, it lets you see how the other side views your arguments.

      As an example, imagine that you found out that there are actually thousands of women who voluntarily undergo female circumcision in the western world. Would this change anything about your view of female circumcision? Probably not. If this line of reasoning wouldn’t change your viewpoint, why would you expect it to change the viewpoint of anyone on the other side?

    3. Aapje

      @Dan_Devore

      You are missing some major reasons:
      – Rejection of and/or anger at the poor reasons used in favor now and in the past
      – Concern over loss of sensitivity
      – Concern over very serious complications in rare cases

      I also want to argue out that some level of anti-medical-interventionism is quite justified given how doctors have historically performed wrong interventions based on hubris and poor science, like routine tonsillectomies, bleeding, mercury treatments, etc. In general, doctors tend to believe their own eyes, which works when the problem is quite obvious, but is subject to a host of biases when it isn’t.

    4. Trashionalist

      I haven’t looked too deep into the anti-male-circumcision movement, but I’m surprised you pair it with the left and far-left, especially when you include the phenomenon of them comparing male circumcision to female genital mutilation. I’ve always assumed, without really thinking about it, that those people comparing male circumcision to FGM so overtly are rightwing men’s rights activists. Making such a comparison can appeal to their sense that men are oppressed in ways comparable to the oppression of women even on a global scale. And on average it’d be harder for leftists to compare male circumcision to FGM for that very reason. Standard leftwing political correctness would tell them it’s a bad idea to compare something that commonly happens to Western men to something that happens to women in patriarchal foreign societies, that it would inadvertently minimize the suffering of said marginalized women.

  46. Art Vandelay

    I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism. My strategy so far has been to let Stephen Pinker and Jonathan Haidt do all the talking, and only talk myself if I feel like I can speak with the same level of dignity, respectability, and scientific backing they do.

    I haven’t read much Jonathan Haidt but in Pinker’s critiques he steps far outside his areas of expertise to pronounce authoritatively on things that he has an extremely poor grasp of. I’ll stick to anthropology because it’s the area I know best. After accepting a place to study anthropology at undergraduate level I read The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct (and How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen which has a chapter on the “postmodern” takeover of academic departments) and started to think “God, what have I let myself in for? I’m even going to a particularly left-wing university.” During my first year I was reading things like Intellectual Impostures and A House Built on Sand alongside the required reading I had to do for my courses.

    I started off firmly in the Pinker/Sokal camp. I’d approvingly quote Dawkins claiming that difficult writing was a sign that an author didn’t have anything interesting to say — I figured that seeing as marks in my first year didn’t count towards my final degree I may as well get it out my system now, only to find that professors were extremely open-minded and often even sympathetic towards such critiques and they often received good marks. Moreover, I slowly came to the realisation that people like Pinker and Sokal were often embarrassingly out of their depth when discussing perceived opponents of science. They are closer to the guy saying “THEY’RE TRYING TO TURN THE FRICKING FROGS GAY!” than the guy saying “some of these pollutant appear to be affecting the endocrine system of amphibians”.

    This is not to say there aren’t any charlatans or bad arguments pushed by people in the humanities or social sciences (I find an awful lot of work ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating) but that most people like Pinker have not done the sort of deep study necessary to understand the subject matter. His section on anthropology in the Blank Slate relies on quotes that were 50+ years old when the book was written and weren’t very representative of the discipline as it existed at the time. Sokal’s discussion of Bruno Latour completely and utterly misunderstands the point that Latour is making. It’s sad if these are your respectable figures, because there is bad work to be pushed back against, although on the bright side this is being done to some extent by people who are actually qualified for the task (it’s now fairly normal to discuss the time where “vulgar Foucauldianism” or an excessive and unconsidered application of critical theories led in some pretty foolish directions).

    1. jermo sapiens

      Are you saying you are now convinced that the blank slate hypothesis is correct? If so, I would love to see what kind of evidence you have for that, and to what extent the slate is actually blank. For example, could anybody be nurtured to become a world class athlete or musician?

      1. Art Vandelay

        I’ve not met many people who actually argue that people are a blank slate, and even in cases when they seem to (this is most common when discussing gender) if you push them on it (in a friendly way that isn’t accusing them of ignorantly denying science) they’ll normally concede that people obviously aren’t a completely blank slate.

        1. jermo sapiens

          Right. That would make sense because the “completely blank slate” view is falsified about 100x a day just going about your daily routine. I think the more contentious issue is when it is applied to groups like races and genders. As in, individuals have different talents and flaws they are born with, but every subgroup should be born with the same average of talents and flaws as every other subgroup, so every observed difference between subgroups is attributable to nurture.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            I think the more contentious issue is when it is applied to groups like races and genders.

            I mean, it shouldn’t be. Obviously there have been false racist and sexist claims, but no one can be nurtured into getting pregnant and breastfeeding unless they’re born female. Race is ever so much fuzzier, but we’re getting hard evidence for truth claims like “Give up your dream of holding the world record for a foot race unless you’re a male Kenyan.”

          2. 10240

            @Le Maistre Chat Whatever blank slate or equal average claims that exist generally apply to mental traits, not physical ones. Those claims are questionable at best too, but the counter-evidence is not as obvious than with physical traits.

        2. j1000000

          But when you say “actually argue,” what’s that mean? Them conceding, after a bit of “friendly” but not accusational prodding in a private conversation with you, that humans aren’t a completely blank slate — that doesn’t seem that helpful. The conversations you describe basically sound motte-and-bailey-ish.

          But a lot of those people you’re talking with are often influenced in their work by the motte, and will, say, be asked for a quote to support the motte in a NY Times article about the latest James Damore or whatever the controversy du jour is.

    2. Lodore

      I started off firmly in the Pinker/Sokal camp. I’d approvingly quote Dawkins claiming that difficult writing was a sign that an author didn’t have anything interesting to say — I figured that seeing as marks in my first year didn’t count towards my final degree I may as well get it out my system now, only to find that professors were extremely open-minded and often even sympathetic towards such critiques and they often received good marks.

      This is certainly a fair reflection of how the humanities and social sciences (HSS) function in the real world, and it’s unsurprising that it should be: most academics in these fields are ordinary people, and cease to be ideologues outside the pages of Social Text or whatever. However, I query the bigger claim. I started out in a humanities discipline (literature studies, though with a focus on linguistics) and have been getting progressively harder over the course of my career (to the point where I now work in the interface between machine learning and NLP) and the the Pinker et al. criticism of HSS seems to me to be entirely justified.

      This is less to do with the politics of these disciplines, and more to do with the epistemic culture. For the fact is that the HSS are not defined by a set of problems but by set of methods––hermeneutic, critical, interrogative––that simply ignore the possibility that other approaches are possible. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the HSS retain the infrastructure of problem-led inquiry (c.f. Feynman’s cargo-cult science) and distribute the resources available on that basis. The consequence is a culture of rank dishonesty, where the boundaries are policed by a set of implicit codes that have nothing to do with the stated imperatives of that discipline. (Imagine how an ML algorithm for analysing poetry would be received by Stanford English Faculty …)

      For sure, this is no different from many in-group, out-group distinctions, but there is non-negligible amount of public money and intellectual bandwidth invested in this infrastructure, and the money could be put to better effect elsewhere. And for these reasons, I think the criticisms of these disciplines is entirely justified.

      1. Art Vandelay

        I’m not quite sure I follow. Are you saying the problem is that funding is allocated within a system designed for hard sciences that is not suited to being used for humanities and social sciences?

    3. dick

      Very thoughtful comment. So, what should I take your experience to mean, vis a vis the topic of Scott’s post? If widely-respected alternative voices like Sokal and Pinker are attacking a simplified and straw-manned version of science-denying-leftism, but science-denying-leftism is still a thing that needs pushing back against, are Sokal and Pinker helping or hurting that cause? It seems likely to be the former, in the sense that science-denying-leftism thrives when no one is paying attention to it and suffers when it’s being examined and discussed, even by someone who’s not being very fair or accurate.

      1. Art Vandelay

        I think that people like Sokal and Pinker generate massive amounts of heat and very little light. The same is true for some of the more extreme figures on the other side. I think one of the biggest problem is that people on the science side have decided that any critique of science coming out of the humanities or social sciences is “science-denying-leftism” and so can’t/won’t distinguish between perfectly reasonable criticisms that would be (at least partially) accepted by an awful lot of scientists if they were coming from a perceived ally and the sort of people who claim that all science is some sort of capitalist, white-supremacist, hetero-sexist conspiracy. People on the humanities side are far too reticent to try to distinguish between constructive sensible criticisms and completely crazy ones and call out the latter.

        These tendencies are much less severe when each side is talking amongst itself. Many in the humanities will criticise people on their side when talking to their own side. Many scientists will readily admit the fallibility of science to other scientists. What’s needed is level heads from both sides reaching out across the divide. I’m extremely doubtful that Pinker is one of those level heads. He may appears so because he comes across as measured and authoritative but is in reality pontificating inaccurately on subjects he has only a vague grasp of.

        1. whereamigoing

          “Many in the humanities will criticise people on their side when talking to their own side.”

          Could you give examples? I’m genuinely curious.

          1. Art Vandelay

            Well of course they criticise/disagree with each other all the time (that’s largely what they do) but obviously a large proportion of that is not really relevant to the “science-denying-leftism” sort of thing. It’s hard to give that many precise references off the top of my head, but hear are a few that seem fairly relevant:

            Terence Turner has written that many anglophone academics make the mistake of not realising that French post-structuralism must be understood as part of a system centred on Paris where intellectuals compete for who can say the most outrageous thing. I believe it’s in a paper called something along the lines of Bodies and Anti-Bodies. The idea of vulgar Foucauldianism I mentioned earlier was coined by David Graeber — I think it’s discussed in an article called Anthropology and the Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class amongst other places. There’s Tim Ingold, I think in the introduction to either Perception of the Environment or Being Alive, I don’t remember which, that some of his fellow anthropologists need to come to terms with the fact that humans are organism which have evolved. The clearest example that comes to mind is Latour’s Why Has Social Critique Run Out of Steam?

            Criticism of this sort is generally much more common and much stronger in person than in writing. While you see occasional references to the overly obtuse nature of some humanities/social science writing it’s normally veiled in some self-deprecation so I’ve seen things described as so arcane it was hard to follow or someone saying that their linguistic acrobatics were not comparable to some other scholars’. In lectures though, I’ve heard things like professor referring to one of the eminent anthropologists we’d been reading as having an approach to writing that involved throwing up random words onto the page.

          2. Aapje

            @Art Vandelay

            I’m not very impressed by that kind of debate though. If these people are so divorced from reality that they have to be told that humans evolved, then their ‘science’ cannot but have almost no empirical basis.

            Mistakenly thinking that coming up with hypothesis is science, seems to be an affliction of certain parts of academia.

          3. Art Vandelay

            @Aapje

            They’re not scientists.

            Nobody claims humans didn’t evolve, his point is that too often the fact that humans are organisms and therefore in a sense continuous with the animal kingdom aren’t given enough consideration. The attacks on the discipline from sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and their supporters pushed many anthropologists away from giving much thought to evolution, particularly in the 90s.

            Your reply does confirm why anthropologists are reticent to make these criticisms when addressing an audience outside of the discipline.

          4. Aapje

            I know that’s what you meant, but that doesn’t negate my criticism. In the field of gender I often see that biological gender differences are assumed to be minimal, while one can look at the animal kingdom for very many examples of not just physical, but also behavioral differences that cannot be explained by human enculturation.

            Furthermore, the opportunity to examine the animal kingdom is often ignored.

            Your reply does confirm why anthropologists are reticent to make these criticisms when addressing an audience outside of the discipline.

            If they look bad to outsiders and many people see their work as useless, they can either find a way to explain their work better (which makes it more valuable to society) if the work is actually useful or they can improve their discipline.

            Instead, the common response of isolation, causing all kinds of clique behaviors and pathologies, may work to preserve a cherished status quo, but science should not be about doing that or people protecting their nice jobs.

          5. Aapje

            Just clarifying my perspective. But the inferential distance between us seems large. Perhaps you reason very much from the humanities, while I reason much more from the hard sciences.

          6. Art Vandelay

            I’m not sure what inferential distance has to do with this discussion. It might be relevant to the discussion below where you seem unfamiliar with the distinction I was referring to between broad strands of philosophy which made it difficult for you to grasp the point I was making. In this discussion you haven’t made any scientific points you’ve held forth on the perceived uselessness of a large portion of academia and what they’d need to do to impress you. Some might call that clarifying your position, others might call it pontificating.

          7. Aapje

            @Art Vandelay

            The basic critique of Sokal and myself is that the very way in which some fields operate is wrong.

            The issue is not that they have one or more theories that are wrong, which, when replaced with better theories solves the issue. No, the very way in which theories are generated, expressed & adopted is broken.

            So where you (appear to) see a vibrant scientific community that is good at internal critique, but insular and unable to notice good criticism from outside their community; I see a community which does not do science, whose internal critiques don’t address this and who reject criticism of their methods from outsiders.

            You can compare it to the Communist Party of China (CPC). There is (some) criticism of Chinese policies possible within the party, as well as of the people they put in power. They are far less open to criticism from the outside. However, even if they were to improve this, the problem remains that they are undemocratic and that decision making power is in the hands of an elite and thus insufficiently directed by the will of the people. Their poor process for generating policy is a major reason why they have many unjust policies, so improving China requires criticism of their governmental structure, not just their policies. However, criticizing the former is not allowed within the CPC.

