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RIP Culture War Thread

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I. I Come To Praise Caesar, Not To Bury Him

Several years ago, an SSC reader made an r/slatestarcodex subreddit for discussion of blog posts here and related topics. As per the usual process, the topics that generated the strongest emotions – Trump, gender, race, the communist menace, the fascist menace, etc – started taking over. The moderators (and I had been added as an honorary mod at the time) decreed that all discussion of these topics should be corralled into one thread so that nobody had to read them unless they really wanted to. This achieved its desired goal: most of the subreddit went back to being about cognitive science and medicine and other less-polarizing stuff.

Unexpectedly, the restriction to one thread kick-started the culture war discussions rather than toning them down. The thread started getting thousands of comments per week, some from people who had never even heard of this blog and had just wandered in from elsewhere on Reddit. It became its own community, with different norms and different members from the rest of the board.

I expected this to go badly. It kind of did; no politics discussion area ever goes really well. There were some of the usual flame wars, point-scoring, and fanatics. I will be honest and admit I rarely read the thread myself.

But in between all of that, there was some really impressive analysis, some good discussion, and even a few changed minds. Some testimonials from participants:

For all its awfulness there really is something special about the CW thread. There are conversations that have happened there that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Someone mentioned its accidental brilliance and I think that’s right—it catches a wonderful conversational quality I’ve never seen on the Internet, and I’ve been on the Internet since the 90s – werttrew

I feel that, while practically ever criticism of the CW thread I have ever read is true, it is still the best and most civil culture war-related forum for conversation I have seen. And I find the best-of roundup an absolute must-read every week – yrrosimyarin

The Culture War Roundup threads were blessedly neutral ground for people to test their premises and moral intuitions against a gauntlet of (sometimes-forced!) kindness and charity. There was no guarantee that your opinion would carry the day, but if you put in the effort, you could be assured a fair reading and cracking debate. Very little was solved, but I’m not sure that was really the point. The CWRs were a place to broaden your understanding of a given topic by an iterative process of “Yes, but…” and for a place that boasted more than 15,000 participants, shockingly little drama ensued. That was the /r/slatestarcodex CWRs at their best, and that’s the way we hope they will be remembered by the majority of people who participated in them. – rwkasten

We really need to turn these QCs into a book or wiki or library of some kind. So much good thought, observation, introspection, etc. exists in just this one thread alone–to say nothing of the other QC posts in past CW threads. It would be nice to have a separate place, organized by subject matter, to just read these insightful posts – TheEgosLastStand

I think the CW thread is obviously a huge lump of positive utility for a large number of people, because otherwise they wouldn’t spend so much time on it. I’ve learned a lot in the thread, both about the ideas and beliefs of my outgroups, and by better honing my own beliefs and ideas in a high-pressure selective environment. I’ve shared out the results of what I’ve learned to all of my ingroup across Facebook and Twitter and in person, and I honestly think it’s helped foster better and more sophisticated thought about the culture war in a clique of several dozen SJ-aligned young people in the OC area, just from my tangential involvement as a vector – darwin2500

On one hand, as other commenters in this thread have said, I recognize it does have a lot of full-time opinionated idiots squabbling, and is inarguably filled with irrationality, bad takes, contrarianism, and Boo Outgroup posturing. I agree with many of [the criticisms] of overtly racist and stupid posts in there. Yet it also has a special, weird, fascinating quality which has led to some very insightful discussions which I have not encountered anywhere else on the Internet (and I have used the Internet 8+ hours a day almost my whole life). – c_o_r_b_a

There is no place on the internet that can have discussions about culture war topics with even an approximation of the quality of this place. Shutting this thread down [would] not mean moving the discussion elsewhere, for a lot of people it means removing the ability to discuss these things entirely – Zornau

I feel that the CW thread, for all its flaws, occupies a certain niche that can’t easily be replicated elsewhere. I also feel that its flaws need to compared not to a Platonic ideal but to typical online political discourse, which often ends up as pure echo chambers or flame wars. – honeypuppy

It’s one of the only political forums I can read online without reaching for the nearest sharp stick to poke my eyes out. It has a sort of free-flowing conversational feel that’s really appealing. There are some thoughtful people and discussions there that I hope can continue and be preserved. – TracingWoodgrains

Thanks to a great founding population, some very hard-working moderators, and a unique rule-set that emphasized trying to understand and convince rather than yell and shame, the Culture War thread became something special. People from all sorts of political positions, from the most boring centrists to the craziest extremists, had some weirdly good discussions and came up with some really deep insights into what the heck is going on in some of society’s most explosive controversies. For three years, if you wanted to read about the socialist case for vs. against open borders, the weird politics of Washington state carbon taxes, the medieval Rule of St. Benedict compared and contrasted with modern codes of conduct, the growing world of evangelical Christian feminism, Banfield’s neoconservative perspective on class, Baudrillard’s Marxist perspective on consumerism, or just how #MeToo has led to sex parties with consent enforcers dressed as unicorns, the r/SSC culture war thread was the place to be. I also benefitted from its weekly roundup of interesting social science studies and arch-moderator baj2235’s semi-regular Quality Contributions Catch-Up Thread.

The Culture War Thread aimed to be a place where people with all sorts of different views could come together to talk to and learn from one another. I think this mostly succeeded. On the last SSC survey, I asked who participated in the thread, and used that to get a pretty good idea of its userbase. Here are some statistics:

Superficially, this is remarkably well-balanced. 51% of Culture War Thread participants identified as left-of-center on the survey, compared to 49% of people who identified as right-of-center.

There was less parity in party identification, with a bit under two Democrats to every Republican. But this, too, reflects the national picture. The latest Gallup poll found that 34% of Americans identified as Democrat, compared to only 25% Republican. Since presidential elections are usually very close, it looks like left-of-center people are more willing to openly identify with the Democratic Party than right-of-center people are with the Republicans; the CW demographics show a similar picture.

Looked at in more detail, this correspondence with the general population is not quite as perfect as it seems:

The pie chart on the left shows people broken down by a finer-grained measure of political affiliation. We see very few people identified as straight-out conservatives. Right-of-center people were more likely to be either libertarians or neoreactionaries (a technocratic, anti-democracy movement that the survey instructed people to endorse if they wanted to be more like “for example Singapore: prosperity, technology, and stability more important than democratic process”). Although straight-out “liberal” had a better showing than “conservative”, the ranks of the Left still ended up divided among left-libertarians and social democrats (which the survey instructed people to endorse if they wanted to be more like “for example Scandinavian countries: heavily-regulated market economy, cradle-to-grave social safety net, socially permissive multiculturalism”). Overall, the CW thread is a little more to the fringes on the both sides, especially the parts of the fringes popular among its young, mostly nonreligious, kind of libertarian, mostly technophile demographic.

It also doesn’t like Trump. Although he has a 40% approval rating among the general population, only about 14% of CWers were even somewhat favorable toward him. RCP suggests that anti-Trumpers outnumber pro-Trumpers in the general population by 1.4x; among CW thread participants, that number increases to almost 5x! This fits the story above where most right-of-center participants are libertarians or skeptical of democracy/populism as opposed to standard conservatives. Still, I occasionally saw Trump supporters giving their pitch in the Culture War thread, or being willing to answer questions about why they thought what they did.

During the last few years of Culture War thread, a consensus grew up that it was heavily right-wing. This isn’t what these data show, and on the few times I looked at it myself, it wasn’t what I saw either. After being challenged to back this up, I analyzed ten randomly chosen comments on the thread; four seemed neutral, three left/liberal, and three conservative. When someone else objected that it was a more specific “blatant” anti-transgender bias, I counted up all the mentions of transgender on three weeks worth of Culture War threads: of five references, two were celebrating how exciting/historic a transgender person recently winning an election was, a third was neutrally referring to the election, a fourth was a trans person talking about their experiences, and a fifth was someone else neutrally mentioning that they were transgender. This sort of thing happened enough times that I stopped being interested in arguing the point.

I acknowledge many people’s lived experience that the thread felt right-wing; my working theory is that most of the people I talk to about this kind of thing are Bay Area liberals for whom the thread was their first/only exposure to a space with any substantial right-wing presence at all, which must have made it feel scarily conservative. This may also be a question of who sorted by top, who sorted by new, and who sorted by controversial. In any case, you can just read the last few threads and form your own opinion.

Whatever its biases and whatever its flaws, the Culture War thread was a place where very strange people from all parts of the political spectrum were able to engage with each other, treat each other respectfully, and sometimes even change their minds about some things. I am less interested in re-opening the debate about exactly which side of the spectrum the average person was on compared to celebrating the rarity of having a place where people of very different views came together to speak at all.

II. We Need To Have A National Conversation About Why We Can No Longer Have A National Conversation

This post is called “RIP Culture War Thread”, so you may have already guessed things went south. What happened? The short version is: a bunch of people harassed and threatened me for my role in hosting it, I had a nervous breakdown, and I asked the moderators to get rid of it.

I’ll get to the long version eventually, but first I want to stress that this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of everyone who’s tried to host a space for political discussion on the Internet. Take the New York Times, in particular their article Why No Comments? It’s A Matter Of Resources. Translated from corporate-speak, it basically says that unmoderated comment sections had too many “trolls”, so they decided to switch to moderated comment sections only, but they don’t have enough resources to moderate any controversial articles, so commenting on controversial articles is banned.

And it’s not just the New York Times. In the past five years, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, Vice, Bloomberg, Motherboard, and almost every other major news source has closed their comments – usually accompanied by weird corporate-speak about how “because we really value conversations, we are closing our comment section forever effective immediately”. People have written articles like The Comments Apocalypse, A Brief History Of The End Of The Comments, and Is The Era Of Reader Comments On News Websites Fading? This raises a lot of questions.

Like: I was able to find half a dozen great people to do a great job moderating the Culture War Thread 100% for free without even trying. How come some of the richest and most important news sources in the world can’t find or afford a moderator?

Or: can’t they just hide the comments behind a content warning saying “These comments are unmoderated, read at your own risk, click to expand”?

This confused me until I had my own experience with the Culture War thread.

The fact is, it’s very easy to moderate comment sections. It’s very easy to remove spam, bots, racial slurs, low-effort trolls, and abuse. I do it single-handedly on this blog’s 2000+ weekly comments. r/slatestarcodex’s volunteer team of six moderators did it every day on the CW Thread, and you can scroll through week after week of multiple-thousand-post culture war thread and see how thorough a job they did.

But once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all.

Some people think society should tolerate pedophilia, are obsessed with this, and can rattle off a laundry list of studies that they say justify their opinion. Some people think police officers are enforcers of oppression and this makes them valid targets for violence. Some people think immigrants are destroying the cultural cohesion necessary for a free and prosperous country. Some people think transwomen are a tool of the patriarchy trying to appropriate female spaces. Some people think Charles Murray and The Bell Curve were right about everything. Some people think Islam represents an existential threat to the West. Some people think women are biologically less likely to be good at or interested in technology. Some people think men are biologically more violent and dangerous to children. Some people just really worry a lot about the Freemasons.

Each of these views has adherents who are, no offense, smarter than you are. Each of these views has, at times, won over entire cultures so completely that disagreeing with them then was as unthinkable as agreeing with them is today. I disagree with most of them but don’t want to be too harsh on any of them. Reasoning correctly about these things is excruciatingly hard, trusting consensus opinion would have led you horrifyingly wrong throughout most of the past, and other options, if they exist, are obscure and full of pitfalls. I tend to go with philosophers from Voltaire to Mill to Popper who say the only solution is to let everybody have their say and then try to figure it out in the marketplace of ideas.

But none of those luminaries had to deal with online comment sections.

The thing about an online comment section is that the guy who really likes pedophilia is going to start posting on every thread about sexual minorities “I’m glad those sexual minorities have their rights! Now it’s time to start arguing for pedophile rights!” followed by a ten thousand word manifesto. This person won’t use any racial slurs, won’t be a bot, and can probably reach the same standards of politeness and reasonable-soundingness as anyone else. Any fair moderation policy won’t provide the moderator with any excuse to delete him. But it will be very embarrassing for to New York Times to have anybody who visits their website see pro-pedophilia manifestos a bunch of the time.

“So they should deal with it! That’s the bargain they made when deciding to host the national conversation!”

No, you don’t understand. It’s not just the predictable and natural reputational consequences of having some embarrassing material in a branded space. It’s enemy action.

Every Twitter influencer who wants to profit off of outrage culture is going to be posting 24-7 about how the New York Times endorses pedophilia. Breitbart or some other group that doesn’t like the Times for some reason will publish article after article on New York Times‘ secret pro-pedophile agenda. Allowing any aspect of your brand to come anywhere near something unpopular and taboo is like a giant Christmas present for people who hate you, people who hate everybody and will take whatever targets of opportunity present themselves, and a thousand self-appointed moral crusaders and protectors of the public virtue. It doesn’t matter if taboo material makes up 1% of your comment section; it will inevitably make up 100% of what people hear about your comment section and then of what people think is in your comment section. Finally, it will make up 100% of what people associate with you and your brand. The Chinese Robber Fallacy is a harsh master; all you need is a tiny number of cringeworthy comments, and your political enemies, power-hungry opportunists, and 4channers just in it for the lulz can convince everyone that your entire brand is about being pro-pedophile, catering to the pedophilia demographic, and providing a platform for pedophile supporters. And if you ban the pedophiles, they’ll do the same thing for the next-most-offensive opinion in your comments, and then the next-most-offensive, until you’ve censored everything except “Our benevolent leadership really is doing a great job today, aren’t they?” and the comment section becomes a mockery of its original goal.

So let me tell you about my experience hosting the Culture War thread.

(“hosting” isn’t entirely accurate. The Culture War thread was hosted on the r/slatestarcodex subreddit, which I did not create and do not own. I am an honorary moderator of that subreddit, but aside from the very occasional quick action against spam nobody else caught, I do not actively play a part in its moderation. Still, people correctly determined that I was probably the weakest link, and chose me as the target.)

People settled on a narrative. The Culture War thread was made up entirely of homophobic transphobic alt-right neo-Nazis. I freely admit there were people who were against homosexuality in the thread (according to my survey, 13%), people who opposed using trans people’s preferred pronouns (according to my survey, 9%), people who identified as alt-right (7%), and a single person who identified as a neo-Nazi (who as far as I know never posted about it). Less outrageous ideas were proportionally more popular: people who were mostly feminists but thought there were differences between male and female brains, people who supported the fight against racial discrimination but thought could be genetic differences between races. All these people definitely existed, some of them in droves. All of them had the right to speak; sometimes I sympathized with some of their points. If this had been the complaint, I would have admitted to it right away. If the New York Times can’t avoid attracting these people to its comment section, no way r/ssc is going to manage it.

But instead it was always that the the thread was “dominated by” or “only had” or “was an echo chamber for” homophobic transphobic alt-right neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that the subreddit was dominated by homophobic etc neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that the SSC community was dominated by homophobic etc neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that I personally was a homophobic etc neo-Nazi of them all. I am a pro-gay Jew who has dated trans people and votes pretty much straight Democrat. I lost distant family in the Holocaust. You can imagine how much fun this was for me.

People would message me on Twitter to shame me for my Nazism. People who linked my blog on social media would get replies from people “educating” them that they were supporting Nazism, or asking them to justify why they thought it was appropriate to share Nazi sites. I wrote a silly blog post about mathematics and corn-eating. It reached the front page of a math subreddit and got a lot of upvotes. Somebody found it, asked if people knew that the blog post about corn was from a pro-alt-right neo-Nazi site that tolerated racists and sexists. There was a big argument in the comments about whether it should ever be acceptable to link to or read my website. Any further conversation about math and corn was abandoned. This kept happening, to the point where I wouldn’t even read Reddit discussions of my work anymore. The New York Times already has a reputation, but for some people this was all they’d heard about me.

Some people started an article about me on a left-wing wiki that listed the most offensive things I have ever said, and the most offensive things that have ever been said by anyone on the SSC subreddit and CW thread over its three years of activity, all presented in the most damning context possible; it started steadily rising in the Google search results for my name. A subreddit devoted to insulting and mocking me personally and Culture War thread participants in general got started; it now has over 2,000 readers. People started threatening to use my bad reputation to discredit the communities I was in and the causes I cared about most.

Some people found my real name and started posting it on Twitter. Some people made entire accounts devoted to doxxing me in Twitter discussions whenever an opportunity came up. A few people just messaged me letting me know they knew my real name and reminding me that they could do this if they wanted to.

Some people started messaging my real-life friends, telling them to stop being friends with me because I supported racists and sexists and Nazis. Somebody posted a monetary reward for information that could be used to discredit me.

One person called the clinic where I worked, pretended to be a patient, and tried to get me fired.

(not all of this was because of the Culture War thread. Some of this was because of my own bad opinions and my own bad judgment. But the Culture War thread kept coming up. As I became more careful in my own writings, the Culture War thread loomed larger and larger in the threats and complaints. And when the Culture War thread got closed down, the subreddit about insulting me had a “declaring victory” post, which I interpret as confirmation that this was one of the main things going on.)

I don’t want to claim martyrdom. None of these things actually hurt me in real life. My blog continues to be popular, my friends stuck by me, and my clinic didn’t let me go. I am not going to be able to set up a classy new FiredForTruth.com website like James Damore did. What actually happened was much more prosaic: I had a nervous breakdown.

It wasn’t even that bad a nervous breakdown. I was able to keep working through it. I just sort of broke off all human contact for a couple of weeks and stayed in my room freaking out instead. This is similar enough to my usual behavior that nobody noticed, which suited me fine. And I learned a lot (for example, did you know that sceletium has a combination of SSRI-like compounds and PDE2 inhibitors that make it really good at treating nervous breakdowns? True!). And it wasn’t like the attacks were objectively intolerable or that everybody would have had a nervous breakdown in my shoes: I’m a naturally obsessive person, I take criticism especially badly, and I had some other things going on too.

Around the same time, friends of mine who were smarter and more careful than I was started suggesting that it would be better for me, and for them as people who had to deal with the social consequences of being my friend, if I were to shut down the thread. And at the same time, I got some more reasons to think that this blog could contribute to really important things – AI, effective charity, meta-science – in ways that would be harder to do from the center of a harassment campaign.

So around October, I talked to some subreddit mods and asked them what they thought about spinning off the Culture Wars thread to its own forum, one not affiliated with the Slate Star Codex brand or the r/slatestarcodex subreddit. The first few I approached were positive; some had similar experiences to mine; one admitted that even though he personally was not involved with the CW thread and only dealt with other parts of the subreddit, he taught at a college and felt like his job would not be safe so long as the subreddit and CW thread were affiliated. Apparently the problem was bigger than just me, and other people had been dealing with it in silence.

Other moderators, the ones most closely associated with the CW thread itself, were strongly opposed. They emphasized some of the same things I emphasized above: that the thread was a really unique place for great conversation about all sorts of important topics, that the majority of commenters and posts were totally inoffensive, and that one shouldn’t give in to terrorists. I respect all these points, but I respected them less from the middle of a nervous breakdown, and eventually the vote among the top nine mods and other stakeholders was 5-4 in favor of getting rid of it. It took three months to iron out all the details, but a few weeks ago everyone finally figured things out and the CW thread closed forever.

At this point this stops being my story. A group of pro-CW-thread mods led by ZorbaTHut, cjet79, and baj2235 set up r/TheMotte, a new subreddit for continuing the Culture War Thread tradition. After a week, the top post already has 4,243 comments, so it looks like the move went pretty well. Despite fears – which I partly shared – that the transition would not be good for the Thread, early signs suggest it has survived intact. I’m hopeful this can be a win-win situation, freeing me from a pretty serious burden while the Thread itself expands and flourishes under the leadership of a more anonymous group of people.

III. The Thread Is Dead, Long Live The Thread

I debated for a long time whether or not to write this post. The arguments against are obvious: never let the trolls know they’re getting to you. Once they know they’re getting to you, that you’re susceptible to pressure, obviously they redouble their efforts. I stuck to this for a long time. I’m still sort of sticking to it, in that I’m avoiding specifics and super avoiding links (which I realize has made my story harder to prove true, sorry). I’ll try to resume the policy fully after this, but I thought one post on the subject was worth the extra misery for a few reasons.

First, a lot of people were (rightfully! understandably!) very angry about the loss of the Culture War thread from r/ssc, and told the moderators that, as the kids say these days, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation”. I promised to do this, so now I am.

Second, I wanted there to be at least one of these “here’s why we’re removing your ability to comment” articles that was honest, not made of corporate-speak, and less patronizing than “we’re removing the comment section because we value your speech so much and want to promote great conversations”. Hopefully this will be the skeleton key that helps you understand what all those other articles would have said if they weren’t run through fifty layers of PR teams. I would like to give people another perspective on events like Tumblr banning female-presenting nipples or Patreon dropping right-wing YouTubers or Twitter constantly introducing new algorithms that misfire and ban random groups of people. These companies aren’t inherently censorious. They’re just afraid. Everyone is afraid.

Third, I would like to offer one final, admittedly from-a-position-of-weakness, f**k you at everyone who contributed to this. I think you’re bad people, and you make me really sad. Not in a joking performative Internet sadness way. In an actual, I-think-you-made-my-life-and-the-world-worse way. I realize I’m mostly talking to the sort of people who delight in others’ distress and so this won’t register. But I’m also a little upset at some of my (otherwise generally excellent) friends in the rationalist community who were quick to jump on the “Oh, yeah, the SSC subreddit is full of gross people and I wish they couldn’t speak” bandwagon (to be clear, I don’t mean the friends who offered me good advice about separating from the CW thread for the sake of my own well-being, I mean people who actively contributed to worsening the whole community’s reputation based on a few bad actors). I understand you were probably honest in your opinion, but I think there was a lot of room to have thought through those opinions more carefully.

Fourth, I want anybody else trying to host “the national conversation” to have a clear idea of the risks. If you plan to be anything less than maximally censorious, consider keeping your identity anonymous, and think about potential weak links in your chain (ie hosts, advertisers, payment processors, etc). I’m not saying you necessarily need to go full darknet arms merchant. Just keep in mind that lots of people will try to stop you, and they’ve had a really high success rate so far.

Fifth, if someone speaks up against the increasing climate of fear and harassment or the decline of free speech, they get hit with an omnidirectional salvo of “You continue to speak just fine, and people are listening to you, so obviously the climate of fear can’t be too bad, people can’t be harassing you too much, and you’re probably just lying to get attention.” But if someone is too afraid to speak up, or nobody listens to them, then the issue never gets brought up, and mission accomplished for the people creating the climate of fear. The only way to escape the double-bind is for someone to speak up and admit “Hey, I personally am a giant coward who is silencing himself out of fear in this specific way right now, but only after this message”. This is not a particularly noble role, but it’s one I’m well-positioned to play here, and I think it’s worth the awkwardness to provide at least one example that doesn’t fit the double-bind pattern.

Sixth, I want to apologize to anybody who’s had to deal with me the past – oh, let’s say several years. One of the really bad parts of this debacle has been that it’s made me a much worse person. When I started writing this blog, I think I was a pretty nice person who was willing to listen to and try to hammer out my differences with anyone. As a result of some of what I’ve described, I think I’ve become afraid, bitter, paranoid, and quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with me (along a dimension that too closely resembles some of the really bad people I’ve had to deal with) is a bad actor who needs to be discredited and destroyed. I don’t know how to fix this. I can only apologize for it, admit you’re not imagining it, and ask people to do as I say (especially as I said a few years ago when I was a better person) and not as I do. I do think this is a great learning experience in terms of psychology and will write a post on it eventually; I just wish I didn’t have to learn it from the inside.

Seventh, I want to reassure people who would otherwise treat this story as an unmitigated disaster that there are some bright spots, like that I didn’t suffer any objective damage despite a lot of people trying really hard, and that the Culture War thread lives on bigger and brighter than ever before

Eighth, as a final middle-finger at the people who killed the Culture War thread, I’d like to advertise r/TheMotte, its new home, in the hopes that this whole debacle Streisand-Effects it to the stratosphere.

I want to stress that I will continue to leave the SSC comment section open as long as is compatible with the political climate and my own health; I ask tolerance if there are otherwise-unfair actions I have to take to make this possible. I also want to stress that I’m not going to stop writing about controversial topics completely – but I do want to have some control over when and where I have to deal with this, and want the privilege of being hung for my own opinions rather than for those of other people I am tangentially associated with.

Please do not send me expressions of sympathy or try to cast me as a martyr; the first make me feel worse for reasons that are hard to explain; the second wouldn’t really fit the facts and isn’t the look I want to present. Thanks to everyone who helped make the CW thread and this blog what it was/is, and good luck to Zorba and the rest of the Motte moderation team.

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1,073 Responses to RIP Culture War Thread

  1. Alsadius says:

    The direct link to the article hasn’t been working, and that’s where the comment link seems to point, so I couldn’t get to it directly. I thought I had an explanation (it looked like Facebook links worked for a minute), but as I’m testing to try to pin it down, all my explanations are falling apart. Looks like the link just fails intermittently, no explanation as to why. It works about half the time, and it can work and then fail and then work again within a few seconds.

    Edit: And now the ten comments that were here, including Scott’s that I was replying to, seem to have disappeared. Did you re-post the article?

    Edit 2: Since I didn’t say this at first, let me also add that I found this to be an extremely interesting post, if one that makes me somewhat sad (not that you reacted this way, but that you needed to in the first place). I don’t like that this is how society seems to want to act, but sadly I can’t exactly alter society single-handedly. Thank you for your attempts, even though you can’t fix the whole world single-handedly either.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I deleted and reposted because I couldn’t fix the issue above. Since you seem to be able to comment now, I think it worked.

      • C_B says:

        I had the broken link issue described above, but the reposted version appears to be fine (as long as this comment shows up when I hit post).

      • Mikescher says:

        FYI: Seems like I can only get to this site by clicking on the thread from the homepage. If I navigate here by clicking the link from my RSS feed or by manually entering the URL in a fresh browser I get a “page not found”. It looks like it depends on my referrer (?). Definitely strange

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        I got a second email notifying me about this article, I assume as a consequence of the repost. It is cleanly accessible to me now.

  2. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Fourth, I want anybody else trying to host “the national conversation” to have a clear idea of the risks. If you plan to be anything less than maximally censorious, consider keeping your identity anonymous, and think about potential weak links in your chain (ie hosts, advertisers, payment processors, etc). I’m not saying you necessarily need to go full darknet arms merchant. Just keep in mind that lots of people will try to stop you, and they’ve had a really high success rate so far.

    Someone from the commentor community here should do a historical study on censorship like this (not exactly like this, of course, since the internet didn’t exist) under representative governments. Is it rare or unprecedented for voters to polarize into two tribes that will not communicate without the state falling into civil war? Or is it common and just feels like a coming civil war because we haven’t lived a large enough sample size?

    • Nick says:

      I’ve been wondering about this. I always hear about the lively bars or whatever of Revolutionary America or the coffeehouses of London or the salons of France. How did they deal with problems like this? Does the Internet as a medium have differences from the sort of public, neutral spaces we would be inclined to compare them to? Or were those spaces just as polarized or just as regularly tarred and feathered as ours?

      • CthulhuChild says:

        Yes, they were. Both of those institutions were seen as seething cauldrons of unrest which threatened society in their own time, it is only in hindsight that we have romanticized them as hotspots of social progress.

        My view is that society tends to embody the public morality it can afford. If the world eventually changed in ways that the coffee house patrons would have approved, I think it would be a mistake to attribute causality to mere correlation.

        • toastengineer says:

          I was thinking of something along these lines a while ago. I’m noticing that MRA-type ideas are becoming more mainstream lately – hell, a few months ago I saw a feminist say something along the lines of “look, no-one is saying women who make false accusations shouldn’t be jailed, all I’m saying is…” And yet, I don’t see MRAs themselves getting any more popular.

          We attribute women’s sufferage, the end of sex-discriminatory labor laws, etc… to the feminist movement agitating for them, even though at the time it seems everyone hated them too. We assume it was their doing, because they were the loudest about wanting it at the time it happened, but I’ve never seen anyone actually causally link specific acts by the women’s rights movement to advancement in womens rights, or specific acts by the gay rights movement to advancement in gay rights.

          So… could it be that actually, people just agitate for crap all the time, with the actual movements not doing anything more than getting the common people to realize that the questions of e.g. “should women vote/should sodomy be illegal/etc…” exist to be asked at all?

          And then after a few years, around a critical point where the average voter is actually thinking about the issue, everyone suddenly converges on the answer that actually is more just and right and in line with the fundamental principles of our society, and then that becomes the new norm?

          That would explain why “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” even though there’s plenty of people campaigning for injustice – the campaigning doesn’t actually matter, and democracy really does, in fact, work.

          • Viliam says:

            I’m noticing that MRA-type ideas are becoming more mainstream lately … And yet, I don’t see MRAs themselves getting any more popular.

            I noticed similar things happening also outside politics: An unpopular person says “X”, the mob goes “booo!”; later a popular person says “X”, and the mob goes “oh, what a deep wisdom!”.

            (And if you remind them “but the unpopular person said X yesterday, and you disagreed”, they will go like: “no, that’s not true… that person said something else… I do not remember what exactly, but it was something stupid”.)

            My model is that most people do not really care about ideas, but they care about humans and their status. (Actually caring about ideas, that is typically called being a nerd.) So when someone says “X”, they do not really hear “X”, and they definitely do not start thinking about the logical consequences of X. Instead, they check the person’s status, and if the status is high, they get a warm feeling that something wise was said, but if the status is low, they feel like something stupid and repulsive was said. And because people remember their interpretations of events, they go home remembering “an unpopular person said something stupid” instead of “an unpopular person said X”. So when the next day a popular person says “X”, they feel like they heard something wise, and they see no contradiction. Although, in this case they are probably more likely to remember some details of X.

            Similarly, most people do not remember “MRAs say X, Y, Z”, but rather “MRAs say something bad… I do not remember what exactly, and frankly I don’t care”. It is not because they disagree with the ideas technically, but rather because they refuse to think about them. (Thinking about low-status things makes you low-status, and most people work hard to avoid that.) This means they may be open to hearing the same idea again, as long as it does not remind them of the MRAs. Which usually requires restating the same idea using different words (replacing keywords of the outgroup by keywords of the ingroup).

            And then after a few years, around a critical point where the average voter is actually thinking about the issue, everyone suddenly converges on the answer that actually is more just and right and in line with the fundamental principles of our society, and then that becomes the new norm?

            I suppose that happens when the first high-status person publicly declares they agree with the new answer (and does not get horribly punished in response).

            As an unrelated example, worrying about superhuman AI is silly when Eliezer Yudkowsky is doing it, but becomes a serious topic overnight when Elon Musk says something similar. It is not because people started thinking about the topic seriously and decided it was legitimate. Rather, people decided that the topic is legitimate if Elon Musk talks about it, and that allowed a few of them to start thinking seriously about it.

          • toastengineer says:

            That effect doesn’t explain what I’m observing, though; this is something I’ve been noticing get more intense over the last few years although I only recently, like, NOTICE noticed it, and I haven’t seen any Musk-like figures come out and say any of these things.

            I’ve even heard it from people who seem to otherwise be well above neck-deep in the koolaid otherwise, who would start screaming “lynch the traitor” in that case rather than going along with it.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I think @Viliam’s post is right in general–it encapsulates something that I find so infuriating and cannot seem to rise above. People have such definite opinions and judgments of people, and immediately reverse themselves without a second thought. That in itself is not that surprising, but they are all around me trying to discuss things, and they seem reasonable enough. And then they slip into these ugly, ridiculously simplified remarks (when they perceive something as lower status), which stuns me, because they were making sense before. And they are so disgusted by those people/arguments, that when you try to make sense of it, you look like a bad guy. And *then,* the next day, they assert the same statement is a great point (it now being made by a higher status person), and point it out looking to discuss it. And they are totally unaware of the shift and will vehemently deny it, clearly having no idea of what the claims were, just the speaker’s likeability. And then you look like a pedantic jerk. But it is so off-putting to me, and so prevalent, that there seems no way to evade, and it is actually very upsetting and frustrating. Like, I expect people to be rather ignorant and thoughtless, but this is something else altogether. At least with the ignorant, I can avoid significant discussion of politics–but when I know the people well and they are half-reasonable, the frustration, and honestly the resentment, is unbearable. Not sure how to maintain calm in this area.

            @toastengineer But my main reason for replying is that I think there is also a lot of truth in your argument, although I think it is a bit more complicated. Progress is not nearly as linear or direct as it is portrayed. Usually, there is a social mood that recurs based on various factors, that makes it ripe for agitators and also other changes. There is a lot more going on, which I cannot claim to completely understand. But I do have a theory that there is some sort of weird convergence point, driven in part by activists who publicly push their views in a manner most find very extreme and unpopular. For example, take gay rights or just minimal social acceptance of being gay. I admit I don’t know my history very well here, so I apologize if this is not a good example, but I think the illustration works. Initially, Gay pride parades were probably not thrilling to most Americans–they were probably offensive–and almost more importantly, impudent, to most Americans. At some point, many of these people start saying to themselves, “why can’t they just be gay quietly and not so in our faces about it? Why is that necessary? It doesn’t get them anywhere!” And in doing so they’ve just sort of mentally gotten to a place where they see “quiet” gay people as no big deal. So now if they learn the local TV news anchor is gay and lives with a partner, it just seems like “no big deal,” whether they like it or not. Trying to make it a scandal just seems silly at this point, “who cares?” The prominent agitation that annoys them brings them a point where they’re content to accept the cause when it is comparably not “annoying” to them. A lot of people’s irritation at loud opposition to authority outweighs their other prejudices.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Viliam: Elon Musk is a successful tech entrepeneur, so people assume he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to technology. Most people don’t know who Elizier Yudkowsky is, and many of the people who are familiar with him think he’s just a random crackpot. I don’t think it’s necessarily unfair or even logically unsound for people to make assumptions along the lines of “this random crackpot doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but this expert in his field probably does.” If some homeless guy on the street was ranting about how Planet X was going to crash into the Earth and kill everyone, I’d think it was nonsense; if the consensus of the world’s leading astronomers was that Planet X was going to crash into the Earth, I’d be a lot more worried! You might think that’s proof of elitism, but if George Clooney started talking about Planet X, I wouldn’t take it much more seriously than the homeless guy’s claims, even though George Clooney is higher status than the head of MIT’s astronomy division. I’m as strongly opposed to unwarranted forms of discrimination as you can get, but “has a verifiable history of success in the field being discussed” seems like a perfectly warranted basis for judgment.

            The MRA situation is a different issue. In that case, it’s that the MRAs have a lot of views that are wrong (either in the sense of being factually incorrect or in the sense of being morally reprehensible, or both), but occasionally they’re right about a few things, often things that don’t even tie into their core narrative that much (e.g. male circumcision). So it makes sense that people would agree with a few of their points while still dismissing the movement and its adherents as a whole. It’s just the Stopped Clock effect.

          • Baeraad says:

            @LadyJane

            This, and also, when you despise 99% of someone’s beliefs and opinions with the power of a thousand suns, you begrudge them the distinction of being right about the remaining 1%. Because if they are right about some things, then that gives credibility to their opinions in general, and that creates the risk that those opinions will gain wider public support. It’d be much more convenient for you if they were really consistently wrong about absolutely everything… and when something would be convenient for you, it’s awfully tempting to believe it’s true.

          • Viliam says:

            @LadyJane

            occasionally they’re right about a few things, often things that don’t even tie into their core narrative that much (e.g. male circumcision).

            I wonder what do you consider to be the core narrative of MRAs.

            I though it was something like “it is not true that the traditional gender roles assign everything good to men and everything bad to women; in reality each sex gets a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages” (which is somehow a bad thing to say, but if you only take a half of it and rephrase it as “patriarchy hurts men too” it becomes okay); and then there is the more specific claim that “it is difficult for women to get respect, and it is difficult for men to get empathy“, which quite fits the situation with child genital mutilation (a typical American freaks out when you talk about hurting girls’ genitals, but remains perfectly calm when you talk about hurting boys’ genitals). Men are seen as competent and expendable (if they suffer or die, it means they were not as competent as they should have been, therefore they kinda deserved it), women are considered precious and incompetent (we should protect them and help them all the time, but if they achieve something, it is assumed that only happened as a result of the protection and help they received, not their own skills).

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Men are seen as competent and expendable (if they suffer or die, it means they were not as competent as they should have been, therefore they kinda deserved it), women are considered precious and incompetent (we should protect them and help them all the time, but if they achieve something, it is assumed that only happened as a result of the protection and help they received, not their own skills).

            This view may be incorrect today, but it makes perfect sense that people held this view in the past, because it lined up perfectly with a society’s need for survival in pre-industrial days. If a society didnt treat its men as expendable, it would not be able to defend itself properly. And if a society didnt treat its women as precious baby factories, it didnt reproduce.

            In the modern world these assumptions seem to be on much shakier ground, and we can afford to experiment a little bit with them. But because humans are irrational, social, and bipedal apes, we cant express it that way. We need to wrap this up in flowery language about human rights, female liberation, and patriarchy.

            Im not part of the rationalist community and my only exposure to it is from this blog. But I would expect the rationalist community to rise above this sort of talk and view these kind of problems from an engineering perspective as to how to build a prosperous and long-lasting society. It seems to me such an approach would remove much heat to CW topics and add some light, because it shows that the conservative is not a hateful misogynist who takes perverse pleasure at oppressing women, but instead someone who clings to the view that brought about the modern world, and the liberal is not an irresponsible hedonistic idiot, but someone who wishes to see how life can be improved when certain constraints are removed.

            Both perspectives are needed if we have any chance of building a good society. Any effort to shut down conversations between liberals and conservatives, as described in this post, should be seen in this light.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Not sure how to maintain calm in this area.

            Just remember that humans evolved from apes and that we’re all born utterly ignorant knowing nothing but pain and confusion, not even that we know nothing, trying to make some sense of it all and carve a place for ourselves amidst zero-sum pressures to be more certain than is justified by the facts.

            (not an endorsement of your peceptions, applies to all cases where confronted with (perceived) animalistic behaviour)

      • LHN says:

        Usenet in the 80s and 90s managed to sustain a wider range of tolerable opinions and comparatively civil exchanges (though certainly with trolls of all flavors and lots of healthy exercise for the killfile).

        Occasionally there was targeted action aimed at intimidating people by drawing the attention of the (usually academic or government) institution to the terrible views their money was helping to spread, but it was relatively rare and there were strong norms against it.

        (Sysadmins would exclude certain topics– e.g., the refusal to create a rec.sex newsgroup because that really might get them in trouble led to the development of an alternative newsgroup hierarchy. But they generally didn’t enact viewpoint-based restrictions.)

        Maybe it was just that it was too small to matter. But while the numbers were tiny compared to the modern net, by the 90s they were still pretty large compared with any number of premodern cities that might support coffee shops or agoras or the occasional brutal civil conflict.

        I’ve been surprised at how little any sort of founder effect in norms (whether cultural or designwise) seems to have carried over from there to later commenting systems. We seem to keep reinventing worse wheels.

        • acymetric says:

          Keep in mind that (while it certainly had a wide range of demographics), the category “people who were were using Usenet in the 80s and 90s” is very different than the category “people using the Internet in 2019”. I would guess that, combined with volume, explains a lot of it.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Also, while there may have been more usenet users than 19th century coffee house patrons in absolute terms, as a percentage of political society usenet was a fragment of a fragment. Once the tidal wave of general public broke into the internet commenting space they brought a very different culture that swamped any existing founder effect.

          • A1987dM says:

            AKA “September 1993 never ended”.

        • Doug says:

          I’ll add another datapoint. In the mid-2000s, I was the admin of a pretty large Internet message board. About on par with the size of /r/ssc, pretty likely that at least a few people here would have remembered it.

          Not once was anything Scott describing ever a problem. The forum ran with pretty much total free speech rules. No spam, no illegal content, NSFW work content had to be labeled NSFW. That was it. The forum itself had no shortage of less than PC content and posters.

          Never once did anyone threaten or dox me. I posted my real name, photo and even contact details on at least several occasions. Plus at least several dozen people had me in real life at various times. So it’s definitely not like I was anonymous.

          It’s just hard to convey had monumental the shift in Internet culture has been recently. This was only thirteen years ago. Internet culture pre-social media was an amazing place. It has some of the most dynamic, interesting and open communities of any time and place in human history. That’s all fallen into dust. I just feel bad for my kids and anyone else under 25 that they’ll never get to experience that.

          • BBA says:

            I think about this xkcd from 2006 a lot. Just a few years later it could never have been made. The attitude was immature, probably wrong even at the time, and obviously in this day and age no responsible adult can endorse it. But I miss it.

          • Vorkon says:

            I just wanted to say that this is gut-wrenchingly true.

            The Internet of the early-mid 2000s was an amazing place, and it saddens me to think that it will never exist again.

            I’m sure every generation feels something similar about their formative years, but it really was a unique transitive time in history, like the Wild West or the Industrial Revolution, but much more hopeful, and with more animated gifs.

          • toastengineer says:

            I remember when cat declawing was the worst discussion topic in existence.

          • LHN says:

            A few years later the same cartoonist was posting this one, where he endorses boycotts and job loss for people who eschewed “being careful and constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up”. https://xkcd.com/1357/

          • Clutzy says:

            Yea, XKCD never had self awareness on the level of the South Park guys (as an example). They always knew they would be targets so they took up arms and attacked while also shoring up their defenses (for instance, ManBearPig and Book of Mormon). The people most vulnerable to these sorts of attacks are the people the other side considers “reasonable”.

