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About 12 years ago, I was facebook friends with a handful of garrulous libertarian types, and I had a great time debating with them, as I was (and still am, really) a liberal institutionalist. Debating with them really forced me to take my beliefs out of my gut and start to build more stringent rational/ethical/philosophical underpinnings, and I learned quite a bit. These guys were brilliant debaters, and were absolutely superior in logical reasoning and forming rational arguments than I was.

In 2011, they invited me to join a facebook group that was called "The Right Stuff". It was filled with even more garrulous libertarian types. At first, a few were making what I thought were ironic philosophical arguments for pretty abhorrent stuff, and I was entertained because I thought it was good to attempt a defense of enlightenment, liberal values against fascism/monarchism/anti-semitism/explicit racism. But two things happened.

One, is I found it impossible to articulate a purely rational basis for human rights. I realized that "rationalism" is actually downstream from moral values, which are inherently irrational (in an existentialist sense, in that we decide what is good and what is bad and start reasoning from there). As such, I would routinely get destroyed in these debates because I would mistakenly assume that the folks who were advancing fascist/dark enlightenment ideas had similar first principles that I had.I was unable to articulate a more "rational" defense of enlightenment values, and I admit I was getting slapped around by rhetorically superior fascists. This leads to the second thing.

Second, I realized pretty fast that for a not trivial number of The Right Stuff members, there was no irony at all. They were really fascists, and when they talked about racial superiority and genocide, they weren't doing it to sharpen small "L" liberal thinking, they were actually advocating for fascism/racial hierarchies/genocide. By starting with the premise of "rationality" and then executing feats of rhetorical sleight of hand to hide the ball on what their actual first principles are, they were making extremely effective and appealing arguments for fascist thought and the dark enlightenment. It was chilling.

It was also 2011, Obama hadn't even wrapped his first term. I took my lesson, left the group, and blocked most of those garrulous libertarian types, who by the time I left the group, were less and less ironically advancing fascist thinking.

Then 2016 happened, and I realized I had witnessed one of the seed pods that would erupt into the alt-right. The corrosion was much worse than I thought, and I realized that those garrulous libertarian proto-fascists had spent the intervening five years planting anti-enlightenment thought into the fertile ground of right wing media and various other frustrated and "neglected" subgroups (think Gamergate).

What we face now is significant portions of the demos no longer buying into enlightenment values. Civil society had fallen asleep on its watch, and its ability to articulate why things like human rights matter, why democracy matters, why institutions matter, had almost completely atrophied. In my view, that's why so much of the early Resistance was less cogent argument and more folks who in their guts still believed in enlightenment society being unable to articulate why, and coming up with catchy slogans as substitutes for a robust defense of small "L" liberal society.

All of which is to say, one of the issues I have with strongly advocating for rationalist debate (which I agree, can be very good!) is that "rationalist" debates is one of the most effective mind-viruses the proto-fascists I discussed earlier use to inject their corrosive beliefs into the minds of unsuspecting targets. "Rationalist" positions like "what, why can't I just talk about The Bell Curve" and "despite making up only 14% of the population..." are, much, much more often than not, just starting points for very effective rhetoric that convinces people that our (still, barely) enlightenment society is bad and should be scrapped. I see that corrosion as an existential threat to the existence of liberal democracy as we know it.

The solution I currently apply has two parts. Firstly, I only engage in "rationalist" debates with those I am reasonably sure are arguing form a place of good faith. Good faith to me is both a willingness to be rational and change one's mind in the face of superior evidence, but it is also not actually questioning the inherent moral equality of all people, and the accompanying believes that make liberal, enlightened thought possible.

Second, I really just bought into existentialism, and I now just accept certain values as articles of faith. I don't debate certain first principles. I hold some truths to be self-evident and thus in no need of strictly rational defense.

All of which is to say, in our current struggle with a much more corroded base of support for small "L" liberal, enlightened society, in which we are actively engaged with a proto-fascist mind-virus that has infected many people, I don't see the value in wide open, un-moderated platforms. I also am very, very suspicious of people who are attracted to "edgy" topics, because I don't know if they are arguing from a position of good faith, or if they're a fascist looking to infect more minds.

Anyways, I think, on the whole, there are some very good sources of good faith rationalist discussion of "edgy" topics. Pretty much anything Tyler Cowen puts out is excellent in this regard, and I think on the whole, Slate Star Codex was more good faith than not.

Great post! Really got me thinking.

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“ What we face now is significant portions of the demos no longer buying into enlightenment values.”

It’s fascinating to me that my blue team friends make this argument as if it’s self evident that it’s about the right, when it applies just as aptly to woke cancel mobs and antifa.