            The criticisms of Turner, Graeber and Ingold are all akin to critiques of the policies of the CPC, while the criticisms of Sokal and myself are akin to criticism of the autocratic nature of the CPC & that such criticisms are not acceptable within the CPC.

            Where this analogy breaks down is that policy that is implemented by government is tested by reality. If a government were to mandate that all people fly to their work by flapping their hands, they will find out that this is impossible. If government becomes too delusional, there is a good chance that they will be fired (nicely or not so nicely).

            In contrast, academics do not have an executive role, but are advisers to society. They are also so independent that they are often not fired even if no one ever implements their suggestions or if implementing their policies goes wrong again and again. So were some academics to write that people can fly to their work by flapping their hands, but refuse to test that theory out in practice, they could keep writing paper after paper on the advantages and proposed mechanics of autonomous flight, unhindered by laws of physics (which allow the writing of nonsense on paper).

            You are probably aware of the ‘replication crisis’ where even studies that tried to achieve ‘hard science’ standards were found wanting with immense frequency. This happened to many of the most prominent studies of their fields, which were cited as the truth by many other studies. A house of cards…

            Scientists need very good methodologies to organize their own verification of their theories, if they are to provide the quality work that justifies their claims, status and the money we poor into them. Only by doing that can they build a strong house that will endure, rather than an ephemeral house of cards.

          8. Art Vandelay

            @Aapje

            You said (my italics):

            So where you (appear to) see a vibrant scientific community that is good at internal critique, but insular and unable to notice good criticism from outside their community; I see a community which does not do science, whose internal critiques don’t address this and who reject criticism of their methods from outsiders.

            Which is strange because I’d already tried to point out to you that:

            They’re not scientists.

            I’d also already said:

            I find an awful lot of work [in the humanities and the social sciences] ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating

            It’s hard to have a discussion when you’re arguing against the kind of opinions that you assume the sort of person you assume I am would have rather than what I’m actually saying.

            I’m not quite sure what purpose your communist party analogy is supposed to serve so I will ask you something more specific:

            Seeing as you are critical of methods, and seeing as the example of social sciences and humanities under discussion is anthropology, what are your actual critiques of anthropology’s methods?

          9. Aapje

            @Art Vandelay

            The American Anthropological Association claims that science is part of anthropology.

            When Trump proposed cutting the funding for universities, this was called a “War on Science,” not a ‘War on science and non-science.’

            When academic funding is sold to the populace as being for science, they are getting paid to do science, IMO.

            One doesn’t get to claim to be scientific when demanding/accepting money and then claim not to do science when others make the demand that they deliver what they claimed to offer and/or what they got the money for.

            Otherwise it is fraud.

            Seeing as you are critical of methods, and seeing as the example of social sciences and humanities under discussion is anthropology, what are your actual critiques of anthropology’s methods?

            That it’s typically the development of just-so stories that practically always lack one or more of:
            – strict definitions
            – a defined scope
            – serious attempts to falsify the story or competing stories

            Typically, from a scientific point of view such papers are nigh unreadable, because practically every sentence makes scientifically unjustified claims. So if one goes through them with a red marker to mark all scientifically unjustified claims, the manuscript will look like it was found in a puddle of blood at a crime scene (where presumably, an attempt on the life of science was made).

            I’ll demonstrate with an example. The paper you referenced by Terence Turner is as good an example as any. It starts with the sentence making a claim that bodily-related political movements are currently salient and associated with body-related themes in the culture of late capitalism. The following sentence defines ‘bodily-related’ extremely broadly with no clear limit (is the brain and thus thinking bodily-related?). I see no measurable proxy suggested for ‘bodily-related’ that would allow for scientific measurements. As such, the claim that bodily-related political movements are more common when the paper was written can not be verified scientifically, nor can a correlation be tested with bodily-related political movements and body-related themes. So strict definitions are not to be found here.

            The scope is also unclear. What does the claim that bodily-related political movements are currently salient boil down to. Is it a claim that 100% of political movements are bodily-related? Less? If so, how much less? Or that 100% of the ideology of all political movements of the time is bodily-related? Less? If so, how much less?

            Nowhere in the paper do I see any evidence from the author or properly referenced evidence from others to support these claims.

            So all three of my red flags are present in the first two sentences alone.

            Note that the claims from this part of the paper are far from self-evident. The paper argues that torture and reproductive rights are examples of bodily-related politics and that the body is more subject to such repressive controls when the paper was written. Yet it used to be par for the course to torture suspects in the West. Reproductive rights were also severely curtailed, where it was common for pregnancies for the unmarried to result in forced weddings or locking up the mothers in prison-like institutions. Yet we are to believe that the body was more subject to repressive controls in 1994 than in 1884, 1774, 1664, etc. If we ignore the lack of evidence for the claim and step outside of the scientific evaluation, then it doesn’t even hold up to a mere smell test.

            I find an awful lot of work [in the humanities and the social sciences] ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating

            Yes, because the definitions & scope what belongs in the field is not carefully delineated, nor are all parts held to the standard of being falsifiable as well as subject to attempts to falsify, the same objections that I have to many of the papers/books are also relevant to a higher level of abstraction: the methodologies that make up the field and their validity.

            It’s not good enough that you reject certain parts of humanities and the social sciences. I demand meta-science: that the definition, scoping and validity of scientific methods is subject to scientific study.

          10. Art Vandelay

            @Aapje

            The American Anthropological Association claims that science is part of anthropology.

            They are not claiming that most anthropologists are scientists though. I suspect most biological or physical anthropologists would call themselves scientists because they follow methodology of normal science. This is true for a small minority of social and cultural anthropologists too but they are very far from being prominent in these disciplines. The people with a scientific approach are decidedly not the people that the likes of Sokal and Pinker are criticising. Indeed, Pinker cites more scientifically minded anthropologists approvingly in his criticism of others. The vast majority of the people being criticised do not present themselves as scientists to anyone (and any who do would not be using it in a Popperian sense). Most courses in cultural or social anthropology are BA and MA rather than BSc and MSc and those that offer the latter are often ones where these courses are still fused with archaeology and/or physical anthropology as well as being a relic of a time when “science” was often more broadly defined.

            I’m not entirely clear what you’re arguing regarding methodology. You seem to be suggesting that every academic paper should primarily be made up of falsifiable claims backed up by quantitative evidence but I don’t want to make this assumption because it seems like an oddly extreme position that I’m fairly certain the people you claim to agree with do not hold. Looking at the first page of the introduction to Intellectual Impostures for example we can see that in the Sokal Affair he decided to, “submit to a fashionable American cultural-studies journal, Social Text, a parody of the type of work that has proliferated in recent years, to see whether they would publish it.” It is not clear how they are defining “fashionable” here and they have offered no evidence for the journal’s fashionable status — the parameters to be measured and their values are completely absent. They also do not attempt to determine the numbers of papers that are published each year that fit their category to demonstrate that they are indeed proliferating, they do not even give an indication of whether this supposed proliferation involves a proportional or absolute increase in the papers published in the relevant disciplines.

            Moreover, they do not give any strict criteria by which we might ascertain which academic papers fall into the category of “this kind of work”. They do state in the preceding paragraph that, “Vast sectors of the humanities and the social sciences seem to have adopted a philosophy that we shall call, for want of a better term, ‘postmodernism’: an intellectual current characterized by the more-or-less explicit rejection of the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment, by theoretical discourses disconnected from any empirical test, and by a cognitive and cultural relativism that regards science as nothing more than a ‘narration’, a ‘myth’ or a social construction among many others.” Have these sectors adopted this philosophy or do they only “seem” to have adopted it? The choice of the term ‘postmodernism’ is an interesting one, there definition is very different from the meaning of the term by those who developed it and the way it is employed in the relevant disciplines. This is in my view a quite forgivable move under normal circumstances but this book is to quite a large degree dedicated to criticising others for exactly this sort of re-definition of established terms.

            It is not really clear what they mean by ‘the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment’, do they mean that all of the Enlightenment was rationalist of that this ‘postmodern’ strand rejects only the parts of it that were rationalist? If one rejects Descartes claim that some of his most crucial ideas were imparted to him by spirits is this enough to qualify one as anti-Enlightenment enough for this postmodernism checklist? It’s not entirely clear what they mean by empirical test — are they referring to replicable studies of falsifiable propositions carried out in the closed system of an experiment (a very strange critique to level at social science, let alone the humanities) or do they mean a connection to more general empirical observation — something like, say, Latour’s extended empirical fieldwork observing scientists in their laboratories? Moreover, their definition of cultural relativism is rather confused — once again it is quite different from the actual meaning of the term which as we know they consider a great sin when committed by others. It is even more confusing because some of the people discussed in their book — let’s take Latour again as an example — certainly do not fit the definition they offer.

            Unfortunately they’ve fallen well short of your definition of scientific (surely a more egregious crime in this instance because they actually claim to be scientists unlike the social and cultural anthropologists who claim no such thing but merely have someone on the internet insist that they must do science to impress him because some newspapers described Trump cutting research funding as a war on science) so it seems you may need to find some new heroes.

            Of course, my main point here is to demonstrate that such exercises in extremely uncharitable reading of academic work using some oddly stringent criteria generally demonstrates very little.

        2. 10240

          I don’t know what sort of criticism you mean, but I can imagine that if e.g. an accusation of racism can in some cases be significantly career-damaging, then even a reasonable criticism that can be read in such a way that your science may be racially biased will make you get defensive.

          1. Art Vandelay

            For example, the kind of critique that says that while science has been immensely successful and the scientific method is clearly incredibly powerful it is based on an ontology that privileges static form over process and changing this could actually be beneficial to science’s project. You many disagree with this completely but it’s a far cry from “science is primarily a means for oppressing women/ethnic minorities/the LGBTQ people” etc.

            Even in the last category there are actually far more reasonable, nuanced arguments that bear some similarity to this although they always seem to lead to overzealous academics and particularly students taking the completely crazy position.

          2. Aapje

            Can you clarify what you mean by “an ontology that privileges static form over process?”

            Preferably with an example of what kind of “process” is ignored or understudied.

          3. Art Vandelay

            Most of them would be tracing an intellectual heritage from Heraclitus and his idea that reality is fundamentally a flux of constant change through more recent figures like Spinoza, Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze while most Western metaphysics stems from Plato and Aristotle influenced by Parmenides argument that static forms are the only reality and change is an illusion.

            For a practical suggestion of how this might be applied, one could argue that the rules governing matter might be better thought of as evolving habits rather than immutable laws that have been fixed since the beginning of the universe. Something like gravity has become incredibly regular through constant repetition but more novel phenomena will be influenced by much less restrictive tendencies which will slowly become more predictable through time as they’re repeated.

            Another argument would be that quantum physics has shown that the alternative tradition was essentially correct in its argument that process is the fundamental nature of reality but science still rests on the metaphysics that privileges form.

          4. Aapje

            I don’t recognize this at all. A very common application of the scientific method is to determine causal relationships, which is an investigation of change, not of static form.

            However, many scientists correctly realize that it is much easier or even only possible to determine causality by only changing the variable or combination of variables that is expected to be the cause of a certain effect. The actual thing that’s being studied with the experiment is still changing, because while everything else is held constant as much as possible, the subject of study is made to vary.

            Ultimately, science is about creating predictive models, which means finding actual limitations. These don’t have to be immutable laws (of nature), but should have a level of permanence that allows for predictions*. In softer sciences that make models/claims that are more ambitious than their methodologies can cope with, you often see that any outcome can be argued to fit the proposed model. So at that point people’s theories become unfalsifiable and thus not scientific, in my view.

            It seems sufficiently common to me for the hard sciences to question assumptions about how deterministic or static certain things are. Quantum theory is as you said, a good example. Other examples are the theory of relativity or more recently, questions about whether the strength of electromagnetism is constant.

            I don’t believe that physicists are unduly biased towards believing in a static world. Fact is that my nose is still attached to my body in the place where it was yesterday and very many other things don’t change all that much. When they do, we can often explain why, based on scientific research into causal mechanisms (where we sometimes also know the finer casual mechanisms behind the larger causal mechanism**).

            Whenever someone makes a semi-decent case that the existing theories are false in certain situations, physicists seem to be very eager to try to see if the evidence can be verified.

            Ultimately, proper science is not about dogmatically assuming rules in the first place. It’s about rigorously examining what rules hold in what circumstance, harshly questioning assumptions when predictions using the rules turn out to be (sometimes even merely slightly) wrong, figuring out what mechanism cause the rules to hold, etc.

            * Note that predictably changing rules also allow for predictions.

            ** Although this typically harder to study. However, whenever technology is developed that allows for this, scientists of hard disciplines tend to adopt it with fervor.

            I also think that you are being very unfair to hard sciences by linking them so strongly to Aristotle and especially Plato. Both based their methodology heavily on philosophy, with much less empiricism than is now considered sufficient in the hard sciences.

            I would argue that the kind of sciences that I would be most prone to criticize for their lack of scientific rigor (and that you seem to defend) tends to use much more Aristotlean methods, as they often make observations of things that happen complex environments and then immediately come up with just-so stories that supposedly explain these observations, rather than distilling these observations to more testable theories of a relatively limited scope and then doing experiments to verify whether these theories seem correct.

            Also, you ignore Roger Bacon (and thus Ibn al-Haytham), Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, even though these had an enormous influence on modern (hard) science.