            And that has been Scott’s mistake as it might have been XKCD (who I haven’t followed for a while so I don’t know). The only way to survive in the middle is to laugh at people who attack you. If they call you racist, make a Tawana Brawley joke; if they call you communist, link to the Chapo podcast; etc. Being a wimpy centrist will never work because you will just end up getting bullied by the louder side (in this case lefties). And once you get bullied you will just keep getting bullied until you disappear into a corner or snap and go manmode on them (like you should have at the beginning).

            So if you don’t want to have to become a parody of yourself, its always been necessary to be a good version of yourself. And no one has ever been even an above average version of themselves if they didn’t understand the following children’s poem:

            Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.

          • hilitai says:

            A few years later the same cartoonist was posting this one

            Hah! Beat me to it. That was my exact thought on reading the first cartoon.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I think it is due to size/the sort of person who would join. It attracted curious people who wanted to participate. They would feel uncomfortable if they did something that the rest of the group gave the side eye. Now, thousands of people are essentially thrown online, no curiosity or even desire to talk about a topic needed, in numbers great enough that the side eye does not work or cannot be perceived, and go online almost exclusively for social reasons, creating a different culture and rules that are driven by certain mob instincts. There’s no way for people to get a sense of the “self-policing” culture, but really, I think just the element of curiosity and deciding, personally, to join a community of interest is the major thing. I think the founder effect is very real, but the amount of people arriving at the same time makes it impossible to perceive existing norms or how they relate and benefit the forum.

      • Doctor Locketopus says:

        One thing that discouraged such behavior was the probability of pistols at dawn, if one were considered a social equal, or merely being dragged into the street and horsewhipped, if one were not.

        Of course, such things did happen with some regularity. The difference is that defamers knew they might have to face actual concrete consequences. Nothing like the anonymous Twitmobs of today.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Okay, so someone is going to challenge Scott to a duel and maybe kill him for allegedly harboring Nazis, how is that supposed to help?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Not that I agree, but the point was that the person defaming Scott would need to face the chance of Scott kills him in the duel.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            This theory implies a touching faith in the unwillingness of people to falsely claim to have been defamed when they were not.

            (“Scott hosts r/ssc, which is full of racists, and racists are insulting me, a person of color, therefore I should challenge him to a duel.”)

          • toastengineer says:

            The trouble with violence is that the bad guys tend to be better at it.

          • vV_Vv says:

            (“Scott hosts r/ssc, which is full of racists, and racists are insulting me, a person of color, therefore I should challenge him to a duel.”)

            And then face the risk of Scott killing them.

            The point of a honor culture, with duels or just ritualized fist fights, is to disincentivize interpersonal conflict by creating a credible threat of escalation to physical violence. The drawback is that people who are better at physical violence, or just less risk averse, will be able to get away with more bad stuff, while people who are bad at violence or more risk averse will be the target of abuse (although somebody could gain honor by defending them, or they could just hire a champion, actual honor cultures were complicated).

            Fun trivia: teenage Abraham Lincoln regularly defeated local ruffians in street fights.

          • toastengineer says:

            The trouble then is that to get any improvement, we’d have to import an entire fully-functioning honor culture all at once, including the part where everyone already knows how to and is willing to fight.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The trouble then is that to get any improvement, we’d have to import an entire fully-functioning honor culture all at once,

            How did honor cultures come into being in the first place? Clearly it must not have happened at once, there must have been a phase of cultural evolution before they reached a relatively stable state.

            It possible that whatever cultural evolutionary pressure caused Western civilization to transition from honor culture to dignity culture to victimhood culture could under some condition be reversed and cause a transition in the other direction. Maybe it could be possible to balance the pressures to keep civilization in a dignity culture. Or maybe civilizations irreversibly move from expansion to prosperity to decadence to collapse, and this cultural dsyfunctionality that we are witnessing is just the death thores of Western civilizaiton before it will inevitably be replaced as the world’s hegemon by the Chinese, the Muslims or whatever. Hard to tell.

          • Nick says:

            Or maybe there’s a state after victimhood culture that isn’t just collapse. If the gulf between moral statuses of victims and oppressors becomes so great that violence is back on the table—which doesn’t, of course, have to take the form of duels, much less to the death—could we transition to an honor culture, and thence to a dignity culture again?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t think we can return to honor culture; both sides would have to agree to the concept of a “fair fight”, which implies a degree of cohesion which isn’t there. In an honor culture you have a fair fight with your peers who you feel have wronged you; your actual enemies you attack without such restraint.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fair fights are generally considered preferable to unfair fights, with “It’s unfair in my favor so I like it this way” usually being a minority position with the failure mode of too many bystanders deciding to stand with your victims. That being the case, there is strong pressure to adopt norms of fighting fair in an environment where there is a great deal of unfair fighting going on. Renaissance dueling traditions evolved to mitigate drunken tavern knife-fights, for example.

            If fighting is rare, there’s more advantage to just winning the fight you’re in right now however you can. If laws against fighting are effectively enforced, then you’ll probably want to win that fight anonymously and so there won’t be reputational penalties for doing so dishonorably.

            So, in this respect, things would have to get worse (more fighting) before they can get better (fair fighting). And that may happen whether we want it to or not, but I expect most people here would not favor that first step even if it might facilitate the second.

          • Nick says:

            I wanna read a Foundation-esque novel now about a startup founder trying to shepherd our divided country through the coming age with an app to match you with fair dueling partners. If he succeeds, he might just reduce thirty years of conflict to one.

        • Kyle Rowland says:

          The idea is that while at first things are strictly worse, because now the assholes can challenge you to a duel, they end up better, because all the assholes duel each other and thin the asshole herd.

          A fine notion, just totally out of line with first-world values and the way the world is moving.

      • thecromulentman says:

        “Does the Internet as a medium have differences from the sort of public, neutral spaces we would be inclined to compare them to?”

        They took place in person, for one thing. And that makes quite a quantum of difference.

        In the 1990s people would go to public arcades and play video games against strangers, lose and be frustrated, but it rarely led to a fistfight.

        Play a competitive game online and you’ll see incredible lengths people go to in order to destroy each other from the comfort of their own home if they lose in some match and consider it “unfair.”

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Ada Palmer and Cory Doctorow are working on a history of censorship. I don’t know when It’s due to be published.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Is it rare or unprecedented for voters to polarize into two tribes that will not communicate without the state falling into civil war?

      The Dreyfus affair was very polarizing but didn’t lead to a civil war. Or maybe the Vichy France was one side of the war.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Dreyfus affair was resolved 35 years before France declared war on Germany, resulting in the unrelated creation of the “Vichy” state. So no, it’s a good example.
        I’m going to need a refresher on the social consequences. Which side was the witches? I know the affair popularized antisemitism, but did gentiles have to prove that they weren’t Dreyfusards to not lose their jobs?

        • eigenmoon says:

          “Resolved” in the sense that Dreyfus was exonerated. It doesn’t mean that the Dreyfusards and the anti-Dreyfusards hugged each other and lived in harmony ever after.

          I don’t know how deeply the social consequences went, but Zola had endured a lot.

    • Erusian says:

      Polarization is a vicious cycle that is a precondition to civil war. But it’s necessary, not sufficient. France, England, and the Netherlands all underwent periods of extreme polarization that didn’t result in appreciable civil wars.

      In the United States, I count sixteen internal crises* (over roughly three hundred years) that led to extreme polarization. Three** led to war, one led to a successful revolt.*** Only one of them after the constitution. Each of them had winners and losers and were the result of fundamental conflicts of interest.

      I doubt we’re heading for civil war. What is the fundamental conflict of interest today? The irreconcilable interest that the two sides will fight and die for? Because that is what leads to war. Civil War is a way to settle domestic questions that normal politics cannot and which people are willing to die over. Are the Blues willing to die over the SALT? Are the Reds willing to die over the National Debt? Because you need that.

      Pew says the three biggest gaps between Reds and Blues are abortion, environmental policy, and racial policy. Imagine one side completely wins. Abortion is now completely legal/illegal. The EPA is abolished/all powerful. Affirmative action is now legally mandated everywhere/banned. Who’s going to get a gun and die for that? (Amusingly, the biggest point of agreement is dislike for politicians and that the government is inefficient.)

      There were three civil wars and one revolt. The first Civil War was about whether King or Parliament was supreme in the state. The revolt was about whether Americans had any rights whatsoever (seriously, the King’s representative said the only right the colonists had was to not be sold into slavery). The third was about whether American government meant anything or it was just a suggestion Parliament could take into account. The fourth was about whether the economic system of half the country would be abolished and whether a significant portion of the population were legally people.

      We just don’t have anything like that today.

      That isn’t to say it doesn’t matter. We might very well be looking at a polarizing world. It might be for the next century even small towns in America will have two dancing halls, two social clubs, even two schools like tiny hamlets in England did in the 18th century during the Tory-Whig split. It might be there are protests and even riots with some regularity like London and Norwich were famous for for nearly a century. We might have two parallel fashion styles, two parallel elites, two parallel ideas of what a good person is. But that’s not civil war.

      *English Civil War, Yorkist Crisis, American Revolution, Confederation Crisis, Administration Crisis, Crisis of 1812, Jacksonian Crisis, Crisis of the 1840s, Crisis of the 1860s, Redemption Crisis, Progressive Crisis, Depression Crisis, Roosevelt Crisis, Democratic Crisis, Crisis of the 1970s, Trump Crisis.

      **English Civil War, American Revolution, and Crisis of the 1860s.

      ***Yorkist Crisis

      • thecromulentman says:

        Consider re-framing.

        Extreme polarization is an *actual* Civil “war.”
        Once it gets to war it stops being civil. Hence, why the state of split tribalistic partisanship can be accurately described as “civil” war. It was just the olden term for culture war when it’s in this preliminary state.

        That said, to answer this question: “What is the fundamental conflict of interest today?”

        You said it yourself, both sides agree that there is a fundamental conflict of interest in the ruling body that runs the show and what the electorate actually wants done. Pretty much every side recognizes that those in command long ago stopped listening and need to be evicted from power and replaced. The sides just disagree on who the replacement should be and how that should be accomplished.

        The civil war will stop being civil and just be war if and when the Communist and the Conservative finally come to compact to kick out the corporatist cronies.

        However if it’s to be a war between the red and blue teams, the most likely flashpoint increasingly seems to be immigration, as the Trump presidency has kicked a much more radical counter-position into gear rhetorically: open borders advocacy. This same issue is slowly, but surely shaking the EU to its core too, and it’s something that was a dark horse contender for a long time, but increasingly, it seems people are more and more willing to risk much over. Potentially even their lives.

        • Erusian says:

          I agree that civil war is an outgrowth of the conditions I describe. But I believe you’ve misunderstood my point. At least three of the previous four conflicts were not about what the electorate wants done but about whether the institutions actually held power. The question of 1775 was not whether or not the colonists supported the Boston Harbor Act. It was about whether the Massachusetts legislature was a legitimate legislature at all. The rebellion against Governor Andros wasn’t about whether he was accurately representing a faction. It was about whether colonial charters had any force at all, whether colonists had given up all their rights by decamping from England.

          I’m not aware of anyone trying to undermine the authority of the US Senate or state legislatures as such. That would be the equivalent, not simply disagreement on a specific issue.

          While I agree immigration is likely to be a major issue, the last few times the US went door to door arresting or expelling immigrants or even American minorities no war broke out.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            There have been attacks on both the Senate and the Electoral College as insufficiently democratic. There is (I hope) no chance that either gets changed by amendment, so what are the attackers to do? I read today that the number of states that are majority-conservative is actually increasing.

            The path to armed conflict on that point is that the heavily blue states come more and more to treat the Senate and Presidency as illegitimate because they are not one-man-one-vote, and enact state laws that conflict with Federal laws. This is happening already. At some point the disconnect becomes great enough that the Federal government takes steps to enforce its laws, and maybe that includes shutting down a state legislature or two. Whether armed conflict ensues is an open question — we didn’t get a civil war when Kennedy mobilized the national guard in Alabama — and it seems equally plausible to me that the worst that happens is division of the U.S. along the lines of Brexit or the Indian Partition (though the latter shows that it could be plenty bad).

        • Rachael says:

          “Once it gets to war it stops being civil. Hence, why the state of split tribalistic partisanship can be accurately described as “civil” war. It was just the olden term for culture war when it’s in this preliminary state.”

          Are you trying to make a pun, or do you not understand what “civil war” means?
          It doesn’t mean nonphysical or nonviolent war. It means actual war, but within a country rather than between countries.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You missed some issues. Gun control. Immigration. Land policy in the west (which is tied into environmental issues) is always there, ask the Bundys.

        I think some of the issues you did mention could lead to war as well. Racial issues; suppose the Woke get enough power to institute explicit reparations and ubiquitous and open discrimination against whites? A heavy-handed move the other way (which I think is less likely) could get us to the open violence of race riots. Environmental policy could do it too — imagine the Bundy case writ large. Abortion seems less likely.

        • Erusian says:

          You missed some issues. Gun control. Immigration. Land policy in the west (which is tied into environmental issues) is always there, ask the Bundys.

          All are less divisive than the three issues above. But yes, there are other splits and one of them could become more important. I don’t see which of those fit the needs of my definition either. Which of these is the equivalent to declaring that people don’t have any right to determine government policy and all of their leaders are illegitimate and have no power? Or to destroying over half of the wealth held by half the country?

          I think some of the issues you did mention could lead to war as well. Racial issues; suppose the Woke get enough power to institute explicit reparations and ubiquitous and open discrimination against whites? A heavy-handed move the other way (which I think is less likely) could get us to the open violence of race riots. Environmental policy could do it too — imagine the Bundy case writ large. Abortion seems less likely.

          Riots aren’t a civil war. There will be riots. Civil war requires two political factions to have standing armies trying to destroy each other.

          We already have a system of (almost) open racial preference. Besides, numerous countries have existed with similar discrimination and no civil war. If the woke crowd decides that the Nazi’s fears are right and white genocide is a swell idea, then sure that would lead to a civil war. Probably the same in reverse. But if the Democrats want to start a bunch of transfer payments to minorities with the goal of getting them to the US average income (their stated goal) will that lead to rebellion? Rebellion has an exceedingly high threshold. You can discriminate against, steal from, even enslave people and they might never rebel.

          As for Bundy write large, I’m skeptical for two reasons. Firstly, I doubt Bundy could get a big enough army together to overwhelm the cities. Secondly, I doubt most city dwellers are willing to die over Federal land policy. If it gets that contentious and Bundy-ites are able to stand up to the government, I suspect the rest of the population will concede.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Riots aren’t a civil war. There will be riots. Civil war requires two political factions to have standing armies trying to destroy each other.

            That happens when the US Army itself splits. The standing armies are already there.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Guns might be less divisive, but the relevant minorities might be more committed to the fight. There are a lot of gun owners who are essentially single issue voters. If you come for their guns, they will obstruct as much as possible. If you come into their homes anyways, they will shoot you. A significant chunk of LE will also obstruct any effort at serious gun control, and in a non-trivial portion of the nation, they will probably also shoot at any other LE or military forces coming to take guns.

            I know online people say there aren’t any people who want to take all the guns, that this is a mischaracterization of the issue and not really held by people in meatspace. And in most cases like this, that’s true. But not guns. Even the partisan GOPers in my Blue Tribe enclave do not understand why people want guns, think anyone who has guns basically has a mental disorder, and want the government to take the scary guns away.

          • Vorkon says:

            I was just about to say the same thing.

            I’m fairly confident that, if there ever is another civil war in our time, a large scale gun confiscation is likely to be inciting event.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @Vorkon and others–yes, if I had to pick the most contentious issue that comes to mind, it would be strong gun control. To me it is so obvious that this would involve significant violence, but others seem to think it is the easiest thing in the world. They are appalled when I don’t show much support for gun control. I get their argument and agree with them on much, but I find the entire thing extremely unrealistic, and while it can be done, the ugliness it would cause seems to be totally unperceived by them. These are in some sense existential, visceral matters–usually the only kind that leads to Civil War.

            They can’t really be described as logically as they have been by @Erusian, IMO, but I think there’s truth in it. Certain conflicts are inherently threatening to a large portion of society’s sense of self and values. The issues usually are quite major, but there is a more philosophical problem. The economics of the South were definitely in play, but the South’s fear of slave revolts and increasing feelings of insult by the moral attacks made by some Northerners meant that they essentially tried to ban discussion of the issues in congress and in the mail. Northerners were really unhappy about the Fugitive Slave Act and about not being able to discuss what they saw as an issue very much in need of discussion–this offended them at a visceral level. Slaves and ideas were going to cross from one region to the other, and the sense of insult/violation/humiliation resulting from the controversies was intolerable. Northerners felt they were forced to cooperate in wrong actions; southerners felt insulted in other ways. Both sort of misjudged the other in some sense.

            Gun control has some similarities, in that guns can travel through states, so the problem is one that is hard to isolate and one that causes resentment among states. The violence that sparks calls for gun control is viscerally upsetting and to some people, unquestionably in need of intervention. Therefore, those who oppose it seem to them complicit in the violence. This is not crazy. Those who oppose it see it as a shocking invasion of their homes and rights, and impractical, unlikely to do much. It seems like gun control supporters are just not dealing with reality, and doing what they say is absurd and insulting. There’s a lot more going on, but I’m pointing out the points that could really lead someone to a place where they just can’t avoid really visceral conflict. That being said, I think any attempts to implement real gun control will immediately show people how difficult and violent it would be, and the issue would resolve in some sense long before Civil War. I just don’t think any portion of America has enough commitment or sense of principle that would sustain such a fight. A small group of gun owners do, though, and its hard to see how the opposition would be able to see a way to get what they want through a war. I just don’t think enough Americans care about much to set off a Civil War–tensions and instability and riots though, are going to be an issue in the coming years, I think. But the courage and focus needed for some sort of “holy war” would not arise for some time, and it’s hard to channel them in the current media environment and the sheer size of the US and federal government. Insults are diffuse and impersonal. We’re just too big.

            I think cultural changes could happen that would allow this sort of dynamic, but I think they’d be aimed more at some sort of “awakening” than war. It’s hard to see war settling any of the issues currently on the table. The lines aren’t drawn distinctly enough.

          • PeterDonis says:

            Re gun control: I think a key factor in opposition to gun control (it’s certainly a key reason why I oppose it) is that gun control is based on a false picture of who has guns. The false picture is that the only people who have guns in the US are career criminals, crazy people, and law enforcement. That’s not the case. In most of the US, the vast majority of people who have guns are law abiding citizens who have guns for sport or self defense, and most guns that are there for self defense never get fired except for practice. The crazy people who are responsible for things like mass shootings are a vanishingly small fraction of the people who have guns. And the places in the US where the majority of people who have guns are career criminals are very limited (mostly inner cities), and the imbalance in gun possession there is due to bad governance (basically a combination of unwillingness to properly punish violent crimes and the war on drugs).

            So people who oppose gun control see it as trying to penalize all the law abiding citizens because of the misdeeds of crazy people and criminals and the failure of governments to deal properly with them. Which doesn’t sound like a good policy in what is supposed to be a free country.

    • MawBTS says:

      My opinion is that the world is in an extremely peaceful period, and that without external threats, close neighbors tend to fight.

      I think both sides would immediately depolarize in the face of a Martian invasion or something.

  3. CthulhuChild says:

    I have been reading a lot about the rise of totalitarianism in the late 19th and early 20th century, and also studying well documented “modern” controversies (corn laws in England, child labour, etc) that look really uncontroversial in hindsight.

    All I can say is that Scott’s experience fits perfectly into the history of terrifying mass movements. That is to say: frusteratuon and alienation among the greater population finds release and relief with the joy of being part of something (and DOING something) becomes literally intoxicating, with predictably terrible results.

    Arguing nuanced social policy is hard, and leaves most people feeling impotent. Doxxing a “villain” feels deliciously righteous. So much so that there is an incentive to AVOID considering whether the target is actually evil in any meaningful. See also: pogroms, lynchings, the reign of terror, the haulocaust and the entire history of Russia since 1850.

    The only action that seems to have ended this pattern in the last 200 years is a sudden rise in living standard that makes a life spent in purpetuak outrage seem unappealing. When this happens, the people pleading for santiy during the crisis tend to be vindicated and subsequently get to set new cultural norms in the aftermath, which is vaguely comforting. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine what kind of material improvement could provide the sort of satisfaction required to quench this rage, given how incredibly well off our society already is.

    • NLeseul says:

      Universal basic income? Rejuvenation therapies and thousand-year life expectancy? Ubiquitous cyborg implants? Faster-than-light space exploration?

      • CthulhuChild says:

        God you are optimistic. I really fucking hope you are right.

      • Elephant says:

        I sometimes wonder if everyone being very well off (or having something like UBI) would make things worse: with nothing much to do, we’ll have plenty of time to spend on social climbing, petty bickering, etc. When one reads about the idle members of “high society” of past centuries, there’s plenty of shallow, vindictive behavior.

        • Nornagest says:

          High society, or, you know, high school.

        • LukeReeshus says:

          I sometimes wonder if everyone being very well off (or having something like UBI) would make things worse: with nothing much to do, we’ll have plenty of time to spend on social climbing, petty bickering, etc. When one reads about the idle members of “high society” of past centuries, there’s plenty of shallow, vindictive behavior

          At the risk of gifting our modern apparatchiks more fodder to wield against Scott, I have to say: this is a point Joe Rogan sometimes makes when commenting on our current state of civilization.

          He connects much of our current virtue signalling / piety contests, which pass for intelligent discourse nowadays, to the fact that modern people’s lives just aren’t that hard. We don’t have to worry about food, we don’t have to worry about large-scale violence, we don’t have to worry about plagues… We don’t have to worry about a multitude of serious problems with which most human beings, throughout most of history, had to contend. Which is weird, right? I mean, it’s unprecedented, right?

          When I first heard Rogan allude to this idea—that our modern material abundance and physical safety deprive people of the struggles within which they would otherwise find deep meaning—I thought it was dumb. I considered it a part of the ramblings of an MMA-obsessed stoner with some unresolved interpersonal issues.

          But over the past couple of years I’ve reconsidered it. I mean, won’t people always try to be above other people, in some way? Won’t status competition always be a thing, even once it’s decoupled from competition for material resources or whatever? I mean, how could it not be? Isn’t that the way we’re wired? Heh.

          I don’t have a solution, but I do think it’s an interesting problem. And I don’t think the UBI / automatized-future folks have thought seriously enough about it.

          P.S.
          Hey NLeseul, not to be a dick but,
          “Faster-than-light space exploration” cannot be a thing. Curb your optimism.

    • Plumber says:

      @CthulhuChild

      “…given how incredibly well off our society already is…”

      Um, about that, I think the perception of lower living standards than one’s parents and grandparents when they were the same age (see our host’s “Considerations On Cost Disease” for some of what may be driving that perception) is driving some of that rage.

      I know that for myself continually rising housing costs compared to wages for decades, and the huge increase in visible “urban camping” these last few years have made me feel more glum.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        I 100% agree with your perception, but every time I try to quantify it I run into a brick wall.

        For example, I earn less (inflation adjusted) than my parents did (they were 48/49 boomers, I’m an 85 millennial). I bought my first home later than they did, and it is a smaller home (I live in Victoria BC, which is about the same as Vancouver and Toronto for criminally overheated housing markets; their first home was in Toronto, so it’s quite comparable). On the other hand, it’s better heated, better insulated, easier to clean, and has nicer appliances. Renovations I do myself are proportionately cheaper (material costs). My TV and computer provide unlimited free entertainment for almost no cost. I am really into woodworking, and I can buy better tools for a weeks wage than my dad could buy for a month of his wages. My dad tells me his public school education had him in neat rows memorizing times tables, my mom tells me she was beaten by nuns on a regular basis. My (public, free) high school had a direct connection to NASA and was named after a famous Canadian astronaught, despite being built in a slum district of Toronto. I am a youth mentor for a kid whose (public, free) education has him designing airplanes and attending flight school.

        I know n=1 and all that, but it’s REALLY hard for me to square this reality against the narrative that everything is getting worse all the time. I’m not denying cost disease (I think it’s a huge problem), but I think that a purely quantitative focus ignores many of the serious qualitative improvements that have occurred. And trying to quantify the qualitative inevitably reveals bias. Those who think things are getting worse would consider an iPhone a basic amenity, comparable to decent shoes or a functioning wrist watch. Or you can say that an iPhone is the equivalent of a 20 million dollar super computer circa 1990, and the owner of a used nokia handset is effectively many times richer than ANYONE alive in the 1980s.

        I also think that trying to do direct generational comparisons is difficult because it is SO intensely personal/experiential, and because there is so much statistical noise (lots of my friends/peers/acquaintances are doing worse than their parents, even adjusting for improved quality of consumer products and education, while others are doing much better).

        So when I say we are materially well off, I am comparing across centuries. The angst of the early industrial era ended with electrification and running water. The angst of the depression era ended with a consumer society and global supply chains. Basically everyone in the west, even the very poor, has access to material luxuries that the kings of 18th century Europe simply did not. Even “urban camping” is a huge step up over what destitution meant in the 1930s. Please do NOT misinterpret this as an endorsement of the status quo. Rather, consider how much of a jump getting to the current status quo really was, and whether a similar jump seems to be imminent.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          For example, I earn less (inflation adjusted) than my parents did (they were 48/49 boomers, I’m an 85 millennial). I bought my first home later than they did, and it is a smaller home (I live in Victoria BC, which is about the same as Vancouver and Toronto for criminally overheated housing markets; their first home was in Toronto, so it’s quite comparable). On the other hand, it’s better heated, better insulated, easier to clean, and has nicer appliances. Renovations I do myself are proportionately cheaper (material costs). My TV and computer provide unlimited free entertainment for almost no cost. I am really into woodworking, and I can buy better tools for a weeks wage than my dad could buy for a month of his wages.

          This rings very true. With me, N now = 2. And I think it will ring true for millions of people in Canada and the US, and probably Europe as well. I’m in Ottawa so the cost of housing is more reasonable, but when compared to earnings it is still much more than what my parents had to pay. It’s quite clear that some things are getting better and some things are getting worse. It matters which things are getting worse and which things are getting better, if you want to find out whether in the balance, we are better off or worse off.

          Generally housing is harder to find and entertainment is much easier to find.

          This means that raising kids is much harder now and not having kids is much more appealing. Also, people are having fewer kids. No society that is discouraging families to the extent we are will survive for long. Conclusion: we are worse off.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Funny, I just had my first (and probably only) kid. I was thinking about the demographic crash, and I see it more a problem of status than of economics.

            I mean, the people I know who are least likely to have kids have stable jobs, savings, and generous mata/pata leave policies. The people who seem to have children more readily are the poor, and this isn’t exactly a recent observation or a western specific one. So the idea of a demographic crash being caused by economic instability seems thoroughly refuted.

            What DOES seem likely is that people have typically had kids for three reasons: old age security, status, and existential satisfaction. In the modern welfare state, the first doesn’t really exist. In the post feminist culture, the second has been erroded (not a shot against feminists, but it would be shocking to me if it could be demonstrated that the legitimization of non maternal roles for women and the diminishment of pariarchal priviledge had NO effect on the incentives to have kids). That leaves existential effects, and the middle/upper classes have always had more opportunities to leave their mark on culture and history, which obviates the need to do it with babies.

            I am not sure that means we are worse off on an individual level (lived personal experience and life satisfaction), but it sure doesn’t bode well for society!

          • orangecat says:

            I mean, the people I know who are least likely to have kids have stable jobs, savings, and generous mata/pata leave policies.

            Right, and I think the Two-Income Trap comes in here. Having kids exposes you to a several expenses whose costs are approximately “everything you have”, e.g. college savings and a home in the best possible school district. If you have a high income, this can mean giving up awesome vacations, the ability to easily move around for interesting work, and the option of retiring at 50. If you’re poor, there’s much less of a difference between your lifestyle with and without kids.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I mean, the people I know who are least likely to have kids have stable jobs, savings, and generous mata/pata leave policies. The people who seem to have children more readily are the poor, and this isn’t exactly a recent observation or a western specific one. So the idea of a demographic crash being caused by economic instability seems thoroughly refuted.

            I’m afraid I have a higher bar for “thoroughly refuted”. Economic concerns are not the only issue with respect to having kinds but it is certainly a major one.

    • thecromulentman says:

      ” Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine what kind of material improvement could provide the sort of satisfaction required to quench this rage, given how incredibly well off our society already is.”

      There are none. It’s entirely mindset driven/ The only thing that can quell the rage is philosophy and meditation on it. Particularly, the left needs more Stoicism. The right, less.

  4. Viliam says:

    I wonder what made “attacking people’s livelihoods” so popular strategy for the political left. Isn’t this exactly the kind of weapon that gives disproportional advantage to the rich over the poor? If it becomes a norm that expressing your opinion costs you a job, only independently wealthy people will be allowed to have opinions.

    (Also, the underclass, who have nothing to lose. But they probably spend less time online.)

    I wouldn’t try to get fired even people who genuinely have horrible opinions, because I do not want to legitimize this strategy. It makes the world a worse place.

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the practice gained in popularity as the left shifted from being concerned about economic justice to being concerned about social justice.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        I think its popular because it is so obviously effective, at least short term. Moloch at work.

      • Plumber says:

        @Randy M

        “…as the left shifted from being concerned about economic justice to being concerned about social justice”

        Just this last year there’s been a big switch in emphasis of political canidates to focus on “economic” rather than “social” justice (at least in the media I usually read), driven (I imagine) by the upcoming 2020 election and the many polls showing “center-left” economics is more popular, and “center-right” social is more popular.

        Especially in swing states I expect an economic emphasis by Democrats and everywhere in the U.S.A. I expect to see social issues emphasized by Republicans.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Just this last year there’s been a big switch in emphasis of political canidates to focus on “economic” rather than “social” justice (at least in the media I usually read), driven (I imagine) by the upcoming 2020 election and the many polls showing “center-left” economics is more popular, and “center-right” social is more popular.

          I hope you are correct. This was the reason behind Bernie’s appeal in 2016 and a big reason behind why Trump won also. When you’re unemployed, the thought of unskilled immigrants crossing the border illegally to potentially compete with you on the labor market cannot be pleasant. Trump’s talk against free trade also certainly helped.

          Like Bernie said, open borders is a Koch brothers proposal.

          But I’m not optimistic. I dont think the identitarian wing of the Democratic party will give up that easily. I think it’s clear that a reasonable, pro-working class, leftwing candidate who could echo some of Bernie’s talking points without Bernie’s socialist baggage would absolutely crush Trump in a presidential election. But that candidate will never win the Democratic nomination. It appears the establishment has selected Kamala Harris, as she is ideologically compliant and suitable on identity grounds.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The UE rate in the US in Jan 2016 was under 5% and was lower than 13 of the 16 years since 2000. That is a modest (at best) portion of the electorate and smaller in terms of UE rate than the 2012, 2004, 1996 and 1992 elections and right at the rate of the 2008 and 2000 elections. Even adding in the decrease in Labor Force Participation rate there isn’t any reason to treat the 2016 election as uniquely economically insecure for the electorate.

          • Plumber says:

            @jermo sapiens,
            You’re likely right, as over the past few years since Trump started campaigning a mighty rush of voters who care about immigration have come to side with one or the other Party based on that issue, but I’m doubtful of most Republican office holders commitment, as for the Democrats some newly elected ones seem sincere but most of the rest didn’t raise much of a fuss over Obama’s deportations (just as the Republicans didn’t fuss over Bush’s lack of same).

            More were deported during Obama’s presidency than Bush’s, and Trump had a Republican controlled Congress for two years that could’ve funded a border wall extension (somehow it keeps getting forgotten that there already are border walls).

            There must be some core principles, but in thinking of stuff like free-trade agreements the parties have flip-flopped with the main continuity of just being against whatever “the other side” wants.

            There’s a three-way tension between base, donors, and appealing to swing voters.

            Strategists of both parties recognize that the typical swing voter is more likely a social-conservative/economic populist rather than a fiscal-confiscal-conservative/social-liberal, but donors are more likely to be the latter rather than the former, plus the incentives are to rise within a party before changing tack for the general election.
            Neither Democrats or Republicans are the majority of voters so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

          • marxbro says:

            I think it’s clear that a reasonable, pro-working class, leftwing candidate who could echo some of Bernie’s talking points without Bernie’s socialist baggage would absolutely crush Trump in a presidential election.

            Bernie having “socialist baggage” is an asset, not a hindrance. It’s about time that the US working class became a little more class-conscious and ready to discuss Marxism openly.

      • Brandon Berg says:

        Here’s hoping that having tired of “economic justice” and “social justice,” the left develops an interest in actual justice.

        • LadyJane says:

          By actual justice, do you mean the Jeff Sessions brand of justice? The Blue Lives Matter brand of justice? The “shoot anyone who looks suspicious and comes near my property, and while you’re at it, throw poor brown people in jail for 50 years for smoking weed because fuck ’em” brand of justice that so many conservatives seem to love?

          • toastengineer says:

            Stop that.

          • LadyJane says:

            @toastengineer: Yes, it was uncharitable, but so was Brandon’s snide implication that leftist views are incompatible with justice in any real moral or ethical sense.

          • theredsheep says:

            If the monkey throws poop at you, and you throw poop back, the main change you have effected is to get poop on your hand as well as your body.

            Also, Brandon, please stop throwing poop. It’s gross and smells bad.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            This is the sort of post that would usually get you banned, but since you were provoked into it by another post that got banned, I’ll let it pass for now. Don’t expect this kind of post to fly outside that kind of provocation, though.

          • toastengineer says:

            I read it as “perhaps we can stop hyperfocusing on specific ills, turning them in to games of Haves Vs. Have-nots and instead focus on actually making things better for everybody,” but maybe I’m compulsively steelmanning too hard.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Obviously unhelpful, banned for two months

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            I have to say, a two-month ban for that comment seems extreme to me, especially without a prior warning. I’m all for promoting productive conversations and discouraging unhelpful contributions, but I don’t think hair-trigger banning is the best way to accomplish this.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            I think this is a reasonable ban. Posting so CY Hollander’s post doesn’t read as consensus.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      It’s likely just because it’s a weapon that’s effective. An internet mob is much more capable of getting you fired than, say, getting your significant other to stop loving you.

      And I’m sure the weapon is being applied without thought of what might happen if it’s normalized. Or possibly with the belief that their political enemies have already thrown away any sense of decency and will already use any weapon available to them, so no reason to hold back yourself.

      • albatross11 says:

        Collectives aren’t rational the way individuals are. The left (or SJWs or the Woke or whatever name you want to give the broad movement from which most of the no-platforming drive is coming at present) doesn’t have a Pope who can decree that this set of tactics are a bad idea because they’ll ultimately undermine their group’s goals[1]. Instead, there are millions of individuals who act in ways that make sense to them–either to meet their own personal desires to mete out justice to evildoers or their goals of becoming more influential on the internet or their fear of being purged as insufficiently dedicated to the cause. And together, they destroy worthwhile things in the same way that all the shepherds in the village overgraze the pasture despite none of them wanting to see the pasture overgrazed.

        [1] They will, of course, undermine most of those goals. No-platforming and outrage mobs are like terrorism in that they’re tactics, not ideologies. The right can do them at least as well as the left, and probably will, to all of our lasting cost.

        • Rick Hull says:

          This is a great insight. It’s why it makes little sense to hate The Left or The Fash. What outrages us is the worst behavior in any group, Muslims, SJWs, white males, etc. There really is such a thing as toxic masculinity, but also toxic musliminity. Our brains naturally bind the outrage material to the group that spawned it.

          Of course, the best thing to do is ignore the assholes in any group, and don’t try collective punishment or killing the father for the sins of the son. We do have one asymmetry though: presumably related to the rise of social media, socjus has the conch right now and cannot simply be ignored.

          Harassment is bad. Doxxing is bad. Slavery is bad. Holocaust bad. Orange man bad. One thing the CW thread tends to get right is that it focuses on bad acts and condemns the actors. Yes, many or most of the highlighted bad acts source from socjus. This isn’t balanced, and the map might not match the territory, but the CW thread is at its finest when its Eye of Sauron is dissecting the issue rather than smearing its entrails across large groups of individuals.

          • azhdahak says:

            “It makes little sense to hate the one faction that can do this and does it all the time” is… certainly a take. But at some point you have to admit that there’s only one faction that can do this and does it all the time. I’ve never seen a news article trying to get a pastry chef fired for supporting the Russian Occupation Government conspiracy theory — nor, for that matter, have I seen people get fired for saying that what their field of work really needs is a violent leftist paramilitary and then slipping references to Communism into the documentation of their employer’s products, like Steve Klabnik did.

            I mean, really. Compare what Steve Klabnik can get away with with what people who don’t share Steve Klabnik’s politics can’t get away with.

            Nobody does this sort of thing when it comes to the unethical behavior of political factions in foreign countries. If the White Army had won, maybe they would’ve had gulags too — but that doesn’t exonerate the Bolsheviks. And, you know, anyone could burn crosses on people’s lawns.

            As far as I’m concerned, anyone on the left should be assumed to support this shit unless they can make it very clear that they don’t. And people who support this shit are the online equivalent of, I don’t know, knife-wielding meth addicts on the streets of Detroit. (Sometimes also the offline equivalent.) They’re not people I’d want within a football field’s distance of me.

          • Plumber says:

            @azhdahak

            “…Steve Klabnik…”

            I had no idea who this “Steve Klabnik” person was before your post, a quick web search indicates that he’s probably a computer programmer who plays Pokemon and has a blog the first few paragraphs of which are so opaque in meaning to me that they may as well be written in Greek, so little to I get.

            From your post I get the impression that he gives you the impression that he’s “Left” and thus you reject the Left because of Klabnik and the Bolsheviks?

            Well I don’t know about Klabnik but I’m pretty sure that most all the Bolsheviks died decades ago, and if any are still alive I don’t think anyone who’s over 100 years old is much of a theat to you anymore.

            Anyway, unless someone says otherwise, I think most are against piles of skulls, as am I.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “And I’m sure the weapon is being applied without thought of what might happen if it’s normalized. ”

        I haven’t seen people thinking about the causes or cures, but I’ve seen people on the left *very* worried that all their potential presidential candidates will be discredited in advance.

    • Dissonant Cognizance says:

      It’s effective, it can be done easily without getting up from your chair or even switching phone apps, and most importantly, it feels good to people motivated by a sense of justice and fairness, provided they’ve adequately dehumanized the victim first.

      Considering how quickly the political right (or at least, the anti-left) picked up the same strategy during the ant controversy, I’m with CthulhuChild in thinking it’s Moloch at work. If any side is fighting a Cultural Total War, all other combatants are very quickly going to learn that nobly charging cultural machine gun nests across cultural barbed wire while honorably holding your cultural chemical weapons in reserve is not going to win you any points.

      • azhdahak says:

        The ant people mostly went after journalists, who — given that they recently ran an article trying to get a pastry chef fired because apparently she buys into the QAnon thing — could maybe stand to have some good reasons not to act up. And of their two highest-profile non-journalist targets, one of them delivered a speech at the United Nations and one got enough positive publicity to pivot into a run for Congress.

        • hilitai says:

          Sorry to be the annoying newbie here, but discussions on this site are often conducted in a jargon that is impenetrable to the uninitiated. “Ant people”? “Ant controversy”..? What…? Can someone explain in a sentence?

          • martinw says:

            Google the term for “reproductively viable worker ant”, then plug that word back into Google with “controversy” added.

            Sorry to be so circumspect; I wrote a more direct explanation with a link, but it turns out that the word itself is banned, which is why people need to use “ant people” as a euphemism.

          • theredsheep says:

            I was assuming you were talking about communists. That is a thoroughly bizarre linguistic coincidence.

          • CatCube says:

            One of the ways that Scott has tamped down on “Culture War” issues (those than erupt into the same arguments over and over) is to ban the use of the word itself, though not discussion of the issue (referred to as “tabooing” the word). By forcing people to use ridiculous circumlocutions, discussions turn out to be less likely to burst into flame. This then gets carried over to other topics by the commenters. Neither Mencius Moldbug nor discussion of him is banned, but people tend to refer to him as “Voldemort.” Though I vaguely recall that his name may have been tabooed at one point, and people kept using “Voldemort” after the taboo went away.

            It’s effective, but it does mean a lingo pops up.

            Also, there are some things that he doesn’t necessarily mind discussion on, but doesn’t want turning up in a quick Google search by people hunting for witches. This is why some of the issues don’t have an easy “key” posted in, say, the Comments page; then a Google search would just pull up that page with the replacement word, and the witch hunters could then just do a search for that word instead. This way, you have to put in some effort to figure out if your topic is discussed and to hunt for examples to post on Twitter.

          • Plumber says:

            @hilitai

            “Sorry to be the annoying newbie here, but discussions on this site are often conducted in a jargon that is impenetrable to the uninitiated”

            They sure are!

            ““Ant people”? “Ant controversy”..? What…? Can someone explain in a sentence?”

            I was confused about this as well, and I tried to post links to explain, but that didn’t work (I guess blocked), anyway back in 2014 an internet kerfuffle erupted about of all things reviews of video games, some accusations and/or acts of “misogyny” occurred and many pixels were used about a subject that I’ve never heard anyone speak of face-to-face, from this I concluded that internet discussions are oft very different from “meat space” discussions.

            A label for the 2014 video games reviews “controversy” happens to match closely a name for a type of ant.

            I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

          • Lambert says:

            >It’s effective, but it does mean a lingo pops up.

            Perhaps that’s a feature.
            Forces people to Lurk Moar.

          • Vorkon says:

            If I recall, it was specifically the name of the group that Moldbug led/inspired that is (or was?) banned, because people tended to either misapply it or use it as a way to say “Boo, outgroup,” and it just generally caused more heat than light when the word came up (much like the words “SJW,” or “Nazi,” to be honest) so people ended up calling that group “Death Eaters,” so in turn it eventually became common practice to call the leader of that group “Voldemort,” despite the fact that his name was never banned, per se, because Voldemort was the leader of the Death Eaters.

            I generally think that tabooing words is mostly counterproductive, (because it just gives rise to more impenetrable jargon) but I do think it’s a fun story. I also rather like the term “Horrible Banned Discourse” arising to replace the term for the racial theory with the same acronym.

    • Walter says:

      “(Also, the underclass, who have nothing to lose. But they probably spend less time online.)”

      I feel like this part kind of explains the first part. It isn’t the workers spreading the meme that only the rich and the judgement proof can post, it is the judgement proof.

      I also strongly disagree with the ‘spend less time online’ part. Most of the folks I know with no job are online a terrifying amount of the time.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I think it’s popular among people with economic stability. The worst trolls I run into online who try to ruin other people’s lives are engaging in asymmetric warfare: they have no job to be attacked.

      They tend to be on the left, but this is not universal. For example, the guy who ran someone over at the Charlottesville protest was living off of a trust fund from a dead relative. He didn’t need to be engaged in his community, so he wasn’t.

    • Doctor Locketopus says:

      > If it becomes a norm that expressing your opinion costs you a job, only independently wealthy people will be allowed to have opinions.

      Also people who simply neither have nor want jobs. I suspect a rather large percentage of the Internet hate mob falls in that category. It’s not possible to destroy the career of someone who doesn’t have one.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        I think by definition someone who neither has nor wants a job must be independently wealthy. Granted it’s not a central example of the category, but what else could the phrase mean?

        It’s a serious breakdown of our national character that there can be a large number of people who are independently wealthy and yet poor.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think by definition someone who neither has nor wants a job must be independently wealthy.

          Or a housewife, or living off disability or other welfare payments, or living in the proverbial mother’s basement…

        • John Schilling says:

          I think by definition someone who neither has nor wants a job must be independently wealthy.

          Strictly speaking, any job is inferior to an equivalent combination of handout + hobby(*), because the latter gives you everything a job does plus the option to not do the work and still get the cash. Therefore, anyone who believes a handout comparable to the best job they can hold is plausibly on the table, will not want a job.

          * Meaning unpaid voluntary activities generally, and consider that some of the most rewarding human activities are almost never done for pay.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I don’t exclude the examples you cite from my definition, but there are nuances.

          A housewife does have a job, though it’s one where they are paid in kind rather than by a salary. It’s not a job where (usually) publicly expressing an unacceptable political opinion can cost them that job — though if we started seeing lots of housewives tweeting support for Trump, I expect we would see attacks on their spouse’s livelihoods.

          The 30-year-old “kid” living in mom’s basement is, for the moment at least, independently wealthy by any reasonable standard, and a central example of the breakdown in national character I mentioned. Ditto for somebody who is able-bodied but content to live on welfare.

          Someone who is actually disabled is a special case. I know such, and I certainly did not mean to denigrate them.

          Somebody for whom no job exists that would pay as well as the dole is, as I said, independently wealthy in the sense that he never has to worry about where his next paycheck is coming from. He is also pretty poor.

          Maybe I’m just playing with words. Doctor Locketopus’s point is that there is in fact a class people who can safely express an unpopular opinion but who are not rich, which is why the left does not see these attacks as simply empowering the rich as Villam described. And maybe the expansion of that class is at least part of what underlies the push for UBI.

          • Aapje says:

            Somebody for whom no job exists that would pay as well as the dole is, as I said, independently wealthy in the sense that he never has to worry about where his next paycheck is coming from. He is also pretty poor.

            ‘Independently poor’?

          • Walter says:

            Yeah, I think it is just word games. We all agree on the existence of the folks who can safely heckle, and that they aren’t only the wealthy, but also those who are judgement proof because they leaped out of the pages of a Theodore Dalrymple article.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Part of it is that it doesn’t need to be popular. There are a lot of people who don’t like the Culture War thread, and I think the vast majority of them wouldn’t support doxxing Scott.

      But it only takes one who feels otherwise to fuck his life up.

    • INH5 says:

      (Also, the underclass, who have nothing to lose. But they probably spend less time online.)

      Actually, in my experience long-term unemployed people, often living with their parents, seem to be highly over-represented among online activists of all stripes. They can’t/won’t get a job for whatever reason, they have a lot of time on their hands, they often have trouble making meatspace friends for the same reasons that they have trouble getting a job, and so they look for a higher purpose online.

      These people may not be the sort of underclass you are thinking of, but there are clearly a lot of people with nothing to personally lose involved in online political/cultural fights.

    • ajakaja says:

      It’s disingenuous and harmful for you to say that the political left do that in general. Especially if you’re extrapolating from this.

  5. Cariyaga says:

    I hope this doesn’t come across as an expression of sympathy, but I feel the need to point out that panic attacks and defensive behaviour seem like fairly objective damage.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I’ll second this. By objective he probably meant “non-psychological damage,” but psychological damage still counts as a real consequence, and certainly has a tangible effect on a person’s life. And I’d guess that for most people who’ve been the target of these types of harassment campaigns, that’s the case. Not everyone loses their job or their friends or their support network, but everyone who becomes a target has to deal with the plausible risk that those things will happen, and that’s objectively stressful for almost anyone.

    • Walter says:

      I mean, they tried to get him fired. That is absolutely damage, and nothing dude should expect from running a blog. I’d be sad, but understand, if he closed the entire blog down after that, not just the CW thread.

  6. sentientbeings says:

    You’re a good man.

    The discussion platform I’ve wanted to build for a while is one in which all content moderation is user-adjustable. Users could create, modify, share, or revoke any rule or moderation action, such that anyone can create his own content filter. Rather than put in the all the work individually, users could start using someone else’s template and just tweak as necessary. You could gain some of the benefits of massively collaborative networks like open-source projects or Wikipedia, while also generating “truer” information about what people actually want to see (assuming you had some sort of preference tracking and aggregation) and maybe a reduction of some bad types of signaling.

    I’d hope that a secondary effect of having a custom content moderation/filtering system like that would be to undermine anyone’s accusations of contamination-by-association or demands for de-platforming. That might be overly optimistic, but it’d still be a good platform, IMO. I know I’m not the only one who has thought about how to implement it and I’m sort of surprised it doesn’t already exist.

    • John Schilling says:

      +1 on Scott being a good man.

      But your proposal seems to be a reinvention of the usenet killfile, with a side order of “If you don’t feel like compiling your own, here’s someone else’s killfile to copy”. And while usenet was a pretty good think while it lasted, the killfile approach does have a few limitations.

      First, if you’ve got a polarized community half of which applies the Red Tribe Consensus Killfile and the other half the Blue Tribe Consensus Killfile (or whatever), discussing the same subject in the same space, that can get very confusing. Particularly when each participant is unclear as to whether the person they are talking to/at, is even aware of their existence. Is Bob’s reiteration of the same crude point after Alice’s elegant rebuttal a rude rejection of Alice’s effort, or is Bob talking to a third party while Alice goes unnoticed because Charlie put her in the killfile template that Bob adopted last year. Now Alice is outraged, understandably so, and that doesn’t help civil discourse.

      Second, and more important in the long run, it’s hell on newbies. They come in to a space filled with a mix of vitriol and confusion that the regulars don’t even know is there because it’s all filtered out for them. They aren’t going to stick around long enough to curate a personalized killfile. If there’s a default killfile for recommended all newbies, then whoever curates that killfile might as well just be the group moderator and we tell the few dissidents who won’t go along with the consensus to take it to email. If there’s separate Red Tribe and Blue Tribe (or whatever) Newbie Killfiles, then you only enhance the colliding-polarized-bubbles effect and you effectively make people declare their tribal allegiance on day one.

      Maybe there’s a way to make this concept work, but I haven’t found anything that seems promising yet.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I’d never heard of the killfile. I’ll have to look into that a bit. I think your objections can be handled though. With respect to the first objection, I think the key is to incorporate a partial sharing of filter preference information in the comment space, so that it’s easy to verify whether some can see something, and also easy to toggle one’s preference. I also think that encountering that problem is actually a feature, because it’s a signal to someone that he or she is failing communicate with someone. That can act as gentle way to persuade someone to loosen restrictions. It’s also internally-motivated, which might be more effective long-term than externally-driven attempts.

        As for the newbie issue, absolutely that exists, but I think the mitigating affect of “having a good mod” would be pretty substantial. This sort of system wouldn’t make mods obselete; it would supplement/complement the actions of a mod team. The key is that it could also lighten the load for moderators if you aggregate preferences and share filter algorithms, because they could measure and consolidate certain sentiments, like “this topic is a valid one for discussion but I would prefer not to see it in every thread” and then create (or crowd-source) a filter to accommodate it.

        Publicly posting stats on filter use might be useful as well. In my head I’m thinking of it like checking pull requests for a public code repository. The numbers would reflect the quality of filter in addition to people’s preferences and could shape those preferences in turn. I worry a lot about the bad ways that preference falsification shapes behavior and in turn affects real beliefs. I think this sort of system could alleviate some of the falsification problem in public discussion.

      • eigenmoon says:

        Fediverse works kinda like this, but newbies don’t have to get involved because it’s the job of server admins to ban other servers.

        Here’s the SJW blocklist.

    • MawBTS says:

      The discussion platform I’ve wanted to build for a while is one in which all content moderation is user-adjustable. Users could create, modify, share, or revoke any rule or moderation action, such that anyone can create his own content filter.

      This sounds similar to 1990s newsgroups, which had big problems.

      It wasn’t time efficient. If the community had 10,000 members, “banning” a troll required 10,000 separate actions (versus a moderated forum, where it requires one).

      Also, conversations tended to disintegrate into confusing verbal confetti, with some people getting some messages and other people getting others. For discussions to work at a large level, everyone needs approximately the same content settings.

    • b_jonas says:

      > You’re a good man.

      For a moment I thought this would be one of those prompts from the the open threads, and this line was the setup that describes the very unlikely hypothetical scenario, like the zombie apocalypse or the djinn giving me choices or the railway line crossing the Atlantic.

      It’s not. You’re just addressing Scott, not me.

  7. philipkd says:

    Thank you for this. I went to a SSC meetup in Berkeley around a year ago, and someone went around smugly saying, “I used to be a fan of SSC, until I realized it was a festering heap of intellectualizing of alt-right, neo-monarchist, yada yada.” Everybody loves an apostate. Heck I listened to him, at the very least to make sure I wasn’t accidentally reading a neo-Nazi site.

    That’s one. Another one is that last year, I tried to refer SSC to a friend who I thought would absolutely love the site. He replied with a curt, “Sorry, not my thing.” The only way that I think he could have gotten to that place so quickly is that he Googled SlateStarCodex beforehand and encountered a whiff of alt-right chic, suspected that I may have been ensnared by it, and decided to stay far away from it, and maybe me.

    I believe and hope that with your incredible critical thinking skills you will find a framework that makes the current policy OK. Maybe it’s a matter of finding the right rhetoric. I just noticed the phrase, “brand safe” algorithms to describe content-blockers that would moderate so precisely that YouTube would still be able to have open comments without repelling advertiser. While that phrase isn’t the answer, maybe we can evolve the conversation such that SSC is still see as a bastion of free thinking but also a safe brand. What’s a better way of saying, “Intellectually stimulating Culture War-free conversation”?

    I notice that the small SSC meetups steer clear of culture wars, despite individuals disagreeing on some culture war-y topics. The ones that get too inflamed self-select out. But nobody is forcing them to leave. Moderation is forcing people out. Maybe the Internet isn’t a great technology for salons.

    I think a possible black swan solution is that a social network emerges with moderation and anonymity. The pepe-friendly Twitter-clones aren’t the answer, but there is probably a middle-ground somewhere that hasn’t been explored yet. Maybe something involving chat. Or maybe we need to bring Plastic.com back.

    🤷‍♂️

    • azhdahak says:

      If I were running a meetup and someone started rattling off nonsense like that, that’d be as instant a permaban as if they started bringing in armed goons from the Westboro Baptist Church — for the safety of any other attendees who, if they stick around, they might decide are also vile reprobates.

  8. baconbits9 says:

    Forgive me if I am being obtuse but it seems like 75%+ of the damage that has been caused could be prevented by avoiding twitter etc, and that most of the damage of doxxing is caused by people worrying that it will cost them their job with only a small fraction of people actually get hit with that penalty.

    • sentientbeings says:

      You are underestimating the mental toll exacted by the knowledge that someone knows your name and harbors serious, unjustified ill will. It’s impossible to predict the behavior of that sort of person. It’s worse when there is more contact, but just the knowledge that someone like that is out there is pretty bad.

      • baconbits9 says:

        No, I appreciate that, what I am saying is that the majority to overwhelming majority of that harm can be avoided by being willfully ignorant of the doxxers.

        • sentientbeings says:

          That seems like a workable strategy if adopted beforehand. Not sure if it can be done once you know they exist.

          But you’ve just reaffirmed my long-standing decision not to use Twitter.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Willful ignorance can a good strategy. But when they start calling your boss 40 times a day, are you better off not having been prepared for that?

          • baconbits9 says:

            There is no perfect solution, but in general I think that

            1. Being active in these spaces will make it more likely for your boss to be called 40 times a day. The point of many of these attacks is to get a reaction, once you start to defend yourself against you simultaneously elevate them to your level (or lower yourself to theirs) to at least a degree and feeding their actions.

            2. Its not obvious that being ‘prepared’ for those calls, but also being stressed, anxious and irritated about the entire issue will lead to a better result when your boss calls you into his office than being surprised by the issue.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Oh, don’t get me wrong: Willful ignorance is my strategy. It’s easier to avoid these things.

            I’m just worried that there is a big failure mode I’m not seeing by, well, deliberately not seeing things.

    • Nornagest says:

      Most people will probably never have their jobs threatened by the internet hate machine — I probably won’t, for example, unless I do something as stupid as what James Damore did. But most people aren’t as prominent as Scott. He’s not famous famous, but he’s high-profile enough in our weird little community (and the equally weird little community of people who hate it) that plenty of people want to count coup against him.

      But I think that should still worry us on another level. Sure, little people are fine; you only have to worry if you’re smart, articulate, and prolific enough for people to actually read you. In other words, you get to participate in the marketplace of ideas as long as you aren’t a threat. So magnanimous!

      Anyway, avoiding Twitter is probably a good idea no matter your profile.

      • albatross11 says:

        Scott’s talking about providing a forum in which people can discuss socially unacceptable ideas. If a relatively small group of activists + a large group of low-information consumers of outrage can shut such fora down, then there simply won’t be any such fora.

        Destroying such fora will make the world a much worse place, but it will also be popular–just as shutting up the hateful atheists talking about how we’re descended from monkeys would have been popular. The people doing this stuff are the common enemies of mankind, and they honestly think they’re doing good.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Most people will probably never have their jobs threatened by the internet hate machine — I probably won’t, for example

        Man, of course you don’t have to worry, I can’t even tell which witch opinions you hold.

      • whereamigoing says:

        “as stupid as what James Damore did”

        Was it really? He did the rest of us a favor by raising awareness of what Google’s working environment is like. He probably wouldn’t have wanted to continue working at what he considered to be an “echo chamber” anyways, and he’s found a new job now and seems to be doing fine.

        • Nornagest says:

          It wouldn’t have been stupid if he’d wanted to martyr his career so that the rest of us could catch a glimpse of Google’s internal culture w.r.t. identity politics. But I don’t think that’s what he was trying to do. I think he was genuinely trying to spark a genuine discussion within Google, and didn’t expect any serious fallout from it. And that is in fact very very stupid.

          • hilitai says:

            Attempting to have a good-faith discussion is “stupid”? Was Scott “stupid” also in setting up this blog, or being involve with the CW reddit?

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t know if I’d call it stupid. More oblivious. He didn’t realize that, in any company, calling out the official company culture is asking for trouble. Dude was hired as a software engineer; he was supposed to fix problems. He saw a problem, he thought he saw a solution, he tried to fix it.

          • brad says:

            What exactly is the distinction between oblivious and stupid? I know the nature of intelligence is a long long discussion, but surely being unaware of what is going around oneself is not something that is going to be strongly associated with a general factor of success.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Attempting to have a good-faith discussion is “stupid”?

            Attempting to have a good-faith discussion about hot button political issues at work is stupid, especially when your employer has officially come down on the opposite side of you, and your fellow colleagues are the most vocal opponents of your beliefs (to the extent that they think you are Nazi-adjacent if you actually said your beliefs out loud).

            Your employer says lots and lots and lots of things that are not meant to be taken seriously. A lot of things your employer says are outright lies.

          • theredsheep says:

            He was quite obviously aspie, so I call it “oblivious” rather than “stupid.” It’s not stupid for a blind man to fall down a hole and die; it’s just sad.

          • brad says:

            I suppose you were reacting to the word ‘stupid’ in the sense of foolish which has at least a tinge of culpability, and I was thinking of it in the sense of unintelligent regardless of culpability.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Your employer says lots and lots and lots of things that are not meant to be taken seriously. A lot of things your employer says are outright lies.

            This needs repeating, because it’s true and lots of people don’t realize it.

            He heard that management wanted to Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom and did not realize it was a trap.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Was Ned Stark stupid for confronting Cersei Lannister and making a good-faith effort to spare her life and the lives of her children? (Yes)

            What Damore did was fall for the corporate version of “Comrade Stalin loves freedom and welcomes criticism from his fellow citizens” and he got the corporate equivalent of being sent to Siberia. This is a textbook aspie mistake by an inexperienced nerd who hasn’t yet realized that neurotypical society is based on lying.

          • Walter says:

            I definitely got the twilight zone vibe when I read JD’s thing. Like, ‘how could anyone who knew enough to put this down on paper not know enough not to put this down on paper?’.

            It feels pretty much exactly like the stories that start with someone making a Science Mistake. Like ‘After all that AI work I’m pretty confident it is not a murder bot, I’ll just turn it on’, or ‘this time machine will let me fix history’, or ‘I’m pretty sure this genie will generously interpret my wish’.

            It is like Scott said about Nick Land and grail quests, once upon a time. If you make a mistake at the beginning you end up at the drug store. If you make a mistake at the end it is very very bad. JD managed to figure out all this stuff, and somehow, having carefully painted a beast, he thought that standing in front of it was a good idea.

          • albatross11 says:

            Walter:

            Let’s step back a level. What does it tell you about a culture or society, when you see someone carefully making true statements and documenting them in the service of an argument that they’ve been asked to contribute to, and your main thought is “No, you fool, they’re going to screw you to the wall for writing that!”

            My guess is that:

            a. Societies where that’s a common reaction to making true/defensible statements in such a forum are societies that are worse at making good decisions than ones where that’s a rare reaction to true/defensible statements.

            b. In particular, by firing Damore, Google sent a message to all their other employees that pretty-much guarantees they’ll never get useful heterodox feedback in a company discussion again. Keep firing the people who tell you no, and you are guaranteed to end up hearing only from yes men.

            c. Yes, there’s always some stuff that’s true and socially unacceptable, everywhere and everywhen. But don’t fall off the cliff of the fallacy of grey here–societies differ on how much of the space of true or plausible things is forbidden, often by a great deal, and what we are ultimately discussing here is where *our* society should fall on that spectrum. Google made an explicit decision here that moved themselves further along the “more things are forbidden to say” line, and this will affect the kind of internal feedback and discussion they are able to have for the forseeable future.

          • Plumber says:

            @Walter

            “I definitely got the twilight zone vibe when I read JD’s thing. Like, ‘how could anyone who knew enough to put this down on paper not know enough not to put this down on paper?’…”

            When I first heard some details my initial thought was “Someone showboated for attention and they got it”, but as I learned more details such as “Raised in suburban Illinois” and “Not neuro-typical”, my view changed.
            I think someone put it as “Like a story of a blind man falling into a hole“, obvious to most but too bad barriers weren’t around to warn the guy.

          • Walter says:

            @albatross:

            I pretty much agree with those 3 points, but my point is that JD should have also had those thoughts, before he posted. Like, “You only hear what you want to hear!” are not words you should ever say, because you clearly know that the person you are talking to won’t hear you.

            I guess it is like the song says, “if you don’t know, now you know”.

            @Plumber:

            Yeah, I always feel bad for folks like that. I hope he lands on his feet.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I enjoyed Walter’s characterization:

            how could anyone who knew enough to put this down on paper not know enough not to put this down on paper?

            One place my mind went, was to management: how could anyone who knew the history of calling for heterodox feedback not know to not call for heterodox feedback?

            I’m reminded of an episode of The West Wing where the White House encourages one of their own to throw his hat in the ring, and then they discover new dirt on him, about the same time as his opposition does, which ruins his career.

            There is such a thing as setting a trap for someone else by accident.

      • Garrett says:

        James Damore only posted internally, and to small groups which were reasonably associated with the topic at-hand (the integrity/diversity/respect teams, and eventually the skeptics group). It was others who decided to bring attention to everyone in the company his heresy, which lead to public distribution and calls for his dismissal.

        Also, something as well-intentioned as that getting someone fired creates a hostile work environment where people who aren’t part of the majority opinion are afraid that if they say anything they will be drummed out – that’s why I left.

        • Viliam says:

          Putting a heresy in writing is already a huge mistake, regardless of where you post it. Especially when you connect it with your name.

          But it’s one of those things that only become obvious in hindsight, for an aspie. (Speaking as a self-diagnosed aspie.)

          It is probably a good rule of thumb that if something seems like a bad idea to do in a communist regime, it is probably also a bad idea to do in a corporate environment. Except you only get fired (in worst case, blacklisted) instead of getting shot.

      • rachelhaywire says:

        Little people are not fine. Where are you getting this idea? Little people get mobbed and deplatformed all the time. The only difference is that we don’t make the news when it happens.

    • gbdub says:

      Unfortunately the attacks on Scott seem to have bled into his meatspace social sphere.

      I get the impression that this has gotten worse since he moved to the Bay.

  9. oneoff_throw says:

    Even though there are people who act in bad faith, and would like to associate you with Nazism etc, I think the majority of people see through the smears, even on the left. One example that comes to mind is Ezra Klein.

    I wasn’t aware the culture war thread existed, but this blog has provided a lot of clarity to me over the years, and you have probably shaped the way I form my views more than any other individual. Thank you for that.

    • Randy M says:

      This is true, hopefully Scott realizes he is respected by a much wider swath than he is hated by.

      • Walter says:

        That is definitely true, but it may be cold comfort.

        Like, those of us who respect and appreciate his work are not sending him money. We aren’t working as his bodyguards, we just click on his page once in a while.

        One maniac writing doxxing twitter bots or calling his boss and trying to get him fired might outweigh the lot of us, in terms of impact on his life.

        • Randy M says:

          Since Scott has not gotten fired or assaulted, but mostly suffered from anxiety over it, comfort is what I’ve got.
          If he gets fired, I might have some money for him.

    • detroitdan says:

      Yeah, I’m new in the last year or so to SSC, and never went to the culture war thread. I’ve found this blog immensely refreshing and helpful in making sense of the world. Who knew of this troubling parallel universe that Scott has kept well away many of us?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I was aware, but stayed away because I knew they would be toxoplasma for me. I would enjoy seething there too much. It’s nice to see the nice things that came out of it even if I stayed away.

  10. aristides says:

    Thank you for writing this Scott. I never went on the culture war subreddit for all the reasons you listed. I have now subscribed to r/TheMotte. Explaining your actions is risky and I am grateful that you did so and for everything else you have previously posted.

  11. benjdenny says:

    I’m not anywhere near 100% sure this would work – it sort of assumes that people found the culture war thread, and then decided to work backwards from it to destroy Scott. This isn’t what happened, really; it’s people finding Scott, then finding he’s not exactly on a particular narrow political spectrum, then searching for anything to hang him with. I’m doubting putting a paper-thin new layer between the CW thread and Scott will stop the kind of person who goes “I disagree with this man and thus must destroy him” who was then searching out the CW thread to hit him with before.

    • Aapje says:

      I think that the layer will work. The nasty people are obsessed, but they get their power from convincing low information people. These can be convinced by the name of the Reddit being the same as this blog, but will have a hard time with more complex conspiracy theories.

      • liskantope says:

        I don’t know, when reading this post I kind of was wondering why Scott made such a point of plugging for the new Reddit discussion board (apart from the fact that he obviously feels it deserves plugging). It seems to me that he is still going to be associated with the new group, which many will discover in the first place by this blog pointing to it — the fact that Scott isn’t an honorary moderator this time around doesn’t make him that much less connected to it.

      • Vorkon says:

        I hope you’re right. I’m not so sure, though.

        It’s absolutely true that a convoluted chain of “TheMotte is filled with fans of his, who started it after he closed the thread they posted to in his subreddit, but he once wished them luck, so obviously he secretly supports all the Nazis there” will not convince any low-information observers in the same way that “his subreddit is filled with Nazis” might, but there’s two problems with that.

        First, there’s nothing stopping the obsessed people from lying; “his subreddit is filled with Nazis” was never an accurate assessment of either r/SlateStarCodex or even just the CW thread in the first place, but it didn’t stop the obsessed people from saying it. They can still just say, “his subreddit is filled with Nazis” about r/TheMotte without going into all the details of how it started or why it has a weird name, and will be just as convincing to any low-information observer as they would be when talking about r/SlateStarCodex. They might be stretching the truth even farther, but they’re stretching it pretty far to begin with.

        Second, was it ever really the low-information people who were a problem? As others have pointed out, I’ve never run into an “ew, SlateStarCodex is just a bunch of Nazis” comment in the wild myself, and I’d imagine anyone who would be convinced of anything by such a comment is already so far down the rabbit hole that it wouldn’t take any special effort to convince them in the first place. The obsessed people will say, “ew, they’re a bunch of Nazis,” and the low-information observers will say, “oops, I shouldn’t have followed this link from a Nazi, sorry they fooled me” and that will be that. Like Scott said in this post, anyone who has actually cared enough to do any digging easily comes to the conclusion that the obsessed people are crazy, so I don’t think them convincing anyone was ever really the issue. The issue was that the obsessed people were making the argument loudly, and to many different people, in the first place, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

        I really do HOPE you’re right, though…

  12. whereamigoing says:

    “there are some bright spots, like that I didn’t suffer any objective damage despite a lot of people trying really hard”

    Having seen a number of these cases by now, it seems that usually the targets end up doing OK materially. The exceptions are not typical Culture War, but whistleblowers like Snowden or Reality Winner (that’s her real name), or the very rare assassination for offending a certain religious sect. E.g. in about a year, James Damore mentioned having a new job, probably in Austin; it seems like he was hired soon after he finished dealing with the media and a lawsuit.

    In the U.S. in particular, keep in mind that most people still oppose firing for political differences.

    So it seems like the main damage is social, not financial. Of course, this could change if free speech norms weaken further. But personally, I’m sufficiently asocial and frugal that I don’t intend to self-censor.

    Also, I guess this is another reason to support Reporters Without Borders or the EFF.

  13. drethelin says:

    All Cops are Bastards but at what point do you sic the bastards on the bastards?

    If people are fraudulently calling your work to try to get you fired that seems like a pretty clear case of stalking and/or harassment.

    I can’t tell if you’re being cautious, forgiving, or if you’re actually under-reacting to people legitimately trying to ruin your life. We have attempted murder as a charge for a reason, “They didn’t actually succeed” does not mean what is happening is at all ok.

    • Nornagest says:

      “Police, I’d like to file a restraining order against xXx420BlazeIt666xXx.”

      • drethelin says:

        You jest but eg in the case of Eichenwald vs Twitter user @Jew_Goldstein, the cops were in fact perfectly able to track him down and take him to court. A lot of people have really bad opsec, and the self-righteously angry often have no idea that posting the things they do under their real names could have consequences.

        If someone is calling the business he works, I think there’s better than even odds they used their own phone.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The cops could likely track down the caller if they cared. But the trick is getting them to care.

        • MawBTS says:

          In Eichenwald’s case I believe he had an epileptic seizure (obvious and financially quantifiable harm), plus he had a huge media platform, which helps.

          And I don’t know if Eichenwald considers this a victory. It hasn’t stopped the trolling – he’s one of the most heavily ridiculed journalists on the internet.

  14. Winja says:

    I’ve watched with increasing alarm how the left has gotten more strident in their willingness to attack anyone who isn’t a full-blown adherent to a leftwing orthodoxy that is continually hurtling ever further leftward into a space that, to my eye, resembles complete insanity.

    Frankly, this scenario is basically one of my worst nightmares, and is largely the reason why I have massively curtailed my online presence in the last few years.

    Scott, I really am sorry that this has happened to you, being relentlessly attacked like that well and truly does suck and you don’t deserve any of it.

    • Heather says:

      We should be careful about how we frame things as “the left” vs “the right” for a start. I consider myself on “the left” side of things. I sympathize deeply with Scott that misguided people on “the left” are targeting him. I think he did a good job of explaining how that has affected him and what sort of people have been responsible, while avoiding tying the actions of individuals to the political movements that motivated them or that they claim to represent.

      In contrast, I think that your characterization suggesting that all of “the left” is hurtling towards “complete insanity” is unfair, and more importantly unconvincing. Reading the first paragraph of your comment in a vacuum just makes me want to double down on “leftism” because here you are, putting me in the same box as the crazies.

      • detroitdan says:

        Yes, I’m definitely a lefty (Bernie Sanders camp), but I’ve faced some insane attacks from other lefities(?) in the anti-Bernie camp. The labels don’t really help.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          the liberal left really needs to win against the identitarian/authoritarian left. the same is true of the right but from my perspective, whereas the identitarian/authoritarian right is broadly despised and has very low status, the identitarian/authoritarian left is higher status than the liberal left. this is concerning.

          • Viliam says:

            I suspect this is a problem of the “no enemies on the left” meme. Authoritarian left is — arguably — further on the left than the liberal left, therefore a liberal leftist would feel bad for opposing them.

            (And of course, any liberal leftist opposing them would immediately be labeled “Nazi” and “alt-right”.)

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I suspect this is a problem of the “no enemies on the left” meme. Authoritarian left is — arguably — further on the left than the liberal left, therefore a liberal leftist would feel bad for opposing them.

            This is exactly correct. National Review types also have “no enemies to the left”. Only people who have yet to understand the logic of trickle-down economics. But if they have to denounce Richard Spencer, then you’ll see them bare their teeth.

            You rarely see progressives call out other progressives for excess of progressivism. An exception seems to be the Bret Weinstein type thing and this only occurs after they’ve been bitten by the mouth they were feeding.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Fair enough, but it’s still a problematic consequence of the growing interconnectedness of the world. Not all Muslims want to kill us, but enough do that it’s worth being aware of the fact. Not all of the left are doing the stuff Scott has experienced, but the people doing that stuff are all leftists, and it’s self-destructive not to notice — if only so you know what “objectionable” comments you need to suppress in order to survive.

        In other words, sorry: As long as left and right are the boxes you want to draw, then you are in the box with the crazies.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Some of the crazies.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Well, most of that particular kind of crazies, unless you can cite me lots of examples of the behavior Scott reports enacted by people on the right.

            I am unaware of any, but I freely confess I might be missing them because they don’t feel like attacks on me. This is a legit request for education if I am wrong.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        “The right” has as strong a desire to make sure no one hears the bad opinions as “the left” does. It’s just that the left is more effective at it, for now.

        “A plurality (45 percent) of Republicans say the courts should have the power to shut down news outlets that publish stories that are ‘biased or inaccurate.'” — that is from National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg, poll here.

        We need these tactics off the table.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          We need these tactics off the table.

          Agreed. But lest Paul Zrimsek think this is an example of what I am missing, note that there is a well-established difference between the courts doing something and the mob doing something.

  15. Ouroborobot says:

    Just want to say that I’m a longtime libertarian-ish lurker, and I love that this a community where heterodox ideas can be rationally discussed by people from all over the political spectrum. Never really paid any attention to the SSC reddit, but reading this I can’t help but be outraged that this would happen to Scott. Honestly, I struggle with conceiving of an effective way to fight this trend. It’s starting to feel like a real center-cannot-hold type of situation. I’m one of those people who usually just keeps my mouth shut in any kind of non-anonymous discussion for fear of being associated with wrongthink and facing IRL consequences. How can people push back on this type of thought and behavior in a way that actually works without making themselves a target? Because it feels pretty hopeless.

    • LHN says:

      Especially since a lot of extant suggestions are ones that can’t be used without effectively losing the conflict regardless. It’s not possible to wage Total Culture War in retribution if doing so destroys the culture one is trying to preserve as effectively as total surrender would. (It’s certainly possible in principle to have a right-wing e.g., deplatforming mob, but not a libertarianish one.)

      • Ouroborobot says:

        Pretty much this. I don’t want to be forced to choose between mobs. I think if you react to shouts of “nazi” by just rage-quitting from all rational debate and going full /pol/, you’ve already lost. But what can you do when any attempt to rationally discuss certain subjects is met with a wall of hatred that can effectively lose you a job, get you shunned by certain people, or at the very least get you publically dragged through the mud?

    • Reasoner says:

      Donate to https://www.electionscience.org/. They’re working to pass approval voting, which makes it easier to elect moderate compromise candidates. This looks cool too.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I think there will be backlash–it’s just going too far. Many, though not all, simply won’t be able to handle the backlash. They don’t seem particularly tough or informed–they think they are doing some sort of favor to society but are becoming a parody of themselves. I think even members of that crowd will begin to feel embarrassed. The apologies will stop. I think it will stop soon, but the damage in the meantime will be extensive. And when it starts losing power, a few truly committed while do desperate things. But I just don’t see it being able to last very long. I do think some of them may be susceptible to a certain type of historical education. If they read about some really tough, skilled abolitionists who made good, vigorous arguments, they may see a better approach, or at least start to feel embarrassed about theirs and aware that they aren’t being quite as enlightening to society as they think. That goes for other groups as well, with different role models. Hearing someone put your ideas so clearly and strongly is a real relief in some ways.

  16. I appreciate this post very much, though I never participated in the CW thread. Notwithstanding the assigned category, I stoutly hope that Scott will not have cause to regret writing it.

    I recently read Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I’m hopeful that there will be increasing pushback against shaming campaigns, among the same people (like Ronson himself) who used to participate in them. It’s akin to how everyone who joined the Internet in the 1990s had to learn the norm of “don’t forward hoaxes”.

    I also note the emergence of lots of interesting new terms for varieties of unfair or misleading tactics, such as concern trolling, gaslighting, lampshading, Gish galloping, sealioning, etc., etc. With the enormous volume of written discussion and commentary, compared to any past era, it looks like greater sophistication is emerging among the consumers of this content.

    I don’t know where this is leading, but I don’t think these terms are just new insults to fling against the outgroup.

    • John Schilling says:

      I also note the emergence of lots of interesting new terms for varieties of unfair or misleading tactics, such as concern trolling, gaslighting, lampshading, Gish galloping, sealioning, etc., etc. With the enormous volume of written discussion and commentary, compared to any past era, it looks like greater sophistication is emerging among the consumers of this content.

      I am skeptical. In my experience, which is admittedly limited and may be biased, these terms are almost only used by stereotypical SJWs for the purpose of bingo-card dismissal of dissenting views. Presumably some of them at least will be adopted by the right for similar purposes, and maybe this has already started, but that’s hardly an improvement. We need effective defenses against poisoning the commons for civil discourse, and I think we are instead getting sophisticated tools to defend our bubbles against outsiders telling us what we don’t want to hear.

      • albatross11 says:

        Concern-trolling, gaslighting, and sealioning seem like a far less useful set of tools for finding problems in arguments than, say, Motte-and-Bailey, or the Toxoplasma of Rage, or steelmanning, or proves-too-much.

        The basic problem here is that when you’re looking for an excuse to dismiss someone’s argument without considering it, it’s *really easy* to find one. They’re associated with some bad person or side in some argument, or they’ve taken some position in the past that is offensive or can be described as offensive with careful enough excerpting, or they’re tone-policing or demanding political correctness or whatever. Most of the time, when confronted with an argument or idea you dislike, you really kinda want to find a reason to dismiss it. (Along the same lines, arguments for stuff you want to believe are really easy to construct–link to a couple papers that don’t have much to do with the claim, throw in a handwave, and people are convinced.).

        It takes a real effort to consider a POV different from your own, and lots of people have learned a lot of mental techniques for filtering them out.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        So far as I know, Gish gallop is atheist/skeptic, not SJW.

      • Salentino says:

        The first time I came across the term ‘concern trolling’ was on /r/TheDonald when I left a genuine comment asking how people could still support Trump after some news story painting him in a bad light. My comment got deleted, I was accused of concern trolling and banned.

        • albatross11 says:

          If I’m looking for reasons to discard your argument unread/unheard, then I’ll usually manage to find one. It’s like your mind’s immune system, protecting you from contrary facts by deciding that you can ignore this unwanted claim of fact because it’s coming from the notoriously liberal New York Times or that unwanted claim of fact because it’s coming from a white male Republican. Trying to overcome this tendency is hard, and few people bother. It saves so much thinking….

        • PeterDonis says:

          @albatross11:

          Your point is valid, but it’s also worth noting that, since practically every mainstream media outlet (and certainly the New York Times) has been caught outright lying (never mind putting spin on stories), it’s hard to argue that not trusting them is a bad idea. So the first problem is not so much figuring out how to deal with an unwanted claim of fact, but that there is basically no trustworthy source for facts in the first place.

          • albatross11 says:

            PeterDonis:

            Yeah, I’m not saying “Trust everything the NYT writes,” I’m saying “Don’t dismiss unwanted claims of fact or arguments that make you uncomfortable just because they come from the NYT.” Substitute in “Fox” for “NYT” as needed. The desire to throw away an uncomfortable argument or claim of fact is natural, strong, and dangerous.

  17. J Mann says:

    It all makes me sad. I guess the rationalist thing to do is spend some time thinking about how to interact with people who want to shut you down.

  18. Heather says:

    As a transgender woman, the issue I had was not so much with transphobic posts to the culture war threads, but with the idea that discussing transgender status had been relegated to “culture war”.

    I feared that any mention of my transgender status, or experiences of transgender people in general, would be singled out as inappropriately culture-warry in OTHER threads even if salient to the topic of discussion. Even my “woman” status feels that way, based on the apparently-hard-right tenor of the comments in the CW threads and elsewhere.

    All of this despite knowing how wonderful and lovely a person Scott is, particularly including his expressed views and behavior towards gender/sexual minorities!

    Staking out “culture war” as a place to talk about things like “gender” means that a salient part of my own experience was delineated as inappropriate.

    And blanket-labeling “transgender issues” or “women’s issues” as being culture-warry takes away expressive power from people like me, while at the same time bolstering viewpoints in opposition to my rights and experiences. Assuming for the sake of argument that transgender women are systematically oppressed in many different parts of life, to say “we can’t talk about your issues” would be just effectively preserving an oppressive status quo. The implicit requirement to focus on the non-culture-war things that EVERYONE sees as salient just takes power away from people who are already at a weaker bargaining position.

    And to characterize the sharing of experiences, demand for rights and fair treatment, and other non-hateful speech by minorities like me as “culture war,” seems to give implicit credence to opposing, hateful views. If I’m just one side in a “culture war” then maybe a blatant transphobe will be perceived as just my counterpart, the “opposing side.” But surely there is more value in hearing the pleas and troubles of minorities, than in the hateful speech we suffer in so many venues? I have felt a definite pressure to just stay silent or find other venues to discuss issues of importance to me, because of a fear (whether well-founded or not) that I will be shouted at and mischaracterized as a disingenuous bleeding heart who doesn’t care about the “real issues” that affect EVERYONE including white cis dudes.

    I love Scott’s writing, but the “culture war” threads (and the implicit delineation of topics of interest to me being “culture war”) are a hostile environment that I avoid participating in; I’m satisfied with the gems that filter into the subreddit as top-level posts or make their way into Scott’s writing. I have a perception, which may be inaccurate, that other people like me are also avoiding contributing to the blog comments and subreddit in general, because issues that are important to me would likely be classified as “culture war,” but I don’t see them that way and would rather discuss them in a context where people don’t have their fingers on their cultural gun triggers, so to speak.

    It just sucks that a community of people who like to sit around over-analyzing things is trained to see my issues as culture war, to be deferred so we can get down to more important business. It’s the same shitty feeling that arises when people frame the rights of minorities as a “wedge issue” or a “distraction.” Not for us it’s not.

    I could probably also just have quoted: “the personal is political”.

    So RIP indeed, I don’t really want anything to do with the “culture war” threads and I’d rather we tried to cultivate polite discourse everywhere, without delineating some topics as being more “culture war” than others and without any topics having a lower bar for politeness.

    • AG says:

      “the personal is political” is what got gender dumped in the CW box, though.
      Some opinions/argument on gender would get stated politely, and receive an outraged response. The outraged would claim that the content itself, regardless of its tone, required the dropping of politeness in the response. In fact, that the opinion was stated politely was itself considered an offense, as it reflected how thoroughly the person who stated that opinion had dehumanized their outgroup.
      And so, politeness became a tool of the enemy, because “the personal is political.”

      • Heather says:

        I feel a lot of sympathy for people who felt outraged and didn’t know how to better express their outrage, particularly when it was because they felt that their identity and validity as a person was being attacked. I wish those people had been able to express the motivation behind their outrage more productively.
        (But I also have a really hard time parsing out exactly what group(s) you are saying were outraged, polite, or whatever in the scenarios you described so maybe I misunderstand you).
        If I’m understanding right, an exemplary exchange may have gone like:

        Alice: I don’t think that transgender identity is real.
        Bob: I AM OUTRAGED BECAUSE I AM TRANSGENDER AND YOU ARE INVALIDATING ME.