          5. albatross11

            I tend to think of science in terms of being able to do stuff. You need to be able to make correct predictions about how the world works in order to do stuff. (“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”). If you want to make a vaccine against Zika virus, you need to understand something about how the human immune system works, how the virus infects cells, etc. If you want to make a system of satellites that will tell everyone on Earth where they are to within a small tolerance, you need to know a lot about orbital dynamics and rockets and radio propagation and what happens to very precise clocks when they’re moving really fast relative to one another. If you want to make schools that do a good job teaching kids, you need to know something about how kids learn and mentally develop and what environments help or hinder this and what subjects are going to be most useful for kids at a given age to learn. And so on.

            Science as a cool set of stories that explains the universe is wonderful, and I enjoy them, but I can enjoy stories that aren’t right and don’t make correct predictions just as much. OTOH, if I need to do something, I want the stories that let me correctly predict what’s going to happen when I try.

          6. Art Vandelay

            @Aapje

            I don’t recognize this at all. A very common application of the scientific method is to determine causal relationships, which is an investigation of change, not of static form.

            Well I’m not sure that even Parmenides was actually denying the possibility of motion – that an arrow couldn’t fly through the air or that Achilles couldn’t catch a tortoise. The point is that the majority of Western metaphysical systems have taken the fundamental constituent of reality to be some sort of stable matter. In traditional mechanics an apple may fall from a tree but is itself understood and modelled as a stable object. A traditional scientific understanding of planets and stars was that they moved but in a repeated mechanical course that had been set in motion some time in the past. Animals moved and grew but their various types were unchanging, essential forms.

            A great example of the power of the scientific method is that it has been able to demonstrate, in a way that the alternative philosophical tradition was only ever able to argue, that the idea of some sort of ultimate fixity or stability is an illusion. Animal species are actually in a constant but slow process of evolution, our universe was not set up as is to carry out mechanical repetition but is radically evolutionary, the apple and even the atoms that make it up are not at their most basic level static things.

            Ultimately, proper science is not about dogmatically assuming rules in the first place. It’s about rigorously examining what rules hold in what circumstance, harshly questioning assumptions when predictions using the rules turn out to be (sometimes even merely slightly) wrong, figuring out what mechanism cause the rules to hold, etc.

            This is a very admirable aim but extremely hard to live up to and I suspect few scientists would claim that it always is within their community.

            I also think that you are being very unfair to hard sciences by linking them so strongly to Aristotle and especially Plato.

            Yes, I only know of Roger Penrose coming out as a Platonist. I wasn’t trying to claim they’re all getting directly influenced by these old Greek guys, I was telling a grossly simplified story of said Greeks laying the foundations for most Western metaphysics.

            But really this had already demonstrated my point, which was never actually arguing these points but stating they’re more conducive to a productive discussion than other critiques of science. This is a far more reasoned conversation than would have ensued if I’d said that E=mc2 was sexist because it privileged the speed of light over other, more feminine speeds.

    4. DavidFriedman

      I don’t think I’ve read Pinker on this, but I did read up on the Margaret Mead/Derek Freeman controversy at one point, and Freeman’s side of it makes anthropology look pretty bad, since he argues that one of the most famous books in the field by one of the most prominent anthropologist was entirely bogus, the result of at best incompetence reinforced by bias. Quite a lot of anthropologists defended Mead, so if Freeman is right that’s a criticism of the field, not just one member.

      What is the current view among anthropologists of that particular controversy?

      1. Art Vandelay

        I’d say views are rather mixed with most believing Mead’s view of the Samoans was rather rose-tinted but that Freeman’s criticism was massively overstated (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes) but I think there are partisans on both sides, although it seems to me these days not many who’d hold that Mead was completely and unquestionably right. In fact, many high-profile anthropologists who are generally sympathetic to Mead have also voiced concerns about the rigour of her ethnographic study, I’m pretty sure some of them before Freeman’s book came out.

        But to expand a bit more on the ambiguity of the controversy its not entirely clear who gathered the more reliable information. Nobody, as far as I know, denies that there is a norm of premarital virginity for women, or that the young women Mead interviewed told her that they engaged in promiscuous premarital relationships. It’s entirely possible that the young women were having fun pulling Mead’s leg and didn’t engage in any pre-marital sex. It’s also entirely possible that they did but that many years later, after Christian values had become more entrenched in Samoan societies and the women themselves’ social positions had changed as they grew older and got married and had children themselves, they lied to this man they did not know particularly well so as to pretend they had always stuck to the social norms they now upheld. This is a classic problem in anthropology: it is fairly to elicit official accepted norms but far more difficult to get at the realities of what people actually do.

        In terms of the broader point though — that sexual mores and relations between children and parents vary massively across cultures — Mead was entirely correct, and people who have embraced Freeman as showing relatively little variation are misguided. Mead, however, was misguided in believing that these other cultures’ approaches to these things were generally better and freer than in modern Western societies.

        Another thing to point out is that while Mead is one of the most widely read anthropologists by the general public but marginal within the discipline itself. In 5 years of studying anthropology she only came up in courses twice — once as an example of the potential dangers of over-romanticising other cultures and once as an example of anthropological writing that had reached a wider audience. But the issue does point to what I find lacking in people like Pinker’s criticism which is that works from 80+ years ago which are almost never read or cited by anthropologists any more are taken to be representative of the discipline. I believe she’s one of the people Pinker cites and his criticism is largely the same as was presented to me by anthropologists.

        If anything, one of my criticisms of the discipline is that it’s too critical of previous work. While people like Pinker present it as largely unchanging for the better part of the century, the reality is that every 20 years or so some new theory comes along and people claim anthropology should chuck out everything that came before, then 20 years later the same thing happens all over again.

        1. DavidFriedman

          (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes)

          Part of his evidence was statistics on murder and (I think) rape rates from Samoa at the time of Mead’s study, which appeared strikingly inconsistent with her picture of the society.

          1. Art Vandelay

            I can’t comment on whether Mead many any inaccurate statistical claims, the debate mostly focused on whether Mead had been hoaxed by one of her informants. This was the point most of her defenders responded to and this is the point Freeman pursued most vigorously. But these statistics are relevant: Mead’s former informant who Freeman tracked down claimed that there was no rape in Samoa at the time Mead was there which Freeman obviously knew to be untrue. Her testimony was riddled with other inaccuracies and inconsistencies but Freeman hid this in his published work claiming she was completely reliable. If you’re relying only on him (or people who’ve taken their understanding purely from him) you’ve been presented a very misleading picture. I believe he also did things like calling up universities of his detractors and demanded they rescinded their degrees. The rush to accept him seems to have been in part because his work appeared to confirm some people’s “scientific” beliefs rather than the quality of his scholarship.

          2. DavidFriedman

            If you’re relying only on him (or people who’ve taken their understanding purely from him) you’ve been presented a very misleading picture.

            Actually, I found a book that was a collection of essays on the controversy by people on both sides. The most interesting one was by a friend and I think past collaborator of Mead, whose view was that Mead was deliberately lying and a good thing too–that she was using her misrepresentation of Samoa in order to change her own culture in a desirable way.

            The point about crime rates was that the information was available to Mead–this was American Samoa–and was strikingly inconsistent with her picture of Samoa. If so, she was either incompetent, giving a badly mistaken picture of the culture and not bothering to check what she was told against easily available data, or dishonest.

            I’m not sure why the question of whether Freeman’s informant was accurate about crime rates is relevant–the informant wasn’t a scientist studying Samoa, just a local. She was relevant to Freeman as an expert witness on only one thing—her past interaction with Mead.

            I believe he also did things like calling up universities of his detractors and demanded they rescinded their degrees.

            What is the evidence on which you base that belief? My impression, reading on the controversy, was that most of the people in the field backed Mead, which would make such a tactic unlikely to succeed.

          3. Art Vandelay

            Actually, I found a book that was a collection of essays on the controversy by people on both sides. The most interesting one was by a friend and I think past collaborator of Mead, whose view was that Mead was deliberately lying and a good thing too–that she was using her misrepresentation of Samoa in order to change her own culture in a desirable way.

            This is quite incredible. Without meaning to be rude I find it hard to believe you’re not mis-remembering it to some degree. Do you remember the title of the book and essay? The closest I’ve heard to this is someone arguing that Freeman wouldn’t possibly be able to prove Mead wrong per se because her account is interpretive rather than positivist.

            I’m not sure why the question of whether Freeman’s informant was accurate about crime rates is relevant–the informant wasn’t a scientist studying Samoa, just a local.

            The point being she would certainly have known about the high rates of rape (Mead actually also mentions a particularly common form of rape in her book). Freeman presents her testimony as being definitive and accurate — her testimony was the main line he pursued in a documentary, articles and second book on the controversy.

            Your question actually reminded me I’ve had a book on the controversy, The Trashing of Margaret Mead by Paul Shankman, sitting in my “to read” pile for a while and I’ve been having a look through it. Freeman’s misdeed’s are actually worse than I realised.

            He’s extremely dishonest in his presentation of the woman’s testimony which he offers as definitive proof that Mead was hoaxed.

            He says her memory of events was clearly reliable despite her age. Looking at the unpublished interview though she repeatedly contradicts herself: saying that Mead spoke Samoan poorly then later saying she spoke it well; saying she was close friends with Mead then saying she’d only met her on one occasion. Freeman’s annotations of the transcripts make it clear that he’d noticed these inconsistencies. He claims she confirmed the specific date that Mead recorded the initial conversation despite this not being the case.

            She was being interviewed by a high-ranking chief who told her the interview was an opportunity to show that Mead was wrong. It would have been extremely difficult for her to maintain that Mead was correct, even if this was truly the case. Freeman concealed this from his readers or viewers. Making this sort of thing clear is a basic principle of anthropological fieldwork.

            Freeman first threatened to ruin Bradd Shore’s career and then followed it up by trying to get his PhD rescinded and trying to stop his book getting published.

            Freeman admitted that he was obsessed with Mead.

            Freeman claimed that Mead was a complete cultural determinist who said that biology played no role whatsoever in human behaviour which is simply not true.

            Freeman presented Mead as the most important figure in making culture the most important concept in American anthropology which is, again, not at all true.

            (As a bit of light relief, Freeman also once became convinced that the curator of a museum in Borneo was carving fake, erotic indigenous statues that had a hypnotic power he was using to control the minds of Freeman and the colonial government as part of a Soviet plot to undermine the colonial administration.)

            I’m distinctly not saying that Mead didn’t present an overly rosy picture of Samoan society. The standard view in Anthropology (in Europe at least, I can’t say for sure that it holds in America) is that Franz Boas and his disciples generally tended to romanticise the cultures they studied and their fieldwork was not very rigorous in comparison to today (or the work of Malinowski at around the same time as Mead which became the standard in British anthropology before spreading elsewhere).

            But anthropologists had ample reason to be extremely critical of Freeman’s critique.

          4. DavidFriedman

            Without meaning to be rude I find it hard to believe you’re not mis-remembering it to some degree. Do you remember the title of the book and essay?

            Unfortunately not–I read it a very long time ago. It’s possible that I am misremembering the essay, but I don’t think it likely–it struck me at the time as a defense of the idea of the noble lie, an uncommon but not undefensible position.

            I’ve been googling in an attempt to identify the book, but I haven’t found any books that consist of a lot of essays by different people on different sides of the controversy. Perhaps someone else here knows of one.

            On your other points, they seem to depend on accepting the account of someone on one side of the controversy in a book published after Freeman’s death, when he was no longer around to rebut. Much the same point has been made about Freeman’s book, that he published it after Mead’s death.

            In my experience of this sort of controversy–the Cyril Burt case is another interesting example–it’s easy to conclude that one side is obviously wrong and probably dishonest by reading the other.

            Are there any parts of the controversy where we have objective evidence that everyone can agree on? In the process of looking at lots of webbed stuff on it, I came across the following, in an essay criticizing Mead:

            Mead (left) portrayed the Samoans as “one of the most amiable, least contentious, and most peaceful peoples in the world,” adding that “In Samoa love between the sexes is a light and pleasant dance,” and that male sexuality “is never defined as aggressiveness that must be curbed.” Indeed, she claimed that “the idea of forceful rape or of any sexual act to which both participants do not give themselves freely is completely foreign to the Samoan mind,”

            Are the quoted parts of that accurate quotations from Mead? The essay goes on to assert:

            serious assault in mid-1960s Western Samoa was 67 percent higher than in the USA, 494 percent higher than in Australia, and 847 percent higher than in New Zealand, while common assault was 500 percent that of the USA.

            Contrary to Mead’s claims, Freeman reports that rape convictions in 1960s Samoa were twice the level of those in the USA and twenty times those of the UK. Indeed, at the time Mead was in Samoa, rape was the third most common criminal offense

            The essay is obviously arguing one side of the controversy, but one can presumably check the quotes from Mead and the crime statistics from American Samoa. If the quotes and the statistics are correct, then Mead was giving a wildly inaccurate description of the society.

            Do you agree? Is that consistent with the arguments of Shankman’s book? Does he show that the crime statistics are bogus or deny that Mead made such claims?

            One way of making it look as though your side is obviously right is by attacking the parts of the other side’s case that you have good arguments against and ignoring the parts you don’t.

          5. Art Vandelay

            If the quotes and the statistics are correct, then Mead was giving a wildly inaccurate description of the society.

            Do you agree? Is that consistent with the arguments of Shankman’s book?

            I’m not sure if he mentions those statistics specifically (he focuses on the interviews that Freeman considered his smoking gun evidence) but they are very consistent with points he makes about arguments against Mead often relying on evidence from different time periods.

            Would statistics from the 2000s contradict an observation made in the 1960s that Detroit was a thriving centre of manufacturing? Would statistics on pre-marital sex from the 1960s disprove an observation made in the 1920s? The fact that these statistics from 40 years later are seen as crucial seems rather telling about the quality of the evidence (and would explain why Freeman focuses on the interviews with one of Mead’s informants). I also note you claimed earlier that Freeman offered statistics from the time of Mead’s study. If this was indeed the case, why would the article you link to not cite these statistics rather than ones from 40 years later?

          6. DavidFriedman

            I also note you claimed earlier that Freeman offered statistics from the time of Mead’s study.

            That was my memory of Freeman’s book, but I may have been mistaken.

            I’ve just been reading an article by Shankman, responding to a piece critical of his book by Jarvie. In it he writes:

            Freeman countered Mead’s largely positive portrayal of the choices Samoan girls faced in their life cycle with evidence, sometimes from more recent decades and often involving males, demonstrating that Samoan ado-lescence was characterized by high rates of delinquency, conflict, rape, and aggression in comparison with adolescents in the United States, England,

            I would think that if all of the data was from more recent decades he would have said so, but I don’t have a copy of either of Freeman’s books to check.

            If you have access to the Jarvie piece–my link only gets you the abstract–you might want to look at it, since it’s a critique of the book you seem to be basing your view of the controversy on.

          7. Art Vandelay

            I’ve had a bit of a look through Jarvie’s review, but it’s hard to take it seriously. I would say that it’s an object study in the problem you point to of ignoring the other side’s strongest evidence but Jarvie goes further and brings it up only to dismiss it as not being worth looking at. Jarvie says that Shankman’s scepticism that Margaret Mead was hoaxed by this woman’s testimony “smacks of desperation” without mentioning any of the reasons Shankman provides for being sceptical. Turning to the reasons Shankman gives it’s easy to see why Jarvie thought it would be wise not to mention them. Here are a few points:

            All the evidence of Mead’s work and field notes points to the fact that Fa’apua’a (the woman who claimed to have lied to Mead) was an informant of minor importance (although Freeman claim’s that she was the most important), that Mead based her arguments on the issue on the views of many other informants, that if Fa’apua’a did actually lie to Mead then Mead may well not even have believed her. Fa’apua’a is only mentioned in four sentences in the book, referred to as a ceremonial virgin with no reference to sex, Mead states that this ceremonial virginity was closely guarded and never mentions it being broken. There is no piece of information attributable to Fa’apua’a in Mead’s book or even in her copious fieldnotes. If Mead really had believed a ceremonial virgin was sleeping with boys this would have been extremely important information.

            When the interview started, which Fa’apua’a did not know was going to be about Mead, she was told by the Samoan conducting it, who was the son of her friend and a chief of high rank, that Mead had written about Samoan women including her and his mother were “sluts”. This is far from the standards for conducting anthropological studies set by Malinowski that Jarvie approvingly refers to.

            When she was asked if elopement ever occurred in 1926, Fa’apua’a answered that she never heard of any cases of it. It was in fact the most common form of marriage at that time. The only conclusion it seems reasonable to draw from this is that she was giving answers to fit official Samoan moral norms, her memory of the time was extremely poor, or both.

            In Freeman’s notes he questioned this as well as various other aspects of her testimony because it flatly contradicted what he knew of Samoa (and this area of it in particular) in the 1920s but in published materials he didn’t mention them and vouched for the “historical reliability” of her testimony.

            The most damning thing for Freeman’s work is that he keeps all of this concealed. He was made aware of how marginal Fa’apua’a appeared from Mead’s notes but never addressed or mentioned it and continued to refer to her as Mead’s most important informant. He didn’t mention the relationship between the interviewer and Fa’apua’a. He concealed the evidence that her memory was not accurate and baldly stated that it was in his published work.

            It’s ironic that Freeman and Jarvie present themselves as the serious scientists reasonably weighing the evidence in noble pursuit of the truth.

      2. DavidFriedman

        I just noticed this:

        I’d say views are rather mixed with most believing Mead’s view of the Samoans was rather rose-tinted but that Freeman’s criticism was massively overstated (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes)

        Many of Freeman’s critics argued that he misrepresented Mead’s views and ignored changes in Samoan society that had taken place in the period between Mead’s work in 1925-1926 and his own from 1941-1943

        Wikipedia
        Freeman’s work in Samoa started only fifteen years after Mead’s ended. The 40+ years is the time to when he went back to Samoa to try to find and interview Mead’s informants.

        1. Art Vandelay

          Fair point. I hadn’t realised it at the start of the discussion. Does seem it was psychological and archaeological studies but he did live there for a good while and seems to have immersed himself in the culture and taken a great interest in it which are really three of the key elements of anthropological research. It seems he would have had a good understanding of Samoan society just 15 years after she was there.

          I do think the fact he was going back to a study specifically to refute Margaret Mead is relevant though. I don’t know about other disciplines — I’d always assumed that even in the hard sciences replication is more about testing results than specifically setting out to refute them — but in anthropology this is outside of the norms of research.

          I’m actually largely sympathetic to his general points about the weakness and propensity for romantic distortion/exaggeration in Margaret Mead’s popular work and it being unfortunate this became the face of anthropology for much of the public, the theoretical (and in the early years methodological) weakness of much of American cultural anthropology, the difficulty within anthropology more generally to find a place for free-will, the drifting apart from physical and biological anthropology and common neglect of biology and genetics. Some put it in rather choicer terms. The anthropologist Robin Fox summed up his take on the British anthropologists view on her as, “whoring after cheap fame instead of doing a professional job of fieldwork,” although I suspect he’s rather overstating it.

          I think what people objected to primarily was the way Freeman went about it and the way it was embraced by people who already had a bone to pick with anthropology. Freeman dismissed the rest of anthropology as pure cultural determinists who lied when they said they thought biology was important too, held forth about how they couldn’t understand real scientists like him because they hadn’t studied Popper properly, claimed that an unscholarly work by someone who was marginal within the field was the foundational text of this cultural determinism and that by striking it a deadly blow he was undermining the whole discipline. That the supposed real scientist turned out to have engaged in very sloppy scholarship himself it just added insult to injury. The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

          1. DavidFriedman

            I do think the fact he was going back to a study specifically to refute Margaret Mead is relevant though.

            As I interpret it, he concluded Mead was wrong because her observations were strikingly inconsistent with his. He went back to find out why she reached incorrect conclusions and, since he knew his criticism would be controversial, to get more evidence to support it.

            The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

            I don’t know where the “castrator” bit comes from–are you describing something you read in Freeman’s books or in a book criticizing him?

            My impression from what I saw of the controversy was that what got the backs up of many anthropologists was that he was criticizing, very strongly, a leading figure in the field, one who many in the field knew or at least admired. And by criticizing her he was implicitly criticizing the field, hence them—how could they be so biased or naive as to praise to the skies work that was easily shown to be incompetent.

            You may well be correct that he saw his criticism as deeper than that, that he claimed the case of Mead demonstrated something fundamentally wrong in the approach of anthropologists. But what I took away, as a casual reader of one of his two books—I’m not sure if the first or the second—was the simpler criticism, and I think that would be sufficient to explain the reaction.

            At a tangent, it occurs to me that the Freeman-Mead case reminds me of the Cyril Burt case. There too you have a leading figure in an academic field who was no longer alive accused of very serious professional misconduct–indeed a more serious accusation than Freeman’s of Mead, since he accused her of error, not deliberate fraud. The striking difference is that most people in Mead’s field seem to have liked and approved of her, whereas an awful lot of Burt’s fellow psychologists disliked him. The result that time was that the charges were largely accepted, on what now looks like pretty weak evidence, until two books came out by people who were I think outside the field arguing that Burt was innocent and had been framed.

            Are there other cases with a similar pattern–a very distinguished academic accused, after his death, of serious misconduct, resulting in a continuing controversy between attackers and defenders? A collection of such, with a discussion of similarities and differences, might make an interesting book.

          2. Art Vandelay

            I don’t know where the “castrator” bit comes from–are you describing something you read in Freeman’s books or in a book criticizing him?

            This is Shankman citing Freeman’s own words (I’ve included the references if you want to check them):

            Mead was known as a castrator; she went for men and put them down. She also had this [sexual] reputation [and] I was not going to be bullied by her.

            page 37
            Barrowclough, Nikki. “Sex, Lies, and Anthropology.” Sydney Morning Herald Magazine, March 9, 1996, 31–39.

            She was a great castrator of men. She had huge power. She did this kind of schoolmarm thing. I mean, there were lots of cases where she would intervene in an appointment and speak against you and you wouldn’t get promoted or you’d lose your job, and the people were really scared of her. I fortunately was outside that system, so I could stand up to her completely.

            page 56
            Heimans, Frank. “Recorded Interview with Derek Freeman, February 12, 2001.” Transcript, Oral History Section, National Library of Australia.

            My impression from what I saw of the controversy was that what got the backs up of many anthropologists was that he was criticizing, very strongly, a leading figure in the field, one who many in the field knew or at least admired. And by criticizing her he was implicitly criticizing the field, hence them—how could they be so biased or naive as to praise to the skies work that was easily shown to be incompetent.

            As I keep pointing out, she was very far from being “a leading figure in the field” and the work he was attacking was a popular best-seller rather than serious academic work — he didn’t attack her actual scholarship because it wasn’t nearly as rose-tinted. Most anthropologists had a relatively low opinion of her popular work, ranging from the view in Britain that she was “whoring after cheap fame” to that of her American colleagues like Alfred Kroeber who said in 1931 that it was an artistic work rather than serious ethnography. You may have been given the impression by Freeman and his supporters that she was a towering figure within anthropology and Coming of Age in Samoa was held in high esteem, but this is simply not the case.

          3. DavidFriedman

            @Art Vandelay:

            Thanks.

            The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

            The earliest of the “castrator” quotes you cite is from a 1996 interview, so I don’t see how that can explain the reactions of anthropologists to a book published in 1983.

            Based on the quotes, Freeman thought that Mead tried to put down male anthropologists, injure their careers. I don’t know if he was correct, but I don’t see anything particularly strange about that opinion.

            You may have been given the impression by Freeman and his supporters that she was a towering figure within anthropology and Coming of Age in Samoa was held in high esteem,

            I think I formed that opinion long before I read Freeman, indeed long before his book was published. You may be correct that Mead’s reputation was mainly with people outside the field, that she was the anthropological equivalent of Galbraith, but I’m pretty sure that when I was in college (1961-1965) she was easily the best known anthropologist and her book the anthropological work that undergraduates were mostly likely to be assigned.

            My memory of the stuff I read on the Freeman-Mead controversy wasn’t that professional anthropologists responded with “Very likely Mead was wrong about Samoa–what’s Freeman making a fuss about,” or anything close.

          4. Roger Sweeny

            I am not an anthropologist and can’t speak to how Margaret Mean was viewed by her peers. But she was easily the most famous living American anthropologist and was generally treated as a “towering figure” in the respectable press. She was the wise old woman bringing us a non-parochial perspective.

          5. DavidFriedman

            A couple more things on the Mead-Freeman issue.

            An interesting piece about an Australian academic looking over the controversy.

            From reading various things on the controversy, it looks to me as though Freeman’s hoaxing theory was probably wrong. What was probably right is that Mead saw what she wanted to see or, alternatively, told the story she wanted to tell, for essentially ideological reasons.

            One thing I noticed in the Wiki article on Mead is a somewhat similar but much lower profile controversy that fits the same story.

            In brief, her [Mead’s] comparative study revealed a full range of contrasting gender roles:

            “Among the Arapesh, both men and women were peaceful in temperament and neither men nor women made war.
            “Among the Mundugumor, the opposite was true: both men and women were warlike in temperament.
            “And the Tchambuli were different from both. The men ‘primped’ and spent their time decorating themselves while the women worked and were the practical ones—the opposite of how it seemed in early 20th century America.”[citation needed]

            Deborah Gewertz (1981) studied the Chambri (called Tchambuli by Mead) in 1974–1975 and found no evidence of such gender roles. Gewertz states that as far back in history as there is evidence (1850s) Chambri men dominated over the women, controlled their produce and made all important political decisions. In later years there has been a diligent search for societies in which women dominate men, or for signs of such past societies, but none have been found (Bamberger, 1974).

          6. DavidFriedman

            I think I have discovered what the collection was I read on the Mead-Freeman dispute, and who the author was of the particular article interpreting Mead’s book as a noble lie, a false account which was intended to have, and did have, good effects. I haven’t yet gotten my hands on a copy of the book to check.

            If I am correct, the book was:

            Caton, Hiram, ed. 1990. The Samoa reader: Anthropologists take stock. New York: Lanham

            And the author of the piece I described was:

            Romanucci-Ross, Lola.

            Both conjectures come from reading a detailed bibliography on the conflict.

            Either or both may, of course, be mistaken. The SCU library apparently has the book, so I plan to go in sometime in the next few days and look at it.

          7. Art Vandelay

            @DavidFriedman

            Good work on the reference search.