        Well, there are probably some naive Alices out there who just wanted to talk facts. But Bob has also met a lot of people who said that and really meant “I don’t think you are valid as a person (and that invalidity justifies tangible harms against you)”.

        Bob’s outrage was inappropriate and didn’t help Alice improve understanding of the situation.

        Now Charlie steps in and says, “Whoa, that got way too political, can’t we just find common ground and table this for our Culture War debates?”

        In that particular case, maybe everyone needs time to cool off, and Bob needs to think about how to respond in a way that is healthier and more constructive.

        But here’s what Bob can accurately infer: ‘Your existence and validity are a political issue. We don’t talk about political issues at the dinner table. Thus, we don’t talk about your existence and validity at the dinner table.”

        I mean, basically I’ve just tautologized “the personal is political” again, because Bob’s existence and validity ARE political whether Bob wants them to be or not; Bob can’t live in a world where existence and validity are taken for granted, because people like Alice doubt Bob’s validity, and because people like Charlie (accurately) point out that it’s a hot topic that leads to hurt feelings.

        Well, maybe relegating “personal is political” content to CW is the right call for sanity in the other fora, but it’s pretty shitty for Bob. Bob just wants to occasionally point out, “Hey, I exist,” but Bob is worried that Alice will say “I disagree,” and/or Charlie will step and say, “whoa now, let’s not open that can of worms…”.

        Bob’s outrage may have hurt the discourse, but the fix to the discourse hurts Bob. As is the theme of this whole blog post and comments section, I don’t know if there’s any good answer. I want Bob to be more polite; I don’t want Bob to bring a bandwagon to punish Alice for insensitivity. But I also know that Bob has already suffered a lot of harms for transgender status, and that there is practically zero threat of harm to Alice in putting up with Bob’s outrage (at least, unless Bob brings a bandwagon… now things get ugly).

        Ugh.

        • gbdub says:

          You can’t have a “discourse” or a “discussion” or a “debate” when only one set of views is allowed to be expressed and engaged with. It is tautologically impossible. What you have then is at best a support group, and at worst an echo chamber.

          Maybe what Bob needs is a support group, and I fully support the existence of such places. But free discussion zones have to exist too. If Bob can’t detach the discussion from his personal identity enough to avoid attacking anyone that expresses positions contrary to his on transgender issues, then yeah, it’s gonna be Culture War. Better to contain it with a big sign that says “enter at your own risk” than to censor it away and turn everything into an echo chamber. Or to let the War bleed over into every other topic.

          • albatross11 says:

            If we are talking about ideas that actually matter, then many of those ideas are going to upset or offend or threaten some people. Start talking about how you think religion is a giant con game and God is a delusion, and you’re going to offend and upset and threaten many people. And yet, suppressing that kind of conversation seems like a pretty bad way to get to the truth.

          • gbdub says:

            I agree fully.

          • Heather says:

            I deliberately stopped short of calling for anyone to shut up about their offensive views.

            What upsets me is that Bob’s view is lumped in as being one of the controversial views.

            Here’s what I would summarize as my opinion of the scenario I described:

            Alice should be free to be controversial.

            But if the controversy causes problems, our attempts to control/contain Alice’s controversy should never involve censoring Bob.

          • gbdub says:

            So Bob should be allowed to talk, even in ways that break the content neutral rules, and Alice should be forced into silence, even if she is approaching the discussion in good faith and following the rules. EDIT this part was uncharitable of me based on your last post.

            You’ve predeclared a winner and predetermined what views are out of bounds and which views can be defended by any means necessary. That’s not a conversation, that’s a lecture.

            Worse, for the sake of any other discourse, you’ve weaponized victimization. Whoever is most offended wins. That’s how you turn every debate into a bravery debate and every discussion into a war.

            Again, I’m not saying there should be no safe spaces, just that not everywhere can or should be a safe space. This space was designed to be a free debate zone, with content neutral rules of conduct (one of which is “you can politely discuss things likely to result in someone getting offended, but please confine it to certain threads”). It is good that such a place exists, even if (or precisely because) it means that Bobs and Alices get exposed to offensive views every now and then.

            (I would note here that no one has said Bob shouldn’t be allowed to hold or even express a pro-transgender opinion – just express such opinions only when he can do so in the bounds of true, kind, and necessary (pick two), and that this same courtesy extends to Alice, although she should not have made the comment in the first place outside of a relevant or CW allowed OT. Both Alice and Bob broke the thread rules in your scenario)

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Heather:
            The problem is that Alice doesn’t think of her views as controversial. From Bob’s point of view, Alice is denying his very existence; from Alice’s point of view, she’s just stating a common-sense opinion that is in no way intended to act as a personal attack.

            It’s very tempting to put the blame on Alice here: she should’ve educated herself more before engaging in discussion, should’ve been more compassionate toward those she disagrees with, etc. This is all true; however, the problem is that all of us are Alice; and that it’s impossible to predict ahead of time which sentiment will put our interlocutor into Bob’s position.

            As albatross11 mentioned above, some religious people react as viscerally to atheism as Bob would react to anti-transgender sentiment. The same goes for Communism vs. Libertarianism, vi vs. emacs, what have you. Censoring Bob is not the solution; but neither is censoring Alice, nor demanding that Alice self-censor — because in that case, no one would be able to talk about anything except maybe the weather.

          • LadyJane says:

            As albatross11 mentioned above, some religious people react as viscerally to atheism as Bob would react to anti-transgender sentiment. The same goes for Communism vs. Libertarianism, vi vs. emacs, what have you. Censoring Bob is not the solution; but neither is censoring Alice, nor demanding that Alice self-censor — because in that case, no one would be able to talk about anything except maybe the weather.

            If one person was arguing that people with [color] skin aren’t really people, don’t deserve human rights, and should be enslaved, is that also just an opinion like any other? If a person with [color] skin responds by saying he is a person, does deserve rights, and shouldn’t be enslaved, should that be treated as a controversial opinion just like the first one, and shelved for Culture War discussions? I think when it comes to issues about the fundamental validity of someone’s very existence, it’s understandable to take a different approach than you would to a debate about marginal tax rates.

          • PeterDonis says:

            If one person was arguing that people with [color] skin aren’t really people, don’t deserve human rights, and should be enslaved, is that also just an opinion like any other?

            If a particular discussion forum is supposed to be truly open and allow discussion of all viewpoints, then it has to be, yes.

            If some particular viewpoints are going to be deemed out of bounds, then you don’t have a truly open forum: somebody is going to have to decide what viewpoints are out of bounds and what viewpoints are allowed for discussion, and those decisions are going to have to be enforced based on the judgment of whoever is making those decisions, even though some forum participants might disagree with them.

            I’m not necessarily arguing that either of these is better than the other, just that they are different and there’s no way to have both in the same forum.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Heather: The problem here is, “I AM OUTRAGED BECAUSE I AM TRANSGENDER AND YOU ARE INVALIDATING ME.” isn’t an argument. Rather, it’s the sort of thing that shuts argument down and prevents it can happening. If Bob can state what his actual factual or moral disagreement with Alice is, without shouting, then great! We can have an actual argument and maybe learn something. But if Bob is trying to shut down argument, or just isn’t willing to put in the effort to truly participate in it, then what, exactly, is the problem with censoring those posts of his? The point isn’t speech for the sake of speech, it’s argument that actually goes somewhere.

            (I mean, gbdub already said more or less the same thing, but I think it’s worth making this explicit.)

          • LadyJane says:

            @PeterDonis: My problem isn’t even with the idea that someone should be allow to discuss the sorts of dehumanizing ideas that I mentioned. As a matter of policy for an open forum, that’s fine.

            My problem is less with policy and more with a certain kind of social norm, where someone is expected to have the same impartial emotionless response to a dehumanizing statement as they would to any other claim, even if they’re part of the group being dehumanized. My solution isn’t necessarily “ban all mention of statements that could be considered dehumanizing” (though just for pragmatic reasons, banning overt racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. is probably a good idea for most forums that aren’t explicitly meant to be for open discussion of everything; on a forum for discussing Netflix shows, statements about the master race are just going to derail conversations and needlessly raise tensions).

            What I want is just a social norm where if someone makes a negative categorical statement about a group of people, someone who’s a member of that group isn’t considered unjustified or “overly emotional” for taking it as an insult and reacting accordingly. That’s the thing about these hyper-rational open discussion spaces that really gets me; not the fact that someone can say “Hitler was right, the Jews all deserved to be sent to concentration camps,” but that fact that if someone who’s Jewish gets offended by it and expresses their outrage, they’re the ones who always up being condemned for it. (Sniffnoy’s response above is a perfect example of what I mean. No, “I am outraged because I am transgender” is not an argument, it’s a statement of fact, and no less justified than saying “fuck off, don’t be such a dick” to someone who just personally insulted you.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            LadyJane: Hey, if you want to shout as you make an argument, go ahead. I mean preferably don’t if you can avoid it, but the important thing is whether or not you’re making an argument. Civility helps but is not the key thing.

            But I agree you don’t want to waste your time arguing with actual bigots. Really in that case I’d say just downvote/report and move on. Is that shutting down argument? Well, yes. And, I mean, I’d advocate the same for dealing with cranks. So I guess I don’t fundamentally disagree that at some point this is OK (although, again, I’d really recommend just downvoting/reporting if possible rather than shouting at the person); you can’t always worry about shutting down argument. Just, like, some things really are not clear, really do need to be hashed out, and there’s a lot of common cases who will round things off to the nearest cliche and then shout at people on that basis. And I’m particularly wary of shouting at people in place of an argument. Downvoting’s not an argument either, no, but, the thing is, it doesn’t claim to be. Whereas I worry that a lot of shouting at people conveys the impression that it’s basically the same thing and is a generally-acceptable substitute and it’s really not.

            Yeah, I dunno. I guess I don’t have any easily delineated line or conclusion here. If I had to try it’d be something like “Does it seem like this person will actually respond honestly to an argument, or are they just being superficially ‘civil’ in a bad-faith attempt to get taken seriously?” And it seems to me that cranks and bigots both fall on the wrong side of that one (although a crank would be unlikely to actually appear superficially civil, but anti-Semites are notorious for it). But like I said I don’t know? I guess I’d just say you should be pretty damned sure someone’s not an honest arguer before you start doing things that will scare off honest arguers. And like I said — if you make an actual argument, the shouting is not so much of a problem, because hopefully people will recognize the shouting is not essential and ignore it.

          • PeterDonis says:

            @Lady Jane:
            My problem is less with policy and more with a certain kind of social norm, where someone is expected to have the same impartial emotionless response to a dehumanizing statement as they would to any other claim, even if they’re part of the group being dehumanized.

            If it really is an open forum where all ideas can be discussed, then that someone should not post in that forum unless they are actually going to discuss them. As others have pointed out, simply verbalizing someone’s reaction to a dehumanizing statement is not discussing it.

            In other words, you can have forum where all ideas get discussed. Or you can have a forum where people can feel free to verbalize their reactions to dehumanizing statements and have those reactions validated without being argued against. But you can’t have both in the same forum.

            What I want is just a social norm where if someone makes a negative categorical statement about a group of people, someone who’s a member of that group isn’t considered unjustified or “overly emotional” for taking it as an insult

            But if you’re allowed to take it as an insult, you can’t have an open forum where all ideas get discussed. If you’re unable to read such a statement without taking it as an insult, then you should not participate in that forum; you should participate in other forums where the social norms are different. You don’t have to have exactly the same social norms in every forum; that’s what different forums are for.

          • PeterDonis says:

            @Sniffnoy:
            you don’t want to waste your time arguing with actual bigots.

            In the case described, the way you would tell whether the person was an actual bigot or was genuinely interested in having a discussion would be to respond with: “What basis do you have for making that claim?” Then the person will either come back with an actual defense of their claim, or they will just continue to make it with no supporting argument. In the latter case, yes, the forum should have norms in place where people who make claims without supporting argument get shut down. (This is one of the key tasks of moderators.)

            The issue with an immediate response of “you are dehumanizing me by making that statement” is that it does not even allow for the first option above.

          • What I want is just a social norm where if someone makes a negative categorical statement about a group of people, someone who’s a member of that group isn’t considered unjustified or “overly emotional” for taking it as an insult and reacting accordingly.

            I think whether taking it as an insult is justified depends on the statement, on whether it is put as an insult or as a statement of belief.

            Suppose what he says is “The reason there are no female math professors at Harvard is that there are no women that good at math. That isn’t surprising, since math professors at Harvard represent the very tip of a distribution, and the distribution of abilities is tighter for women than for men.”

            That’s a negative categorical statement, but it isn’t an insult.

            Suppose you happen to be a female math professor at Yale who Harvard math professors regard as a peer—perhaps you have rejected a job offer from Harvard. His statement is wrong, but it still isn’t an insult. It doesn’t become an insult until he starts making ignorant claims about why your work isn’t really any good.

            In the case of a statement that is emotional and obviously intended as an insult you are entitled to reply in kind, but it is probably more effective to either ignore it or reply by rebutting it as if it were a serious argument, thus making his emotionalism look bad in contrast with your calm reason.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Suppose you happen to be a female math professor at Yale who Harvard math professors regard as a peer—perhaps you have rejected a job offer from Harvard. His statement is wrong, but it still isn’t an insult. It doesn’t become an insult until he starts making ignorant claims about why your work isn’t really any good.

            I think the notion of insult you’re using here is much narrower than the way the word is actually used.

            Possibly you could distinguish between “direct insults” and “indirect insults”.

            But even then, it looks like you’re trying to draw a line that would come between “all members of a group you are a member of smell” and “you smell”, and I don’t think that’s a sensible place for a line – or, rather, it is, but the former should be viewed as a stronger statement, not a milder one.

          • 10240 says:

            A negative categorical statement about a group is sometimes justified. More relevantly to the transgender topic, members of a group sometimes claim that a statement is negative, when it actually isn’t.

            That certain topics should be avoided outside the CW threads reflects that they are hot button issues that are liable to cause a flame war that crowds out other topics, nothing else. It doesn’t imply anything about who is right. The claim that black people shouldn’t be enslaved isn’t currently controversial, as virtually everyone agrees with it (while its negation would be very controversial). Transgender topics are currently controversial.

          • Clutzy says:

            Just as a general observation. It seems to me that the transgender debate inspires great confusion in many people because there is little about it that appeals to people’s “common sense”. On top of that, the people who are the biggest trans advocates appear to believe they need not appeal to people’s common sense, nor need they appeal to science, or any other standard method of persuasion.

            Thus, those who are not inclined initially to think transgenderism is genuine, have no reason to ever accept it. And I think, generally, it is the fault of the community which hasn’t learned how to convey the message properly. And maybe I’m a jerk and its not possible to present me with stats about how gender surgery gives $10 of benefits per $1 spent, and maybe my lame “common sense” is just a series of apelike instincts, but that is what I see as the biggest obstacle in such debates.

          • theredsheep says:

            I think it’s rancorous (in part, at least) because it’s at least two distinct issues that get packaged together. On the one hand, it’s a simple matter of deferring to individuals’ choices about the way they’d like to be treated, in a way that causes little apparent harm. If somebody wants to be identified as the opposite sex–even if it’s really, really obvious that they aren’t–it’s hard to think of how that would have terrible consequences for most scenarios. There are things like women’s bathrooms, where I can see how women would be weirded out and it doesn’t seem fair to defer automatically to the smaller group’s sense of psychological comfort at the expense of the larger, but by and large it seems like accommodation should be possible–on that level.

            But it’s not restricted to that level. We’re also asked to accept the philosophical presuppositions behind it all, to modify our beliefs about what constitutes a man or a woman. The two get bundled together, and that’s a much taller order, because the idea that sex and gender are two totally different things is, to me (and I think to many others), like pointing at an object and arguing, “that object is purple, in spite of not reflecting the longer wavelengths of light, because it can be thought of as purple in a socially constructed and culturally informed sense.” It sounds like gibberish, and I can’t even wrap my head around how it could be taken as a true or useful way of thinking. But because the two are bundled together, we are faced with “you must endorse this belief you find ludicrous or you’re morally equivalent to a Klansman.”

            It costs you little or nothing to offer incense to Caesar, to trample on an icon, to eat beef or pork, or to recite a formula about unfalsifiable beliefs. But people have fought and died to avoid doing all of those things, because what’s at issue is not the thing itself, but the ideological surrender such an act would represent. Something similar applies here. I don’t really feel that strongly about where people pee, provided it’s hygienic, but I do feel strongly about not being pressured into mouthing beliefs I don’t agree with. TG is culture war because it gets down to touchy, fundamental questions about what it means to be human.

            No, I don’t know what a practical middle ground would look like.

          • Nick says:

            @theredsheep You’re right as far as that goes, but if that’s not controversial enough, there’s the question of children: if my seven or eight year old child isn’t very masculine, should we consider raising the child as a girl? How about liking to dress up as a girl? What if the child says he would feel more comfortable being treated as a girl? And to top it off, at what point should that expression start being treated medically, and how, and under what legal obligations are the parent, doctors, and/or the medical system? With these questions the idea of a compromise goes from difficult to, as far as I can tell, basically impossible.

          • Viliam says:

            If my three years old child identifies as a dog, will history judge me as a bigoted monster for not giving her dog hormones?

            Yeah, I know what is the sane position now, but the question is how the correct answer will change in ten or twenty years. Because I will probably still need a job 20 years later…

          • LadyJane says:

            The claim that black people shouldn’t be enslaved isn’t currently controversial, as virtually everyone agrees with it (while its negation would be very controversial). Transgender topics are currently controversial.

            @10240: Yes, which is part of what makes this so frustrating for people like myself and Heather. I know that we need to deal with the world as it is and not as we’d like it to be, but it’s still upsetting that our very existence is a source of controversy! And yes, the fact that there was a time when the basic human rights of Black people was a matter of controversy is upsetting too. That’s something that never should have been controversial in the first place. I’m fully aware that these are subjective moral and emotional claims, not rational arguments, but it’s how I feel nonetheless.

            On top of that, the people who are the biggest trans advocates appear to believe they need not appeal to people’s common sense, nor need they appeal to science, or any other standard method of persuasion.

            @Clutzy: Trans activists do make those arguments, all the time. They talk about scientific research indicating a biological basis to gender dysphoria, they talk about the existence of intersex people and how that proves there are people who don’t neatly fit into traditional gender categories, they make semantic arguments about how the concept of sex is an abstraction referring to a strong but by no means absolute distribution of frequently correlated traits, they make historical arguments about how many pre-modern cultures have had a concept of a third gender. People who reject trans identities always end up rejecting those arguments too, and I have little faith that those people are willing to change their minds, regardless of what anyone says to them; I don’t see any degree of evidence that would convince Ben Shapiro to change his views on trans issues.

            The two get bundled together, and that’s a much taller order, because the idea that sex and gender are two totally different things is, to me (and I think to many others), like pointing at an object and arguing, “that object is purple, in spite of not reflecting the longer wavelengths of light, because it can be thought of as purple in a socially constructed and culturally informed sense.”

            @theredsheep: Interesting example, because if you have a pattern of blues and reds that are meshed together finely enough, the human brain will perceive it as purple, even though no individual part of it is emitting violet wavelengths of light. I don’t think many people would object to calling it purple regardless.

            Likewise, if someone appears to be a woman, identifies themselves as a woman, presents themselves as a woman, and has sex characteristics associated with women (at the bare minimum, secondary sex characteristics like feminine features and developed breasts; possibly an artificially crafted vagina if they’ve had sexual reassignment surgery), then it seems reasonable to treat them as women. Anatomically, they might not be cis women, but they’re clearly not cis men either, so claiming “trans women are just dudes in dresses” is objectively wrong by any definition that isn’t wholly based on genitalia or chromosomes (and in practice, regardless of what they might claim, almost no one’s mental definition of sex/gender is wholly based on genitalia, and literally no one’s is wholly based on chromosomes).

            So at that point, the only options are to classify trans women as some other thing (which is usually met with resistance from the same people who insist trans women aren’t women, considering all the “only two genders” arguments), or to default to treating them as either men or women even if neither of those are entirely accurate from a purely anatomical perspective. And if we’re going with the latter option, treating them as the gender identify as (and, in many cases, the gender they better resemble) seems both more ethical and more practical.

            If my three years old child identifies as a dog, will history judge me as a bigoted monster for not giving her dog hormones?

            Yeah, I know what is the sane position now, but the question is how the correct answer will change in ten or twenty years. Because I will probably still need a job 20 years later…

            @Viliam: Ah, the old Slippery Slope fallacy. Funny how allowing gay people to get legally married didn’t result in people being able to marry dogs, despite all the arguments to the contrary just 10-15 years back. People taking dog hormones seems like an even more ridiculously unlikely outcome.

          • Anatomically, they might not be cis women, but they’re clearly not cis men either

            If the only context for such arguments involved people who were by all obvious measures women and men only if you checked their DNA or took a careful look at their genitals, the trans position would be much more convincing. But, so far as I can tell, the argument actually being pushed is that one is obliged to treat someone as the gender that person claims to be, whether or not you perceive the person as that gender.

            That’s a lot less convincing, a lot more like the demand that people accept other people’s orders about what they must believe, or at least pretend to believe.

          • 10240 says:

            @LadyJane Yes, you are upset that transgender issues are controversial. But, as you seem to acknowledge, pretending that they are not controversial (e.g. by allowing your transgender-related views in non-CW threads where politically controversial topics are normally not allowed) wouldn’t make them uncontroversial.

            Your existence is not controversial. Nobody is claiming that you don’t exist. Certain claims most transgender people make are controversial.

            In Categories…, Scott wrote

            The project of the transgender movement is to propose a switch from using chromosomes as a tiebreaker to using self-identification as a tiebreaker.

            If the transgender movement actually phrased it like that, asking people to change the definition of certain words, the debate would be much less heated, with less mutual flinging of insults. Not all of us would necessarily agree with the request, but the fact that you feel like you are a woman in some sense, and the fact that you would like people to use definitions of words such as ‘man’, ‘woman’, under which you are a woman, are uncontroversially true. But in my experience this is not what most transgender people say. They say that the only legitimate definition of ‘man’, ‘woman’ etc. is one under which they are [their claimed gender] (actually they usually don’t even acknowledge the possibility that a word may have multiple different definitions), and anyone who doesn’t think so is ignorant and transphobic — even though most of us have been used to a definition different from yours since forever.

            ——

            Much of the controversy is, I think, caused by the apparent lack of understanding of the distinction between a disagreement about facts and a disagreement about definitions by many people on both sides of the debate. (Explained in Categories…, I guess you’ve read it. Scott wrote that post to argue against the notion that “an MtF transgender is a woman” is a false factual statement, but it’s an equally valid argument against the notion that “an MtF transgender is a man” is a false factual statement.)

            It’s clear (assuming we realize that a word may have multiple definitions in use) that there are definitions (including definitions in popular use) under which you are a woman. It’s also clear that there are (popular) definitions under which you are a man. When Alice says that you are a man (knowing that you are MtF transgender), it’s clear that she is using some definition under which you are, in fact, a man. She knows that under the definition under which you consider yourself a woman, you are a woman. There is no factual disagreement between you. Why does it bother you? Why is it a problem that there is some categorization under which you are a blah and not a bleh, and some people use ‘man’ to mean ‘blah’, and ‘woman’ to mean ‘bleh’? I’ve never seen any transgender person explain that.

            The definition I (and I think many of us) have picked up during our formative years is
            (1) Sex is an immutable, abstract categorization of a person that’s constant throughout one’s lifetime. The main categories are male and female, though a small number of people may not fall into either. — I think we are on the same page here. Indeed, most transgender people say they have always been the gender they identify as, rather than that it has changed at some point.
            (2) It is (or it is determined by) a physical, biological/anatomical trait. Definitely not a characteristic of one’s mind. I haven’t been told a single, official definition; the definitions/characteristic traits I’ve picked up over the years include ones based on appearance, genitals, internal anatomy, chromosomes, fetal hormones. — This is the part where we depart. (2) implies that only anatomical intersex conditions may fall into neither male nor female. (1) implies that current genitalia cannot be the basis of the definition, as it can change during one’s life — a genitalia-based definition must be based on genitalia at birth. (Indeed, we would agree that a man whose genitals are severed in a freak accident is still a man.) (1) implies that appearance can only be a clue, not the defining trait, as it can be easily changed.

            I wanted to ask a trans person this for a long time: When you say “I’m a woman” or “I feel like I’m a woman”, what’s the definition of the word “woman” in these sentences? It’s clearly not a biological definition (especially if you are pre-op, more especially if you say you’ve always been female). The alternative definition I’ve seen, promoted by trans people, is that women are those people who identify as women. However, this is a circular definition. Clearly “bluh are those people who identify as bluh” makes no sense, at least without some other definition of bluh (and if we have some other definition, that may end up conflicting with this one).

            When you were a child, you learned the words ‘boy’, ‘girl’. You were told various defining traits, like boys have willies, girls have pussies. You had a willy. You were told you were a boy. What made you decide you were a girl? What made you think ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ didn’t actually mean what your parents and everyone else told you they meant?

            ——

            Actually the notion of abstract categories I’ve talked about gives me some idea what you might mean, and it might give you some idea what I mean. It looks like we have this notion in our mind that there are these abstract, invariant categories of people that roughly correspond to sexual anatomy. Indeed, your claim that you are a woman wouldn’t make any sense without the notion of abstract categories that don’t always exactly correspond to one’s current anatomy. And I presume something in your mind tells you that you are in the category that contains most biological females.

            But if these are categories of people, it follows that other people also fall into one of the categories. And given the definitions we learn, and given the fact that we tell other people’s sex based on physical characteristics, for most of us the categories are based on biology, at least when considering other people. (Perhaps ourselves as well, at least for those of us who don’t have a mental switch — it seems to be under debate if everyone has one.) As such, it may be that Bob falls into a different category in my categorization, yours, or his own.

            Also, it’s still not explained why you insist on defining ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘she’, ‘he’ etc. using a categorization based on self-identification, rather than based on biology (approx. the definition I’ve outlined above), even though they have traditionally been used the latter way, and why most trans people insist that in societal situations where we categorize people based on sex, we use a self-identification-based definition rather than another one.

            Note that the fact that we usually determine someone’s sex based on appearance doesn’t imply that our categories must exactly correspond to appearance. We humans have the notion that there is a truth independent of what we currently see or know. (We would agree with the sentence “If 16-year-old Jack claims he’s 18, even if he manages to convince everyone that he’s 18, he’s still actually 16”, even if everyone who talks to him would say he’s 18.) Indeed, if the categories are invariant, they can’t exactly correspond to appearance, as apparent gender may be different at different times.

          • LadyJane says:

            @10240: In common usage, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are defined by an entire set of traits, not just genitalia. I’m not even going to get into the idea of social gender roles, because that would complicate things even further; just talking purely in terms of anatomy and biology, there are several different characteristics that define sex.

            There’s genetics (men have XY chromosomes, women have XX chromosomes), biochemical factors (men and women have different estrogen-to-testosterone ratios), primary sex characteristics (men have penises, testes, and all the equipment to impregnate others; women have vaginas, uteruses, and all the equipment to be impregnated), and secondary sex characteristics (men have facial hair, significantly more body hair, narrower hips, and flat breasts; women have no facial hair, significantly less body hair, wider hips, and developed breasts). You can go even further and talk about tertiary sex characteristics, which are more like trends and tendencies (men tend to have larger noses, chins, and brows, while women tend to have rounder faces; men tend to be taller and more muscular, women tend to be slimmer and have narrower shoulders; women tend to have finer hair, and smoother and softer skin).

            About 99% of people fit neatly into one of those two boxes. Some of them might diverge on the tertiary characteristics, but not on the primary or secondary ones; there are tall muscular women and slender effeminate men, but those women still have have vaginas and developed breasts, and those men still have penises and flat chests and facial hair. But then you have people with chromosomes that don’t match their sex characteristics, or primary sex characteristics that don’t match their secondary ones. Some of those people get classified as “intersex” at birth, but those are the ones who tend to be visibly intersex as infants (i.e. have mixed or ambiguous genitalia). Others don’t develop their intersex traits until later in life (e.g. assigned-males who develop fully-formed female breasts during puberty, assigned-females who develop penises during puberty), or only find out they’re intersex from genetic testing (e.g. assigned-females who have XY chromosomes, but developed wholly female anatomical traits due to androgen insensitivity).

            I’d argue that anatomically speaking, trans people should be considered intersex for three reasons: First, gender dysphoria itself seems like it’s simply a particularly subtle intersex condition, involving some kind of mismatch between the neural wiring of the brain/central nervous system and the body’s hormone levels and/or limbic system. Second, many trans people have some other naturally-occurring anatomical intersex conditions (I’ve known two other trans women who had developed breasts, wide hips, a lack of body hair, and a distinctly feminine scent, despite having never taken any kind of hormone treatments). Third, even trans people who don’t naturally develop any anatomical intersex conditions will still end up developing intersex traits if they take hormone treatments (a trans woman will develop breasts, a trans man will develop facial and body hair). That last one might seem controversial because it involves an alteration of the body’s natural state, but nonetheless, a trans woman’s doctor will have to take her breasts into consideration just as much as her penis when assessing risks and making diagnoses.

            If we lived in a world where “person that looks and smells female and has all the associated secondary sex characteristics, but has male genitalia” was considered a valid gender identity in itself, separate from ‘man’ or ‘woman’, then I wouldn’t feel a need to classify myself in the same category as cis women. But since our society only gives those two options, it just makes sense for me to identify myself with the category that I feel closer to and resemble more.

          • As I said earlier, I don’t think the disagreement is entirely over the definitions. It would be if the definition used by one side was “you are a woman if you say you are a woman,” and there may be some for whom it is. But I think it is pretty clear from Lady Jane’s post that that isn’t her definition. Hers is something more like “If you have mostly characteristics typical of females you are a woman, even if you have some characteristics typical of males.”

            That definition doesn’t solve the problem of how to classify people who don’t fit clearly in either category, both because there is no clear rule for weighting characteristics and because, even if there were such a rule, there would be some people who ended up somewhere in the middle. But it does take care of the question for at least some of the not-quite-entirely-male or female people.

            But given that rule, someone who claims that Lady Jane is male may be disagreeing with her about facts. He may feel that if enough of her factual claims were true he would agree that she was a woman, or at least not a man. But he may think she is exaggerating the facts in order to get her desired classification, in which case he really is disagreeing with her about the facts.

            And she may reasonably feel insulted by the claim that she is either lying or deluding herself.

          • theredsheep says:

            @Nick: I think child transition anxiety is something of a downstream effect from the main issue of parroting-nonsense. I see people argue passionately about it, yes, but I also see people argue passionately about women’s athletic records being broken unfairly, and I’m pretty sure those same people never cared about women’s athletics before. Which isn’t to say their anxiety for their kids isn’t genuine, just that it’s more a subset of a generalized fear of “the crazy is catching.”

            @LJ: As DF said, this is not limited to total, near-perfect transitions, but also to term-swapping, gender fluidity, and broad claims like “biological sex is a social construct.” But as for the total transitions, imagine you employ a sci-fi combination of hormones, genetic tinkering, and plastic surgery to slowly turn a man into a perfect facsimile of a horse, including the mind. At some point in the process, it would become ludicrous to call this person human anymore. I would, personally, not be terribly bothered about where that point is, because I would be too busy screaming and/or ingesting controlled substances to banish the thought of it. My anxieties would not be much eased by the knowledge that the man brought this on himself knowingly and deliberately because he felt he would be happier as a horse. Apologies for being blunt–and you probably know this already–but that’s pretty much what you’re up against here. Only less so.

          • Nick says:

            I think child transition anxiety is something of a downstream effect from the main issue of parroting-nonsense.

            That could be. It’s certainly seemed to me, the last year or two, that the child angle is a really big deal and the driver of a lot of concern about trans issues. But a big part of that might just be my reading Rod Dreher.

          • theredsheep says:

            I read Rod too, but I try to keep some perspective on him, because he’s quite excitable.

            Since it’s too late to edit, I’d like to apologize if my last remarks went a little too far, LJ. It was early in the morning after a night of little sleep and before I had caffeine. I could have expressed that more delicately. I’d so so now with elaboration, except I still haven’t caught up on that sleep.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          I don’t know about the subreddit, but here Charlie’s procedural rebuke would most likely be limited to “This is a non-CW thread”, and would be aimed at Alice for bringing up the subject in the first place.

        • albatross11 says:

          I had two very close friends in college, let’s call them Alice and Bob. At some point in college, Bob came out to all of us as a transvestite. After college, Alice became rather fundamentalist Christian, and Bob eventually decided he wanted to transition to a woman–let’s call her Roberta. At some point, the distance between them increased until they simply couldn’t associate with one another–Alice couldn’t accept Roberta as a woman, and Roberta wasn’t going to pretend to be someone she wasn’t to keep Alice happy.

          Alice and Roberta are on two ends of a CW issue at a level that seems very hard to resolve. Alice thinks Robera is just Bob with some weird sexual kinks he demands everyone play along with; Roberta considers herself a woman and wants to be treated as such. There’s neutral ground in the sense that Alice and Roberta could avoid discussing the issues on which they differ, but not in the sense of Alice being able to interact with Roberta on anything like a friendly basis. They could remain at peace, but they couldn’t remain friends.

          I don’t know that there’s a deeper lesson here than that this is tragic–these two people were close friends at one time, and now they can’t even speak to each other. I know which one I think is being more reasonable, but I also know I don’t get to dictate my friends’ heartfelt beliefs to them. And this has happened throughout the years, and will continue to happen, with any number of different heartfelt beliefs that separate friends.

        • “Hey, I exist,” but Bob is worried that Alice will say “I disagree,”

          In your story, Alice isn’t saying that Bob doesn’t exist, she is saying that she does not believe his view of himself is correct.

          I get to have whatever view of myself I want, but other people get to have whatever view of me they want as well—I don’t have rights to the inside of other people’s heads. An anarcho-communist who claims anarcho-capitalists are not really anarchists isn’t denying that I exist, he is disagreeing with part of my view about what I am. He is entitled to do that, I am entitled to either try to persuade him (or others) that he is mistaken or ignore him, as I prefer. Similarly here.

          • LadyJane says:

            I get to have whatever view of myself I want, but other people get to have whatever view of me they want as well—I don’t have rights to the inside of other people’s heads. An anarcho-communist who claims anarcho-capitalists are not really anarchists isn’t denying that I exist, he is disagreeing with part of my view about what I am. He is entitled to do that, I am entitled to either try to persuade him (or others) that he is mistaken or ignore him, as I prefer. Similarly here.

            Of course. And I’m just as entitled to let other people’s expressed views of me affect my views of them. If someone says you’re not a real anarchist, maybe you don’t take offense to that. But if someone says you’re not a real economist, wouldn’t that incline you to have a negative opinion of them? Maybe not, you might just be an easygoing person! But I’d imagine that most academics would feel personally insulted if someone said they weren’t a real scholar of their field, and would not be pleased with the person saying so, to put it mildly. And since challenging someone’s credentials and profession is typically seen as socially unacceptable (unless warranted by circumstances that would justify the claim), many other people might likewise take a negative view of that person based on their statements about you.

            That’s fundamentally what’s at stake here: No one is saying “if someone misgenders me, they should go to jail.” They’re saying, “if someone repeatedly and deliberately misgenders me, I’ll consider them a total jerk and probably stop associating with them, as will other people who are sympathetic to me.”

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            You are not the equivalent of an economist though. You are the person buying some things at some stores, not the person analyzing all buying decisions at all stores.

            If you argue that some products don’t need to be produced because you never buy them, that’s not something that I’m going to believe, because your opinion is largely based on singular experience.

            The false claim that being a domain expert makes one knowledgeable about everyone else with a (supposedly) similar trait is actually a common claim in SJ circles, but one that I dispute.

          • They’re saying, “if someone repeatedly and deliberately misgenders me, I’ll consider them a total jerk and probably stop associating with them, as will other people who are sympathetic to me.”

            I thought the argument was over whether your argument against what they were doing belonged in a CW thread or not.

            My reaction to your hypothetical would be that if the person goes out of his way to misgender you, he is probably behaving badly and should be treated accordingly, although even there I can imagine a more charitable interpretation of his behavior.

            If he simply refuses to use your preferred gender–deliberately avoids gender specific language when talking with you–I don’t think he is behaving badly. That is how I act with regard to someone who self-identifies as one gender but comes across to me as the other. Using the preferred gender would be a false statement about my view of the world, which I would much prefer not to make, using the other gender would call attention to the disagreement between my view of the world the other person’s view, or at least claimed view, which is rude if there is no reason to do it.

          • It occurs to me that there is an interesting older equivalent of the issue Lady Jane and I are discussing.

            Consider the attitude of a Catholic who does not believe in divorce to a woman who has divorced and remarried. His actual belief is that she is living in sin. Under most circumstances it would be rude for him to call attention to it. But it would also be rude for her to insist on his referring to her as “Mrs Smith” when, from his standpoint, she isn’t Mrs Smith, she is still Mrs Jones.

          • 10240 says:

            @LadyJane The claim that someone isn’t a real scholar can be considered a negative factual claim. The claim that (say) “an MtF transsexual is a man” (which is I guess the sort of claim we are talking about) is not a factual statement, but mainly a statement about the speaker’s preferred definition of the word ‘man’, as explained in The categories were made for the man. Scott wrote that post to argue against the notion that “an MtF transsexual is a woman” is a false factual statement, but it’s an equally valid argument against the notion that “an MtF transsexual is a man” is a false factual statement (a claim that transsexuals commonly make, which seems to be their main reason of getting offended).

          • @10240:

            The statements you are discussing are in part a matter of definition, in part claims of fact.

            Consider my reaction to two “transsexuals” I know. One is a young woman who has adopted a male name, claims to be male, but presents just as she did before making that change–as an ordinarily female woman. The other is an MtF transsexual, post surgery, who comes across to me as a slightly odd woman, not a man.

            In my view, the first is a woman–and so is the second. I am using the same definitions in both cases.

            When I say that the first is a woman, I am making a factual claim—that by any reasonable definition other than “what this person says she wants to be regarded as”—she is a woman. I wouldn’t say that the second is a man in that sense, because she isn’t.

            If the first’s definition is “you are whatever you say you are,” we are disagreeing about definitions. But I don’t think that is the definition that most people on either side of such controversies have in mind.

          • 10240 says:

            The statements you are discussing are in part a matter of definition, in part claims of fact.

            True: once a definition is fixed, “X is a woman” is a factual claim. However, most of the time X calls Y a man/woman and Y gets offended because they are transgender and consider themselves a woman/man, there is no factual disagreement: for any fixed definition of man/woman, they would agree about whether Y is a man/woman. They only disagree about what definition of man/woman should be used. This is much like the disagreement about whether ancaps are anarchists.

            If the first’s definition is “you are whatever you say you are,” we are disagreeing about definitions. But I don’t think that is the definition that most people on either side of such controversies have in mind.

            It definitely seems to me that this is the definition many pro-transgender people insist on using (though some accept that this is not a reasonable expectation when someone entirely presents as not their claimed gender). More precisely, I think they would say you are whatever you internally consider yourself/identify as. This differs from the definition based purely on what one claims in that they would say that a man who claims to be a woman but doesn’t actually think of himself as a woman, and considers his claim a lie, is a man.

          • baconbits9 says:

            as explained in The categories were made for the man.

            Really? We are going to start linking anti-semantic sites in this thread?

          • John Schilling says:

            The claim that someone isn’t a real scholar can be considered a negative factual claim.

            Perhaps, but it can also be considered a statement about the speaker’s preferred definition of “scholar”. And the bit where it is being qualified as “real scholar”, makes this seem like the most appropriate interpretation.

          • 10240 says:

            @John Schilling It could be, but the offensive interpretation is the one where it’s a factual claim. I think “not a real scholar” would still be interpreted as being a factual claim at least in part, and that’s why it would be considered offensive; I’d assume the “real” would probably be put in the claim to avoid nitpicking about that the target is technically a scholar by virtue of (say) having academic employment or published papers.

        • toastengineer says:

          But Bob has also met a lot of people who said that and really meant “I don’t think you are valid as a person (and that invalidity justifies tangible harms against you)”.

          The idea of “validity” and “not valid as a person” is completely alien to me; that phrase doesn’t even parse. I suspect many other people are in the same boat. What does this mean?

          I mean, I’ve had chronic pain all my life, and I’ve dealt with plenty of people who just don’t get the concept of “yes, it does hurt right now, it ALWAYS hurts, the answer is ALWAYS YES, I am IN SEVERE PAIN 90% OF THE TIME EVERY DAY.”

          I’ve had some other issues, especially when I was in elementary school, and have gotten a lot of “it would be inconvenient for me if you were experiencing the very serious thing you are experiencing, so therefore your claim of experiencing it is a malicious lie, how dare you.”

          The first is just a little bit of a pain in the ass sometimes, the second was a lot more hurtful when it happened but way less hurtful than getting physically beaten or verbally abused. I’ve never had the response of utter existential dread “invalidating my existence” seems to imply. Am I just not getting it or what?

        • Sebastian_H says:

          The abortion debate also tries to deny the very personhood of one of the key components. Do you think it isn’t CW like?

          I’m gay. Until very recently that was a huge CW issue. And I’m very much old enough to have experienced it. I had a friend stabbed to death for cruising the wrong guy. So I understand the fear of having your very real self exposed in the wrong way.