            I think we’re actually fairly close to each other on the issue. Mead certainly had a tendency to see (or at least represent in writing) Noble Savages when she looked at societies that were in reality far more complicated and less exemplary and this is largely because this is what she wanted to see. The difference is the conclusions we are drawing from it, particularly regarding how critical we should be of anthropology. When I was still at university I would sometimes despair of it myself but there has actually been a lot of very good work produced in amongst plenty of dross.

    5. whereamigoing

      OK. So do you think the main issue is making it common knowledge that most academics don’t believe the blank slate hypothesis / some other coordination problem? It’s hard for me to reconcile your experience with the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views (do you want examples?).

      1. Art Vandelay

        I’d be interested in your examples of people getting pushed out of academia, although I don’t doubt it’s happened. Particularly when it comes to race and gender. I agree that there are people who do fit the mould of regressive-lefty academic. I would say the issue here is not a co-ordination problem but that people like Pinker make grand claims based on an extremely poor level of knowledge which are then swallowed wholesale by lots of sensible people.

        There are certainly people on the “lefty-regressive” side of the debate making more inaccurate claims based on even less knowledge on Pinker but nobody here is holding them up as respectable, reasoned proponents of their view. In a different comment space I could easily be on the other side of the fence.

          1. Art Vandelay

            That was a batshit crazy situation which did make me worry deeply for American academia and hope those extremes never spreads to the other side of the Atlantic. I think the really crucial thing in this case is the reconfiguration of the relationship between and relative power of faculty, administration and students.

          2. jermo sapiens

            Yes it was. But if you look at the current culture, it might be one of the crazier situations out there, but it all fits a pattern. I originally wrote a bunch of examples of similar events but then I realized that I didnt want to start 20 different sub-threads about CW topics. Suffice it to say that Weinstein’s situation did not occur in a vacuum and similar/worse situations will continue to occur unless the intellectual climate changes drastically.

          3. Art Vandelay

            I guess perhaps some of the conversations have been talking past each other here. Some people are supporting Pinker’s opposition to crazed SJWs, I’m criticising his writing off huge swathes of the arts as blank-slate ideologues based on a very paltry level of knowledge. I think the latter really hurts the former. I suspect there is a far lower level of support for the crazy end of social justice amongst faculty in the humanities and social sciences than many here would expect.

          4. jermo sapiens

            I suspect there is a far lower level of support for the crazy end of social justice amongst faculty in the humanities and social sciences than many here would expect.

            I totally agree with this. I think a guy like Weinstein is the majority. But the problem remains because those who support the crazy are loud and can take out a guy like Weinstein with the majority remaining silent and scared.

          5. Art Vandelay

            I don’t know how you change the student culture. A friend of mine who in many respects is quite sensible disagreed with me questioning the no platforming of an old-school feminists for criticising Muslim headscarfs because because letting her speak would be “dangerous” for ethnic minority students. When I said it obviously wouldn’t be dangerous unless you completely change the meaning of the term he replied that was easy for me to say as white male.

            My impression is that it’s not even a majority position among pretty far-left students, it’s just that the cost of disagreeing with it is often too high.

          6. DavidFriedman

            One possibly relevant datum. My daughter’s experience at Oberlin was that the students were much more politically intolerant than the faculty. She mentioned on incident where a professor said something in class that took it for granted that everyone in the room had the same political views on some issue. She pointed out to him, I think after class, that it wasn’t the case, he apologized to her and, I think, later in class–but this is all from memory.

            An incident I observed in a law school meeting was a faculty member, not I think himself libertarian or conservative, worrying that a particular proposal would make the school look less welcoming to libertarian potential applicants and thus increase a political one-sidedness in the student body that was already troubling. A different faculty member, also not I think conservative or libertarian, deliberately put a libertarian law student in touch with me.

          7. Art Vandelay

            She mentioned on incident where a professor said something in class that took it for granted that everyone in the room had the same political views on some issue. She pointed out to him, I think after class, that it wasn’t the case, he apologized to her and, I think, later in class–but this is all from memory.

            I definitely noticed something similar when I was at university. It’s not so weird when it’s assumed most people are going to think it’s okay to be gay but when they assume everyone’s going to be anti-capitalist or something it’s quite noticeable. When I’ve seen it pointed out the reaction has always been similar to this. Credit to your daughter for dealing with it in a very sensible way.

          8. 10240

            Bret Weinstein is the obvious case.

            I thought that was about that Day of Absence political controversy. Was it related to a scientific debate about blank slate or anything?

            My daughter’s experience at Oberlin was that the students were much more politically intolerant than the faculty.

            That’s interesting because a much larger fraction of young people go to college than become academics — a large enough fraction that it definitely contains a large number of moderates as well as some conservatives. It supports the “loud minority” hypothesis.

          9. jermo sapiens

            @102040

            I thought that was about that Day of Absence political controversy. Was it related to a scientific debate about blank slate or anything?

            I brought up Weinstein based on @whereamigoing saying:

            the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views

            So Weinstein did get pushed out of academia for expressing the dissenting view that all white people should not be banned from college for a day, not for anything specifically related to the blank slate hypothesis. But the blank slate hypothesis is the keystone of progressive ideology, so it’s never too far away.

          10. 10240

            I brought up Weinstein based on @whereamigoing saying:

            the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views

            Ah OK.

            But the blank slate hypothesis is the keystone of progressive ideology, so it’s never too far away.

            I’m not sure, I think it’s a common view that there are innate differences between individuals, but group averages are the same.

          11. DavidFriedman

            I’m not sure, I think it’s a common view that there are innate differences between individuals, but group averages are the same.

            Probably true.

            Have you ever heard anyone defend that view–offer arguments for it? The a priori argument seems to require rejection of Darwinian evolution. The claim that there could be group differences but don’t have to be requires evidence, and I don’t think I have ever seen any.

            You can explain away observed differences as due to different environments, but the most that gets you is “we don’t know if the averages are different.”

          12. LadyJane

            @DavidFriedman: I have two arguments here, and while neither completely dismisses the argument that different phenotype groups may have evolved to have different levels of intelligence, both contradict a lot of modern conclusions about the correlations between race and IQ.

            1. The racial categories that people commonly use today don’t actually map to real genetic phenotype classifications all that well. For instance, there could be more of a difference between two types of Sub-Saharan Africans than between one Sub-Saharan African group and an Caucasian or East Asian group. In that sense, making categorical claims about “the White race” or “the Black race” are bound to produce results that are unclear at best and blatantly inaccurate at worst. It would be almost like claiming that all dogs with black coats constitute a “black breed,” whether they’re Teacup Pomeranians or Newfoundlands, and then trying to make categorical claims about their intelligence, behavior, and health on that basis. (Obviously that’s an exaggeration because humans in general aren’t nearly as genetically diverse as dogs are, but you get what I mean.)

            2. It’s been statistically proven that environmental conditions can have a significant effect on a wide variety of physical and mental traits, from height to physique to intelligence to demeanor. For instance, people who were raised in poverty tend to have lower IQs than people who had a middle-class or upper-class lifestyle growing up. Since many of the racial minorities being discussed tend to be poorer on average, it seems like that must account for some portion of the racial IQ gap. So even if there is a genetic difference, that can only account for part of the gap, not all of it.

            I mentioned this to you in the past and your response was that environmental differences could be pushing the statistics in the opposite direction as genetic differences, and so the genetic gap might actually be larger than the gap we see now. However, while this is technically possible, I find this extremely unlikely, since there are plenty of ways in which environmental factors (particularly those associated with poverty) can hinder physical and mental development, but very few ways in which they can boost physical and mental development. And when you look at the evidence, the IQ gap between the Irish and the British shrank down to nothing when the Irish stopped living in poverty; the IQ gap between Blacks and Whites narrows when you compare groups from the same socio-economic bracket; Israeli Jews (even those of Ashkenazi descent) don’t share the exceptionally high IQs of their American and European cousins; the height difference between Whites/Blacks and Latinos becomes significantly smaller when you limit the selection to Latinos who were born in the United States.

          13. DavidFriedman

            @LadyJane:

            I agree that our racial classifications combine several groups into one, and that different groups might well have different mean IQ’s. In particular, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mean Ibo IQ was at least as high as the mean white IQ.

            But I don’t think that matters. Suppose we classify as “black” both group A, with mean IQ of 101, and group B, with mean IQ of 90. Further suppose that group B is nine times as numerous in the population we interact with as group A.

            The mean IQ of the pooled group is 91.1. Assuming we have no easy way of distinguishing members of group A from members of group B, the implications, both for interpreting the distribution of outcomes and for individual decisions that might involve rational discrimination, are pretty much the same as if we had a single group with mean IQ 91.1. The shape of the distribution will be a little different, but that’s all.

            Your second point is an example of the sort of argument I mentioned before, which implies that we don’t know what the differences among different groups are but gives us no reason to believe that they don’t exist.

            It’s the claim that they don’t exist that I am looking for arguments for, and I haven’t seen any.

          14. 10240

            @DavidFriedman I held that view for a long time, I’ve commented on it before. Evidence that it’s common is that the heritability of intelligence is much less taboo than racial differences between the averages. I didn’t have arguments for it, I thought it was obvious, it felt implied in my anti-racist upbringing. I see the same attitude in most mainstream discussion about the topic: the possibility is too racist to merit discussion.

            both contradict a lot of modern conclusions about the correlations between race and IQ.

            @LadyJane My impression is we can really say there are conclusions at this point in either direction regarding race and intelligence, based on evidence.

            Regarding your point 1, if the usual racial categories are not a perfect measure of genetic relatedness, that implies that a difference in inherited traits we observe along racial lines should be smaller than what we would get if we used a perfect measure of genetic relatedness, as the measure is noisy. If race was uncorrelated to genetic groups, then of course any apparent difference in inherited traits we observe would be bogus, but this is not the case.

            These questions also come up about sex differences in various traits, and my impression is that the evidence for innate differences is clearer in that case.

          15. DavidFriedman

            These questions also come up about sex differences in various traits, and my impression is that the evidence for innate differences is clearer in that case.

            The a priori argument is also much clearer.

            Evolution tells us that we are “as if designed” for reproductive success. Male and female differ precisely in their role in reproduction. It would be a surprising accident if the distribution of traits that was optimal for the male role was also optimal for the female.

            The a priori argument is weaker for races. Males of all races share the same role in reproduction, as do females of all races. We know that environmental differences were large enough to produce the observable differences by which we recognize races, such as skin color, so they might be enough to produce different distributions of traits. Or might not.

        1. whereamigoing

          I started writing examples and then had the same thought as jermo sapiens that it would be bad to get bogged down arguing about the details of whether someone was “pushed out of academia”. You can look at Gad Saad’s Youtube channel and decide for yourself how many examples there are (I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says — it’s just a convenient list). It would be nice to have proper statistics to avoid the Chinese robber problem, but I’m not sure who could gather them (given self-censorship).

          I agree that Pinker made some ignorant comments about AI (though unfortunately not really more ignorant than many people in even computer science), so some ignorance about the humanities seems plausible. But to respond by avoiding all public criticism seems counterproductive. What makes Pinker popular is not that he criticizes the humanities, but that he criticizes them publicly. There’s an example of self-censorship at the end of this and you yourself mention academics being willing to criticize in person but not in writing — maybe if there was better public criticism, Pinker couldn’t monopolize his audience. E.g. in computer science and physics there is much more criticism in writing, yet it doesn’t seem to have hurt the fields’ credibility.

          Also, if criticism of the fringe was being published, it would likely be harder for students and administrators to dismiss it.

          Personally I would definitely take social science more seriously if there was more evidence against in-group loyalty. After all, much of Slate Star Codex is social science / philosophy and I do think it’s worth reading — it’s just that I think Scott’s writing is more intellectually honest.

          Your experience makes more sense if you’re in Europe, but there is no longer hope to avoid the problem entirely. Barring active diplomacy, I predict Western Europe will get just as bad as the US.

    6. 10240

      Is it that they are not actually biased in the way Pinker et al. say they are (or not as much), or just that they don’t suppress criticism?

      1. Art Vandelay

        The problem is that he’s wading like an expert into a field he has very little knowledge of (I assume he does the same in other fields – I’ve read very strong critiques of his dismissal of AI risks). It doesn’t seem limited to him. The people claiming to be defending reason and science often neglect basic standards of scholarship (see my discussion of Derek Freeman’s work above — interestingly he was a major source for Pinker’s critique of anthropology) or authoritatively make claims far beyond their ability to make.

        The biggest problem is that people like me, who are very critical to many of the problems afflicting the humanities and social sciences are put off and end up defending our side because it turns out the other lot aren’t really any better.

        1. albatross11

          I think this is basically the biggest danger in being a public intellectual. Even very smart people can’t know more than a handful of fields well enough to really understand them. Add to that: there’s a lot of nonsense pushed forward in every field, but as an outsider, it’s really hard to distinguish the bullshit from the subtle and hard-to-understand points. Priming is way, way more plausible than relativity–a smart skeptic looking at both is likely to decide the wrong one is bullshit.

        2. DavidFriedman

          The biggest problem is that people like me, who are very critical to many of the problems afflicting the humanities and social sciences are put off and end up defending our side because it turns out the other lot aren’t really any better.

          The solution to that is Orwell’s approach–criticize your side when you think it is wrong, the other side when you think it is wrong. In both cases, given limited time and energy, specializing in points that you do not think others are adequately criticizing.

          Currently, one of my standard talks, given twice in the past month or so to libertarian audiences, is “Arguments Libertarians Ought Not To Make.”

          On the other hand, when I was active online in climate arguments, it was mostly to criticize the alarmist position, because mistakes on the other side were for the most part more than adequately being criticized already.

        3. cuke

          This is an argument for humility to me. Something public intellectuals and most of the rest of us struggle with.

          1. Art Vandelay

            Yeah, it’s definitely something people of every intellectual/political persuasion are guilty of. I guess it’s probably particularly tempting to public intellectuals because they’re by nature normally very intelligent and eloquent and used to winning arguments.

  47. blacktrance

    I think gay acceptance was also a triumph of respectability. Gay people used to be seen as really weird, diseased, etc. But they pushed for same-sex marriage and other aspects of a normal lifestyle: “We want to raise 2.1 kids in a suburb and work quietly at our jobs. We even think about whether our spouse can get health insurance from my employer – would a crazy person do that? We’re just like you, except we’re attracted to people of the same gender.”.
    Something similar happened with marijuana legalization – when the image was teenagers and shady drug dealers, it was cracked down on, but now your boss might quietly use it as well, so it’s hard to argue for reefer madness.

    1. Nicholas Conrad

      There is a distinct hockey stick effect in attitudes towards gay marriage in conservative America following the airing of “modern family” which features a minimally catty, committed gay couple with traditional family values. A few seasons of a show depicting gays with ‘conservative’ vales did more for the cause of gay rights than decades of writhing around half-naked on parade floats. The question is: did we need decades of pride parades to get to a world where we could depict family oriented gays on national tv, or was it a respectability dead-end we could’ve cut out completely? My uninformed opinion is that the latter is more likely true.

      1. acymetric

        I mean, we definitely needed something. Modern Family doesn’t get made (at least not with a prominent gay couple) in 1995, other things had to be done to effect change before it was even a possibility.

        1. AG

          The question is: did we need decades of pride parades to get to a world where we could depict family oriented gays on national tv

          Most certainly yes. Before we could get to Modern Family, we had to have transgressive-at-the-time productions like Rocky Horror, Rent, The L Word, Queer as Folk. Their producers used these productions to stand out in the pack as edgier than the status quo (and so more hip). The conservative mainstream audience was locked down with the usual crime procedurals on CBS, NBC, etc., so in the 90s, UPN went for the youth demographic, including by allowing the lesbian couple on Buffy. Fox News is the same mechanism in the opposite ideological direction, but you can see Fox’s primetime shows taking the same “edgier shows to get viral attention” tactic, epitomized in Glee. It’s just that right wing is what’s edgy in TV news, so.

          And with each moment of seminal representation, the people who are represented gain new hope and new inspiration. More and more of them decide to go into the entertainment industry, more and more of them decide to be like the characters who look like them on the screen, to be okay with themselves. It’s not just about gay rights, the same is for racial representation. Should hip hop not have had a gangsta phase?
          It’s not just about making allies, it’s also about rallying the ingroup together to survive.

    2. MoebiusStreet

      I think gay acceptance was also a triumph of respectability

      I think this is an important aspect of it. There were people that we were already on record as respecting – whether that’s Alan Turing, or Freddie Mercury, or Rob Halford, or Tim Cook – and when we learned they were gay, we were kind of stuck with realizing that there must be at least more depth to the question, it couldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

      1. Jiro

        By this reasoning, a respected figure coming out in favor of the ants should make it impossible to dismiss the ants. This is never the case.

        1. blacktrance

          The ant controversy is niche, so it’d be weird for a respected figure to take any stance on it. Most people have never heard of it and don’t care, so it’s not a case of trying to overcome widespread social disapproval.

          1. Hyzenthlay

            I’d say that most people don’t really know that much about it, but at this point the average person has probably at least heard it mentioned.

          2. Hyzenthlay

            What’s the ant controversy?

            I tried to answer this but it didn’t post; seems to automatically delete. Which I guess explains why people talk about it in code.

          3. Nornagest

            It’s a recent controversy revolving around video game journalism, whose name begins with “gamer” and ends with “gate” (and which is filtered because for several months mentioning it in a Googleable form would bring down the wrath of Twitter). The joke is that entomologists use an identical term for reproductively viable worker ants.

        2. Hoopdawg

          Please note the difference between “in favor of the ants” with “in favor of the ants’ goals”.

          The reaction to the recent media layoffs pretty much sealed it for me that the ant view of said media is now well within mainstream.

  48. Nicholas Conrad

    I just want to point out that Art Bell was years (decades?) ahead of Alex Jones in the gay frog conspiracy reporting game.

  49. PhaedrusV

    It looks like the heuristic is whether there already exist people at each level of respectability who have internalized the issue at a deep level.

    Four examples: being gay, the frogs, pot, and the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW).

    Being gay: Throughout all levels of respectability, there were people who were more or less-secretly gay, and who were willing to stand up and be counted once gayness was, say, 60% acceptable, and help push it up to 70% respectability. Gayness was fully internalized, and even nude druggie bears weren’t going to cause gay people at higher levels of respectability to stop caring about gay respectability growth.

    TEH GAY FROGZ!: While there were several people at high levels of respectability who were concerned about hormonal imbalances in frogs, it was not a broad cross-section of respectability, and the belief was not internalized as being core to the sense of self. Once the belief was degraded by association, it was easy to find other issues to focus on, and to stop caring much about TEH FROGZ.

    Pot: Definitely had a cross-section of respectability, and people who had internalized smoking pot enough to stick with it through societal respectability crises. Jumped up from around %20 public respectability among hippies and libertarians straight to 90% with such moments as “I didn’t inhale”. Odd case, but consistent.

    IDW: Anti-post-modernism attitudes are strong and internalized, and the IDW is a collecting ground for people who are strong in that force. The IDW movement seems like it’s been largely invulnerable to respectability hits administered by outsiders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few members of congress with IDW roots in the next decade, it’s gaining steam quickly.

    1. NotDarkLord

      Building on this, another way to look at is whether there’s information that lots of people know, but isn’t common knowledge. “Gay people are ok, like me” became common knowledge in a respectability cascade, more or less. Gay frogs were unknown.

      Not sure if the change from ‘respectability’ to ‘common knowledge’ (common respectability?) is particularly helpful.

    2. Conrad Honcho

      Once the belief was degraded by association, it was easy to find other issues to focus on, and to stop caring much about TEH FROGZ.

      This does not help my level of esteem for these scientists then. I expect scientists to still care about the gay frogs, even if the only other people who care about gay frogs are unsavory.

      1. PhaedrusV

        Well, if Scott’s at all representative, the ones who were initially concerned about TEH FROGZ probably still are, but are biding their time until the respectability hit dies out.

        What I was getting at in this case, though, is that there isn’t a broad respectability gradient that cares about this issue. You’ve got the 0-10% respectable Alex Jones followers, and then the 80+% respectable scientists, but not really anyone who’s 20% respectable, doesn’t have much to lose, and is willing to tell his friends that Alex Jones is right, and thereby bump the movement up to the next respectability level. The 80% dudes aren’t going to reach down and associate themselves with Alex Jones in order to keep this issue in the popular consciousness.

    3. albatross11

      I think the specific thing that makes the IDW work is that they are largely discussing ideas that a large number of people in the big wide world think are perfectly reasonable to discuss. A set of prominent gatekeepers in the academic and media worlds are strongly opposed to those ideas, and want them not to be discussed. But podcasts and Youtube and online platforms of every kind allowed a kind of an end-run around those gatekeepers.

      1. PhaedrusV

        Agreed, but a general distaste for what those gatekeepers have built is also a big part of how the IDW movement has grown so big so quickly. There was a huge market starving for intellectual arguments that called out the hypocrisies, the culture wars, the nudging oligarchy, and the paternalistic authoritarianism.

        1. Simon_Jester

          Aaand also for arguments like “women actually are sluts and this is bad and should be controlled by traditional marriage.”

          And “you’re right to feel insecure about mythical race replacement fears.”

          And “it’s okay to not worry when several people say “that guy took sexual advantage of me” and he remains corrupt and powerful and married to your mother anyway.”

          And “society’s economic problems, the ones that are screwing you over, are mostly caused by people you could conceivably get away with punching in the face, not by people who are well protected by law enforcement and private security.”

          Not all arguments that have millions of people secretly craving to hear them are, y’know, unambiguously good arguments. Not in a world where people are predisposed to believe that which reinforces their own sense of their place in the world.

          1. albatross11

            Simon Jester:

            Sure, gatekeepers prevent some bad arguments and ideas from spreading, as well as good or reasonable ones[1]. I suppose the question is whether you’d rather have those gatekeepers able to suppress discussions they dislike or not.

            My experience is that the quality of discussions in mainstream media sources about stuff I care about averages pretty low. The science coverage is crappy and often comically inept, coverage of many important political and social issues happens within really restricted ideological bounds, foreign policy coverage relies very heavily on (often anonymous) official sources who are always cheering for the next bombing or invasion, controversial thinkers’ ideas are routinely misrepresented, almost all coverage of everything is innumerate, etc.

            The quality of the best podcasts I’ve found is so much better than mainstream media coverage of similar issues that I would just never want to go back. The quality of discussions on SSC is better than I would expect to see in almost any mainstream media venue, though the format of the discussions is pretty different.

            Along with that, I don’t trust the existing gatekeepers with the power to decide what conversations may and may not happen in public. I see zero reason to think the folks running the top media organizations are wiser or better people than anyone else.

            [1] But I haven’t seen any of the IDW people I mentioned make any comments like the ones you listed. (Though I certainly haven’t read/listened to all of them.). I would be quite surprised to see any of those as the theme of an article in Quillette, say, or to hear them from any of {Shapiro, Rubin, Peterson, Harris, Weinstein}.

          2. Conrad Honcho

            I think you’re mixing up the IDW with 4chan trolls. The IDW is people like Jordan Peterson and Brett Weinstein going on the Rubin Report to talk about regressive leftism and such, and I don’t think any of those people advocate the things you say.

          3. Simon_Jester

            @Conrad Honcho :

            There’s a spectrum, as illustrated by all the paid Prager Youtube ads I’ve gotten bombarded by lately and their contents. The IDW provides considerable shelter for all the things on that spectrum, if not necessarily always in the same place at the same time.

          4. whereamigoing

            “The IDW provides considerable shelter for all the things on that spectrum”

            So? Any halfway sane worldview will make correct predictions occasionally, so right-wing people will agree with the more moderate “IDW” more often than with left-wing people. That’s a good thing, because IDW at least has a chance of giving right-wing people more nuanced views, whereas interacting with left-wing people is unlikely to.

          5. albatross11

            Simon Jester:

            The mainstream media gives cover to people who say it’s okay to hate all men, and people who tweet about how much they hate white people, and people who dox and threaten high school kids because one of them got social-media-mobbed for having a really annoying smirk. (Also a bunch of boring non-hot-button stuff like helping justify us getting into awful wars where we kill thousands and wreck whole countries, but nobody cares about that stuff.)

            Do we blame the whole media for those, too? The NYT and WP have a lot more responsibility for op-eds they accept and editors they hire than, say, Sam Harris or Eric Weinstein have for Prager U’s Youtube ads.

  50. zacharius

    I think a good way mental model for this is potential energy. With gay rights there were a lot of potential energy(i.e. closeted gays). The unrespectable gays were the only ones willing to overcome the social inertia needed to get the ball rolling. Once they started it became easier for others to fight the inertia and push the issue themselves. With gay frogs there is no latent energy so the energy must be instead generated, which only those with social capital or respectability can do.

    Fringe figures have the superpower of overcoming great social inertia, ‘not giving a fuck’, which they can use to unlock issues with latent/potential energy. It takes those with social capital to generate the energy. The energy can also be generated by the human psyche.

    1. sandoratthezoo

      Yeah, I think this and other comments are correct about the difference. With gay people, there were always more (closeted) gay people living on the margin between “you’re so disreputable that you might as well be openly gay” and “you’re respectable enough that you stay in the closet,” and those people were eager to, ceteris paribus, not live in the closet. So whenever the tide inched up a tiny bit, or even they incorrectly perceived it inching up a tiny bit, they’d come out, and then that in turn made the openly gay population incrementally more respectable.

      So I guess to some extent with respect to the regressive-left science stuff, maybe you have to figure out, which is the greater closeted population: the people who have been waiting to say, “No, science is scary and not real, we should deny it,” or the people who have been waiting to say, “Humanities folks are crazy barbarians, we should suppress them.”

  51. ProntoTheArcherist

    I would think it’s audience dependent. If you’re trying to convince low respectability audiences you’ll want a low respectability messenger. You’d send Alex Jones rather than your endocrinology prof. If you’re trying to convince high respectability audiences of the importance of the impact of environmental contaminants on frog sexuality, you probably don’t send Alex Jones. So if you want to convince everyone, you want messengers in every bucket on the respectability histogram. If one messenger, Trump for instance, becomes THE messenger on the topic, you risk losing everyone outside of +/- a certain percentage of respectability.

    I’m not sure if gay rights cascaded, so much as there existed simultaneous messengers in different respectability buckets for those respective audiences, and for whatever reason there was little cross-exposure because none of the messengers were popular enough to set the respectability bounds in the way that Trump has done for immigration.

  52. chaosmage

    One heuristic may be that moves towards wide open discussion raise the status of the issue, while moves towards insularity decrease it.

    If the weird gay people had announced lots of them were going to meet in private to do unspecified things, I hazard a guess that would might possibly have been a tiny bit unhelpful. The openness, the “look, we’re this bad, but at least we’re not pedophiles” made the difference.