          But you can’t just define away the culture war because you wish it weren’t culture war associated. This is actually the world we live in. You actually have to deal with it as it is. You aren’t going to gain ground usefully by taking a position which doesn’t need stand the reality of where we are now. You aren’t going to get where you want to go without dealing with the real world now.

          You can either chose to deal with the fact that being trans is what being gay was 20 years ago when I was young, something you either hide, or that you engage with as a “difficult” topic for some people. You can choose to hide or not. Hiding comes with some internal costs. Engaging comes with costs. You might choose to hide sometimes and engage other times. Those are all choices that make sense depending on what is going on and how strong you think you are and how realistic hiding is.

          Those are the choices. Your identity IS PART OF THE CW at this moment in time. Sorry. It is. That kind of sucks. If you want to talk to older gay people who lived that exact same thing, you might get some insights. I’d be happy to share, though ive noticed that younger trans people prefer to think of it all as entirely new so I try not to push it too much. But that’s the reality. Trans is at an inflection point. Probably the next generation won’t care much at all. But we do t live there yet.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’m going to second this, though I’m perfectly straight and really can’t claim the moral right to be so blunt myself.

          • Nick says:

            Good post. I just want to make explicit something I think was implicit in your comparison at the beginning, Sebastian: while some folks here are trans and no one here is a fetus, nevertheless for anyone whose mother considered an abortion, or whose mother was counseled to have one, or whose mother was in a very difficult spot where some think it is a just decision for the mother to have an abortion, this is a live concern. It’s very much a question for children of poor, unmarried mothers whether they or their older siblings should have been carried to term or not, and whether there is personhood at conception or at 12 weeks or 24 or what have you.

        • AG says:

          @Heather:

          I deliberately obscured who is what group in my comment because the people getting outgrouped, and want to strike back with “I AM HUMAN” responses changes from forum to forum.

          I’m sure that you, too have an outgroup, whose members are angry that you question their validity and have chucked them into the Culture War box.

          And in every forum I’ve seen this play out “the personal is political” nearly instantly gets exploited by bad actors to justify bad behavior. Such as deciding to harass and doxx the person hosting a CW thread…

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I think this is a good post – not because I agree with everything in it (and I don’t disagree with everything in it either, to be clear), but because it perfectly lays out how and why the “I don’t feel like I can talk about things comfortably” problem manifests. “Just talk about them uncomfortably” is a bad solution, and so is “make sure it’s possible to talk about them comfortably EVERYWHERE.” Because people care about different things, and a disregard for the things one person cares about can be (totally justifiably, oftentimes) considered a hostile attitude.

      No truly public forum can be truly welcoming. I think that’s tragic and enables some really toxic behavior. I also think it’s an inevitable conclusion.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        And to add, I think there’s a bit more go away, shut up, or stop feeling the way you do than I’d like in your shoes in these comments. You’ve done nothing but exhibit the politeness you’re advocating for, and as far as I can tell it hasn’t actually made anyone more willing to consider the things you’re saying or extend goodwill in your direction (not to say the comments are particularly hostile, just that they’re not exactly warm).

        I think you’ve done a good job of expressing exactly what you mean and how it makes you feel, and I don’t think anyone’s come out and said, “oh, that makes sense.” As far as I can tell, nobody’s responded to how you feel at all. (Partly that’s down to object-level disagreements that I sort of agree with the contrary opinion on, but still…)

        Anyway, just want to throw in that I get where you’re coming from, and I agree that it’s hard. I won’t do you the disservice of pretending it isn’t. And I’m glad you posted this.

        • gbdub says:

          I agree it was a good post, made eloquently, and I appreciate Heather for continuing to engage in good faith. But I just can’t agree with the content in an “oh that makes sense” sort of way.

          Basically Heather seems to be saying “My views shouldn’t be controversial, and it’s not okay to label them as controversial, because labeling it controversial offends me”

          But everyone thinks that about their deeply held beliefs! That’s like, the whole point of the Culture War framing.

          • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

            Some CW-relevant views seem to be held mostly because they are controversial (aka “triggering the snowflakes”).

    • whereamigoing says:

      You do realize that someone who, for example, sees pressure to use gender-neutral pronouns as bad for free speech, could make much the same complaint about not being able to bring up transgenderism as an example in general free-speech-related discussions? Probably that doesn’t seem as significant to you, but that’s what makes it culture war — people tend to see any offense taken by those who disagree with them as unjustified or irrational. Avoiding culture war is a burden we all share (I realize it’s a bit ironic to write that in this comment). (For the record, I generally support acceptance of transgender people.)

      “without any topics having a lower bar for politeness”

      I don’t think the Culture War Thread has a lower bar for politeness; maybe even the opposite. But the topic attracts impolite posts (before the mods get to them) and disagreements inherently sound more offensive, no matter how they’re worded.

      • Heather says:

        There is a fundamental asymmetry between me using whatever-given-rhetorical tool to defend myself and someone else using whatever-given-rhetorical tool for the sake of speaking freely. I value free speech and, to be clear, don’t want to silence anyone, but it’s pretty disheartening to equivocate the two sides of this asymmetry. The burden is not shared equally, when it comes to discussing a topic where people have different stakes. Taking everyone at face value, I have a lot more belief that people are harmed by incorrect pronoun use (or deliberate, insensitive misuse) than that people are harmed by being asked to change the way they use pronouns.

        So here I’m thinking, “I take offense at something someone said because it invalidates my experience and plays into a framework that contributes to direct harms to people like me,” and I can generally at least try to explain why I am offended. And someone else is saying, “I take offense that I am being asked to be inoffensive by slightly changing my speech,” more or less. These two kinds of offense are not the same. And it’s kind of hurtful to suggest that the offense I feel, which is deeply tied to pain I have experienced, is somehow equivalent to offense about being asked to maybe use gender neutral pronouns.

        Just looking at your comment, “I generally support acceptance of transgender people,” — good for you, I’m glad (although… what are your exceptions?). But that’s the burden we (and other minorities) face in fora like this — if we’re well behaved we can be “generally” accepted, but because no one can measure the sincerity of offense, it gets compared to the “offense” people feel that isn’t in any way linked to real persecution or trauma. Like, I haven’t met anyone, anyway, who has suffered any real trauma or danger from being asked to use gender neutral pronouns.

        • wanda_tinasky says:

          Disclaimer: I’m aware of the irony of engaging in CW-worthy debate in a post explicitly about the dangers of CW. Mea Culpa.

          I take offense at something someone said because it invalidates my experience

          How can someone else’s speech invalidate your experience? I object to that notion on fundamental grounds. Everyone’s experience is their own, and I’m not aware of any force in the universe that is capable of separating them from it.

          I fully endorse the notion that everyone should authentically live their own perceived experience – I think that’s sort of a sacred value, actually. Isn’t that one of the major arguments on your side: that you should be able to express your gender as you experience it? Well it seems to me that basic intellectual consistency demands that you extend that principle to others, including those who don’t perceive your gender the same way you do. Who are you to demand that they express your perceptions, rather than being free to express their own?

          • Heather says:

            I think I have a lot more justification in feeling offended (worried, threatened…) if someone expresses their perception of my gender differing from my own, than they do in feeling offended (etc.) because I express my perception of my gender which differs from their own.

            But also, I never asked for anyone to not express their perceptions. I actually would rather everything be “out in the open”. But I also don’t think there is any semblance of equality between me expressing MY OWN PERCEPTION OF MYSELF and someone else expressing THEIR PERCEPTION OF ME. Especially when, if we remove ourselves from the vacuum of this discussion, if I say “hey, I’m a trans woman” and someone else says “I don’t think that’s a thing,” they’re providing ammunition to oppress me, whereas I’m just describing my own experience.

            Like, can we agree to honor the freedom of speech and still recognize that there is an asymmetry in how these issues affect two people on different sides of an argument?

          • gbdub says:

            You’re not just asking them to accept your perception of yourself. You’re asking them to accept a framework of gender identity that is fundamentally decoupled from biological sex. Or perhaps to accept gender as a collection of performative, perhaps stereotyped, behaviors. Do you not see how that might threaten their personal gender identity, likely just as critical to their selves as yours is to you?

            You are on the one hand arguing that the words of other people are profoundly important to you, while denying that those same words could be profoundly important to them. You are saying that your feelings about their words are paramount, but their feelings about their own words are trivial.

            I don’t agree with TERFs or religious opposition to transgenderism, but I don’t think it takes an unreasonable amount of charity to see why they might have their own identities threatened by widespread acceptance of transgenderism (particualry if it starts getting legally enforced).

            Now if we’re talking consequentially, yeah, clearly transgender people face a lot of oppression (up to and including violence and all sorts of other bullshit) and people are on average less accommodating to them than we ought to be. This is a big part of why I disagree with TERFs. But I think “consequentially” is how we need to have that discussion. Predeclaring that some opinions are more valuable than others is not a good way to have an honest debate.

          • wanda_tinasky says:

            @Heather

            I have a lot more justification in feeling offended

            I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. Anyone can feel however they like about anything, and I don’t think that debates about what constitutes ‘justification’ for one’s feelings are productive. I think the only sane response to statements like are to point out that everyone’s feelings are their own responsibility and no one else’s, and if you get offended by something someone else has said then that’s no one’s problem but your own. Personal feelings have no productive place in public debates, and only serve to muddy the waters when they’re introduced. Everyone always believes that their own feelings are better justified than anyone else’s.

            >But I also don’t think there is any semblance of equality between me expressing MY OWN PERCEPTION OF MYSELF and someone else expressing THEIR PERCEPTION OF ME.

            Why not? Use can use all the caps-lock you like, it doesn’t change the fact that they are exactly the same. Now the emotional impact, presumably, lies more heavily on you than it probably does on someone else, but as I said above that’s 100% your problem. Your feelings don’t matter to anyone but you and the very few people who are close enough to you to care. Part of being an adult in a free society is having the courage of your convictions; it’s a rather childish narcissism to demand that other people take your feelings more seriously than they take their own.

            After all, if you want to take feelings-utility seriously then I think the transgender camp comes out pretty badly. People on the other side feel pretty strongly too, AND there’s a lot more of them. If we’re going by the feelings-matter-more-than-principles-like-free-speech-or-minority-rights metric, wouldn’t the preferences of the majority pretty obviously outweigh those of a very small minority?

            they’re providing ammunition to oppress me

            Every criticism ever levied against another person is potential “ammunition for oppression”. So what? Disagreement is not oppression, and tolerance is not the same as celebration. Read’s Scott’s “I Can Tolerate Everything Except the Outgroup.” If you’re unable to distinguish between those two concepts, you’re going to have a very hard time existing comfortably in the world – and an impossible time advocating for yourself to those who disagree with you.

          • arlie says:

            How can someone else’s speech invalidate your experience? I object to that notion on fundamental grounds. Everyone’s experience is their own, and I’m not aware of any force in the universe that is capable of separating them from it.

            If I had a dollar for every time someone told me (all) X is Y, when I was X but not Y, or stated this “fact” in my presence, I’d be richer than Bill Gates.

            “Math is hard – no one likes it”. “Women this and men that.” “Everyone agrees with obviously-false-idea”. “Everyone loves music”. “GUIs are much easier to use than anything involving text”. “No one would ever behave ethically unless they were scared that an all-knowing all-powerful being would punish them for breaking His rules.”

            When I was younger, this could pretty easily get me questioning my own experience.

            If all people from my country have certain attributes that I don’t have … and just about everyone I hear from agrees on the first part, while like-as-not trying to convince me that I really do have those attributes – it basically means that they have no interest in me or my experience, except to demand that I portray them as consistent with their beliefs.

            Or else it means I’m crazy, and I really do want/enjoy stereotypical-thing-I-actually-hate yet somehow can’t admit this to myself.

            Ditto if the label applies to my gender, race, appearance, religion, profession, age group, etc.

            And yes, it is perfectly possible to wind up wondering if you actually are crazy, and the experience you think you had probably isn’t real. After all, people occassionally do experience hallucinations, or simply misremember experiences.

            Now you can get into a nit-picky argument about whether to refer to that as “invalidating my experience”, “attempting to invalidate my experience”, “displaying their own cluelessness” or “commiting normal verbal oversimplification, while really meaning ‘most’ rather than ‘all’. But if you insist on that argument when I’m trying to describe my experience, or particularly if I’m trying to explain why I don’t like it when you insist on saying such things to/with/at me, I’m going to get increasingly angry with you.

            And the more people have been unanimous about either insisting that Black is White or keeping silent while others insist on it, the more annoyed I’m likely to be.

            Fortunately, I’m not in the same position as Heather – I don’t have to deal with the same level of denial of my experience that she’s going to get from the people who routinely insist that humans come in exactly two distinct categories, each plainly labelled and identifiable at birth.

            But I can certainly empathize with that part of her experience. Listening to that opinion has got to get incredibly old. And I think it does attempt to invalidate her experience, and exclude it from the domain of what is possible – in fact, that’s precisely what the people stating these views want to convince everyone to believe.

            I’m still not keen on having every thread be about this class of issue, but that’s because I suspect it would destroy any feeling that there’s any common ground among people on the list, and that might ultimately destroy the entire value of the space for discussing controversial topics. But I can see why Heather wants her experience (in this important-to-her area) to be part of normal discourse, not pushed off into a corner.

            I’d be unhappy if e.g. software engineering became a taboo topic, to be mentioned only in designated areas. Lots of others would doubtless be unhappy for parenting to be treated similarly. (Whereas I probably wouldn’t notice.) And those two aren’t even controversial in most circles.

          • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

            Gbdub, your point is well taken but I feel you missed a distinction that would have made your post so much better: yes, accepting the fragment of gender theory necessary to conceive of the existence of trans people might be threatening to the personal gender identity of the cis listener. On the other hand, denial that trans people are a thing is invariably a big deal for the trans listener. That’s an asymmetry right there.
            Because let’s not pretend that there aren’t a lot of interactions that can be summarized as:
            Alice: I am a woman.
            Bob: Yeah right, lol…

            I mean, I’m trans and I sometimes pretend not to care what pronouns people use to refer to me, but that’s just me poking some light fun at the performative, over the top wokeness of some cis people. Ultimately of course I care, greatly, and I don’t there’s one trans person on Earth who doesn’t.

          • Rana Dexsin says:

            Ultimately of course I care, greatly, and I don’t there’s one trans person on Earth who doesn’t.

            I don’t know if I could name them right now, but I have memories of knowing several who at least at one point seemed pretty solidly in the camp of “don’t care much”; I think some of them later changed their positions, but to say that this reflects the underlying reality for all of them seems like an exaggeration. (It may be relevant that many of these people come from some circles I’ve been around where there were very strong norms of respecting self-declared pronouns to start with, in ways I imagine would be considered extreme around here. That may affect how loose they are willing to be a lot of the time, given the backstop of being able to return to being strict when they need it without finding the rug pulled out from under them in the meantime.)

            I definitely know one today who cares in some social contexts, but doesn’t care on the ground level in others. Except that she finds this position too awkward to explain in practice and worries that it might cause social noise (“wait, what? I thought…”) if the contexts ever collide, so she winds up correcting people in a large subset of the don’t-care contexts regardless.

        • Nick says:

          And someone else is saying, “I take offense that I am being asked to be inoffensive by slightly changing my speech,” more or less.

          But that is not what they are being asked to do. What they are being asked to do is repeat what are, as far as they are concerned, falsehoods. Can you see how that bothers folks, especially ones unusually interested in truth-seeking, potentially a lot more than just being asked to slightly change their speech?

          Like, I haven’t met anyone, anyway, who has suffered any real trauma or danger from being asked to use gender neutral pronouns.

          I haven’t either, but:
          1) I’m always worried when someone else is setting the terms of polite debate, especially declaring that I’m hurting them no matter how polite, kind, or considerate I am, unless I repeat things I believe are false;
          2) I’m even more worried about what things are going to be added to that list, once I’ve accepted one;
          3) if your condition for things that are required to be said, or required not to be said, is that it causes some folks “trauma or danger,” you’re incentivizing bravery debating and performative hurt which, done long enough, will through a quirk of human psychology become quite genuine.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I agree with what Nick is saying. 3) is especially pernicious: it’s not just demanding white lies like that dress making your wife look thin; you’re making incentives for disutility monsters.
            “It hurts me so much that you called me ‘he’ for failing to pass! More than a cis white dude getting surgery without anesthetic!”
            It also looks suspiciously like a power trip. “You cannot disagree with me on this issue without harming me. Harming people is unethical. Therefore I’m correct, QED.”
            It’s not even necessarily that people fake hurt after adopting these you-can’t-disagree-with-me-without-harming-me identity positions. The lived hurt can be entirely real, but they need get over themselves. Learn Stoicism, or Buddhism, or something (religion/philosophy certainly helped me prevent gender dysphoria turning into full-blown transgender ideology 😛 ).

          • Nick says:

            Addendum: please ignore my use of “require” in (3). It’s too strong, especially given your later clarifications, making it sound as though you want to folks who disagree with you to be shunned or mocked or something.

          • gbdub says:

            But that is not what they are being asked to do. What they are being asked to do is repeat what are, as far as they are concerned, falsehoods. Can you see how that bothers folks, especially ones unusually interested in truth-seeking, potentially a lot more than just being asked to slightly change their speech?

            To be honest I’ve never really liked this line of argument, as I think it trivializes it and isn’t a great model of why most anti-trans people are anti-trans. Like, I doubt many TERFs are super scrupulous about never telling white lies to spare someone’s feelings. More productive would be to explore why that particular “falsehood” would be particularly meaningful to them.

          • Nick says:

            To be honest I’ve never really liked this line of argument, as I think it trivializes it and isn’t a great model of why most anti-trans people are anti-trans. Like, I doubt many TERFs are super scrupulous about never telling white lies to spare someone’s feelings. More productive would be to explore why that particular “falsehood” would be particularly meaningful to them.

            Well, are we talking about why most anti-trans people are anti-trans or about why the anti-trans people at r/ssc are anti-trans? I mean, I expect we have hardly any TERFs there, but am I just misinformed about that? I didn’t read the CW thread much.

            But as for whether it’s too broad, you have a point, and I should have been more precise. In my defense, though, I think the context of my post helps, especially points (1) and (3). Those clearly exclude merely being concerned about white lies.

          • gbdub says:

            1) and 3) explain why you might be opposed to being forced to call somebody by a preferred pronoun, but not why you’d refuse to do so voluntarily out of politeness (or why you’d go out of your way to call them by a non-preferred term).

            And I’m not saying there are zero people who are particularly scrupulous about honesty (if they exist anywhere, it’s probably here!), just that I kind of tend to lump “I cannot tell a lie” in with “I’m just being real” as an eyebrow cocking phrase that might theoretically indicate scrupulosity but in practice is most frequently used by people trying to justify being a dick.

          • Nick says:

            1) and 3) explain why you might be opposed to being forced to call somebody by a preferred pronoun, but not why you’d refuse to do so voluntarily out of politeness (or why you’d go out of your way to call them by a non-preferred term).

            I don’t think we have a problem with people going out of their way to do that here; I can only remember one person doing that off the top of my head, but maybe it’s more common at r/ssc. But as for the first point, fair enough.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t think we’re in significant disagreement, you’re just talking about SSC in particular, and I’m being general.

          • arlie says:

            Where is the falsehood?

            Many of the theories advanced re gender identity are pretty weird. The terminology is hard to remember for non-specialists and aggravating. At least two thirds of what people say about the reasons for this, or how it works in general, is probably wrong, and we mostly don’t know which two thirds.

            But anyone who believes that humans come in two categories, always distinguishable at birth, is either a small child, or willfully ignorant.

            Google Guevedoce. Yes, that’s a special case, with known biological causes. But one exception is all you need to invalidate an incorrect theory.

            Sure, you can rescue your theory by adding epicycles.

            But there will still be people who don’t identify with any gender, people who oscillate between feeling/acting male and feeling acting female, and people whose genitals appear female at birth but masculinize at puberty. And of course people who identify with a gender that doesn’t match their physique .. or who changed that phyique to match their identity.

            Being rigid about which of those you are willing to call “he” or “she” has nothing to do with truth or falsehood.

            On the other hand, insisting they don’t actually exist IS simply commiting falsehood.

          • Nick says:

            @gbdub Agreed.

          • Being rigid about which of those you are willing to call “he” or “she” has nothing to do with truth or falsehood.

            Let us suppose that 49% of humans are unambiguously male, 49% are unambiguously female, and 2% are in neither category. Calling someone you perceive as unambiguously male “she” is a falsehood.

            If that isn’t obvious, apply your argument to the question of guilt and innocence. Do you really want to argue that, because some defendants are not clearly either innocent or guilty, rigidly refusing to say someone is guilty when you are sure he is innocent has nothing to do with truth or falsehood?

            The fact that there are some ambiguous cases has been known for thousands of years—Jewish law provides for two categories other than male and female and discusses how gender related religious obligations apply to them. That doesn’t mean that whether someone is male or female is defined by what that person says he is.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            yet from time to time there appears persons of sex so doubtful, that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their name; though it is customary to give them a masculine name, as the more honored. For no one ever called them Hermaphroditesses.

            — St. Augustine, City of God Book XVI Ch. 8

            Intersex people are an empirical fact that no one ever had to mindlessly adopt transgender ideology to accept. Good thing, too, since the ideology was practically invented last week.

        • whereamigoing says:

          “what are your exceptions?”

          It’s not that there are people who are “exceptions”, but I think one can acknowledge that gender and sex can be different while maintaining that most kids who call themselves “transgender” will in fact grow up without gender dysphoria (or maybe they won’t; I have no strong opinion either way, but it seems like a legitimate question).

          “is somehow equivalent to offense about being asked to maybe use gender neutral pronouns”

          The offense is not about the pronouns themselves (which are arguably more convenient regardless of transgenderism).

          The context of these comments is Scott being harassed for being vaguely associated with the Culture War thread. Someone who hasn’t grasped the biological nature of transgenderism (like Scott for many years!) might see it as part of a pattern — the fallacy “X implies Y; Y offends me; therefore X is false” being applied to harass people and stop reasonable discussions. From their point of view, previously the fallacy was only used to defend standard left-leaning views, but now, in a show of power, they are being forced to say something obviously false. There is no harm in saying “2+2=5” in itself, yet it’s deeply humiliating when Winston in “1984” is tortured until he says it.

          “opposing, hateful views”

          Like I said before, it’s Culture War if neither side can imagine the other side having the views they do except out of hatred. One more attempt: If I met someone with brown eyes who kept insisting they have blue eyes, my instinctive reaction would be to think it’s some kind of prank or show them a mirror. And if people threatened to socially shun me unless I say they have blue eyes, I would start to wonder whether it’s some kind of cult or strange political ideology, and why eye color matters so much in the first place.

          From your perspective, it’s a small matter of using gender-neutral pronouns. But for someone who doesn’t understand gender dysphoria, it seems like a small matter of ignoring what pronouns they use — even granting that they disagree on what gender you have, gender isn’t so important, so it’s like obsessing over whether someone has dark blonde or light brown hair. (Note that Scott was similarly confused before studying medicine, despite his current views.)

          I don’t want to spend more time arguing for a view I don’t agree with, so I hope that provides some intuition why transgenderism is a CW issue.

          (Edit: Apparently other people already covered this while I was writing it.)

        • liskantope says:

          Taking everyone at face value, I have a lot more belief that people are harmed by incorrect pronoun use (or deliberate, insensitive misuse) than that people are harmed by being asked to change the way they use pronouns.

          I share this belief with you, and that’s the main reason my policy is to comply with people’s preferred pronouns and want others to do the same.

          My problem with your framing, though, is that it seems to me you’re begging the question: you and I believe, based on evidence coming from our perceptions of human behavior, that not calling people by their preferred pronouns causes more harm than everyone being compelled to use others’ preferred pronouns. But our interlocutors on other sides of these debates typically don’t share that belief in the first place. The Jordan Peterson types, for example, might believe (based on evidence coming from their perceptions of human behavior) that many or most trans-identifying people who demand different pronouns are doing so not because of trauma or genuine harm they suffer by being misgendered but for status-grabbing political motivations, while any kind of compelled language is a restriction on language smacking of totalitarianism which inflicts a very real harm.

          It follows from my object-level belief about the harms of non-preferred-pronoun-use that I agree this is very unfair to trans people. But on breaking outside of the object-level view, I don’t see a good solution, because “Always give precedence to the party claiming greater harm done” is an obvious recipe for trouble, and a lot of the time all parties are claiming equal degrees of harm anyway.

        • Sebastian_H says:

          You’re giving them too much power. Lots of people in my youth thought that I wasn’t a real man because I was gay. Sometimes they would call me “she” or “girl” to hammer that point home. That doesn’t invalidate my experience.

          Also part of me thinks you’re overdrawing it. I’ve seen huge offense taken at someone merely assuming a seemingly obvious gender. Assuming gender is going to be right a huge percentage of the time, just like assuming heterosexuality will be right most of the time (though less often than assuming gender). Taking offense at that level is just wrong. Nowadays people assume my heterosexuality at weird times, and I either correct them or don’t depending on the situation. But getting mad about the 90% guess (or 99% guess for cis) really is hyper sensitivity. If we ONLY got mad at the people who refuse to be gently corrected, that would be one thing. But the current social stance seems to be that we should get offended if they assume the overwhelmingly majority case, and that’s just being too touchy to be productive.

        • Zephalinda says:

          The difficulty is that gender (in the existential/metaphysical sense used in these debates) is a system of common identity categories in which we all participate. So one person’s statement “My gender is truly X, because ___ ___ ___” is at bottom a statement about what fundamentally constitutes X gender. You’re positing a universal model, not a private identity.

          So in pure speech terms (assuming no bad action like threats of violence, etc.), it seems like being asked to reinforce via speech a model of gender identity that doesn’t match one’s own could well carry some existential threat. Given Alice (a TERF) and Roberta (a transwoman), I don’t see a way for Roberta to say “I am just as truly a woman as Alice” without also saying “Alice’s experiences of fetal hormonal development/ natal female-bodiedness/ early-childhood female socialization/ female fertility/ unchosen female assignment, etc., may be important to Alice as an individual, but they are not truly important to her womanhood, because I don’t have those things, and I’m also just as much a woman.” As long as we insist on using “woman” as a common term for the two, here’s no way to have that conversation without an entirely symmetrical threat to the way each person (plus future generations of daughters, granddaughters, etc.) is allowed to exist in her body and her social self.

          I wonder if it’d be different if we could all agree on a libertarian system where we don’t socially mark or recognize gender at all, or where everybody just makes up their own idiosyncratic pronouns for themselves, and nobody gets to try to appropriate (or invalidate) anyone else’s terms. I do think that there are limits to how far purely intellectual debate can actually resolve a social/definitional issue like this, but that difficulty probably makes it more CW-y, not less.

          • arlie says:

            Yes. Exactly. Heather’s experience is so different from mine that she’s likely to ‘invalidate’ mine every time she generalizes from her own.

            But I don’t care.

            From where I sit, the requirement that we apply a gender tag just to speak about a person is unfortunate at best, and actively harmful at worse.

            Imagine that we had 4 pronouns instead, beong O, A, B, and AB, and the first thing announced about every baby was their blood type. Why would this be a good idea?

            The only real reason (other than tradition) that it’s important to split people into two categories, and label them accurately, is if it’s also customary to treat them differently based on category.

            That leads to an entirely different CW argument, with a certain set of people insisting that because the averages are different, individuals should be treated as if they were exactly equal to the average for their gender, even if they are obviously something else. (Joe of the Weak Back should carry Jane StrongWoman’s packages and open doors for her, Ms I-Have-no-Soft-Skills should be put in customer service, and Mr Math-Phobe should be trained as an engineer….) That kind of crap, though rarely expressed quite this bluntly. (Usually the claim is that none of those individuals matter, and/or that none of them exist.)

            Depending on how that perennial argument erupts, Heather and I will probably be on opposite sides of it – she wants to be treated as a woman, and I want to be treated as a human.

            But frankly, this felt need to tag everyone “correctly” makes me expect an agenda of treating people differently based on their tag, in ways that I probably won’t like.

            So why not try insisting that AB people love children, and should do all the child rearing, while O people are natural engineers and scientists, A’s should be in management, and B’s should do customer service? Or whatever.

          • The only real reason (other than tradition) that it’s important to split people into two categories, and label them accurately, is if it’s also customary to treat them differently based on category.

            Correct. And it is. For a very good reason.

            Humans, like other organisms, are “as if designed” by evolution for reproductive success. Hence we put a lot of effort and attention into mate search. Hence the categories “possible mate” and “not possible mate” are of great importance to us. For most of us, a potential mate is someone of the opposite sex.

            Obviously, not all women were possible mates for me—and at this point no woman other than my wife is. But because mate search is a pattern that runs through human behavior, that simple binary categorization is natural and useful and common to, I think, all human societies, although some have additional categories as well.

          • PeterDonis says:

            @arlie:
            From where I sit, the requirement that we apply a gender tag just to speak about a person is unfortunate at best, and actively harmful at worse.

            I agree; I wish our language had a neutral pronoun that could be applied to anyone without giving offense.

            One option might be “they” (and its corresponding forms for other cases), which seems awkward but maybe we could get used to it. At least it might be better at avoiding offense, since, as Douglas Hofstadter once remarked, “There is/are no group(s) actively demanding equality between singular and plural”.

          • Vorkon says:

            At least it might be better at avoiding offense, since, as Douglas Hofstadter once remarked, “There is/are no group(s) actively demanding equality between singular and plural”.

            I dunno, the conflict between collectivists and individualists seems pretty central to modern discourse, if you ask me. :op

          • arlie says:

            @DavidFriedman It sounds like what you really want is 3 categories:
            – person of reproductive age, capable of bearing children, seeking co-parent
            – person of reproductive age, capable of siring children, seeking co-parent
            – other

            Both of the first two categories are much smaller than the third. If the primary goal of pronouns really were “helping people identify potential mates”, then English would be overdue for an update.

            But also, if that were the primary goal of pronouns, there wouldn’t be languages that support a non-gendered 3rd person singular.

          • Clutzy says:

            I agree; I wish our language had a neutral pronoun that could be applied to anyone without giving offense.

            Why would this be good? It is simply a desire for large majorities to lose information that they are entitled to for what gain?

          • arlie says:

            It is simply a desire for large majorities to lose information that they are entitled to for what gain?

            Why are they entitled to know someone’s gender, by whatever rules they happen to be using?

            In particular, does this mean they are entitled to strip anyone they aren’t sure of, and check what’s between their legs? Perhaps demand a sample so as to do an instant DNA test? Is knowing a person’s gender that important to you, that it matters more than someone else’s privacy or bodily integrity?

            Would it be reasonable for someone to do this to you? Even if you look 100% like a particular gender, and follow all your local sterotypes 100%, never ever violating gender norms, you might just be some trannie trying to pass, particularly if you present as male.

            Or are you one who advocates for labelling all people clearly, while allowing for the occassional change of label? (I.e. trans people exist, but intersex – physically or mentally – do not, according to yourr beliefs.)

            Put bluntly, I don’t see that a random stranger is entitled to information on my gender. If they meet me in person, or hear my voice, they’ll make a guess. Sometimes they’ll guess based on other attributes even without meeting me. And sometimes people will tell them my gender, based on their own best guess.

            Given current pronouns, and people’s crazy reactions to finding they’ve misgendered someone, I might correct errors. But then again, I may not bother. Your need to colour me pink or blue in your mind is not my problem. It’s yours.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Arlie:

            That leads to an entirely different CW argument, with a certain set of people insisting that because the averages are different, individuals should be treated as if they were exactly equal to the average for their gender, even if they are obviously something else. (Joe of the Weak Back should carry Jane StrongWoman’s packages and open doors for her, Ms I-Have-no-Soft-Skills should be put in customer service, and Mr Math-Phobe should be trained as an engineer….) That kind of crap, though rarely expressed quite this bluntly. (Usually the claim is that none of those individuals matter, and/or that none of them exist.)

            That’s a fairly obvious strawman. Most people don’t think that people should be treated as if they’re exactly average to their gender even when this is clearly not the case, but rather that gender differences serve as a useful heuristic for guessing what somebody is going to be like as a person. Heuristics don’t have to be 100% accurate to be useful.

            Imagine that we had 4 pronouns instead, beong O, A, B, and AB, and the first thing announced about every baby was their blood type. Why would this be a good idea?

            It wouldn’t, because people’s gender tracks with more aspects of their behaviour, personality, skill-set, etc., than their blood type.

            Why are they entitled to know someone’s gender, by whatever rules they happen to be using?

            Because for people to interact successfully, they need to have some understanding of the other person’s personality, preferences, etc. Gender provides a useful heuristic for guessing these. So by preventing people from knowing someone’s gender, you’re depriving them of valuable social information.

            In particular, does this mean they are entitled to strip anyone they aren’t sure of, and check what’s between their legs? Perhaps demand a sample so as to do an instant DNA test? Is knowing a person’s gender that important to you, that it matters more than someone else’s privacy or bodily integrity?

            Real people, as opposed to straw men, are capable of balancing different goods against each other. It’s good (in the sense of helpful for social interactions) to know somebody’s gender; that doesn’t mean that it’s the sole good, or that it overrides any other good, like that of not being strip searched by random strangers.

            Given current pronouns, and people’s crazy reactions to finding they’ve misgendered someone, I might correct errors. But then again, I may not bother. Your need to colour me pink or blue in your mind is not my problem. It’s yours.

            You are, of course, perfectly entitled to that position, although I’d say the currently-prevailing attitude of “My self-expression is more important than all these rules developed to help people interact successfully” is a large part of the reason for why the culture war has got as bad as it has.

          • Clutzy says:

            @arlie

            Why are they entitled to know someone’s gender, by whatever rules they happen to be using?

            You have framed this completely backwards. The question is why should we be deprived of the value that gendered pronouns give us in everyday life. If you are talking about a 3rd person and the person telling you the story says, “then he jumped in the pool” this is useful. Your plan of eliminating gender pronouns is actually just eliminating information from the world.

          • arlie says:

            @The original Mr. X

            I wish what I said was entirely a straw man. But then I wouldn’t have said it.

            Unfortunately, we have had people in CW threads on this blog expressing the idea that given two people – one with qualifications and/or experience at a task, but of the group that’s less good at it on average, and the other with no qualifications or experience, but of the more talented group, the right person to hire for the job is the second person, and it’s intelligent and rational to start your search by throwing out all resumes from the less talented group.

            They may have meant “provided there are enough applicants that you are pretty much guaranteed to find one who is a trained and experienced member of the statistically more talented group”. But that’s not what they *said*.

            I can’t remember now, whether the group they had in mind was gender or race based – indeed, I may well have seen multiple instances of people advocating for this decision process, for multiple categories of people.

            Yes, I could have steel-manned this basic attitude, or at least tried to. And I could have framed this extreme belief as rarer, rather than simply making an existence claim that could easily be read as suggesting the attitude was common. (The truth is, I don’t know how common it is, and am too lazy to research that.)

            But I stand by my claim that the attitude exists, and has been seen by me in at least one CW thread on this blog, and very probably more.

          • nkurz says:

            @Clutzy
            > Your plan of eliminating gender pronouns is actually just eliminating information from the world.

            More information is good if it helps us make more informed decisions, and bad if it reinforces unwarranted prejudices. If you haven’t read it before, I think you’d enjoy Douglas Hofstadter’s classic satirical essay “A Person Paper on Purity in Language“.

            It viciously makes the point that if the English language used race rather than gender for our pronouns, it would strike us as absurdly prejudiced. But likely because we’ve grown up accustomed to unnecessary gendering, we hardly notice the downsides and feel like a change would involve giving up a lot for very little benefit. I don’t do a good job of always using non-gendered speech, but I’d credit the essay with making it clear to me that gendered pronouns have significant power to affect my thinking.

            Rereading the essay, I’m also reminded that I’ve never managed to find the essay that Hofstadter references in a footnote as a good complement. He says it’s named “The Tale of Two Sexes”, and appears in the book “The Nonsexist Communicator”, by Bobbye Sorrels. I can find snippets on Google Books, which show that it uses Mngl (pronounced mingle) and Mrd (pronounced murd) to refer to single and married males. Does anyone know where to find the full essay?

          • Nornagest says:

            But likely because we’ve grown up accustomed to unnecessary gendering, we hardly notice the downsides and feel like a change would involve giving up a lot for very little benefit.

            There’s a hidden assumption in here.

          • cuke says:

            nkurz, I had that book many moons ago, had forgotten about it.

            As someone who grew up feminist in the 70s, there was a stretch in there when it felt like we might actually stop using words like “mankind” to refer to people. Or at least in my tiny corner of the world.

            I don’t know if this is Nornagest’s point, but unnecessary gendering in our language and in other ways has grated on me as long as I can remember.

            I wondered if it might come up in this conversation since that was a similar tussle around pronouns and I had a lot of debates back then with people about the “harm” and “effort” on each side of the issue.

            I’m somebody who is perfectly happy in my body but who finds gender roles utterly annoying — I don’t like performing them, I don’t like the expectations around them, I don’t like the feeling of “shoulds” and shaming induced by them. They carry no comfort or goodness for me at all.

            So my challenge in learning about trans people’s experience, is the strand of it that is about moving from one definite box to another. I hate boxes and my anti-box bias gets in the way of my understanding a certain part of that experience. People who identify as “they” and being genderfluid I have a more intuitive affinity for. But that doesn’t mean it’s all that hard for me to just empathize at the level of someone who is suffering and looking for a way to suffer less. I wholeheartedly support that.

          • nkurz says:

            @Nornagest
            > There’s a hidden assumption in here.

            Surely there are many, and probably some of them are false. My goal with this sentence was mostly to summarize Hofstadter’s post script, explaining why he wrote the piece. I’m guessing you are pointing out that especially today, some people notice the downsides very much? Or did you have a different assumption in mind?

            In the meantime (not directed at you) I’ll quote directly from another part of the post script where he makes another interesting assumption that seemed quite relevant to Scott’s blog post:

            Numerous friends have warned me that in publishing this piece I am taking a serious risk of earning myself a reputation as a terrible racist. I guess I cannot truly believe that anyone would see this piece that way. To misperceive it this way would be like calling someone a vicious racist for telling other people “The word ‘n****r’ is extremely offensive.” If allusions to racism, especially for the purpose of satirizing racism and its cousins, are confused with racism itself, then I think it is time to stop writing.

            [The expurgation required to avoid the spam filter strikes me as particularly ironic. Perhaps a good rule, but still ironic.]

          • Clutzy says:

            It viciously makes the point that if the English language used race rather than gender for our pronouns, it would strike us as absurdly prejudiced.

            It would not strike me as that way. I actually find the hypothetical (as with the one brought up elsewhere with blood types) actually quite useful. In fact, if the language people invented Xir, Zir, etc and one meant White man and one meant black man, I would be more open to the new pronouns. As they would be more useful.

          • albatross11 says:

            arlie:

            Consider the idea that we should treat individuals based on their group average rather than their individual traits. I am probably one of the more vocal advocates here of the idea that there are group differences that matter in daily life, but I’d argue against that (and have argued against it) on the basis of it leading to bad decisions. I wouldn’t bother trying to argue that we should make changes to the structure of our language to prevent people doing it–that seems like a pretty backwards approach.

            IMO, gendered pronouns are useful in describing/explaining some situations–they save some words and some letters. OTOH, they sometimes sneak in an assumption you didn’t want, like if you use the generic “he” for all your examples in a user’s manual, you may convey the impression that only men are going to be using this product. Unless the product is a jock strap, this is probably not what you intended. It’s not clear to me that trying to change the structure of the language is all that great of a solution to this–alternating male and female pronouns in examples works fine, as does the somewhat clunky swapping in of “they” instead of the generic “he.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Clutzy:

            So, this leads me to an entirely intellectual question: Are there languages where the language makes a built-in distinction between races or castes or religious groups or some such thing? (I’m wondering specifically about Indian languages making a caste distinction, since caste distinctions are old enough to have been incorporated in the language.)

            I am no linguist at all, but I can give one somewhat parallel example: there is a formal/informal distinction in Spanish (and there used to be one in English) that has the effect of coding for social position–I can offend an adult by addressing them as tu instead of usted (though my thick Gringo accent will probably buy me a fair bit of tolerance), because it can come off as putting myself above them. Depending one which Spanish speaking country you’re in, this may be more or less of a big deal. This doesn’t code for race, but it does code for social position in a way that might be analogous to race.

            Also, as a SF reference: In Bujold’s Vorklosigan universe, there are hermaphrodites with both sets of sex organs (referred to as “it” without any sense of that being offensive), also sexless constructs (the “ba”, I don’t remember their pronoun) and gendered constructs somewhere on the road to transhumanism (referred to as “haut”).

          • if the English language used race rather than gender for our pronouns,

            The Romany do something rather like that. There is a word for “Male Romany.” There is a word for “Female Romany.” There are words for male and female non-Romany. There is no word for “man” (Romany or not) or “woman” (Romany or not).

          • Clutzy says:

            @albatross

            I’m also not a linguist so I have no idea. I have experience as you do with tu/ustedes.

          • Viliam says:

            Hungarian language does not have gendered pronouns.

            I wonder whether this makes any actual difference in everyday life, such as less sexism in Hungary, etc. I assume it does not, but I am open to evidence, of course.