    With Alex Jones, he has the conspiracy theorist reputation of being closed to disconfirming evidence, so maybe him picking up the issue seems instinctively like the idea is retreating into where it is safe from falsification, which is what bad ideas do?

    For the voat people, any move away from reddit is a move away from the web’s more intense discussions, but I think if they’d organised a mass migration to 4chan that’d have been less of a move towards insularity so it would have been less of a self-ostracism.

    I was delighted to hear recently that Social Justice is satanic because it is Justice without Mercy – a wonderfully kabbalistic argument that no Steven Pinker could have made. It seems less than maximally respectable voices can add more to an issue than just numbers.

  53. Icedcoffee

    I think the respectability point is mostly ancillary (or at least subsidiary). I’d say most debates are resolved on other criteria: e.g., how much effort does each outcome require of the average person? who stands to profit from either outcome? who has the better argument on the merits? etc.

    The scientific integrity vs. regressive left-ism doesn’t seem primed for a particular side to “win.” Perpetual debate is probably the most profitable outcome; either outcome is fairly low effort for the average person; and I don’t even think the two sides agree on what they’re arguing about. But I only have a vague familiarity with the topic.

  54. honoredb

    Somebody comes forward for a cause and either gets personally attacked for doing so or doesn’t (or does so less than expected). Other people take their cues from that outcome. So what drives whether or not they’re personally attacked? Often, it’s whether anybody has an incentive to go after them. Any powerful person, including someone getting attention in a political sphere, is a target, so anything they say that’s outside the Overton Window is going to be exploited to attack them. Powerless people can mostly speak with impunity, unless either they can be rhetorically linked to an actual powerful person or movement (“this is what X supporters actually believe!”) or people sincerely find what they’re saying abhorrent.

    Unfortunately if whatever you’re saying is harmful to some kind of powerful interest, it’s never completely safe or respectable to say it unless you have overwhelming numbers. One tactic people try is to find somebody untouchable, like a school shooting survivor or a tenured academic, to start the cascade, but this doesn’t work so well these days. And random people, even if they don’t get doxxed, still feel to the hive mind like they’re getting punished when getting a high ratio of quote tweets to retweets is interpreted as harm and humiliation. Maybe it’s just easier these days to start a disrespectability cascade for not-X than a respectability cascade for X.

  55. JT_Peterson

    This is pretty much what I study at UPenn in the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program. We use Christina Bicchieri’s social norms framework to study social change. Christina uses the frame work to try and end open defecation and female genital cutting.

    The three ideas you need to understand this dynamic are reference networks, thresholds, and tipping points.

    Reference network: People who are relevant to my decision making.

    Thresholds: The percentage of people in an individuals reference network who need to engage in (or accept) a behavior before the individual join in. Everyone’s threshold is different. (ie Some may need 50% of their friends to do something before they join in. Others only 10%).

    Tipping point: the percentage of people who need to engage in (or accept) a behavior before a chain reaction is started leading to wide acceptance.

    In the case of the acceptance of homosexuality, initially we have the trendsetters, the first to come publicly out of the closet. Psychologically these people are going to be strange and have tough skin. They are almost always at the edge of society rather than the respectable center (respectable center has a large reference network and thus a high absolute threshold). But if the trendsetters are important enough to a certain individuals reference network (call him John), then John’s threshold might be met, and John comes out. Then Johns friend, Steve, feels more comfortable coming out cause John is already out. Then Scott and John’s friend, Greg, sees that his two best friends are out and comes out as well. Etc etc.

    In the case of Voat the reference networks are almost non-existent, and the switch is anonymous. Yes, some people make friends on Reddit, or talk about reddit with real life friends. But the vast vast majority of redditors never post anything at all and never talk about reddit with their friends. This is an extremely weak reference network, and so switching to Voat is largely invisible, noticed by no one but other Voat users. Everyone’s threshold is thus much higher, and the threshold is virtually, “Ill go where the content is.” (Threshold>=50% of quality content makers).

    As for the case of “gay frogs” and “Trumpism”, I do not recall if we covered such backfires. I’ve reached out to see if anyone more experienced than me has insights. But the way I view it is that the out-group is a set of nodes in one’s reference network as well, but the sign is switched from positive to negative. I’ll comment again if someone has some additional insights.

    1. Walter

      Good post, please let us know if you get any feedback from asking about the ‘backfire effect’ thing.

    1. whereamigoing

      I don’t think helplessness is a good description. Helplessness might look like confusion or apathy (positive effect turns to zero), but not active backlash (positive turns to negative).

  56. Quixote

    You know. This is a very good question. I feel like this is time to say “I notice I am confused.” I‘m mildly disappointed you didn’t explicitly hat tip that technique. Maybe the story about how things happened is different than we think it is.

  57. DocKaon

    I’m sorry, is there any evidence for your frog story? Yes, people mock Alex Jones, but can you present any evidence that has had any impact on either scientific work on endocrine disruptors or environmentalist support for addressing the issue? I’m not required to agree with or welcome the support of someone just because in some distorted retelling of their beliefs it vaguely resembles something I believe.

  58. ARabbiAndAFrog

    > Gay people had no choice but to be gay, whereas environmentalists (and conservatives) could pivot from caring about endocrine disruptors and immigration to some other environmental or conservative cause that might have mattered just as much to them.

    Gay people could choose to be celibate which is basically the same thing.

    1. ADifferentAnonymous

      The relevant point is that the environmentalists and conservatives have other equally-good options.

      1. jermo sapiens

        That may seem like a reasonable assumption but it may not be true in every case. Conservatives right now feel that unless immigration is fixed soon the demographics of the country will prevent them from ever winning an election ever again. This is an existential level threat at this point.

        Similarly, if an environmentalist were to believe that global warming will lead to a massive catastrophe, it might not make sense to worry about gay frogs or other less pressing concerns.

        1. Star

          “Conservatives right now feel that unless immigration is fixed soon the demographics of the country will prevent them from ever winning an election ever again”

          I don’t think this is correct. Some conservatives think that. others are more grounded. If you watch Peter Zeihan when he talks about the Tramp election he makes a rather salient point:

          “When asked in pre-election poling Hispanics were 14 to one opposed to Trump. How do you ever come back from that? But when it came time for voting it was only two to one. The pollsters had failed to ask when acquiring that first statistic weather the Hispanics in question were registered voters or not, Relevant detail!” (pardon the paraphrasing it is not 100% correct but you get the jist)

          Peter is a conservative, he can count, and views the Hispanics as potential allies. It’s not just conservative wonks who can count that have picked on this ether, there are many religious conservatives that see the Hispanics as good Catholics ie virtuous allies through fault of religion.

          As to the the environmentalist thing while I enjoy hanging out with the hippie types, none of the take-it-so-seriously-I-live-off-the-grid ones are that influential, and the ones that don’t make that step have clearly drawn the line on the it’s-not-my-problem side of the fence (assuming you buy the story that the-end-times-are-upon-us)

          1. jermo sapiens

            My comment was strictly meant to make the point that sometimes conservatives dont have other options to argue for a specific cause, like immigration. Ditto for environmentalists. Just like gays have no other options than to argue for gay rights.

    2. arlie

      In my youth, it was pretty much socially required to participate in (ahem) appreciative discussions of the opposite sex to avoid stigma. In particular, I recall participating in such discussions at my workplace, to avoid potential difficulties with coworkers. Interestingly, this requirement appeared to be gender neutral – females and males both seem to me to have been hit with it.

  59. BBA

    Someday we’ll figure out how cannabis legalization went from a ridiculous stoner joke ten years ago (I remember newly-elected Obama laughing it off when it was the top-voted issue in one of his online polls) to widely seen as inevitable now and backed by no less an establishment conservative figure than John Boehner. That was so rapid I still have whiplash from it.

    1. Nornagest

      This is kind of fuzzy and half-assed, but my theory on that is that since at least the Nineties, no one’s actually bought most of the claims that marijuana prohibition’s nominally been justified with. Supporting prohibition was entirely a purity signal. But then sometime in Obama’s second term, the idpol wing of the Left started colonizing the mainstream role of “moral guardian” that had previously been held by various Christian and parents’ groups, and the Right started shifting to a somewhat more libertine stance to capitalize on the cultural space that left open. Idpol didn’t suddenly start caring about marijuana when that happened, yet it’s getting increasingly inconsistent with the Right’s branding, which is leaving that sort of purity signaling without a target audience.

      These shifts aren’t complete yet — there are lots of people out there talking and acting like the party alignments still look like they did in the Nineties, including e.g. Jeff Sessions — but if they keep going the way they’ve been, marijuana and maybe some other drugs are going to be nationally legal soon.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        upporting prohibition was entirely a purity signal. But then sometime in Obama’s second term, the idpol wing of the Left started colonizing the mainstream role of “moral guardian” that had previously been held by various Christian and parents’ groups, and the Right started shifting to a somewhat more libertine stance to capitalize on the cultural space that left open.

        I’m amused how fast things have moved in the Democratic Party. Tipper Gore was an old-fashioned moral guardian while her husband specialized in ecology and other pointy-headed professor stuff. Now the Party still has moral guardians, but they’re all new-fashioned.

        1. Simon_Jester

          It turns out that when the Red Party has a lock on the ‘religious fundamentalist’ vote… Well, for a Blue Party politician, being a moral guardian willing to go to bat for black people and LBGT people’s interests is a much more reliable strategy than being a moral guardian willing to go to bat for religious fundamentalists.

          The latter group won’t care if you go to bat for them except in the fringe case of “purple Democrat running in red state.” The former groups will care if you go to bat for them, so it’s a much more rewarding strategy in the long run.

          1. Nornagest

            Religious fundamentalists might have been the most aggressive group engaging in moral entrepreneurship in the ’90s and early 2000s, but they weren’t the only one. Save-the-children media censorship and the drug war were, at the time, fairly bipartisan enterprises, although justifications varied somewhat between the wings and the right wing tied them into a broader narrative that the left didn’t. But over the last ten or fifteen years the left seems to have dropped the drug war angle and deemphasized saving the children in favor of a different flavor of media censorship, and they’re both getting rarer on the right without any obvious replacements.

          2. albatross11

            Simon:

            Note that the same thing is true in the other direction–a Republican politician who knows blacks vote like 90% Democratic has very little incentive to go to bat for blacks in any way that doesn’t also win him some support from the (overwhelmingly white) voters who are actually going to vote for him.

          3. Simon_Jester

            @Nornagest

            Religious fundamentalists might have been the most aggressive group engaging in moral entrepreneurship in the ’90s and early 2000s, but they weren’t the only one. Save-the-children media censorship and the drug war were, at the time, fairly bipartisan enterprises, although justifications varied somewhat between the wings and the right wing tied them into a broader narrative that the left didn’t. But over the last ten or fifteen years the left seems to have dropped the drug war angle and deemphasized saving the children in favor of a different flavor of media censorship, and they’re both getting rarer on the right without any obvious replacements.

            The thing to remember is that religious sensibilities weren’t quite as strictly partisan 20-30 years ago as they are today. There were a lot more religious/conservative Democrats in 1989 than in 2019.

            @albatross11

            Simon:

            Note that the same thing is true in the other direction–a Republican politician who knows blacks vote like 90% Democratic has very little incentive to go to bat for blacks in any way that doesn’t also win him some support from the (overwhelmingly white) voters who are actually going to vote for him.

            I mean, yes, clearly.

            And this is fine and tenable exactly insofar as it’s fine and tenable to have a major political party in the country that preferentially and exclusively seeks out white votes.

            Whether having a party that exclusively (in every sense of the word) solicits white votes while ignoring- or BY ignoring- black people’s interests is better, worse, or morally no different than having a party that solicits non-fundie votes while/by ignoring fundie interests…

            That should probably be left as an exercise for the reader. Opinions may vary.

      2. cuke

        I’d be curious to know — not that we can know — how important legalizing medical marijuana in many states was in moving things along. The fact pot helps children with epilepsy and people with cancer and vets with PTSD and people with ulcerative colitis and all kinds of chronic pain conditions that are otherwise very difficult to treat, just as we were also recognizing the huge costs of opioid addiction, seems potentially relevant.

      3. albatross11

        Nornagest:

        It’s notable that presidents Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama were people who had apparently used illegal drugs somewhat seriously at some point in their lives, but who also supported keeping them illegal. None of the three, of course, thought that they personally should suffer any consequences for their prior drug use, or that having used drugs disqualified them from being president.

        One interpretation of that is that they thought they’d been lucky not to wreck their lives and that they thought the continued prohibition of marijuana and stronger stuff was a good way of dissuading other kids from doing dangerous things.

        Another interpretation (which I’ll admit it my inclination) is that they knew marijuana wasn’t really all that bad for anyone, but they preferred the political benefits of being anti-legalization to the social benefits of pushing for legalization.

        1. Nornagest

          they knew marijuana wasn’t really all that bad for anyone, but they preferred the political benefits of being anti-legalization to the social benefits of pushing for legalization.

          That’s pretty much my take; it’s what I was trying to get at with “…nobody actually bought the claims…” It’s true that a lot of high-profile politicians personally used marijuana and other drugs, but I don’t see any conflict between that and maintaining support for prohibition as a purity signal. It’s not even all that hypocritical; lots of people are happy to admit being less than perfectly pure when they were young, as long as they can credibly claim to have grown out of it.

          Earlier, when it was still credible that marijuana use could cause lasting harm, occasional use when young would have carried more stigma. But it had stopped being credible even by the Clinton era, whatever DARE said.