          • liskantope says:

            Many, many of the world’s languages (if not most when considering the number of languages rather than the speaking populations!), belonging to many of the world’s language families, do not distinguish between gender in 3rd person pronouns. (For example, Chinese, Finno-Ugric languages e.g. Finnish and Hungarian, many Austronesian languages e.g. Malay, many Bantu languages e.g. Swahili, etc.) They find a way to get along just fine. Yes, less information is conveyed in those languages whenever referring to someone with a 3rd person pronoun (just as less information is conveyed using English “you” rather than pronouns in other languages which distinguish between singular and plural 2nd person, or English “we” rather than inclusive vs. exclusive 1st person plurals in other languages). But one can still get along without them, and in fact broader categories for distinguishing pronouns save a bit of effort in using them. So there’s a give and take: we could distinguish between a whole lot of categories in our pronouns (e.g. race and marital status, as pointed out above, but also things like proximity, age, etc.) and then our pronoun use would convey more information but require more processing and risk of error on the part of the speaker. So there’s clearly a limit to how far we should go in that direction, and it’s up to those on either side of this thread’s debate to defend why it should or shouldn’t stop at distinguishing (perceived) gender, or exactly how far it would ideally go.

        • Clutzy says:

          The burden is not shared equally, when it comes to discussing a topic where people have different stakes. Taking everyone at face value, I have a lot more belief that people are harmed by incorrect pronoun use (or deliberate, insensitive misuse) than that people are harmed by being asked to change the way they use pronouns.

          To be frank, this is simply untrue. While it may be true in the small sample size of people who consistently interact with you and you have conditioned to your preferences, it is entirely the opposite with the remaining segment of society. Most people are not memorable. As an example, on this forum there are only a dozen or so commenters that are memorable to me: David, Cass, Lady, HBC, John, Plumber, and maybe a few others. Most are fairly forgettable and don’t have a unique voice. Am I to recall all of their political positions, or simply take each post as it is? Obviously I must take each on its own, otherwise the garbage collection system in my brain would become overloaded with trash.

          Now simply apply this to the world. The burden is much greater to the world to call you “she” if you appear to be “he” or vice versa, than it is for you to just nod. To bring up a significant culture war incident that is on topic that happened recently, there was the transwoman in Gamestop that went ballistic on a teller. Who was imposing the burden? Any objective observer would say it was the crazy person stomping around, throwing a tantrum, not the polite person making $10 an hour.

        • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

          Hi, Heather. Like many others in this I feel conflicted about weighing in on the merits of controversial sociopolitical issues in this particular post — I’m half expecting for Scott to wait until the dust settles and pronounce a mass ban on all of us!

          But in the interest of mutual understanding I figured I’d make one point on the asymmetry issue. I honestly view the question of asymmetry the opposite way that you do. I am a passionate adherent of an intellectual worldview where what matters most is intellectual liberty and where accidents of birth like race or sex are obviously important but are what should be deemphasized in interpersonal discussion. That’s why if you told me that you believed I was a different race than I believe I am, or that I am the opposite sex that I believe I am, I might view your opinion as puzzling and be curious why you hold it but I would never view that sort of thing as a deep assault. That isn’t because I care any less than you do about what sex I am. It’s just a disagreement and we should celebrate polite disagreement. It’s precisely the opposite situation, where people on one side are told that refusal to acquiesce in the opposing conceptual framework, that presents a basic threat. This whole thing, everything good about our society and culture, was built on the premise that the way we do things is that we need to express our opinions respectfully but our beliefs are our own. I appreciate that you don’t want to shut down views opposed to your own but I have seen some on your side express views that basically discredit those who disagree with them as evil people who should be ostracized or worse. I probably can’t hope to convince you that I’m right about all this in a short blog comment, but I hope that at least you may recognize that there is a good-faith view on the other side that sees the asymmetry in harm as working the other way.

    • wanda_tinasky says:

      In his essay “Tense Present”, David Foster Wallace opined that highly-charged political issues can only be tackled in what he called a Democratic Spirit:

      A Democratic Spirit is one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., passionate conviction plus sedulous respect for the convictions of others.

      I think the major factor in labelling a topic CW is the observation that a significant percentage of the people who participate in debates about that topic do so with a lack of proper Democratic Spirit. It’s not a judgement of either sides’ argument, it’s a recognition that the topic is emotionally charged enough to prevent an acceptable fraction of participants from engaging in good faith. And regardless of your object-level beliefs on the topic, ‘transgenderism’ is a topic on which both sides regularly display an inability to engage in good faith. It should be pretty uncontroversial to observe that discussion about it regularly devolves into unconstructive mud-slinging.

      And with all due respect, your post betrays exactly the kind of attitude that got transgenderism classified as CW in the first place.

      I could probably also just have quoted: “the personal is political”.

      Indeed. The fact that it’s so personal for you means that you’re unable to treat it as anything other than a political topic. That’s not what SSC is really about. SSC aims to have dispassionate, nuanced, academic discussions; not zero-sum political ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t feel the way you do – I probably would too, in your shoes – but SSC isn’t interested in the types of discussions where each side views the other as necessarily holding

      opposing, hateful views

      I realize you see it differently, but you are, in fact, just one side in a multi-sided discussion, and all of those sides are just as a priori valid as the others.

      • gbdub says:

        Yes, 1000 times all of this.

      • Heather says:

        > “the personal is political”
        It’s not that I have to treat it as political because it’s so personal.

        It’s that even if I wish it could just be a personal issue, it’s not, because there are systematic factors that prevent me from just keeping to myself about it.

        I can’t explain it better than this post: https://ordinary-times.com/2019/02/13/apolitical-myth-making/

        • AG says:

          No one is saying that the issue needs to be apolitical or apersonal to be discussed. Things that get labeled CW is about tone, not content.
          People can get as personal as they want about pineapple on pizza, and that conversation won’t get tossed into CW, because the discussion and responses to that do not result in a degeneration of the discussion space.

          “The personal is political” is a doctrine that encourages a certain tone of response, that it is justified to degrade the discussion space because the content, not the tone, is personal. Therefore, those things fall under Culture War.

          In addition, it seems like you should prefer the state of affairs now where personally-political topics get silo’d into a CW section. It means that you can go into any of the discussions outside of that silo without suddenly encountering an attack on your personhood. It’s making the majority of the forum a safe space, by relegating the most volatile topics to a designated non-safe space. Why wouldn’t you want the majority of the forum to be a safe space?

    • SaiNushi says:

      Throw the fact that roughtly half of SJW’s are TERFs, (the other half of them are LGBTQ-friendly), together with the fact that all SJW’s are militant about their opinions being the One Truth with a side of Death to the Haters (and Hater = anyone whose opinion is different from ‘mine’), and it’s no wonder that any topic that SJW’s have an opinion on becomes culture war, doubly so if the SJW opinions differ.

      It’s a shame, because it also means that any cause SJW’s champion immediately becomes part of the Culture War.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Throw the fact that roughtly half of SJW’s are TERFs,

        [citation needed]

        Anecdotally, I was under the impression that SJWs had thrown TERFs into outer rightness, on the Wrong Side of History.

        • SaiNushi says:

          I have attempted to avoid SJW’s for the past year, rather successfully, so my headspace data on their views of transgenderism is over a year old. It is quite possible that it’s simply out of date.

          • AG says:

            Nah, it’s fairly popular for people to take TERF posts, sand off the overtly transphobic bits, and proudly re-post the edited version with an “OP was a TERF so I stole their post”. I guess they feel that the TERFs have mottes worth promoting?

            (Well, I say motte, but really, those posts are just used to gleefully attack another outgroup.)

            You could probably take incel rants, switch the genders, re-post them, can get a slew of “Amen!” notes from TERFs and non-TERF leftists alike.

    • Humbert McHumbert says:

      Good, helpful post. I have an anecdote to share that may communicate why some would disagree with your position.

      I was once a member of an online writers’ forum. It was an excellent network of friendly people. Discussion of politics was disallowed, which helped keep everything friendly.

      Then came the social media politics era. The marginalized members of the forum began to say things like “Our identities are not political, we need to be able to talk about them here.” Once it became settled policy that they had free rein to do this, the next step for many of them was, “Which racist/sexist/transphobic Republican writer should we Twitter mob today?” Anyone who objected to this was told that their objections were policing people’s attempts to discuss their identities.

    • LadyJane says:

      Thank you, Heather. I often feel the same way in spaces like this, and it’s frustrating. You put that feeling into words and explained it better than I could.

    • awal says:

      From the replies to this comment I’ve learned why some people believe there is an anti-trans sentiment here; at least one shared by more than the self identified 7% of people against using trans people’s pronouns. It is not that there are more people who are against using those pronouns, it is that there are a lot more people who engage in criticising the normative enforcement of using preferred pronouns.

      Regardless of one’s position on whether preferred pronoun use should be mandatory, the is a pattern of asserting or implying the equivalence of things that I believe are fundamentally different, and doing so without acknowledging a fundamental difference.

      Some examples from the above thread: (there is more context, but I genuinely don’t believe I am misrepresenting their expressed opinions).
      Gbdub using as an example of what it may be like to be forced to use pronouns they don’t believe in:
      People with “brown eyes who kept insisting they have blue eyes”
      Bugmaster discussing why it is problematic to assert ones view that they are trans as uncontroversial, notes that debaters of “vi vs emacs” may react just as viscerally to a differing opinion.
      DavidFriedman equating the questioning of someone self-identitying as anarchist with questioning someone self identifying as a gender different than the one they were assigned.

      There are a couple more but the above are illustrative. I don’t believe the commenters are malicious, I believe that at some level they may not understand the difference of impact that perceptions and experiences and socio-cultural consequences of gender identity can have on a person that does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

      The differences are at least two-fold:
      1: Systemic discrimination and oppression.
      2: The constant internal experience of your gender as different from the experiences of gender-conforming people, as confirmed by them.

      If you are someone who matches internal traits usually tied to green eyes, but have blue eyes, you may express that and try to reclaim a concept seperate from sex that means internal eye colour. However, in reality, your internal experience of the world is not much different with one eye color than another, and you are not systemically denigrated and denied opportunities because of that.

      With gender, it is entirely different. Imagine that you wake up tomorrow with the genetalia/secondary sex characteristics of your opposite gender and sense some differing emotional reactions… But otherwise are mentally the exact same as you are now. I imagine that you would strongly still identify with your current gender; you still like the same things, and probably feel like you should have your original genetalia back. Now imagine being questioned, mocked, denigrated, and marginalized because you are expressing the gender you currently are. Up until recently, a vast majority of people thought you were simply insane, and even now people don’t think everyone should necessarily validate you.
      If you experienced that, you would find it ridiculous to have the validity of your identify critically debated.

      With that in mind, I believe being upset that people believe you are incorrect about your gender is meaningfully different than being upset that people think emacs is better than vi or even that you aren’t a real anarchist.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The issue with this approach is exactly what gbdub said- you have weaponized being offended. Imagine the opposite scenario where instead of choosing benign analogies they instead compared being trans to being a pedophile, I would expect that a trans person would rightly feel that would be a dehumanizing comparison and not feel welcome in a place where that is common. To be in an environment where posters are actively* considering their words to avoid being directly offensive and end up considering it hostile because their words are now to weak to be more direct analogies is to effectively (try to) box in the conversation around the wants of the most easily offended individual.

        *A guess but given the posting history of some of them a good one based on their posting histories.

        • awal says:

          I’m not sure how I personally am weaponizing being offended. I think it is okay to be offended in some scenarios, and to expect for others to be empathetic in those scenarios, but that doesn’t have to shut down debate.
          Also, a pedophile analogy would be weak as well, for different reasons.

          Yes, both are at least somewhat important to your identify and you can be oppressed for them.

          However, pedophilia inherently entails an urge to do unethical acts that would harm others.
          Being trans does not.

          Thus the potential harm of normalizing or enforcing the normalization of transgender people and pedophiles is much much different.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m not sure how I personally am weaponizing being offended. I think it is okay to be offended in some scenarios, and to expect for others to be empathetic in those scenarios, but that doesn’t have to shut down debate.

            Your quote

            I don’t believe the commenters are malicious, I believe that at some level they may not understand the difference of impact that perceptions and experiences and socio-cultural consequences of gender identity can have on a person that does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth

            The socio-cultural effects are largely internal, a trans person who doesn’t particularly care if they are mis gendered doesn’t suffer as much as a trans person who does. You stated that you didn’t think the posters were being malicious, but also seem to be saying that they are creating a negative environment despite their intent/lack of intent to create one.

      • gbdub says:

        For what it’s worth, the blue/brown eye example was not mine, and I don’t really endorse it.

        More thoughts later, but I appreciate the comment.

      • AG says:

        @awal:

        The anti-trans sentiment isn’t rooted in the object level. It’s an extension of fearing the ways in which meta-level rhetorical superweapons have been constructed, of which battling anti-trans sentiment is only one application.

        “Systemic discrimination and oppression” and “the personal is political” were also used to created the kerfuffles exemplified in Scott’s infamous “untitled” post, as well as attacking Scott for hosting a CW thread. The sentiment here isn’t about the specific argument concerning trans identities, it’s a stance that these doctrines have been entirely too co-opted to be used as enforcement standards. There need to be better, less-exploitable standards.

        A different identity could have been chosen (for example, what it means to be a man), but if they tried to advocate for using the same meta-level superweapons, the same kinds of counter-arguments would have been trotted out.

        • awal says:

          I’d like more details on things where the main arguments for normalizing trans people’s identities could be correctly used, but with an undesirable outcome.
          The arguments including:
          Central to the self
          Does harm to not be normalized
          Not changeable by the self
          An uninhibited fulfillment does not inherently harm others

          • AG says:

            “used correctly” is doing a lot of rhetorical work. Motte arguments are always welcome.

            A lot of the claims here are that most people way too easily fall into frolicking in the bailey, and that, indeed, the baileys are often the popular version of the arguments being advocated for. That policy put into practice is rarely based on the motte.

            For example, I’ve seen pronoun policies be extended to prohibiting fiction that includes characters coming to terms with their feelings on gender, because those characters hadn’t arrived at the Correct Conclusion already. They also tend to be classist, by penalizing those without the means to get educated on the latest acceptable lingo. And there’s been the way “central to the self” has had a baby with horrible appropriation concepts to denigrate GNC people, nonbinary people, crossdressers (and drag specifically) as transphobic.

            The kneejerk response here isn’t about the trans topic, it’s about having little faith that these kinds of proclamations (much of the same bones used to advocate for other minority demographics as well) will retain a sense of nuance and charity, instead of happily tarring the well-meaning, the apathetic, or the weakly opposed. It’s a knowledge that a loud sector isn’t interested in making any allies (with the give-and-take the original tactical meaning implies), instead of sticking to alienating everyone else as Other.

      • whereamigoing says:

        “I imagine that you would strongly still identify with your current gender”

        The thing is, I honestly don’t think I would. I admit that I’ll probably never be able to understand transgenderism on an emotional level, any more than I could understand what it’s like to be a cat — “having a strong gender identity” simply isn’t an experience I have. All I can do is to try to apply the Principle of Charity.

        To be clear, I don’t think the experience of being misgendered is actually equivalent to the experience of having brown eyes but being told you have blue eyes. Rather, the way someone without a strong gender identity intuitively perceives misgendering is probably the way transgender people would perceive a “trans-eye” person.

        I can’t fully understand transgender people, but maybe I can at least encourage transgender people by helping them understand non-transgender people. And the analogy is aimed at that: many people who are careless with pronouns don’t hate transgender people — they are just confused the same way transgender people would be confused by “trans-eye” people. Admittedly, it might not be that encouraging to hear “Even people who don’t hate you will often fail to understand you due to fundamentally and irreconcilably different experiences.”. Again, I don’t see a solution apart from consistently applying the Principle of Charity.

      • eh says:

        I don’t think it is entirely different, for me. I’m not particularly attached to being male – in fact, when I was a kid I had occasional recurring dreams about being a woman, and what I think was mild gender dysphoria, that eventually went away during puberty – and the empathy I feel for trans people has to be filtered through layers of metaphor for me to understand it. This makes it hard for me to tell the difference between a linguistic power grab and a good faith request that would make someone more comfortable.

        The way I usually tell the difference is costly signalling and alignment with either end of the gender binary. If a trans person is presenting as a particular gender then I’m happy to go along with it; if a man with a beard wants me to call him “them” then it feels like an assertion of power, which I’ll acquiesce to while nursing a grudge.

        It’s hard to understand whether transpeople consider this bigotry or not. In practical terms I’ve never misgendered someone to their face, but depending on how you worded your survey I might easily end up in the 7%.

      • Vorkon says:

        It occurs to me that while “People with brown eyes who keep insisting they have blue eyes” isn’t a particularly good analogy for how people feel in this situation, “people who see a gold dress while everybody else tells them it’s blue” or “people named ‘Laurel’ who keep running into people insisting their name is ‘Yanny'” just might be.

        • whereamigoing says:

          Yes, those analogies are better for “how transgender people feel about non-transgender people”. But the eye analogy is aimed at “how people without a strong gender identity feel about transgender people”.

      • Clutzy says:

        Some examples from the above thread: (there is more context, but I genuinely don’t believe I am misrepresenting their expressed opinions).
        Gbdub using as an example of what it may be like to be forced to use pronouns they don’t believe in:
        People with “brown eyes who kept insisting they have blue eyes”
        Bugmaster discussing why it is problematic to assert ones view that they are trans as uncontroversial, notes that debaters of “vi vs emacs” may react just as viscerally to a differing opinion.
        DavidFriedman equating the questioning of someone self-identitying as anarchist with questioning someone self identifying as a gender different than the one they were assigned.

        To be honest, your listing of these examples makes me less charitable to your POV. People can, in fact, be colorblind or visually impaired. This is provable. vi vs emacs is a debate with blurry lines, but if you are investing, its worth your time. Anarchist vs. anarcho-communist is an easily identifiable difference when it comes to order of operations.

        How does a person walking into the average transgender person’s office know they are actually not as they appear? It is much less scientific than the colorblind man thinking his eyes are the wrong color; it is not as interesting and useful as the various ways of choosing your coding architecture; and it is less evident during a blank debate than a communist vs. capitalist. In other words, its almost impossible for the average person to know what is going on before you become offended. And, even if they were informed, they rarely will have an incentive to remember (if you disagree, please tell me all the names of your high school and college teachers, preferably in order, with their genders and whether they were Republican or Democrat).

      • 10240 says:

        Experiments that wouldn’t get IRB approval #327: Raise children in such a way that they can’t determine their own sex. A device is mounted on their eyes that prevents them from seeing their own body, they are prevented from touching their genitals (perhaps some numbing drug is also applied to their genital area so they don’t feel them, or just ensure they don’t learn what the genitals of each sex are like). Make sure that nobody ever tells them their sex. Put a device on their mouths that distorts their voice into an androgynous voice.

        How many of the children would be able to guess their sex at (at certain ages)? How many would be right? How many would say they have no idea?

        • As you may know, a version of this experiment was done, unintentionally, with a sample size of one. The baby boy who, due to a slip of the scalpel and the advice of a psychologist who wanted to prove that gender was socially constructed, was told he was a girl and raised as a girl, was unwilling to fill that role and when, eventually, he was told the truth, shifted to a male role.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I will grant you everything that you said about gender, sexuality, and pronouns. However, I cannot grant you your conclusion:

        I believe being upset that people believe you are incorrect about your gender is meaningfully different than being upset that people think emacs is better than vi or even that you aren’t a real anarchist.

        Now, personally, I don’t really care that much about text editors or anarchism. However, the majority of your comment dealt with describing the internal experiences of trans people; experiences that can be extremely painful and mentally taxing. In your conclusion, you are implicitly denying that other people might have internal experiences that are completely different from the trans experience, yet are similarly painful and mentally taxing (yes, I will grant you that “vi vs. emacs” is a silly example, but I picked it deliberately to be inoffensive).

        Furthermore, you seem to be missing my original point: just because you personally, or your demographic group in general, finds certain opinions highly offensive and even painful; does not mean that expressing such opinions should be disallowed. To be sure, there’s absolutely room on the Internet for “safe spaces” for each affected group; however, the entire Internet (and, by extension, our society at large) should not become such a safe space; nor, I believe, should SSC.

        Keep in mind that many other social subgroups experience offence at lots of other issues. I’m sure you can come up with a fairly long list of such groups, including adherents of certain religions or political leanings, conspiracy theorists, etc. It might be tempting to say, “their opinions hurt trans people and therefore they should be suppressed”, but guess what — this is exactly what they say about you.

    • HelloYesThisIsDog says:

      Why does labeling things as culture-warry take away power from you?

      I understand that sometimes there is a trivializing tone around things that are deemed culture war, but for the most part I read the definition of culture war as “topics that are highly polarized,” with typical characteristics like “it being hard to have rational conversations without excessive mudslinging.” The criteria seems to be more “people tend to get angry about this” than “this is trivial.”

      Clearly “Gender” fits that definition, without necessarily being trivial. Similarly, “whether we should have capitalism or communism” fits that definition, while definitely is not trivial. Similarly, for many (most?) Culture War topics.

      As for the trivializing tone around discussing the Culture War:

      1. Yes, sometimes this is just straight-up inappropriate minimization. I sympathize. But also

      2. Sometimes this is a coping mechanism. Most of us have been exposed to awful awful mudslinging in one form or another, or seen others go through it at some point. Sometimes it’s just cathartic to laugh rather than cry. I don’t think many people literally want people to experience awful things, just because we also don’t want to be on red alert 24/7 about every issue. I am not even capable of being on red alert 24/7 about issues that directly affect me. Most of the time I just tell jokes and worry about existential risk. Sometimes it’s nice to just roll my eyes and go “oh alas, the culture war” – not because I hate you or don’t want your issues fixed or don’t think they’re important, but because life can be awful and tiring.

      The extremely bad behaviour of many people (on both sides) of many (all?) culture war issues doesn’t help. There is of course a bias where people will gravitate towards issues that are more accessible and don’t literally ruin their lives to engage with, and then will minimize cognitive dissonance by minimizing issues we don’t want to engage with.

      All of this is of course possibly Not Rational^TM, but I sympathize with all parties (those minimizing for these reasons, and those having their issues minimized, especially those like yourself who are probably not bad actors, but bear the flak of many tangential bad actors).

      3. Sometimes these issues are trivial compared to other things being discussed. I don’t mean this to be heartless and this mostly isn’t how I think personally. But I understand why someone worrying about “bigger issues” than gun control might be tired of the debate about gun control, and explicitly minimize it, for example.

      I don’t think any of this has to take power away from you. But we should talk about it, just in case, and because biases and etc.

    • 10240 says:

      You, like many (pro-)transgender people, say that people who disagree with the usual transgender claims are transphobic/hateful. That claim is not only false, but also one of the main reasons transgender topics are so controversial.

      As to why the claim is false, look at the issue from the perspective of a typical non-transgender person. Take the common controversial question of how the words ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘her’, ‘him’ etc. should be used. We have learned these words in childhood, before transgender questions even became prominent. We typically weren’t told a single, precise definition, however the definitions we picked up were clearly based on biology, definitely not mental states. Then a group of people comes and says that people who claim to be men/women (who clearly aren’t accodring to the biological definition we have always used) are men/women, period — usually without any explanation other than that if you think they aren’t, you are wrong and transphobic. It shouldn’t be hard to understand that many of us find this nonsensical. We don’t hate you, we don’t understand you.
      (I’ve read the Categories… post, and I’d had similar ideas myself before: a claim like “MtF transsexuals are women” can’t be proved because it’s a question of definitions, not facts. However, this doesn’t explain why (pro-)transgender people insist so strongly on one particular definition. Indeed, in my experience (pro-)transgender people tend to be the ones who make claims of this nature the most strongly as if they were factual claims.)

      I also disagree that transgender people are the underdogs. There are a lot of mainstream venues where people are expected to use the terminology preferred by trans people, sometimes on the pain of bans and in some places even legal action, or where people who contest the usual trans claims are hounded out as transphobic. There are not a lot of venues where the opposite is expected.

    • eigenmoon says:

      @Heather

      When you say the validity of your existence shouldn’t be CW material, I can sympathize with that. But then in the same post you fire 3 other controversial CW shells:

      1) Let’s change the social rules.

      “Everything is allowed” is a perfect Schelling point. What are the new rules? Would they be a good Schelling point? Is Canadian C-16 too much? This is a very CW topic because everybody except the far Left is afraid of slippery slope problems.

      2) We the minorities…

      The idea of an alliance of the minorities is a specifically far Left one, and is a laughing stock of the Right (especially if the Muslims are brought in).

      I’m a migrant. I’ve already earned the right to exist where I live, but actually I want to live elsewhere, and I still have to earn the right to exist there. Once someone told me that everyone should be locked in the country of their birth. Another time someone did a Nazi salute almost to my face.

      But they’re not the reason migration is so damn difficult. The reason is the fat welfare systems supported by the Left and the necessity to jump through a lot of hoops to prove that you’re not going to use that welfare. I would gladly sign something to the effect that I never want to touch that welfare. But as with the student debt, the Left would want to override that. So the Left has robbed me of the power to credibly commit to not taking welfare. Also in principle there could be different levels of citizenship, like in Ancient Rome. I’d gladly pick the lesser citizenship. But the Left would shout “two different levels! that’s inequality! boo!” and so this possibility is out, too.

      This is why simply saying “we the minorities” is already CW.

      3) Everything is political

      I didn’t understand it from your post, but the article that you gave makes it more or less clear that the apolitical people are the problem. They get to be apolitical because they’re privileged. They go shopping or watch TV instead of caring about your situation! By cutting grass in their garden they silently agree with your oppression. So you’re totally justified when you knock down the door to their apartment and shout “How dare you peacefully have sex instead of listening to my political viewpoint? Shame on you!”.

      But this is not only CW, this looks like the sort of hateful ideology that makes people gang up on Scott. Apolitical people did nothing wrong to me. It’s politicized people I have problems with, especially those who assume without calculating that open borders and lots of welfare are possible to achieve at the same time. That’s why my issues belong to the CW thread.

      … and so do yours, partly because your post that says “my views should be uncontroversial” would be more convincing without those controversial views on it.

      • Nick says:

        But this is not only CW, this looks like the sort of hateful ideology that makes people gang up on Scott.

        Do you want to qualify this statement? It doesn’t seem to come from anything you’ve said before—where does Heather’s problematic position cross a line into “hateful ideology” that gangs up on people? Remember she has explicitly agreed that she’s in favor of free speech and that she doesn’t want folks silenced.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Heather didn’t explicitly cross that line. But her post didn’t explain enough. A couple of comments above HelloYesThisIsDog asks a reasonable question: “Why does labeling things as culture-warry take away power from you?” Why indeed?

          It’s the article Heather posted that I have a problem with. It says that people who think they do something apolitical are quite wrong about it. They’re not apolitical, they’re your political enemies:

          “We don’t appreciate these people pushing their politics and anti-American views at our football game!” says the beneficiary. Only the beneficiaries of the dominant class can naively proclaim that entertainment was innocent before others mobbed it. Only they can accuse others of politicizing, when in fact, beneficiaries consume and propagate politicized language and behavior all the time.

          They might tell you that they are not your enemies – but don’t believe that, they’re totally guilty:

          Equally dominant and blissfully unaware of their dominance, they have concocted a perception of innocence. To recognize their own politicization would shatter that illusion of innocence, and no one likes sentencing themselves as guilty.

          What’s more, those totally guilty people commit an additional sin by not wanting to give all power to SJWs for some reason:

          The apolitical (that is, the dominant social identity) not only deny the political nature of their environment; they also deny the political necessity of the solution.

          etc etc.

          This ideology is hateful because it marks all neutral parties as enemies. That seems to be very similar to the idea that not banning alt-right is the same as being alt-right.

          • Nick says:

            Thanks for responding. I’m reading the article now—I totally missed the connection, that that’s what you were calling a hateful ideology, and not what Heather was saying here—and it’s just bad. A few problems:
            1) It seems to be dividing problems into personal and structural. I don’t see why this has to be true, unless the category “structural” covers, say, biology too.
            2) It’s assuming that if a problem can be shown to be non-personal, or specifically structural, that the appropriate solution is structural. Now, it’s obvious that non-personal problems can be mitigated personally: antebellum slaves who bought their freedom are proof of that. Of course, this is a personal solution pursued under a radically, incredibly unjust system, and one in which structural forces (the legal enforcement of slavery) was the cause. But consider a man who practices small-s stoicism to manage his anger. That he has high testosterone is hardly his fault, and the same goes for a fair bit of the bell curve of men, and yet he’s solving it personally. In other words, I don’t see how it follows that if we have identified a structural problem we can be sure that a structural solution exists—much less that we should support whatever particular one is being proposed.
            3) (1) and (2) together mean the analysis of the “majority” is all wrong. The article says toward the end, “to portray suffering as personal is to dismiss the possibility of structural failure.” This is simply false: we may be suggesting a personal solution to a structural problem, or some non-structural, non-personal problem, like health or biology. There’s no justification for supposing the possibility is being dismissed or that, by not “dismissing” it, that a structural solution will be found.

            With that said, I don’t see how it’s hateful, or how it’s advocating ganging up on people. It illustrates many of the major ingredients in what’s wrong with toxic social justice, to be sure—assuming solutions exist, imputing collective guilt (literally!), stratification based on identity and degree of victimhood—but I’m still not seeing anything in here that would license the sort of things done to Scott and others. I mean, take it for what it is, right at the beginning of the article: a (bad) defense of Kaepernick kneeling at football games. You still need something else to get from there to a “rules don’t apply to us, we’re justified in destroying our political enemies” attitude you say it looks like. Whatever its flaws, in other words, it’s not fair to identify Heather with the folks who did that to Scott.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            A great way for any ideology to justify harming innocent people in pursuit of the Greater Good is to assert that there are no innocent people, and that those who choose to remain neutral and uninvolved are the enemy, and that by quietly living their lives instead of fighting for your Grand Cause, they are in fact actively oppressing you.

            It’s not an exclusively left-wing phenomenon by any means; when I was younger it seemed like the socially conservative/religious right was the one telling people that stuff and the left had a more individualistic and libertarian approach to talking about moral/cultural issues. Arguments for legal abortion and gay marriage were based on the premise of individual rights: “you don’t have to like it or even approve of it, just let other people do their thing and you do yours.”

            But these days it seems to be mostly the left using phrases like “your silence is violence.” The pendulum will eventually swing back the other way, I imagine. It all depends on who’s currently winning the culture wars.

            The more hard-line approach may successfully pressure some ambivalent people into fighting for a cause, but in the long run I think it contributes to the downfall of whatever ideology is in power. If you keep telling people “you’re either with us or you’re the enemy” eventually even the most mellow, neutral people will start saying, “Fine, I’m your enemy. You want a fight, you’ve got one.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            With that said, I don’t see how it’s hateful, or how it’s advocating ganging up on people. It illustrates many of the major ingredients in what’s wrong with toxic social justice, to be sure—assuming solutions exist, imputing collective guilt (literally!), stratification based on identity and degree of victimhood—but I’m still not seeing anything in here that would license the sort of things done to Scott and others.

            You don’t think imputing collective guilt is hateful?

            As for how it justifies the sort of thing that happened to Scott, it’s pretty simple. Any “neutral” space or activity is really oppressive; Scott claims to run his comments section as a neutral space for discussion; therefore Scott actually runs an oppressive comments section, therefore he’s an oppressor, therefore we’re justified in making him stop. QED.

          • Nick says:

            You don’t think imputing collective guilt is hateful?

            It’s terrible for a lot of reasons, but being hateful is not one of them. “Hate” has transubstantiated in the last decade or so into applying to any sort of view, no matter how calmly proffered or soberly held, that someone finds particularly offensive. Is original sin hateful?

            Look, it’s totally an ingredient in the “everyone to my left is a Nazi who deserves punching” attitude we’ve grown all too familiar with. But it’s not enough on its own. Belief in original sin isn’t hate, especially when you combine it with a recognition of the dignity of all human beings. Neither is this, especially when, as Heather did, it’s combined with an explicit affirmation of free speech and the wrongness of silencing.

            As for how it justifies the sort of thing that happened to Scott, it’s pretty simple. Any “neutral” space or activity is really oppressive; Scott claims to run his comments section as a neutral space for discussion; therefore Scott actually runs an oppressive comments section, therefore he’s an oppressor, therefore we’re justified in making him stop. QED.

            Again, nothing about “Scott is an oppressor” licenses any means necessary. You’re completely leaving that step out here. The article is terrible, but not for this reason.

          • cuke says:

            The argument from this particular angle, as I understand it, is not that “you all” are evil oppressors so much as that there is no such thing as a “neutral” space. In this view, power dynamics in society exert their influence on everyone and ideological filters exert their influence on everyone. There are no “pure” bystanders. We all bring power, ideas, biases, etc and when we speak or act — or refrain from speaking or acting, those ingredients become part of the collective soup.

            I get that to many this will read as “if you’re not with us you’re against us.” And I know there are people at both ends of the political spectrum who for various reasons tend to view the world that way in general. It’s a borderline kind of a view and it’s prevalent in humans.

            And I get that “silence is violence” could also be seen as equivalent to “if you don’t actively join us then you’re oppressing us.” But then there is also the sense in which historically, in many times and places, to stand by silently while people in front of you are being harmed is to be in some sense complicit in that violence. We could argue that one up and down all levels of abstractions and it’s a worthy argument to have. I’m not seeking to have it here, only to acknowledge that many people across history and political views have understood that we social humans share some individual and collective responsibility to protect others from harm. How much responsibility, how much of the time, etc is all up for debate. But we’d be debating about where the line is drawn, what are the expectations and norms around that line, and not “if that guy gets mowed down by a sadistic bus and is lying bleeding in the street, I don’t so much as owe him a 911 call.” Though I’m sure we could find someone willing to argue that position.

            So this is a conversation about how much responsibility in what kinds of situations do we have to each other? If you can quickly brand someone as “the enemy” or even better, prove that they have already labeled you as “the enemy,” then it lets one off the hook very quickly, because in general we don’t owe the enemy a damn thing.

            Scott’s space here, from this point of view, is absolutely not a neutral space. It’s shot through with his biases and the biases of all the commenters. All kinds of norms and boundaries are being negotiated here all the time. Even in this one thread people have hugely been pushing against the norm of no CW topics outside of designated areas. The question of who gets banned for what, who reports whose comments and so on are all influenced by power relations and ideologies.

            So this view holds that while power is at work everywhere and there is no such thing as a neutral space or an entirely neutral bystander, that does not does make you or me evil. We are all swimming in the same soup. We are all imperfect; we all have some choices as we swim in the soup in terms of how we conduct ourselves and with what self-awareness about the effects of our behavior and about our intentions and so on.

            The process whereby a person translates “there is no neutral space and the effects of power are everywhere” into “Oh you think I’m your enemy, fine I’ll treat you that way” involves several interpretative steps. It’s possible to make other interpretive steps and to arrive at a different translation.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Again, nothing about “Scott is an oppressor” licenses any means necessary. You’re completely leaving that step out here. The article is terrible, but not for this reason.

            The article doesn’t explicitly say that, but I think you’re letting it off the hook too quickly. If someone were to write an article accusing Jews of being a bunch of societal parasites who control the world media and use the blood of Christian children to bake their bread, I think it would be reasonable to describe the article as exemplifying “the sort of hateful ideology that makes people attack Jews”, even if the article itself never explicitly called for this.

          • Humbert McHumbert says:

            Cuke, good post.

            Let me add: There are some people out there who you will never be able to convince that your “silence is not violence;” but you may be able to convince them to forgive you for your silence, perhaps by convincing them you’re a good person with genuine convictions that you’ve thought through clearly. I’ve found this (getting them to see you as a person) to be a lot more effective as a way of convincing SJWs to chill out than trying to convince them their whole ideology is bankrupt.

            It doesn’t work online, though.

          • 10240 says:

            Note that a claim here seems to be not only that silence is wrong, but that silence is wrong at any time anywhere, or that excluding a particular topic from any particular space is wrong.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @cuke

            It may be true that no space is truly neutral, but continually returning to that point strikes me as a fallacy of gray type of argument. In practice, neutrality usually means tolerating a wide variety of viewpoints and not banning people solely on the basis of their views. It might be impossible to do that perfectly, but we can still acknowledge that some places are doing it better than others. We can still strive for neutrality as an ideal.

            Regarding your other points, yes, it does take a bit of interpretation to go from “you are complicit in my oppression” to “you are my enemy,” but I don’t think it’s that big of an interpretive leap.

            And I get that “silence is violence” could also be seen as equivalent to “if you don’t actively join us then you’re oppressing us.”

            I think that’s pretty clearly what’s being implied, yes, and I don’t really buy that the people who use phrases like that aren’t trying to imply it. “Violence” is an extremely loaded term. And it’s not even “your silence enables violence” but “your silence is violence,” which is a different implication. There’s a general belief that if someone is engaging in direct violence against you, then direct violence against them is just self-defense. So telling a bystander “you are engaging in direct violence against me” and not expecting that to be read as antagonistic and menacing strikes me as unreasonable.

            I mean, there’s been a lot of pushback against phrases like that and people continue to use them, so I have to assume they’re aware of how those phrases tend to be interpreted and consider that to be a feature rather than a bug. I don’t think there’s a misunderstanding happening or that the people who read those implications into the statements are being unreasonable or making unwarranted interpretive leaps.

            To use an example from the other side, I think people who use the phrase “cultural Marxist” are very aware of the negative implications of that term. It’s not meant as a mere descriptive phrase, it’s meant as a condemnation, and pretending otherwise would be disingenuous.

            I am aware that a person’s interpretation of tone and intent tends to be heavily influenced by how they feel about the viewpoint itself, so I find that a good technique is to imagine that same rhetoric being used to describe a viewpoint I agree with. I kind of assume that you wouldn’t like the term “violence” being used to describe your views. Most people don’t.

          • Aapje says:

            @cuke

            Leave aside the question of whether the article is objectively hateful.

            If every space that doesn’t have SJ culture is oppressive to minorities, is the end goal not to change all those spaces? To those here who believe that SJ culture doesn’t allow them to say what they want to say or do, that is then going to feel like a threat.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s what I was wondering, too. The claim that the very existence of a space where people express offensive ideas X, Y, and Z is a threat to society/some group, even if you don’t have to take part in any way, seems like it works well for justifying shutting down any such space. It’s hard to see a middle ground between:

            a. “Allowing you to say X is a threat to my well-being and must be stopped.”

            and

            b. “You are allowed free speech but aren’t entitled to an audience.”

            I think you can choose only one of those two.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Nick

            it’s not fair to identify Heather with the folks who did that to Scott.

            I didn’t identify her like this.

            Is original sin hateful?

            Could be, but there’s a special song and dance “we hate the sin but love the sinner” that Christians must perform on demand to make it not hateful. I guess the SJW equivalent would be committing to free speech (which Heather did).

            @cuke
            Both “there’s no neutral space” and “silence is violence” can only be accepted with a huge stretch and lots of clarifications. Their conjunction requires a stretch to the Moon. And yet people derive corollaries like “we need to flood all spaces with our message” as if both statements were plain, 100%, Boolean truth.

            “Neutral space” doesn’t mean a space where nobody has any ideas or biases whatsoever or a space where the rules never get negotiated. It’s simply a space where people have something other (not necessarily better) to do than to discuss controversial topics. Saying that SSC “is absolutely not a neutral space” sounds to me like saying that a library is absolutely not a silent room because there are sounds of pages turning and people breathing.

            As for “silence is violence”, why take only people in front of you? How about this: those who aren’t protesting the war in Yemen have blood of Yemeni children on their hands? I can’t even say this viewpoint has no merit. But I hope that the stretch of which I’m talking is visible enough on this example. Namely, if people do things you consider evil but understand the issues involved differently than you do, then they might or might not be actually evil or guilty, there’s not enough data yet.

            If you combine “no neutral space” with “silence is violence”, you get results like this: if we agree to discuss the war in Yemen only once per two weeks rather than twice per week, then we have Yemeni blood on our hands. I’m not sure if it sounds absurd to you but to me it does.

            I didn’t really get where your enemy-enemy thing comes from. It is as if you read my argument as “Heather considers us the enemy, so let’s confine her issues in the CW thread because we don’t owe her anything”. Needless to say this is totally not what I’ve said. I said that Heather’s issues belong to the controversial space because many of them are controversial (of course they are, just look at the size of this thread).

        • I read the article too. My biggest problem with it is that it lumps together people who are opposed to various specific changes to specific cultures into one big oblivious homeless hating bourgeois conservative monster, as if somehow people who are concerned about certain kinds of activism driven changes to their favorite gaming or movie franchises highly correlate with being upper middle class homeowners who want more anti-homeless spikes at the bus shelter, and this homogenization is never justified with any data. I’m willing to countenance the reasonable idea that all spaces are implicitly political, but if you want to convince people of that, this isn’t the way to go.

      • 10240 says:

        1) To be fair, heather didn’t propose to ban anything from the CW thread, but to allow transgender topics that endorse the usual transgender views in non-CW threads as they shouldn’t be controversial (but presumably contesting them would remain banned in non-CW threads as it would lead to a CW flamewar). That’s still not a fair proposal, but it wouldn’t ban anything that’s currently allowed. Note that I’m not sure that mentioning that one is trans or anything related to it would actually be considered CW, but it’s true that it leads to CW quite easily.

        • albatross11 says:

          There is no neutral way to decide what is and isn’t controversial. In some places/times, a black man mentioning his white wife would have been extremely controversial and offensive; in other times, a man talking about how he got maximal output from his West Indies sugar plantation would not have been controversial or offensive.

          The best we can do in practice is to look at what topics and discussions reliably lead to a lot of anger and generate more heat than light, and then coral them into CW threads or otherwise try to contain the anger and outrage so that we can get more productive discussions.

          • 10240 says:

            Your second paragraph provides a neutral way to decide what is controversial, and that’s exactly the current policy. It still depends on the current prevalence of various views in society, which is not neutral, but the person who applies the rule is neutral.