  60. Walter

    I always thought the gay folks getting more respectable deal was due to the dynamic where a small group of people who won’t back down on an issue tend to get their way, plus the closet meaning that the movement had secret allies everywhere.

    As far as Haidt and co, I feel like they should just keep on doing what they do. The anti-SJW trolls aren’t going to take their orders anyway, so communicating with them feels like a loss, and possibly an own goal. (Noted disgraced scientist Haidt’s secret communications to violent white supremacist movement unearthed!)

    My pet theory is that change happens via shame. Ultimately, it isn’t shameful to lose an argument to an Intellectual Dark Web guy, but if they keep talking eventually their stuff will get made into a ‘born this way’ style argument that buffoons will repeat. People can’t tolerate losing arguments with buffoons, and will change their views to avoid it.

    1. Murphy

      plus the closet meaning that the movement had secret allies everywhere.

      Though the number of hardcore-antigay legislators putting out anti-gay legislation who ended up getting caught with rentboys, secret boyfriends or having anonymous sex in mens bathrooms kinda implies this one may not be so reliable since some of the closeted people have some seriously messed up levels of self-hate going on.

      Also pray-the-gay-away gay-conversion people who end up falling for other same-sex gay-conversion people since it turns out that people obsessed with other people’s homosexuality may be obsessed for a reason.

      So you get some allies but also some seriously messed up and committed enemies.

      1. Walter

        Sure, but, like, all attention is good attention? Like, Alex Jones may be low status, but he is way higher status than Blex Jones and Clex Jones, who say the same things but started a month later and no one has ever heard of them.

        Like, even the pray-the-gay-away crowd are talking about gay people, and being maniacs they presumably make the people near them at least a little more kindly disposed towards their victims. Froggers WISH they had dedicated haters. Contrast anti-vaxxers and flat earthers.

      2. Squirrel of Doom

        The fact that so many gay haters turns out to be gay is interesting.

        Sometimes I wonder if any straights really do hate gays, or if gay hating is mostly just an internal gay thing?

        I mean, that’s very likely not so, but I’d love to see hard real numbers.

        1. Conrad Honcho

          It’s “man bites dog” news so you hear more about the gay-hating closet gay. When I was growing up boys universally used accusations of homosexuality as insults. Many grown men as well. I find it unlikely they were all closet gays.

          1. jermo sapiens

            i dont think accusing others of homosexuality as an insult is equal to hating gays. it’s disrespectful towards gays, obviously, but “hating” requires a higher bar in my view. and whenever I encountered whatever meets the bar for hate, it’s usually accompanied with the bizarre idea that homosexuality is a choice. as being straight was not a choice for me, i can only conclude that anyone who thinks being gay is a choice is actually gay and chooses to live in the closet.

          2. Forward Synthesis

            i can only conclude that anyone who thinks being gay is a choice is actually gay and chooses to live in the closet.

            This is the conclusion I would have made too looking at the West, but there are entire societies with extremely high levels of mainstreamed gay hatred in Africa and the Middle East, mostly motivated by religious arguments that cast it as a sin that people engage in and not some biological outcome. I don’t think most of them are closeted.

            Probably, a lot of people worldwide who use the “it’s a choice to sin” argument aren’t taking it to the logical conclusion that would imply they chose to be straight. They may simply not have thought of it. In Western (mostly American) culture, the battles between fundamentalists and secularists have become mainstream enough that this has become a stock response that everyone is aware of.

          3. ARabbiAndAFrog

            @Forward Synthesis I am not entirely sure how “It’s a choice to be straight” makes sense in the context of “It’s a choice to sin”. To not sin seems like a default position, one does not choose to not be thief or whatever, either.

            It also seems fallacious to basically rebuke “Homosexuality is a sin” with “But I want to do gay stuff really hard” because Christianity is all about temptation.

          4. Forward Synthesis

            @ARabbiAndAFrog

            Well, here’s the thing: if we start from the position that sexuality is “hardwired”, then someone who believes that they choose their sexuality is either honestly mistaken for some reason (most of the religious homophobic world) or has something to hide (pop-cultural homophobic pastors).

            I am not entirely sure how “It’s a choice to be straight” makes sense in the context of “It’s a choice to sin”. To not sin seems like a default position, one does not choose to not be thief or whatever, either.

            Because sexuality isn’t really about actions, but about feelings. Someone who thinks that homosexuals are choosing to sin by doing gay stuff is missing the point, and this raises questions about how they percieve their own sexuality. Gays can easily not sin in the technical sense by not lying down with the same kind, just as the Bible commands, but they will still be gay, because they will feel the urge to. This raises questions because a straight person should be feeling urges for the opposite sex, and should recognize that this is what gays are feeling, only with a different target.

            Instead “don’t be gay” seems to be interpreted by many fundamentalists to mean “don’t behave gay”.

          5. ARabbiAndAFrog

            Well, that makes, right? Be a good believer, resist temptation. If you fall to temptation, repent, but for god’s sake to celebrate or promote it.

            However, another point I’d like to make is that “choice” and “not choice” do not seem to correlate with actual properties of a trait. Instead, it’s a code for “OK to judge people by” and “Not OK to judge people by” respectively. It’s not acceptable to judge people by their not-choices, so if you want people judged, positively and negatively, you’d have to call it a choice. With enough imagination, anything can be sorted into either category, beside a few obviously genetic things. We are supposed to tolerate any kind of flaws that people didn’t choose to have, so if we want to judge something, we’d have to declare it a choice.

            Point is “Sexuality is a choice” is a code for “I want people judged by sexuality”. “Sexuality is not a choice” is a code for opposite. Same with, say, “There’s no such thing as laziness” or taboo on racism or judging people by other obviously innate characteristics.

          6. albatross11

            ARabbiAndAFrog:

            Everyone anywhere close to mainstream US culture agrees that sexuality is a moral issue, that some kinds of sexual attraction are morally wrong and evil. (Consider how basically everyone feels about pedophiles.) And sexual behavior is absolutely still a live moral issue. Just ask anyone caught up with #MeToo or a sexual harassment charge–even one where the harassment is inappropriate comments/sexually explicit humor.

            What changed was which sexual desires and behaviors were seen as terrible moral failings, and which ones were seen as forgivable missteps. I think happened was something like:

            a. Many people believed homosexuality was evil and found gays repulsive, for religious/cultural reasons.

            b. Over time, lots of people stopped really believing this, but there was a huge cultural norm of pretending to believe it. So most people went along, because we’re social animals.

            c. Eventually, enough people visibly cast aside the norm that the majority of people who didn’t actually find gays offensive or evil also stopped going along with pretending they did.

            d. As the pendulum swung, more and more people adopted a new norm–that saying mean things about gays, or believing gays were offensive or evil, was itself a shameful norm violation.

          7. ARabbiAndAFrog

            I saw quite a lot of visceral reaction against notion that pedophilia might not be a choice for example, as people recognize that should they accept this premise, they would need accept and fasciliatate pedophilia.

            Similarly, I don’t think anyone who support #MeToo movement would claim that harassing women is uncontrollable reflex as opposed to fully conscious choice.

          8. Forward Synthesis

            @ARabbiAndAFrog

            Be a good believer, resist temptation. If you fall to temptation, repent, but for god’s sake to celebrate or promote it.

            That’s proving the point of “homophobes are closet gays” though. Straight people don’t have to resist temptation because they don’t feel gay urges to begin with. This is the logical conclusion if you think gays choose to sin because normal people are choosing not to, rather than simply not having the same urges to begin with. This is why people assume that vocally anti-gay people who approach the issue from this religious angle have something to hide.

            Like I said though, I don’t think most people are self-interrogating like that, and it would be totally implausible for entire homophobic societies to be filled with mostly closeted gays.

            However, another point I’d like to make is that “choice” and “not choice” do not seem to correlate with actual properties of a trait.

            How so?

          9. DavidFriedman

            that some kinds of sexual attraction are morally wrong and evil. (Consider how basically everyone feels about pedophiles.)

            I think almost everyone feels that pedophiles who act on that attraction are morally wrong and evil. But consider someone who is attracted to children and, because he believes sex with them is evil, chooses never to act on that attraction–resists the temptation. I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            The same issue arises wrt homosexuality. I don’t believe that either Islam or Christianity holds that homosexual preferences are sinful, only that homosexual acts are.

          10. John Schilling

            I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            No, and Yes. In the latter case, because they don’t believe there really is such a thing as a person who has such impulses and doesn’t act on them unless because they’ve been properly locked up forever. Scratch that – their belief that pedophiles are inherently evil is correlated with their belief that there are no pedophile abstainers; causality is ambiguous.

          11. albatross11

            David:

            I’m not confident of my impressions of other peoples’ views, but my sense is that there’s a widespread revulsion at the thought of someone being sexually attracted to kids, and I think this is not unlike the way a lot of people used to react viscerally to homosexuality (and a few still do), and the way a lot of people still react viscerally to transpeople[1]. I think this is a sexual taboo in our society, and taboos aren’t rational.

            Now, rationally, someone sexually attracted to kids who doesn’t act on it is surely not morally at fault for his desires. But my guess is that like 90%+ of people find the desire alone repulsive even if the person doesn’t act on it. I suspect this is a lot of the actual reason why child pornography is treated as it is–not just the “evidence of child abuse” argument, but the visceral “this person is sick and horrible for liking this stuff.”

            [1] It’s important to remember that while there are various corners of the SJW-sphere that are very pro-trans, transpeople get kicked around a hell of a lot in the big wide world.

          12. Squirrel of Doom

            @DavidFriedman:

            consider someone who is attracted to children and, because he believes sex with them is evil, chooses never to act on that attraction–resists the temptation. I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            Well, most people might agree that he’s not evil, but they may well think he’s dangerous, and should not be be around children.

            If we imagine someone with a strong urge to kill people, who tries hard to control it, I would likewise – if this was somehow known – want there to be some security arrangements, though I would also want this person to be able to live a life of freedom as much as possible.

            I guess my practical point is that just because someone so far hasn’t acted on their urge, that is not a 100% guarantee for the future.

            Another logical practical point that follows from that one is that if you do have these urges, and are controlling them, you better keep that to yourself, so people like me don’t start treating you like a danger…

          13. Forward Synthesis

            @Jaskologist
            lmao im rekt

            I mean straight people don’t have to resist gay temptation, which is what the discussion is about, because they definitionally don’t have gay temptation to begin with by virtue of being straight. Anything to do with temptation here is bizarre.

          14. ARabbiAndAFrog

            One wouldn’t need to have a specific temptation to then say “That thing you have is a temptation that you should resist”.

          15. 10240

            a. Many people believed homosexuality was evil and found gays repulsive, for religious/cultural reasons.

            I’m not sure if it’s just religious or even cultural reasons. I find it likely that a significant percentage of people, at least men, are inherently disgusted by (male) homosexuals or their actions. Indeed, this is probably the reason most religions condemn homosexuality in the first place. I’m not sure exactly why; I’d say most straight people are disgusted by the idea of doing homosexual acts themselves, and the sight of homosexual acts involuntarily makes me imagine them being done to myself — in the same way as, being disgusted by the idea of eating a bug myself, the seeing or imagining someone eating a bug also makes me pretty disgusted.

            I wonder if the liberal Western men who express bewilderment at homophobia, or suggest that it’s only a product of religious bigotry, experience this disgust themselves. Have we gone from from closet gays to closet homophobes?
            (Here I used homophobe to mean disgusted with homosexuality, not to be conflated with thinking that homosexuality is immoral.)

            but my sense is that there’s a widespread revulsion at the thought of someone being sexually attracted to kids,

            People are not used to differentiate between pedophiles by desire and pedophiles by action in most discussion. I suspect that if you just asked people if it’s immoral to be attracted to kids, most people would immediately answer “yes”, but if you explained the difference between this and someone who acts on it, made it clear that you mean a person who doesn’t act on it, and reminded them that this person doesn’t cause anyone harm and that being attracted to someone is not a choice, then a significant minority if not a majority would change their answer to “no”.

          16. ARabbiAndAFrog

            I think if you start explaining to most people “the difference between this and someone who acts on it, made it clear that you mean a person who doesn’t act on it, and reminded them that this person doesn’t cause anyone harm and that being attracted to someone is not a choice” the only socially acceptable answer would be “Die in fire pedo apologist”

          17. 10240

            @ARabbiAndAFrog I’m not sure about that. But in any case, what the “socially acceptable” answer is is not the question if it’s a confidential discussion, or if we ask what people would think, rather than what they would say.

          18. ARabbiAndAFrog

            I suppose you can say that, although vast majority of actions and legislations are directed to harming pedophiles rather than protecting children. Sure, forcing pedophiles into celibacy would do both, but it doesn’t explain why so many people oppose lolicon. Or hell, even criminality of viewing of child porn would be difficult to explain – the harm is already done.

          19. 10240

            @ARabbiAndAFrog The strictest and most salient legislation against pedophiles is the criminalization of statutory rape. Criminalization of viewing child porn is primarily justified to the extent it reduces the incentives to produce it, though the law be too broad for that purpose. Another justification is that most people (even adults) don’t want to be seen naked and having sex by strangers; if we consider this a legitimate preference, then in some sense every time the porn is viewed adds to the harm.

            Note that I did say that most people’s first reaction would be that pedophile attraction is immoral; laws are going to be driven by this knee-jerk reaction.