            I didn’t mean that a rule that pro-transgender views are allowed but disagreement isn’t would be neutral; a claim that a particular thing shouldn’t be controversial is clearly not neutral, and it’s clear that transgender topics are currently controversial (which heather didn’t dispute but dislikes). I wrote my comment purely because some commenters seemed to imply that heather suggested banning something that is currently allowed, which doesn’t seem to be the case to me.

        • DragonMilk says:

          So in such a system, where would someone who posted the following view stand?

          It would seem that transgender individuals have elevated gender to an obsessive level that it forms the core of their identity. Just as in past times, when asked the question, “Who are you?” respond, “I am a [Roman, slave, merchant, duke, priest]”, I would expect a MtF to declare, “I am a woman,”
          However, this sense of identity seems to be taken to an extreme nowadays – in what other circumstance has the treatment for what medically is still classified as a mental disorder been to feed the delusion so much as to allow the individuals to irreversibly mutilate their own bodies? I am all for disagreeing with society’s assignment of feminine or masculine roles by simply adopting the roles that suit the individual. I hesitate to go further into radical irreversible surgeries, and further recommend that children who do not adopt roles neatly also be subjected to these irreversible surgeries. I have no problem with a tomboy or a boy who likes playing with dolls, but I take issues with those who advocate for castration of the latter.

          The view would not have been controversial a few decades ago, but may be labeled as nazi now. Would you ban the post if it wasn’t in a CW thread?

          • 10240 says:

            I think this post would would be allowed in a CW thread but not in a non-CW thread under the current rules, and that wouldn’t change under heather’s proposal. The reason for having non-CW threads is that CW topics tend to create a lot of heated debate, and crowd out other topics where they are allowed. For that purpose what matters is whether something is currently controversial; it’s irrelevant if it was not controversial a few decades ago, nor if it “should” be controversial (which is of course subjective). Also note that I didn’t propose any change to the rules, heather did.

      • DragonMilk says:

        So random tangent, I’ve suggested to a friend that since a big talking point of anti-immigration pundits is that immigrants can come into the country and take advantage of welfare, why not auction off certain legal immigration slots to support welfare?

        Nativists would then have to argue they’re not paying enough, etc, and welfare states could be preserved…as is, what do you think will be the future of Sweden’s welfare state? Is the media over-reaching when it says Nativists will come back to power due to the refugee influx?

        • Plumber says:

          @DragonMilk,
          I’m not Swedish nor am I strongly anti-immigration, but what I find convincing about arguments to reduce immigration is the likelihood that wages are bid down and housing is bid up by in-migration, plus it reduces any urgency to train-up people born here, the “welfare” arguments are a side-show to me, and come to think of it having lots of immigrants who are even more desperate because they can’t access welfare seems like a bad idea to me.

    • Blueberry pie says:

      Just wanted to say that I agree with this take and I am glad you voiced. I also understand why the other responders find it hard to understand. I also have no solutions.

    • Sinclair says:

      I also wish my gender identity wasn’t so politicized – it’s part of the reason why I try to avoid culture war type discussion.

  19. Atlas says:

    I know that people have made comments like this on the Reddit thread, but nonetheless I want to say:

    I honestly had no idea that this was going on, despite being someone who spends a lot of time reading this blog and stuff about politics on the internet more generally. IRL I cite Scott Alexander in class participation or discussions with people I don’t know too well or whatever in a way that I would never publicly cite someone like Steve Sailer. If I want to share a great insight from Steve with normies, I vaguely attribute it to “a writer that I really like,” because I really wouldn’t want the people I’m talking to to Google search his name, have their crimestop programming activated and then realize/suspect that I hold heterodox views.

    Whereas, if not for this post, it never would have occurred to me to have this concern with regards to SSC. Like, I emailed a classics professor of mine a story that Scott wrote retelling The Iliad with lawyers, and she really liked it and read a section of it to the class, which also really liked it. I would never email a professor a Steve Sailer column, even if it was on something innocuous like film. Indeed, even after having read this post I think I will continue to openly reference (non-culture war) ideas I got from SSC, because I don’t think the “Scott Alexander is all-trite neyo-nahtzee” meme has percolated far enough yet to make mentioning SSC the catalyst for an exhausting and pointless debate the way that, say, mentioning Charles Murray or Arthur Jensen might be.

    P.S. Despite not usually reading Plebbit Reddit, I will be sure to check out The Motte, because the OP makes the discussions sound interesting and to spite the bad people who have been trying to destroy the thread.

  20. Third, I would like to offer one final, admittedly from-a-position-of-weakness, f**k you at everyone who contributed to this. I think you’re bad people, and you make me really sad. Not in a joking performative Internet sadness way. In an actual, I-think-you-made-my-life-and-the-world-worse way. I realize I’m mostly talking to the sort of people who delight in others’ distress and so this won’t register.

    Well said. I speak as a lurker who got something out of the debates, and glad they were created kept alive. I’m glad you wrote this post.

    But if someone is too afraid to speak up, or nobody listens to them, then the issue never gets brought up, and mission accomplished for the people creating the climate of fear.

    *Applause* Ain’t that the truth?

  21. jstr says:

    Thank you for this illuminating post. In honor of it I have subscribed to r/TheMotte. (Didn’t follow the CW threads before.)

  22. Hoopyfreud says:

    Breaking my newly-self-imposed silence for the second time…

    The internet is a terrible place to have friends, and “the search for understanding” is a terrible sole qualifier for friendship.

    This makes the internet a very confusing and frustrating place, because in real life the pleasant and generally nice people we disagree with can be tolerated without being welcomed – we can treat them as compatriots rather than intimates. We can talk to them productively without liking them. And then later, of course, we can later retreat into our warm and familiar groups where we know that our existence is not merely tolerated, but appreciated. We can let our guard down in the knowledge that the people around us love us, appreciate us, are made happy by our presence and existence. On the internet, there’s no ground to retreat to.

    This isn’t inherently tribalistic, I don’t think, at least not in the sense of ideological bubbling or identification – I’ve never been a part of a group that I’ve really agreed or identified with, and I’ve disagreed with my friends often and loudly. But there’s a sense of mutual care that underpins that sort of relationship – a desire to see others succeed for their own sake in ways that transcend ideological or philosophical positions about mores and laws and social dynamics – that just isn’t there online. Online, you can’t tell the difference between being among friends and being among compatriots (and enemies, of course, even for the most restrictive definitions of the word).

    It’s exhausting and depressing to engage with for too long, and incredible that the greatest tool for communication since the Tower of Babel is utterly incapable of reproducing the feeling of friends sitting around a fire, looking up at the stars, talking amongst themselves about their hopes and dreams and fears and struggles, avoiding hurting each other because they care and they can, as, one by one, they drift off to sleep.

    There are lots of people here who I might like to be friends with, but can’t because of where we are and who else is here. And there are lots of people here I could never be friends with, because of what you believe and care about. That’s not an indictment – you, my compatriots, have just as much right to be here as I do. But I don’t think I can be blamed for wishing for something more. (I [and you, the people that Scott is calling out] could be blamed for being a shit and poisoning the well of discourse, of course, which is why I try not to)

    Anyway, the point is, Scott, I don’t blame you for ending up worse, insofar as you have, and I don’t blame you for being afraid. I’ve gotten worse and more afraid too. And as for the reason people can be so shitty – I think, deep down, they want the internet to be a place where they can feel safe. Where they can have friends. I know that’s what drives most of the bitterness and pettiness in my own heart.

    Take care. I mean it. And know that there are a lot of us who, in another place, across another medium, would be happy and honored to have you for a friend.

    • in real life the pleasant and generally nice people we disagree with can be tolerated without being welcomed – we can treat them as compatriots rather than intimates. We can talk to them productively without liking them.

      I don’t see any particular reason why I shouldn’t welcome and like someone I disagree with. My emotional reaction to someone depends on a variety of characteristics which have little connection to whether we have reached the same conclusions.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Because this isn’t about disagreement, David, but about emotional investment. I can welcome and enjoy talking to people I don’t like and wouldn’t want to share the intimate details of my life with.

        Other people want things that directly contravene the things I want, and for one of us to get our way the other must suffer for it.

        To use an example that doesn’t pertain to me, but does pertain to people close to me (because I’m a coward and the last time I talked about the way this pertains to me, it went miserably) take the people who strongly support the establishment of a social norm that women should not be technical professionals. I’m enormously bothered by this view because this is the sort of norm that hurts the people I care about, so I say so. I get the response that on the net, this helps people. Even if I grant that argument, it’s essentially of the form, “I don’t care that it hurts the people you care about because I have other compelling reasons to do/say [thing].”

        I don’t consider people who don’t care about me or the people and things I care about friends, as a rule. That doesn’t mean I try to eject them from the spaces I visit, or that I can’t be pleasant enough towards them, or that I can’t agree with their arguments (I usually disagree with their stated desires, but that doesn’t mean I reject the arguments behind them – though I usually do that too). It doesn’t even mean I’d appreciate it if, entirely unprompted, they went away. It just means that, even when I’m talking to them, I feel alone and uncared for.

        I dare you to tell me those feelings aren’t justified.

        • I don’t consider people who don’t care about me or the people and things I care about friends, as a rule. … It just means that, even when I’m talking to them, I feel alone and uncared for.

          I don’t think of people who don’t at all care about me as friends, but that has very little to do with their political views.

          When i made my previous comment, I was thinking about a real case. Recently at an SCA event I encountered a woman I knew and liked who had moved away years ago and happened to be in town. I was delighted to see her and made it obvious.

          As it happens we had a conversation years ago from which it seemed reasonably clear that she thought the word would be better off without human beings. That is about as extreme a rejection—of my entire species—as I can think of. But it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like me or that I don’t like her.

          I dare you to tell me those feelings aren’t justified.

          They are justified if the person doesn’t care at all for you. They are not justified if the person merely believes that policies are desirable which you believe would harm you and people like you.

          Which, in my experience, is what political disagreement often comes down to.

          • wanderingimpromptu says:

            As it happens we had a conversation years ago from which it seemed reasonably clear that she thought the word would be better off without human beings. That is about as extreme a rejection—of my entire species—as I can think of. But it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like me or that I don’t like her.

            That view is both so extreme and so broadly targeted, that no particular group of people is plausibly threatened by the possibility of that view spreading. Views that are closer to the edges of the Overton window and that target people like you in particular are far more likely to trigger your defense response.

            Imagine if she thought the world would be better off without white men. That’s less extreme by your reckoning, but doesn’t that feel less friendly to you, and make it less likely that you two can enjoy spending time together?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            They are justified if the person doesn’t care at all for you. They are not justified if the person merely believes that policies are desirable which you believe would harm you and people like you.

            I’m still reeling from a rather unpleasant thread on the topic of hostility from several weeks ago, and my belief at this point is that any definition of “doesn’t care for” that doesn’t involve someone blatantly insulting me by name is going to get me yelled at by someone.

            Well so be it, but I’m still going to use my best judgment. There’s a difference between making statements that are “a rejection” of me and making statements that indicate that someone doesn’t care about the things that are important to me. Hell, “the world would be better off without you in it” is much too close to my internal monologue for me to be entirely comfortable being friends with a person with that belief, and it’d definitely keep me from being able to open up to them. It’s not such a large issue that I wouldn’t want to talk to them (I probably would), but…

            Anyway, you’re welcome to believe I’m a bad person for that if you want. I’m going to go away again, which I’m sure will be a relief.

          • That view is both so extreme and so broadly targeted, that no particular group of people is plausibly threatened by the possibility of that view spreading.

            I don’t think you are right. The implication, in practice, is not that we should wipe out the human race but that we should give little weight to the welfare of humans compared to that of other species.

            That is an attitude that threatens quite a lot of people–for instance any landowner who might be forbidden to do things with his land on the grounds that there is an endangered species on it. Anyone who is at risk of a medical problem that might be resolved by information produced by animal testing.

            There is an interesting book entitled, At the Hand of Man, by an environmentalist critical of other environmentalists. One of his points is that environmentalists are frequently willing to sacrifice the well being of African humans in order to protect African animals.

          • gbdub says:

            I think that “good person” and “good opinions” are not nearly so correlated as is tempting to believe. There are good people with bad opinions and bad people with good opinions. There are people who will be kind and generous to individuals of a group while viciously attacking that group in the abstract… and vice versa.

            Now there are plenty of good people with good opinions, enough so that you never have to really voluntarily engage with any other group (and maybe that’s best, if you’re prone to your own mental demons).

            But I do think that we are subconsciously biased strongly enough toward the false equation of “bad opinion” with “bad person” that it’s healthy to make a bit of conscious effort to find good in those we disagree with. It will often make you a better person and improve your opinions.

          • There are good people with bad opinions and bad people with good opinions.

            Interpersonal kindness may be underrated on the internet because we don’t encounter it as often as in the real world, partly because the medium provides less options for it. I seem to remember a thread a short while ago discussing the decline in virtue morality revolving around personal traits such as kindness, loyalty, honor, braveness etc, versus morality that focuses mostly on what people believe. On the internet we are deluged with opinions on controversial topics, so it becomes natural to judge by that beyond the level that the correlation between the two would realistically justify.

          • cuke says:

            I’m glad you’re here Hoopyfreud and hope that you stick around. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments.

  23. entropy68 says:

    As a long-time reader and very infrequent commenter (here or at the sub), this just makes me sad. I understand and support your reasons even though the entire situation is infuriating.

    Unfortunately, I think this is the reality of human online interaction. I’ve been debating online since the dial-up, basement-run BBS days in the early 1980’s. We had “war” rooms then too and not much has changed except today it’s much, much easier to maliciously troll people IRL.

  24. Viliam says:

    Scott, thank you for making SSC what it is. When I have enough free time only to regularly read one website, it is yours. And during those months when LW was “dead”, SSC was the only website worth reading that I knew.

    I have already decided long ago that if I ever have a regular blog, it will have no comment section. Because moderating an active comment section feels like a full-time job, and it is not the kind of a job I want to have.

    And I also noticed that participating in political debates too much makes me a worse person. There is something unhealthy about arguing with people all the time. In real life, disagreements makes less than 5% of my time; but on internet it is more than 50%, which probably makes my brain think that I am living in an incredibly hostile environment, and it changes my behavior towards less open and more defensive.

  25. BBA says:

    I feel bad for Scott, being unfairly tarred by association with something his fans came up with that spiraled way out of control. And the doxing/stalking stuff is just plain evil, no question.

    That said, I give three raspberries to the CW threads. I had a few interesting conversations there, but the one that sticks in my mind is when the NYT profiled a neo-Nazi, not just a white nationalist or a Sailerite but a full Hitler-and-swastikas guy. And all the thread just sympathized with him because he lost his job as a result of the internet finding out about him. And I was like, hello, I’m Jewish and he wants me dead, why should I sympathize with him? To which someone responded, is there anything in the article that suggests he wants you dead? How do we know he’s not just being unfairly maligned?

    And I just blew up at whoever it was that asked me that.

    Now I get that we want to have a free and open discussion, including of issues that are taboo to mention in other places. It’s certainly better than discussion norms elsewhere, where disagreeing with the party line gets you banned or blocked or denounced as a paid Russian troll. But start with the premise that you’re not going to just dismiss the extremists out of hand, and sooner or later you end up dominated by extremists and people who are just too gosh-darn open-minded to oppose them. And I don’t think the people here understand just how bad it was getting over there.

    • But start with the premise that you’re not going to just dismiss the extremists out of hand, and sooner or later you end up dominated by extremists and people who are just too gosh-darn open-minded to oppose them.

      Why would you expect that to happen? If you argue with people with extreme views you may find out that their extreme views are more defensible than you thought, you may demonstrate to others in the conversation that the views are not defensible, you may get a clearer idea of why people believe those particular mistaken views, making it easier to predict their behavior and possibly influence it.

      All of those look like better results than the result of dismissing the extremists out of hand.

      • Ouroborobot says:

        I think you are assuming that an argument can actually be had. All too many activist types will simply see your attempt to engage in an exchange of ideas as evidence of your guilt, mentally tag you as the enemy, and react to you as something to be dismissed or destroyed rather than engaged. This has always been the case, but in the age of social media the labels that get attached to you persist and spread, regardless of whether they are justified, and so entering the arena at all risks more than any one person could hope to gain.

      • gloriousg999 says:

        It’s somewhat complicated. So, bad opinions can sometimes drive out good opinions.

        Some people really will relish talking to extremists. I don’t think I’m a bad/dishonest person, but I kinda find it frustrating. I think that’s somewhat normal. To think through an example, it makes sense to talk about economic policy with somebody who generally believes that government works the way the news reports that it does, as the conversation is likely to flow well and be productive. However, if you spend your time talking economic policy to 9/11 truthers, you may learn something, or you may just get frustrated at explaining the difficulties in concealing a long-term conspiracy for the nth time, and find your efforts to talk policy somewhat frustrated, as you can’t move from “the government as the conspirator against the people” into “interesting policy ideas to play with”.

        I think most groups(& people) have practical boundaries for “diverse enough to have a pleasant conversation” vs “too diverse: now I have to explain & defend 20 basic concepts to an uncharitable audience, and can’t get anywhere I find interesting”.

        • awal says:

          To add to this, there isn’t necessarily a strong correlation between how easy it is to defeat/disprove an argument or believe, and how wrong or dangerous it is.
          If every thread is openly debating lizard-people theories, or holocaust denials, it may be that both of those are more defensible than expected, but it doesn’t mean that the first isn’t 100% wrong and the second isn’t 100% wrong and 100% hurtful.

        • Some people really will relish talking to extremists.

          Most conversations, at least on topics such as politics or economics or religion, are with people who have views I am already familiar with, so I am unlikely to learn much new from them. The odds are better for someone whose views are either ones I have never heard of or ones I and everyone else I know are confident are wrong.

          True story, which I may have told here before. Many years ago I was invited to participate in a conference in Paris. A little before it happened, I was informed that many of those planning to attend had withdrawn, in protest against the inclusion of someone they regarded as a fascist.

          My response was that if there was going to be a fascist present, that was a reason to go. I had never, so far as I knew, talked with a fascist, and the position was obviously sufficiently defensible to have persuaded a lot of people, hence probably worth understanding.

          I went. The “fascist” (actually I think a member of Le Pen’s party—father not daughter) also withdrew in counter protest, but I arranged to have dinner with him.

          It was quite interesting. He wasn’t, so far as I could tell, a fascist. And he was anti-semitic only to the extent that he was anti-Christian. His view was that the pagan Roman Empire had been the high point of European civilization, rotted by Christianity.

          His view of the U.S., which he had probably never visited, was more or less wall to wall McDonalds. So I enjoyed telling him about the SCA. An interesting dinner conversation for me and, I suspect, him.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            Most conversations, at least on topics such as politics or economics or religion, are with people who have views I am already familiar with, so I am unlikely to learn much new from them. The odds are better for someone whose views are either ones I have never heard of or ones I and everyone else I know are confident are wrong.

            I understand. I prefer to read extremists. Usually when you read an author, you get to pick a good advocate, there is more emotional distance, it’s easier to fact-check hard to believe claims, and you can skip past any bizarre rhetoric.

            I suppose a good example of the difference may be Murray Rothbard. Reading Murray Rothbard will help you understand a decent segment of libertarian ideology today. Talking to the average libertarian will help, but it might be frustrating as they may be unreflective or unsophisticated. It’s also easier to keep your cool if you read that the government is a “predatory gang of robbers, enslavers, and murderers”, than if you listened to it in person. If there’s a statement like “fractional reserve banks … create money out of thin air. Essentially they do it in the same way as counterfeiters. “, reading it allows you to stop right there and do a bit of research on the fractional reserve banking system. Lastly, if any of this seems too absurd to need to listen to, you can skip past it, unlike in person.

            Intellectual study of extremists can be heavenly, but having them as your conversation partners is often a form of hell.

    • gbdub says:

      There’s an important difference between sympathizing with a person and sympathizing with their ideas. Between thinking someone shouldn’t be destroyed just for their (reprehensible) views and actually agreeing with those views. Between supporting freedom of speech and supporting the content of that speech. That’s exactly the distinction that the “Scott’s a nazi” doxxers fail to grasp (or consciously reject).

      On the other hand to your hypothetical, once you start destroying Nazis, it starts to get awfully tempting to destroy the people just to the left of Nazis… then the people just to the left of that… and so on till democratic debate dies and it’s just might makes right.

      In the event, I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of people coming around to supporting Naziism because of the open thread. Or because of Charleston or Skokie. But I do see the idea of “destroy people we disagree with rather than give them room to speak” and “MAGA hats are the same as Klan robes” getting a lot more popular with people who claim to be liberal. So I know which threat I consider more dangerous.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      One good way to get people to avoid sympathizing with neo-Nazis would be not to subject neo-Nazis to grave injustices.

      • albatross11 says:

        Whether it’s a grave injustice that someone loses their job for being an open neo-Nazi is exactly the question at hand.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that it’s typically accepted that punishment must reasonably fit the crime. So it probably depends on the one hand on how bad one thinks that losing their job is or how one imagines the exact circumstances. I think that there is a difference between merely losing a job and being free to find another vs being haunted out of every job you get.

          Similarly on the other hand there seems to be a big difference between a neo-Nazi who actually tries to hurt people physically vs a guy who merely posts on Stormfront or who goes to demonstrations where a dozen protesters have to be protected from a much larger antifa group by the police.

          Note that one specific individual at Charlottesville seems to have become the archetype for a neo-Nazi in the eyes of many, even though that person seems like an outlier to me.

          PS. Also, there is the separate question whether punishment and isolation actually help to make these people behave differently. I think that isolation and anger at perceived mistreatment often is a main cause for them to be susceptible to certain conspiracy theories and being nice to them probably has a far better chance of changing their views (especially in real life).

          • awal says:

            I don’t think that it’s about that person, it’s about signaling to society that hating people based on born characteristics is capital-b Bad, and preventing the normalization of those ideas and their uptake bg others.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Choosing not to hire someone is probably morally equivalent to firing someone.

          Would it be an injustice to choose not to hire someone because they are an ardent neo-Nazi? If it is an injustice, it is tiny. Employers choose not to hire people over the smallest social miscues. An ardent neo-Nazi is going to be a complete wierdo at best, and more likely just a bad person. Why would you hire a bad person instead of one of the many good people that need jobs? Wouldn’t it be unethical to do otherwise?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            What would firing someone in repsonse to a concerted social-media campaign aimed not only at that result, but in scaring off anyone else who might consider hiring that same person be equivalent to?

          • LesHapablap says:

            Social media smear campaigns are so foul, and universally done by awful people, and so ripe for abuse, it is hard to imagine a case in which it was just.

            But as an employer I would want to know if a potential hire was a neo-Nazi and I would be angry if a third party withheld the information.

            <aybe this is a theoretical case where it is just even though in general it is better if these campaigns never happen. This is really a longer debate though and I don't think this is the appropriate spot to debate this.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            “Choosing not to hire someone is probably morally equivalent to firing someone.”

            Disagree, firing causes more direct harm than not hiring. So, when you refuse to hire somebody, their financial situation before you decided not to hire them just isn’t changed. In many cases, they’ve already made the financial plans to accommodate this(and may already be employed). It’s entirely possible they have another interview that will hire them in 2 weeks.

            When you fire somebody, their financial situation is thrown into chaos. They have to make the plans to manage the financial issues. It is not likely they have another interview in 2 weeks that may lead to a job offer.

            Just quibbling though, honestly.

          • LesHapablap says:

            If the employee moved across the country for the job, and he gets fired on his first day, sure. But if he’s been there for a year and the employer has paid for lots of training, the employee could well be better off than if he had just not gotten the job. Depends on a lot of variables.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            It does depend on a lot of variables, but if we assume that people who weren’t hired will generally be hired for another (broadly equivalent) job, whereas people who get fired were not already prepared for the loss of their job, then it’s clearly imbalanced.

            I think the set of circumstances where an unreceived opportunity costs more than the loss of the existing opportunity one already has is higher is fairly rare, and really more likely in certain high-wage growth/prestige driven job markets.

        • Walter says:

          It is, at the very least, questionable tactics.

          Like, Fred the Nazi Accountant is busy 9-5 filling out forms. He spends the majority of his adult life hiding his depravity, smiling with utmost servility at his customers. He might even, at some point, decide to quit this expensive and shameful hobby and devote himself full time to the ‘accountant’ part of his identity.

          The unemployed version has nothing to lose, and is correspondingly far more dangerous.

    • BBA says:

      Look, I’m glad we have so many Vulcans posting here, diversity is strength and all that. But I’m a human, I have my limits, and there are some topics I just can’t discuss rationally.

  26. wanda_tinasky says:

    Ugh. Just ugh. What’s the world coming to?

  27. PeterDonis says:

    This person won’t use any racial slurs, won’t be a bot, and can probably reach the same standards of politeness and reasonable-soundingness as anyone else. Any fair moderation policy won’t provide the moderator with any excuse to delete him.

    I don’t see why not. A policy of “you can’t post your personal manifesto everywhere, your posts need to be of reasonable length and on topic” would do it.

    If that seems like you’re unfairly shutting them down, it might help to frame the issue the way you did in your post not too long ago, as such people nominating themselves for the short end of a tradeoff.

    We Need To Have A National Conversation About Why We Can No Longer Have A National Conversation

    Short answer: you can’t. The fact that things have gotten to the point where we can no longer have a national conversation is why we call it “Culture War”. If we could still have a national conversation about such things, we would be calling it “Cultural Diplomacy”. The very term “war” implies that conversation is no longer possible.

    Once again, I think it helps to think of people who insist on poisoning every conversation by acting in bad faith as nominating themselves for the short end of a tradeoff. As someone who moderates a forum myself (I’m one of the moderators at Physics Forums, which admittedly is focused on less confrontational topics than your subreddit was, although you’d be surprised what people can find to argue about), I feel no compunction about shutting down people if I judge them to be acting in bad faith. (Although it’s not just my judgment; before we shut someone down we discuss it among the moderators to make sure it’s not just one person’s opinion.)

    This, btw, is why I think you might be too hard on yourself when you say “I don’t know how to fix this”. I’m not sure there’s anything that needs to be “fixed”; being able to distinguish between people who genuinely want to have a discussion, and people who are simply taking advantage of your good nature to abuse you (and then refusing to give the latter the time of day), is a valuable life skill. (And as for this blog, this is your blog; IMO you don’t need to have any reason for shutting someone down other than “I think this person is a net loss to the discussion”, and you’re not obliged to give a detailed explanation for why. I don’t view blog comment sections as public spaces; as I see it, those of us who come here to comment are being invited into your living room to have a discussion, and we should behave accordingly, and are subject to being asked to leave, or forcibly ejected if necessary, if we don’t.)

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      +1

      And thank you for this.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The person who just Will. Not. Let. Go of their pet issue goes all the way back to Usenet. They don’t need to publish their screed, just use every opportunity to bring up their pet issue. A solution — that never works — is for other people who are fed up and done with that person to not take the bait. But they always do.

    • being able to distinguish between people who genuinely want to have a discussion, and people who are simply taking advantage of your good nature to abuse you

      That isn’t what Scott is describing. He is talking about people who take advantage of his tolerance to make arguments for things he believes are mistaken.

      I agree that one could reasonably have a policy of not allowing people to make long posts on lots of different subjects, all directed to pushing their hobbyhorses–but that would apply to people pushing views Scott agrees with as well as to ones he disagrees with.

      • PeterDonis says:

        That isn’t what Scott is describing. He is talking about people who take advantage of his tolerance to make arguments for things he believes are mistaken.

        I think he described both kinds of people in the post as a whole–the kind who take advantage of tolerance to post 10,000 word manifestos about their pet issue, which could be taken as trying to post in good faith but having a very skewed idea of what “good faith” is, and the kind who take advantage of tolerance to post in bad faith from the start. When Scott said “I don’t know how to fix this” in the post, I took him to be referring to the second kind of people and the effect that their actions had on him.

        I might be misunderstanding the facts of what happened in the subreddit–I thought the people who were harassing Scott for his role in that were doing so within the discussion there as well as outside it.

        I agree that one could reasonably have a policy of not allowing people to make long posts on lots of different subjects, all directed to pushing their hobbyhorses–but that would apply to people pushing views Scott agrees with as well as to ones he disagrees with.

        Yes, that’s right. The person who insists on posting 10,000 word manifestos in every thread about how basic income is a good idea would have to get the same kind of moderation as the one who does it about pedophilia.

        • gloriousg999 says:

          In theory, I think having the policy is possible.

          In practice, I think the enforcement will be subject to a LOT of subjective judgment and hand-wringing.

          * How many posts/what percent can one make before it’s “directed towards pushing their hobbyhorses”?
          * Does length matter?
          * What if, somehow, you’re very good about making it seem like a natural part of the conversation?

          In theory, these are answerable questions. In practice, most people are really only comfortable punishing clearer moral transgressions. Moderating has a psychological cost/social risk.

          • PeterDonis says:

            In practice, I think the enforcement will be subject to a LOT of subjective judgment and hand-wringing.

            The subjective judgment part is true of any moderation policy. To have a moderated forum, you need moderators, and that means their subjective judgments are going to be the basis for enforcement.

            I’m not so sure about “hand-wringing”. I don’t see a reason to agonize over something that can’t be helped. If the issue is fear that one’s moderation decisions might be too much based on one’s personal opinions, the way to fix that is to have multiple moderators and have them discuss particularly difficult decisions before taking action.

          • In theory, these are answerable questions. In practice, most people are really only comfortable punishing clearer moral transgressions. Moderating has a psychological cost/social risk.

            Aren’t we made of sterner stuff here? I like to think we can be willing to be guinea pigs for moderation experiments without too much complaint. That seems rationalist to me.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            The subjective judgment part is true of any moderation policy.

            Yes and no? So, some moderation rules are much clearer than others, and/or tie back to clearly demarcated wrongs better. “No insults” is much clearer. “No trolling” also can be clear as well.

            The big issue is that any time an ambiguous decision must be made, you may be facing a personal cost, but also potentially a political cost. If UBI Steve has become a delightful part of your forum’s ecosystem, then you really just can’t enforce this rule, even if it would help you with Hitler Fetishist Mike.

            I’m not so sure about “hand-wringing”. I don’t see a reason to agonize over something that can’t be helped. If the issue is fear that one’s moderation decisions might be too much based on one’s personal opinions, the way to fix that is to have multiple moderators and have them discuss particularly difficult decisions before taking action.

            So, clear rules, where every person can agree on the transgression, are very easy to enforce. If corner cases are possible, then it’s plausible to expect at least one person to act as a corner case, which creates a political nightmare in enforcing rules.(unless there are extreme variances in status!)

            Even further, I think the “multiple moderators all talk everything through” goes back into the “in a perfect world where everyone is well-staffed”, which doesn’t strike me as how voluntary moderator positions always work.

            Also, to be clear, I’m not saying subjective feelings are the only aspect. So, there is psychological cost, but also social cost. Every time you punish somebody, but members of the forum don’t 100% agree, the moderator team has taken on some social risk.

            Aren’t we made of sterner stuff here? I like to think we can be willing to be guinea pigs for moderation experiments without too much complaint. That seems rationalist to me.

            “Rationalist” just speaks to the ideology/orientation, not the emotional substance. So, when I think about rule-design, I think about ease on my end to enforce rules.

            Also, the root problems with moderation are political, not “rational/irrational”. Different group norms may react differently to a mismanaged political event, but they don’t reduce the cost of mismanagement.

          • PeterDonis says:

            some moderation rules are much clearer than others, and/or tie back to clearly demarcated wrongs better. “No insults” is much clearer. “No trolling” also can be clear as well.

            Even those “clear” ones still involve subjective judgments. There is no objective insult detector or troll detector.

            The big issue is that any time an ambiguous decision must be made, you may be facing a personal cost, but also potentially a political cost. If UBI Steve has become a delightful part of your forum’s ecosystem, then you really just can’t enforce this rule, even if it would help you with Hitler Fetishist Mike.

            What rule do you think can’t be enforced in this case? I have already said in other posts upthread that if, for example, you have a rule “no 10,000 word manifestos about your pet belief”, you have to enforce it the same against people posting beliefs you agree with as you do against people posting beliefs you disagree with. So UBI Steve can’t post his 10,000 word manifesto any more than Hitler Fetishist Mike can.

            I think the “multiple moderators all talk everything through” goes back into the “in a perfect world where everyone is well-staffed”, which doesn’t strike me as how voluntary moderator positions always work.

            That’s true. But it also suggests a rule of thumb: if there are a very small number of moderators and no easy way for them to talk about difficult cases, the forum will have problems. So people who are contemplating starting a forum should think about that.

            Every time you punish somebody, but members of the forum don’t 100% agree, the moderator team has taken on some social risk.

            And the response to this is that all moderation decisions are final (which is not to say there can’t be an appeal process), and at the end of the day, people’s final recourse if they absolutely can’t stand the decisions moderators are making is to go post somewhere else. It is impossible to make decisions that will please everyone all the time, no matter what the forum rules are.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The real problem isn’t so much deciding what to let people post, it’s third parties who try to wreck Scott’s peace of mind and reputation because of who he gives room to.

    • gbdub says:

      I agree you can quite fairly prune out people who only want to beat their dead hobbyhorses.

      But I think Scott’s main point is that they only have to post once or twice for your tolerance of them to be seized on by people who want to tar you by association.

      You can’t have a free discussion space without anyone ever using it to politely say something really outside the Overton window.

      • whereamigoing says:

        Yeah, the hard part is not those “taking advantage of tolerance”, but those using the forum as intended. If no one ever posts anything outside the Overton window, is it really a free forum? And if everyone only makes one or two posts outside the Overton window, collectively, that’s a lot of posts.

      • PeterDonis says:

        I think Scott’s main point is that they only have to post once or twice for your tolerance of them to be seized on by people who want to tar you by association.

        Fair point.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      This view isn’t falsifiable.

      Say that X is coming from the 24th century and knows for sure that children having sex at 12 is very good for their psychological development. X doesn’t know most of the technical details – only just as much we’d know now about how smoking is very bad. He’s not even a man on a mission, he talks about other topics.

      How could he navigate this labyrinth you put in front of him? He’s right, he’s willing to spread the word, the forum is open. What are the chances you wouldn’t ban him in 1 week?

      • PeterDonis says:

        Say that X is coming from the 24th century and knows for sure that children having sex at 12 is very good for their psychological development.

        It’s always possible to make up outlandish hypotheticals. That doesn’t mean we should seriously consider them when deciding on a moderation policy for a discussion forum.

        To answer your question as you ask it, such an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary evidence. Which, by your hypothesis, this person would not be able to provide. So yes, they would most likely get banned as being a crackpot or insane.

        What exactly do you think this proves?

        • So yes, they would most likely get banned as being a crackpot or insane.

          You are aware that twelve and a half (plus signs of puberty) was the age, under Rabbinic law, at which a woman not only could be married but was an adult and so could be married without her parents’ permission?

          Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
          George Bernard Shaw, “Ceasar and Cleopatra”

          • PeterDonis says:

            You are aware that twelve and a half (plus signs of puberty) was the age, under Rabbinic law, at which a woman not only could be married but was an adult and so could be married without her parents’ permission?

            I am now. 🙂

            To clarify my previous post, the reason I said the person in the original hypothetical would be banned as being a crackpot or insane was not the claim that 12 year olds having sex is beneficial to them. It was the claim that they know this because they’re from the 24th century and it’s common knowledge then. Someone who backed up the claim about 12 year olds by citing Rabbinic law and giving evidence about the societies that used it would not be treated the same way.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @PeterDonis

            Of course the point isn’t about people saying they’re time travelers. It’s about how somebody who is right and knows he’s right but is outside the moderator’s overton windows would manage to be part of the conversation. If the answer is “he can’t”, that’s ok, but you can’t call it an open conversation anymore.

          • PeterDonis says:

            Of course the point isn’t about people saying they’re time travelers. It’s about how somebody who is right and knows he’s right but is outside the moderator’s overton windows would manage to be part of the conversation.

            The problem with someone claiming they’re a time traveler is not that it’s outside the moderator’s Overton window: it’s that it violates the laws of physics, at least as we understand them today, so the burden of proof someone would have to meet to convince someone that they really did have a sound basis for the claims you describe is so high that it’s going to be impossible in practice to meet.

            If the answer is “he can’t”, that’s ok, but you can’t call it an open conversation anymore.

            It’s not that he can’t be part of the conversation; it’s that he can’t reasonably expect to convince anyone that he’s not a crackpot or insane, after he has had a chance to say what he wants to say. I didn’t say the person would get banned as a crackpot or insane without being heard. My point is that in an open forum, he would be heard, and would make his claims, and would state what the basis for those claims was, and those statements would be so outlandish to everyone else that there would be no practical way for them to be accepted as valid. And once everyone concludes he’s a crackpot or insane, he would be banned. Unless you are claiming that even crackpots or insane people should be allowed to post without restriction in order for the forum to be considered “open”?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @PeterDonis

            You misunderstand 🙂 I don’t mean he’ll say in public he’s a time traveler. Just that he knows he’s right – for whatever other reason you want to imagine.

          • and those statements would be so outlandish to everyone else that there would be no practical way for them to be accepted as valid. And once everyone concludes he’s a crackpot or insane, he would be banned.

            I think that policy, classifying someone who argues for something you are sure is false as a crackpot or lunatic and banning him on that basis, is a mistake for two reasons.

            The first is that you might be wrong. It may be very unlikely–but the very fact that you are sure his claim is false suggests that if it is true, knowing it would substantially shift your view of reality towards being more nearly correct, which is a large benefit.

            The second is that, even if he is wrong, if he offers intelligent and coherent reasons for his false belief you may learn a good deal from arguing with him.

            If you are going to ban someone for being a crackpot, it ought to be on the basis of how he argues, not what he argues for.

          • PeterDonis says:

            I don’t mean he’ll say in public he’s a time traveler. Just that he knows he’s right

            But it’s not enough for him to know he’s right. He has to defend his claims by arguments and evidence, otherwise there is no discussion, just him making an assertion and everybody else ignoring it. What arguments and evidence is he going to give other than that he’s a time traveler if his basis for his belief is that it’s common knowledge in the 24th century?

          • PeterDonis says:

            If you are going to ban someone for being a crackpot, it ought to be on the basis of how he argues, not what he argues for.

            This is a fair point. If there were a way for the time traveler to give credible evidence in favor of time travel on an internet discussion forum, he might actually be able to convince others that he was telling the truth when he describes what things are like in the 24th century. But there would still be a very, very strong Bayesian prior to overcome (though evident recognition of this fact on his part would count in his favor–see below).

            Or, alternatively, if he were able to give good arguments in favor of his views without relying on information that could only be verified by someone who lived in the 24th century, yes, there would be a good discussion and no reason to ban him. I was assuming that the original hypothetical ruled out this possibility by saying that the person doesn’t have any special knowledge of why things are the way they are in the 24th century with respect to the sexual relationships of 12 year olds, just that he knows it is common knowledge that they are beneficial.

            On the other hand, if all he did were to keep repeating that he was a time traveler and describing the 24th century, without showing any sign of recognizing that everyone is going to need more than just his unsupported word to believe in time travel, then he probably ends up getting banned. Part of discussion and argument is recognizing where your audience is starting from.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            > Unless you are claiming that even crackpots or insane people should be allowed to post without restriction in order for the forum to be considered “open”?

            Well, this kindof is what we’re talking about. Do people that moderators believe to be utterly wrong, but are otherwise coherent and polite, have a right to be in the conversation or not?

            The main reason you should … always? almost always? can’t really think of an edge case here, but there probably are some… so the reason you should almost always say “yes” is Intellectual Humility. Which is the possibility that you yourself are utterly wrong. If you eliminate this possibility, then like David Friedman said, you’re also eliminating the possibility of growing in interesting ways.

            I did at least one 180 in my life, and the main lesson from that was how wrong I could be. And I wasn’t even particularly young, it happened in my 30s. After that, I’m going to listen to everybody. Decide they’re wrong, of course, but I’m definitely going to Listen to them.

            A whole section of the Sequences is dedicated to that, btw:
            https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/How_To_Actually_Change_Your_Mind

          • PeterDonis says:

            Do people that moderators believe to be utterly wrong, but are otherwise coherent and polite, have a right to be in the conversation or not?

            I agree with DavidFriedman’s point that people should be banned based on how they argue, not on what they are arguing for. See my response to him.

        • gloriousg999 says:

          It just ties back to the issues of how this is a delicate balance.

          I mean, if I had to be honest, it’s hard for me to say that I have much evidence that consensual teen sex is bad for development. The closest I have is the correlative evidence that MIT students lose their virginity later, and I’d bet that the later loss of virginity is an effect.

          That being said, there really isn’t a way to handle the overall balance 100% well. The impression I get is that the best types of solutions tend to be cultural, and also finding ways to get “bad participants” to break explicit rules or be unliked. Forums are semi-public, and one’s actions in a forum speaks well(or ill) of you, and so it is a bit of political management.

          “Teens should have sex!” person can probably be nudged into either coming off as just acknowledging the reality that teens will have sex, or pushed into sounding like a pedophile(and violating rules involving local laws/trolling/being unliked).

  28. Excellent piece, Scott, very interesting. The whole trajectory of our national online conversation sure does seem like one of the most important factors in why things are the way they are. Is it mostly cause or mostly effect? I was pretty strongly in the “effect” camp [social media etc is simply reflecting/amplifying how Americans think and talk about each other not shaping it]. But am nowadays closely to “not sure”…neither answer is particularly heartening.

    Anyway I wonder if you’ve seen this essay from 2017, which I found to be a disturbingly-accurate description of my own online experiences from long ago [I’m old enough to have launched Usenet newsgroup readers from Unix command lines] right through today’s social media. Some aspects of your CW Thread tale seem to connect to it:
    http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-shouting-class.html

  29. Deiseach says:

    Scott has said he does not want expressions of sympathy, and fair enough.

    These are not expressions of sympathy. Poems by two Irish writers, the playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) and Michael Hartnett (1941-1999). I’m not saying these are in reference to any pestiferous poxbottles pretending to be people parading around causing pain and distress, I am simply sharing the literary heritage of my country with you all.

    The Curse
    BY J. M. SYNGE

    To a sister of an enemy of the author’s who disapproved of ‘The Playboy’

    Lord, confound this surly sister,
    Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
    Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver,
    In her guts a galling give her.
    Let her live to earn her dinners
    In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
    Lord, this judgment quickly bring,
    And I’m your servant, J. M. Synge.

    ON THOSE WHO STOLE OUR CAT, A CURSE

    On those who stole our cat, a curse:
    may they always have an empty purse
    and need a doctor and a nurse
    prematurely;
    may their next car be a big black hearse –
    oh may it, surely!

    May all their kids come down with mange,
    their eldest daughter start acting strange,
    and the wife start riding the range
    (and I don’t mean the Aga);
    when she begins to go through the change
    may she go gaga.

    And may the husband lose his job
    and have great trouble with his knob
    and the son turn out a yob
    and smash the place up;
    may he give his da a belt in the gob
    and mess his face up!

    And may the granny end up in jail
    for opening her neighbours’ mail,
    may all that clan moan, weep and wail,
    turn grey and wizened
    on the day she doesn’t get bail
    but Mountjoy Prison!

    Oh may their daughter get up the pole,
    and their drunken uncle lose his dole,
    for our poor cat one day they stole –
    may they rue it!
    and if there is a black hell-hole
    may they go through it!

    Unfriendly loan-sharks to their door
    as they beg for one week more;
    may the seven curses of Inchicore
    rot and blight ’em!
    May all their enemies settle the score
    and kick the shite of ’em!

    I wish rabies on all their pets,
    I wish them a flock of bastard gets,
    I wish ’em a load of unpayable debts,
    TV Inspectors –
    to show’em a poet never forgets
    his malefactors.

    May rats and mice them ever hound,
    may half of them be of mind unsound,
    may their house burn down to the ground
    and no insurance;
    may drugs and thugs their lives surround
    beyond endurance!

    May God forgive the heartless thief
    who caused our household so much grief;
    if you think I’m harsh, sigh with relief –
    I haven’t even started.
    I can do worse. I am, in brief,
    yours truly, Michael Hartnett.

  30. baj2235 says:

    As a moderator of both /r/Slatestarcodex, and /r/TheMotte, I’d just like to thank you for writing this Scott. I know we personally exchanged some rather angry words about this (many of mine were misspelled – grammar is not my strong suit), and I am sorry about that, though I stand by much of what I said at the time. I will say that having any group attached to your identity is hard, I’ve never really experienced this online though I have as “community leader” (albeit it wasn’t called that) of pseduo-public/pseudo-private spaces in real life. One advantage I had is that words that were uttered in those spaces died when the sound-waves dissipated. The words you speak online are forever. Words spoken online by others in you name are similarly permanent. In short, I don’t envy you.

    Since you advertised us, I’ll go ahead and reach out to everyone who comments on the blog and invite them to participate. The Culture War Thread, now located in /r/TheMotte is a really, really odd thing that is hard to explain. It brings together posts by a diverse set of mostly anonymous posters and forces together in one feed, displaying comments in their full form so you can’t purely react to them based on title. As “arch-mod” (Scott’s words, not mine) I have always tried to highlight what I thought the best comments the thread generated that represent differing views from across the political spectrum. He linked to one of my many “Quality Contributions Roundups” above, and I encourage everyone to read through those comments to see what I mean, though fair warning – someone in somewhere within almost certainly said something you vehemently disagree with. I know, because as a “sanity check” to make sure I wasn’t flattering my on political biases I made sure to posts I personally disagreed with in every single roundup. The Culture War thread was not perfect, and perhaps we could do better. All I can say is I have always done the best I could.

    If anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them.

  31. CheshireCat says:

    (for example, did you know that sceletium has a combination of SSRI-like compounds and PDE2 inhibitors that make it really good at treating nervous breakdowns? True!)

    Not to be insensitive but I find this personally interesting, care to elaborate?

  32. marxbro says:

    That’s really unfortunate that people threatened you. A calm and charitable political discourse is almost impossible to achieve in liberal Western society I think. For example, my own personal experience as a Marxist and someone who does not shy away from historical communism, I’ve been slandered and even outright attacked for stating my opinion. The worst incident is that I said that Stalin was a good comrade, and for this I was attacked (punched in the eye) by a right-winger. This was totally out of nowhere, I didn’t even have time to take off my glasses, which were fortunately not broken although I was left with a black eye.

    Even though this is the political atmosphere in which I’ve grown up, I think there’s some reason to be sanguine. I’ve seen US political discourse open up slightly in the last decade, now left-wing opinions such as mine are a little more common in the mainstream. I see a lot of young people who are looking more rationally at taboo subjects such as socialism and Marxism and are more comfortable taking on board those political insights.

    Although that’s probably cold comfort for those like us who have been attacked in the recent past, it’s definitely something to look towards as a positive development.

    • SaiNushi says:

      “The worst incident is that I said that Stalin was a good comrade, and for this I was attacked (punched in the eye) by a right-winger.”

      Hm… I wonder if this is why the left feels justified in “punching Nazi’s”…

      I don’t think you should be punched for your views. I do question though… what is your opinion of Gulags? Of people starving to death because the government redistributed the food they spent all summer growing? Of people being beaten for collecting the bit of grain left behind after the government took everything else? In light of all that, I have the opinion that Stalin is just as bad as Hitler.

      • gbdub says:

        I too would like to know what made Stalin a “good comrade” but that’s probably best saved for the actual CW thread.

        More importantly, let’s all agree we shouldn’t normalize punching anybody on either side.

      • marxbro says:

        Even though I was explaining that the gulags never had the high percentage of inmates as American prisons I still got punched. Being actually assaulted is the worst I’ve faced as a communist but I’ve been threatened or just shouted down plenty of times too. Let’s not forget stuff like Charlottesville in which a leftist was run over by a right-winger and multiple others injured. Honestly, considering some of the irrational rage I’ve faced just for stating my views I feel really lucky that the worst I’ve ever had is a black eye.

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          Let’s not forget stuff like Charlottesville in which a leftist was run over by a right-winger and multiple others injured.

          That’s a straight up lie about something where there’s video. No one was run over.

          Dwayne Dixon put up a confession on his facebook page that’s since been set to private that he chased James Fields with a rifle and he admitted it in a lecture at Harvard:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz9mKPiDrv4

          • marxbro says:

            “Intimidating” people (waving people off, not “chased” as you describe it) with a rifle is perfectly fine and the US constitution protects the bearing of arms. Left-wingers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of arming themselves, and as a Maoist I welcome this. If James Fields was so much of a snowflake that going to a protest where people are carrying guns caused him to freak out and run protestors over, then that’s on him, not a random left-winger.

            No one was run over.

            Well, he was convicted on hit-and-run and first degree murder charges. If you have exonerating evidence I suggest you get in touch with the police.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Well, he was convicted on hit-and-run and first degree murder charges.

            You said he ran people over – no one was run over – there’s video evidence. You were lying. Period.

            Conviction of murder or hit and run are separate matters because legally you don’t have to hit someone with a car to be convicted of either.

            “Intimidating” people (waving people off, not “chased” as you describe it) with a rifle is perfectly fine and the US constitution protects the bearing of arms.

            Bullshit. Going out in public with a rifle and declaring yourself the law by threatening people with deadly force because you designed yourself as traffic control is isn’t fine. He got away with it for the same reason he was invited to speak at Harvard about it.

          • marxbro says:

            @reasoned argumentation

            Please don’t use words like “bullshit” – this gives the discussion an uncivilized edge which I think is unneeded.

            Again, if you have evidence to the contrary regarding the hit-and-run I suggest linking it here (to bolster your argument of which you’ve presented no evidence) and then taking that evidence to the police so that it can be brought before the authorities.

            Unlike yourself, I’m totally in favor of the 2nd Amendment and I encourage all left-wingers to start organizing and carrying guns in public where possible. An armed society is a polite society, I fully believe that, and also Mao’s fundamental truth “political power flows from the barrel of a gun”.

          • I haven’t seen the video, but I’m guessing that reasoned’s point is that the car did not actually run over anyone. That’s consistent with it having hit someone, injured him, even killed him.

            On the other hand, the video he links to has Fields saying that he “waved him off” with his rifle, not, as reasoned claims, that he chased him.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I identify somewhat with democratic socialism, and I’m glad that socialism is coming more and more into the Overton window. I hope you realize that every time you open your mouth to defend Stalin, you help to reverse that process. (And rightly so.)

      • marxbro says:

        No, I did not “reverse” that process. I was calmly explaining my views to a right-wing guy when I got punched in the face. Later, other people who were part of this discussion and were somewhat left (certainly not as left as me although I doubt they were Republican voters) told me that the whole debacle really made them more sympathetic to communist views and asked me for leftist literature to read.

        If you just explain your views calmly and lay it out in a rational way I think people will mostly be interested. I suspect one or two in the group would have asked me for followup reading anyhow. However, I also think that seeing the violent irrational response from the right definitely pushed them more towards a leftist view.

        • I think the situation as you describe it probably had two opposite effects. Defending Stalin probably made people less sympathetic to Marxism. Your being punched for doing so probably made them more sympathetic to Marxism, less sympathetic to attacks on it.

          If that isn’t clear, consider the analogous case of someone defending Hitler as a good conservative and being punched for it.

          • marxbro says:

            I think the situation as you describe it probably had two opposite effects. Defending Stalin probably made people less sympathetic to Marxism. Your being punched for doing so probably made them more sympathetic to Marxism, less sympathetic to attacks on it.

            Huh? That’s not what happened though. One irrational right-winger got so mad at me he punched me, while a number of other people asked me later (in private, when they couldn’t be assaulted) for relevant leftist literature.

            If people can’t discuss the pros/cons of communism with a communist rationally and without lashing out violently than I’m not sure I want their “sympathy”. However, it does have the effect of pushing people on the fence further towards leftism, which is good for me in some ways, so I guess it’s worth it.

          • gbdub says:

            You’re vacillating between “discussing the pros/cons of communism” and “defending Stalin”. They uh… aren’t quite the same.

            That said, there is still no excuse for you being subject to violence for that.

          • marxbro says:

            @gdub

            As Stalin was the leader of a communist country that lifted millions out of ignorance and poverty, he deserves a spirited and clear-minded defence. Most Americans are taught to hate him irrationally, which leads to a usually one-sided conversation and even physical assaults on peaceful Maoists like myself.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Maoist? You mean the guy who directly caused the deaths of tens of millions of people through political purges and famines? You have some strange idols.

            For the record, the guy who punched you probably had family who lived under Soviet rule. They tend to have a rather different view of Soviet communism than the American college marxist.

          • marxbro says:

            @eyeballfrog; I very much doubt it. In any case, even if his family had lived in the USSR he should have still been able discuss the case without assaulting me. That’s truly irrational. If he didn’t like the USSR or Stalin he could have made his points calmly, politely and logically.

            Regarding Soviet opinions on the collapse of the USSR, there are many who miss communism and recognise Stalin as a great leader:

            http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/29/in-russia-nostalgia-for-soviet-union-and-positive-feelings-about-stalin/

            I don’t know of any comparisons with American college students but I suspect that the approval ratings for Stalin are much higher in the former-USSR than they are on US college campuses.

          • gloriousg999 says:

            “Stalin was the leader of a communist country that lifted millions out of ignorance and poverty”

            I think the tension is also that if somebody wrote

            “Hitler was the leader of a fascist nation that restored economic prosperity and hope to millions”

            It would also be right.

            And in some circles, the deaths due to governmental actions are perceived in a broadly similar light to the actions by Hitler during the Holocaust.

            I am not trying to say that you should agree that Stalin = Hitler, but… there a coherent line of reasoning that would reach similar conclusions. And of course, while some people would agree that people should be able to “discuss the pros/cons of fascism rationally”, it is a more contentious claim than “discuss the pros/cons of buying diet soda”.

            Only pushing back, because you stated “Americans are taught to hate him irrationally”.

            Also on:
            “I suspect that the approval ratings for Stalin are much higher in the former-USSR than they are on US college campuses.”

            Actually, I also expect that. I don’t think it signifies much, as the US also put Andrew Jackson on the $20. On average people don’t think rationally about their history, or anybody else’s history either.

          • marxbro says:

            @glorious999 No, the American hatred of Stalin is largely irrational which is why people assault me or shout threats at me instead of simply discussing their views. I realize that the average SSCer is more intelligent than average US citizen and might be able to construct something of an argument against Stalin, however that’s not the case for most.

            I really don’t think it’s too much for me to ask people to have a calm discussion about Stalin rather than trying to shut me up.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            For the record, the guy who punched you probably had family who lived under Soviet rule. They tend to have a rather different view of Soviet communism than the American college marxist.

            This isn’t explicitly saying “you had it coming to you”, but it’s feels as though hinting in that direction further than I think is OK. If that’s not you’re intent, you might want to clarify that.

            Punching people in the face is not an acceptable response to their espousing awful opinions.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            .I really don’t think it’s too much for me to ask people to have a calm discussion about Stalin rather than trying to shut me up.

            That’s two very different requests rolled into one.

            Not shutting you up is a reasonable request, but I’m afraid I think that taking you seriously and having calm discussions with you about Stalin is not.

            I think that your views on Stalin are a long way outside the zone of things worth taking seriously, and while people who attempt to force you into silence are acting unreasonably, people who just laugh you off or dismiss you and talk round you, or openly mock you, are not.

          • @marxbro:

            Is your basic complaint that people shouldn’t respond to arguments, however wrong, with violence, or is it that your argument wasn’t wrong, hence should not have been responded to with violence?

            To put the same questions differently, suppose you observed the same scene except the person who was attacked was defending Hitler instead of Stalin. Would you have the same reaction?

            On the issue of Stalin, two comments. First, you might want to compare Soviet economic growth under the USSR either with the growth rate in late Tsarist Russia or with the growth of capitalist countries starting at similar levels. By the end of the Soviet period, Russia was strikingly poorer than other countries, such as Japan, that had been similarly poor at the beginning.

            Second, I recommend the book Conspiracy of Silence by Alexander Weissberg. It’s by an Austrian communist (and physicist) who got caught up in the Great Purge and describes his experiences. He was eventually handed over to the Gestapo (he was Jewish) at the time of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, but survived.

            It might give you a different view of Stalin’s Russia.

          • @marxbro

            Maoists like myself

            My impression of Stalin is that he’s competent evil with some upsides; he industrialized the Soviet Union (at the expense of millions of lives, since grain confiscation for export was a big part of how imports of industrial equipment were paid for)*, and did the most important work in defeating Hitler. I think he’s evil because he was paranoid and brutal, employed slave labor on an enormous scale, purged party members for wrongthink, assassinated class enemies on a massive scale, and artificially contributed to famine through forced collectivization and grain requisition. We surely disagree on how much of that is true, but I think the upsides are the rapid industrialization, and the USSR’s role in WWII, and the rapid industrialization was surely required to defeat Hitler, whose General Plan Ost would have unleashed anti-slavic genocide on a scale that would have made the Holocaust look like a tea party. I also think that besides his paranoia causing him to misstep and kill people needlessly at times, he was overrall competent and did what he said was going to do. He did industrialize the USSR, and he did defeat Hitler.

            So I can understand Marxism-Leninism/Stalinism; we just disagree about whether central planning works beyond a narrow context, and whether the deaths were justified/Western exaggerations/propaganda.

            Now, Maoism, I can’t understand at all. Stalin can be reproached with killing millions while industrializing his country at breakneck speed. Mao can be reproached with killing millions while de-industrializing his country at breakneck speed.

            Mao did objectively crazy things like trying to kill all the sparrows or like melting down most of the country’s iron into useless slag in backyard foundaries. The Great Leap Forward was a cosmic scale tragicomedy.

            These things aren’t even particular to communism, and so don’t need to be defended on those grounds, so I’m kind of fascinated when I meet a Maoist, because I know that even if I became convinced by Marxism and communism, my opinion of Mao would be almost exactly the same as it is now.

            *Although I see wildly conflicting information about this, and I’m not sure who to trust:
            @DavidFriedman

            On the issue of Stalin, two comments. First, you might want to compare Soviet economic growth under the USSR either with the growth rate in late Tsarist Russia or with the growth of capitalist countries starting at similar levels. By the end of the Soviet period, Russia was strikingly poorer than other countries, such as Japan, that had been similarly poor at the beginning.

            My impression has always been that Stalin massively industrialized the USSR (there are some graphs of steel production I recall that show it shooting past other countries, but I don’t have them to hand) by copying Fordist assembly line techniques and combining them with central planning and collectivization (and the slave labor figures for raw resources are kinda crazy). The Soviet system seemed to fail to adapt to new conditions, but it seems like it was able to copy what the West had already established, and then run the Industrial Revolution program on fast forwards (hence the need for huge amounts of state force and murder compared to the much more drawn out capitalist process that happened earlier in Europe and America).

          • but I think the upsides are the rapid industrialization

            I’m not an expert on the subject, but I think you are mistaken. As I suggested earlier, you might want to compare what happened in the Soviet case with what happened in comparable non-communist societies. For a simple case, compare modern Russia with modern Japan.

            Also, you need to use Soviet economic statistics from after the fall of the USSR, because it is now known that the official statistics were largely bogus.

            For a picture of late Soviet Russia, the book The Russians is interesting. The general impression I get is a poor first world capital in a mostly third world country.

        • Deiseach says:

          marxbro, the best I can say is that I hope you get your wish, and get to live under the beneficient rule of another Stalin in another USSR busy lifting millions out of ignorance and poverty and into the sunlit truth of the workers’ utopia.

          I dearly, dearly hope you get the wish of your heart.

      • LadyJane says:

        As someone who’s highly critical of socialism, I can say it’s largely because of the way that the term is interchangeably used for 1.) Nordic-style Social Democracy, 2.) some kind of totally untried and quite possibly non-viable system where the economy is democratically controlled, 3.) an authoritarian command economy like the USSR or Maoist China, or 4.) some kind of poorly defined movement to overthrow capitalism without any real idea of what’s going to replace it, beyond some vague fuzzy appeal to the spirit of human cooperation or some such nonsense. I’m fine with 1, but I think 2 is probably a utopian fantasy that either couldn’t actually exist or would fall apart rapidly, and 3 and 4 both seem horrible and likely to lead to truly awful outcomes.

        So yes, whenever I hear a Marxist-Leninist or a Maoist defend Stalin’s totalitarian nightmare state and talk about how the Kulaks deserved to be wiped out, it makes me just the slightest bit more reluctant to entertain socialist ideas in general.

        • marxbro says:

          I don’t consider Mao’s China or the USSR to be “authoritarian”, indeed they did a pretty good job mitigating or, in some cases, eliminating the authoritarianism/totalitarianism of liberalism, capitalism and monarchy.

        • LadyJane says:

          From Scott’s anti-Trump article:

          If you’re a Jew fighting anti-Semitism, the absolute minimum you can do is not actually kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzah. Likewise, if you are a principled classical liberal fighting the social justice movement’s attempt to smear anyone who disagrees with them as an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal, the absolute minimum you can do is not actually be an overprivileged clueless hateful Neanderthal.

          When someone talks about how they’re skeptical of socialism because they associate it with authoritarian regimes, responding with “those regimes weren’t actually that bad!” sure isn’t the response that’s going to make people more amenable to socialism.

      • I identify somewhat with democratic socialism, and I’m glad that socialism is coming more and more into the Overton window. I hope you realize that every time you open your mouth to defend Stalin, you help to reverse that process.

        I don’t actually think that’s how it works. At the very least, Stalinists have the same effect on the success of democratic socialism as Malcolm X had on the success of MLK, Jr.

        And then there’s this video: “Why ‘Communism’ is Important.”

    • Basil Elton says:

      Ok, let me try to explain to you, calmly and logically, why some people might get pretty upset about this whole “Stalin isn’t so bad” thing. As I am definitely one of those people.

      In short terms – you say someone punched you in the face, and you’re rightfully pissed off at anyone assuming that’s a legitimate way to lead a political discussion. Now imagine somebody shoots down your relative, then a guy shows up and says that was a legitimate way to lead a political discussion and the killer was basically a good fella.

      Here’s the links to three non-profit organizations in the former USSR which exist solely for the purpose of gathering and preserving information about the victims of repressions in the USSR. One of them lists over 3 millions records. The other 1.7 mln. I wasn’t able to find total numbers from the third one but it has scans of documents containing names of tens of thousand of people signed to death by Stalin personally. Unfortunately the first two websites are in Russian, and so are all the documents and records on the third one. But you can get an impression from google translate.

      Of course, I’m not claiming those are exact numbers of people killed and imprisoned – that’s not the point. Point of these organizations is to preserve memory of actual human lives behind those numbers. You see, those lists are composed by volunteers, with many of stories and photos taken from family archives. When you think of it in terms of imprisonment rates, it seems very important whether those are higher or lower than in the modern US. When you remember those were actual living people with their families and memories, even 10000 executed for no good reason sounds like way, way too many. And there were orders of magnitudes more than 10 thousand. Almost every person from former USSR I asked have at least one relative who suffered from the repressions – and I was born and grown up in Russia, so I’ve met quite a few people from there. My own great-grandfather died in gulag. So when you say “Stalin was a good comrade”, to people like me it sounds “It’s generally OK to kill innocent people, if you really need it to advance your politics”. And by “people like me” I don’t mean only those who themselves originate or has relatives from the former USSR. There’re also individuals genuinely capable of compassion with people they’ve never ever met, who lived in another country decades ago. Rare as they are, maybe the guy who punched you was just one of those strange creatures.

      PS: Oh and don’t even get me started on Russians who love Stalin. This comment is long and off topic enough already.

  33. Jacobeus says:

    I won’t send you any expressions of sympathy or cast you as a martyr, but I think it’s important to point out a fact that very few people seem to mention: You are an honest, good, decent, and – not saying this to flatter – also a very wise person. I don’t see many people give you compliments, possibly because it seems too fluffy for a high-brow intellectual blog, but honestly, if we don’t, how will you ever get the psychological upkeep necessary to continue your work? This is not to presume that your psyche feeds on social approval (clearly you would not be doing this if that was all it needed), but I think most human beings need at least some evidence that they are appreciated on a more personal level, and as you have just finished explaining, so far you have mainly received the opposite signal.

    Our era is one of a staggering decline in the quality and available of decent information, communication, and transmission of thought, and this place you have created is one of the few great strongholds left. It couldn’t have been accomplished if you weren’t as brave and morally developed as you are. I leave out “intelligent” as a descriptor because of the decline in usefulness of that word and also it goes without saying.

    Now I will return to my normal lurking.

    • gbdub says:

      +1.

      Scott, you may not be the most sympathetic victim of this particular problem, nor have you paid the highest cost.

      But your efforts and suffering here are meaningful. Please accept praise and support where it is due and deserved, and here it most definitely is.

    • mindslight says:

      +1

      I have to wonder if a large part of the problem isn’t just sheer fan-in, with negativity having more legs. If I leave a comment insulting you, you’ll feel it and every bit wears down your tolerance. If I appreciate a post and send it to a friend, you simply see your hit count increase.

      So: Thank you.

    • SaiNushi says:

      +1

      Scott, thank you for being a voice of sanity on an increasingly insane internet.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      +1

      This is one of the last places where rational people who disagree with each other can have a conversation. I thank you for that, and I thank you for writing about what it costs you. I agree with your writings more than I disagree, but disagree strongly in some areas, and that’s ok. It frankly makes me sad that one of the most reasonable people on the internet is experiencing this kind of nonsense.

      This brand you’ve created has real value. Perhaps another means of defending yourself would be to more effectively monetize that value so at least a portion of your livelihood would be secure. Write a book and sell it for money. Use this platform to find patients for a private practice (do or don’t take insurance, I’m sure there is a market for the world’s only rationalist psychiatrist). I’m sure there are very many things you could do.

      I guess I would like to see you win, and not merely fight the long defeat.

      I also live near Berkeley (and a few years ago I worked at UC Berkeley for a couple years). I haven’t been to a rationality meetup since 2010, but maybe I’ll come to the next one.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      +1

      As a Christian, I have learned more about charity from you than from Paul the apostle.

  34. Freddie deBoer says:

    It is certainly a thing, when your rep becomes toxic enough that people don’t want to associate with you. I am somewhat inoculated by having come up through far left activism and survived, to pick an example, the ANSWER wars. But it is annoying when other people start having to answer for you.

    You can always tell them to go to hell.

    • marxbro says:

      Yes, reputations can become toxic through no fault of your own, and smears can spread like wildfire even though there’s no factual basis for them. Thankfully I’ve never had to deal with anything like that on the left, I think most people are pretty honest at heart and wouldn’t threaten violence or maliciously spread false rumors. Like Scott said, it only takes one.

  35. hroark314 says:

    “I am a pro-gay Jew who has dated trans people and votes pretty much straight Democrat.”
    I’m an SSC dilettante, so I don’t have a deep knowledge of Scott Alexander’s background, but the posts I’ve seen make me curious about this statement. Generally, Alexander’s posts seem critical of liberal orthodoxy and, in this case, he seems to accuse liberals of using Maoist or Stalinist tactics to muffle free speech. As I’m not a regular here, I may not fully understand the term rationalist, but I’d like to hear the rational defense for supporting a party whose supporters use mob justice to suppress dissenting points of view. Maybe the argument is that the Democrats’ economic platform is so superior to that of Republicans’ that it’s worth sacrificing free speech. Maybe it’s something else. In any case, I’m interested to hear the argument.

    • gbdub says:

      Don’t homogenize the outgroup.

      • One could say that about every political movement. Or do you think every Bolshevik or NSDAP supporter was as radical as Hitler and Stalin? I’m not trying to argue modern Left is morally comparable to Hitler and Stalin, my point is that it’s the effects that matter. When a group is stepping on your neck, what percent of it truly supports the neck-stepping policy is not that important a question.

        • gbdub says:

          Actually, it is THE important question, especially when you sympathize with a lot of views within the group.

          Even if you don’t, failing to distinguish your moderate opponents from extremists is a good way to turn the moderates extreme.

          Scott is on most issues a lefty, and doesn’t want to see his political allies go off the deep end of a purity spiral into extremism.

          As someone who would rather not see either of the two major parties in the US go crazy, I wish him the best of fortune in that endeavor.

          • hroark314 says:

            “Scott is on most issues a lefty”
            That comment goes to the heart of my inquiry. Historically, left wing countries have suppressed freedom of speech far more severely than those we call right wing (I deplore the binary political classification system, but that’s a giant topic). Mao’s China, present-day North Korea and Cuba, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, etc. – there’s no question that leftism is, in the real world, associated with repression of free speech to a greater degree than any other political ideology. So, since Scott evidently abhors the repression of free speech, I wonder what aspects of the left wing platform are so positive in his mind (or others’) to justify supporting a group that promotes an ideology that’s heavily associated with the repression of speech – both historically around the globe and at present in this country.

            I’m a libertarianish conservative, but I’ll give you an example of the cost benefit analysis I’m trying to elicit. I think civil asset forfeiture and federal laws against using drugs are unconstitutional, immoral, and bad for society. I think a border wall is stupid. However, I voted for Donald Trump, who supports all three policies. I voted for him because Clinton would not have done anything to change civil asset forfeiture or federal laws against drug use and I think the border wall is an issue of incredibly minor importance. However, I care deeply about de-regulation, the creation of a strict-constructionist judiciary, and reform of the corporate tax code. Honestly, my support for Trump against Clinton involves a great many more nuanced issues than the ones I’ve listed, but I think you get my gist. I don’t like everything about Donald Trump, but on balance I think he is better than Hillary. I’m wondering what calculus leads a lefty who supports free speech to support the Democrats.

      • hroark314 says:

        I think you’re saying I’m confusing the party’s radical fringe with its mainstream backers. I’m not doing that at all. I’m questioning why a person who is not a radical would support a party that enables these fringe radicals to wield great power. If mainstream Democrats roundly condemned the small minority of radical leftists, those groups wouldn’t have any power. I think most of us here can agree that silencing discussions is a bad thing, so I’m asking what are the positives of the Democratic platform that outweigh the negative of empowering the anti-free speech crowd. That’s not meant to be a loaded question; it’s simply meant to be an invitation to explain one’s point of view.

    • John Schilling says:

      “I’d like to hear a defense” is nearly indistinguishable from “I am offering an attack”, and I’d like to see you go away disappointed as Scott and everyone else here ignores your attempt to turn this into a flame war over your political pet peeves.

      • I’m not understanding how politics is irrelevant to the topic of the post. Politics is the topic of the post, or if it’s something else, I’d like for you to tell me what.

        • gbdub says:

          “You’re irrational for not voting Republican because a small group of leftists tried to silence you” isn’t “politics”, it’s straight Culture War of the kind that Scott decries in this very post.

          • hroark314 says:

            Except I didn’t say he was irrational. I asked why he thought it was rational to vote Democrat in spite of their support for (or at least their reluctance to criticize) people who engage in behavior he obviously despises. I’m just asking what’s so important that free speech takes a back seat. I even offered an example of what that explanation might be in my original comment – maybe it’s economic issues. I don’t know; I’m interested in hearing what people with different positions think.

      • hroark314 says:

        I apologize for seeming to offer an attack. If you look at some of my other comments on this thread, I think you’ll see I’m really not trying to attack anyone; I’m trying to understand the value systems that drive people who are different than me. For example, I just posted a short list of reasons why I voted for Donald Trump, even though I think he’s dead wrong on many issues. Nobody agrees 100% with any politician or political party they support. However, Scott seems pretty committed to free speech and, based on this post, he seems pretty angry at his treatment. The gist of my question is – “In what respect are conservatives so terribly wrong that supporting the opposition party, even when it gives support to people who suppress free speech and threaten your own career, is worth it?”

        • cuke says:

          I obviously can’t speak for Scott.

          I strongly support free speech. It’s far from self-evident to me that the historical record shows that left-leaning regimes have been harsher to speech rights than right-leaning ones. I think we can both cherry-pick examples from the broad sweep of history, so I’m going to spare you mine.

          Right now today, if you live in the U.S. South and voice pro-labor union views, that can make you almost unemployable. If you are a non-Christian in certain parts of the U.S. South and/or you go to the “wrong” church, you may have difficulty with employment. If you are a nun in the Catholic church who has been raped by a priest, Catholic priests can censor you or remove your livelihood. If you are a woman seeking medical counseling for abortion in some parts of the country or world, your doctor may be prohibited from (ie, censored) from speaking to you about abortion as an option. If you are a family whose child has legitimately experienced an adverse reaction to a vaccine, you are likely to be shamed for even raising the topic of medical exemptions. If you are a person with mental illness and are on disability, you are likely to be shamed online for being “lazy” and “just not wanting to work.” A Republican in the U.S. is more likely to want to insert Christian views into secular politics (via prayer in school, Bible commandments in public parks), which I consider a First Amendment problem. The Republican president of the U.S. right now is still calling the free press “the enemy of the people” and seems perniciously confused about the First Amendment, speaking of freedom of speech.

          My experience is that intolerance comes equally from both ends of the political spectrum. In your corner of the world at this moment in history and based on your political views, you may feel that conservatives are more shut down by liberals than vice versa. The world is larger.

          Because this has been my experience, living in multiple parts of this country and in other countries, that intolerance comes from both ends of the political spectrum, intolerance on the left is not an argument against it. That allows me to focus on the specific policies of researchers and thinkers all across the political spectrum and to match them up with my values and priorities.

          Some U.S. conservatives have made a different calculation about Trump than you have because they see his threat to democracy, truth, and to the rule of law to be bigger issues than any one policy he might advance. You are of course free to disagree with them. We all have our priorities. But your priorities do not mean other people do not equally value freedom of speech.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      supporting a party whose supporters use mob justice to suppress dissenting points of view.

      This is extremely uncharitable. Though it may be mostly leftists that use this particular brand of mob justice, it is certainly only a small minority of leftists. That is the biggest problem with the issues that Scott discussed here. It takes very few crazies to make one’s life miserable as a public figure. The biggest issues Scott had were in meatspace that were done by people in the single digits.

      • hroark314 says:

        I could have worded that better. Most Democrats are fine people. I live in northern Virginia and work in DC. Most of the people I know are Democrats who wouldn’t engage in this behavior (though I also know a small number of them whom I am sure would).

        Let me state this differently. The Democratic party in the U.S. is clearly more tolerant of the anti-free speech actions of its radical fringe than Republicans are. While there have been a small number of cases in which Republicans/conservatives have managed to use mobs to repress free speech or destroy the careers of those on the left, they’re far outnumbered by the number of cases in which Democrats/the left suppress Republican or conservative voices. Historically, the global left has also been far more closely associated with censorship than the right.

        So, my theory – and by all means criticize it if you think it’s wrong – is that voting Democrat is more likely to result in repression of free speech than voting Republican. Assuming my theory is true, I’m wondering what issues would lead a person who values free speech to vote Democrat rather than Republican. Maybe your response is that my theory is crud and I realize I should have explained my theory in my original comment. However, assuming my theory is not crud, there could still be many reasonable justifications for supporting a party that is less supportive of free speech. I’m just interested in hearing what people think about that.

        • Reasoner says:

          Republicans do the same thing when they have the chance. See these posts for instance.

          • cuke says:

            Is there perhaps a Colin Kaepernick for every James Damore? A James Hodgkinson for every Cesar Sayok.

            I wonder when we can stop pretending that “our side” is better behaved, more reasonable than the “other side”?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I wonder when we can stop pretending that “our side” is better behaved, more reasonable than the “other side”?

            Perhaps it is. There is no law of conservation of evil. Not even with your examples. Colin Kaepernick used his company’s public events to make a personal political statement. James Damore posted some stuff about his own industry that his company didn’t like in an internal forum, where no one outside the company could see it. Damore was quickly fired after someone else made it public. Kaepernick was not even fired, he wasn’t re-signed after he quit.

            Cesar Sayok mailed fake bombs. James Hodgkinson fired real bullets.

            Yes, both (or all) sides do evil. No, not all of them the same amount.

          • Reasoner says:

            Here is a libertarian Forbes blogger who analyzed the data in 2017 and found:

            Terrorists inspired by Nationalist and Right Wing ideology have killed about 10 times as many people as Left Wing terrorists since 1992.

          • cuke says:

            Does it really seem to you, Nybbler, that this line of argument wherein we compare the length of our battle scars is going to get somewhere useful? What if we manage to compile every iota of evidence of every bad thing that’s been done going back to the start of political tribes and we’re able to determine that “your” side has committed 0.0003% fewer “violations,” where would that get us? And if we determined that your side had committed 0.0003% more violations, where would that get us? Honestly, how does this advance the conversation?

            Let’s say I concede to you, even despite whatever evidence exists (I too am aware of the research that Reasoner cites, which you may find yet another way to nitpick), that our side is “worse” at some list of bad behavior as determined over some timeline and geography, now what?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Does it really seem to you, Nybbler, that this line of argument wherein we compare the length of our battle scars is going to get somewhere useful?

            If it’s not useful to compare, it’s not useful to insist they’re the same either. The argument that they are comes off as similar to the Soviet Union’s famous tu quoque

            (As for the Forbes/Cato accounting, it suffers from quantization noise. Two events dominate the dataset)

          • sentientbeings says:

            @Reasoner

            I looked at that Forbes article.

            The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the second deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, killed 168 people and accounted for 77% of all the murders committed by Nationalist and Right Wing terrorists.

            I think that categorizing Timothy McVeigh’s political views as right wing is probably not appropriate. I don’t know about the other guy. But as with the other major incident dominating the data (9/11), one large attack isn’t particularly useful in describing the patterns of the other much smaller attacks.

          • 10240 says:

            It’s not merely a quantitative difference. Left-wing actions against right-wing/heterodox speech, as they stand, lead to some views getting excluded from the marketplace of ideas to a significant extent. Right-wing actions don’t.

        • sclmlw says:

          Not sure where I stand with my traditional view of free speech: I’ve always been strongly on the pro speech side. I’ve always thought the SCOTUS view that the solution to speech we detest is not to restrict speech, but to allow more speech. Thus, instead of making an idea taboo, where small groups will develop ideas in secret and unchallenged, you have open discourse where a minority of stupidity will have to counter a majority of voices calling out bad reasoning.

          But I don’t think that view accurately describes current trends in speech suppression. Before reading this post, I listened to Dan Carlin explain that he basically shut down his Common Sense podcast for exactly the reasons described above. I used to see the idea of speech-as-supression as largely theoretical, but more and more I see it impacting real people’s ability to speak out.

          The internet allows small anonymous actors to crowd out the speech of others. You couldn’t do that with the printing press, but in an era of Russian troll farms the idea of free and unrestricted speech is allowing speech suppression through that mechanism. It’s like making it illegal for the government to mug you, while at the same time taking away police power to stop muggings altogether. You’re still going to get mugged, but you can console yourself it won’t be a cop doing it.

          It’s to the point where I see celebrities talking about how any off comment taken out of context can kill your career, or transform it into nothing but that one comment. Any interview could accidentally demolish you, but none would make you famous, so why risk it? Better to say as little as possible, and certainly nothing of substance. I’m not certain fame is a thing to be desired anymore, given the power of anonymous masses to destroy you with baseless but relentless attacks.

          What’s the answer? I don’t think granting government the power to restrict speech is a good idea, since there’s a bad track record in that department. Maybe it’s a culture thing we need to learn to treat each other like human beings? There has to be a better solution than the two we’re normally given.

          This is why we can’t have nice things.

          • hilitai says:

            in an era of Russian troll farms

            I don’t think it was “Russian troll farms” that caused the events leading to our host’s breakdown.

          • sclmlw says:

            I agree it sounds like it was regular trolls. I’m making a more general point that I’ve seen multiple people either silenced through direct action, or by watching what happens to others they silence themselves. If you can’t express opinions for fear of reprisals, and there’s nothing the government can do about it, do you have freedom of speech in any meaningful way?

            I just used the Russian troll farms as one example of how easy it is to game the current system and use speech as a weapon to eliminate speech.

        • arlie says:

          There are several types of suppression of speech.

          First, speech can be suppressed by a government. There are plenty of examples of that in history; at one time, this was normal and respectable. In some countries, it still is. To many purists, this is the only kind properly referred to as “censorship.”

          Then we have “social pressure” – sometimes by much of one’s local community, sometimes by particular individuals, sometimes by internet mobs or even SWATTers and similar.

          And then we have suppression by people with specific (and often temporary) power over the speaker – parents, employers, schools etc.

          What I don’t know is whether people more likely to tolerate either of the latter categories are more likely to commit the first of these – particularly when it’s a case of “our lunatic fringe does ‘social pressure’ a lot, but we tolerate them because they’re on the same side”. Will that lead to more official censorship if that group’s electable majority gets into positions of political power?

          I don’t see why that’s an especially strong bet. There are things I’m pretty sure either US party would do, if they can, and this isn’t one of them. So why vote on those grounds? (Amazingly, I can now simply vote my pocketbook, and still vote for the party that tends to favour more government, thanks to Trump’s soak-the-coastal-states tax bill ;-( )

          • 10240 says:

            This is probably not a strong enough reason to vote Republican in itself, but hostile workplace environment law (primarily supported by Democrats) may have some role in companies suppressing political speech. In the Damore case, I’ve read some commentators say that Google would have exposed itself to sexual harassment lawsuits if it hadn’t fired him.

            Even if a particular firing is a result of social pressure not law, law makes it harder to create market differentiation and have companies that don’t suppress political speech, and provide alternative employment to the Damores out there. A company that made a point of not suppressing speech would have disproportionately many witches, and thus it would be exposed to disproportionately many harassment or discrimination lawsuits — and the laws are vague enough that it’s impossible to definitely avoid lawsuits by doing what the law requires but not going beyond that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The idea that people who do nothing but challenge the corporate/woke orthodoxy have to be fired to avoid sexual harassment suits is one of two things. If it is false, it is merely cover for the woke to do what they want while passing responsibility onto someone else. If it is true, it is a First Amendment violation, with the government using corporations as their agents.

            I suspect it is mostly false. The famous line about firing the Archie Bunker types was dicta in a case that was decided in favor of the company in question (Monsanto).

            Furthermore, corporations (including Google) have been changing their policies to allow lawsuits rather than arbitration in cases of sexual harassment, but not in cases of wrongful dismissal for accusation of sexual harassment. This argues against fear of lawsuits being the main issue.

          • 10240 says:

            @The Nybbler My impression is that much of hostile workplace environment law is a First Amendment violation that they got past the courts using some legal contortions as usual, as it’s not a content-neutral time/place/manner restriction, nor does it fall into any of the generally accepted categories of non-protected speech. I don’t think there have been many First Amendment challenges to it, and I’d like to see some, especially about edge cases.

            Unfortunately it’s hard to create a test case, as it would require a constellation of (1) an employee who is willing to risk getting fired by saying something that may be considered harassment of a particular form, (2) a company that’s willing to risk a lawsuit by not firing him, (3) another employee who actually sues the company, and (4) that the company doesn’t settle, and makes a