There’s much to agree with in your broad approach, but I think over-extrapolating from your asshole racist Facebook friends risks straw manning heterodox thought writ large. (Which you’re careful to acknowledge so I don’t want to straw man You ;)

If you haven’t checked out daniel schmachtenberger on either rebel wisdom or Brett Weinstein’s podcast, he advances a mental model I found useful from breaking free of this “if some adherents of xyz philosophy interpret it in a way as to become extremists we necessarily need to fear the philosophy”, to talk about two types of failure modes - authoritarian and chaotic - and how we don’t want either.

(Basically policing speech has a bad endpoint and so does letting all speech run rampant.)

I guess my primary point would be it’s just as dangerous to discount or try to censor heterodox thinking as it is to let it run unchecked into the fever swamp, and I felt like the former side of the scale needed a little more weight on it;)

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Hey Nate! Good points. I think applying similar arguments to left elements ("woke cancel mobs and antifa") gets into discussions around political vs cultural power that folks like Ezra Klein and Ross Douthat have done a much better job articulating than I can. The left absolutely dominates cultural arenas, and I think what SSC discusses in the Neutral vs. Conservative media post is spot on.

That being said, I think we are still in a bit of an emergency period where the major right wing institution in the US is actively engaged in making our system less democratic. Aside from a few remaining party elites, the GOP is working to make itself less small "D" democratically accountable. Something like 2/3rds of the Republican party actively believe that the election was stolen, and a sizeable minority think the insurrection was either justified or a hoax. A more specific exampleThe GOP just realized that all you need to do is install local registrars of voters in key counties in swing states willing to refuse to certify election results they don't want. I would expect the next GOP registrars in Wayne County Michigan to do everything in their power to tie up certification next election if it's close. That is actively corrosive and could legitimately upend a fair election.

Meanwhile, the left-leaning institutions are hardly run by the woke cancel mob and antifa. Antifa, such as it even exists, has no obvious leadership or organizational structure, no influence in Democratic party institutions, and beyond places like Portland OR, is more right wing fantasy than reality. I am not saying that as head in the sand liberal, I have not legitimately seen real Antifa.

Furthermore, I find it puzzling that the woke cancel mob is simultaneously master of liberal american politics, but also that Joe Biden is president, and moderate democrats dominated the 2020 primary. Pretty much from the start if you added the moderate/institutionalist elements of the caucus/primary vote together they were over 50%, with the leftist Sanders/Warren vote hovering in the 35% range total. Contrary to right wing belief, the Democratic legislative majority runs through moderate to fairly conservative suburbs.

Beyond the Democratic party, even big business, big media, and tech are not engaged in civic arson in any sense the same way right wing politics, right wing media, and organized right wing extremists are.

Would I be concerned if the twitter woke cancel mob and antifa actually began dominating left of center and all points left politics? Yeah, absolutely. Do those groups have similarly corrosive anti-enlightenment belief systems and reasoning? Yep. But I haven't seen anyone make a seriously good faith argument that the current power and influence of the TWCM/Antifa is equivalent to what's actively happening with right wing politics and institutions in the US. As such, I want to put out the raging fire that's consuming conservative politics and threatens the stability of American institutions, and I think most arguments trying to "but what about antifa" are not really made in good faith, but made as distractions.

Of course, I do not think you are arguing in bad faith! Please feel free to point out where I am wrong.

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Casey - I share your concerns about the Republican parties undemocratic turn and rejection of democratic norms. That being said, I think you underestimate what is happening among liberal elites.

Two points:

1) "Furthermore, I find it puzzling that the woke cancel mob is simultaneously master of liberal american politics, but also that Joe Biden is president, and moderate democrats dominated the 2020 primary."

For many, that just shows how far the party has moved. Scott Alexander makes the point in his review of Ezra Klein's book that "Trump holds basically the same positions that Americans in the mainstream of either party would have held in a less polarized time (eg 1995); Clinton holds positions that everyone in 1995 (including her husband) would have thought insane, radical, and ultra-far-left." I hadn't thought of it in those terms before, but I think its an accurate description. You might think (as many do) that there needed to be massive change from the center in 1995, but we should acknowledge that the Democratic party has moved pretty dramatically. You describe Biden as a "moderate," but I've heard numerous people describe his agenda as the most progressive agenda ever. Its hard for many people to accept someone as a "moderate" while also having "the most progressive agenda ever."

2) "Meanwhile, the left-leaning institutions are hardly run by the woke cancel mob and antifa."

This is the point of much dispute. If you look at most of the major cultural institutions/power centers in the US (e.g. Academia, Hollywood, etc.), many would argue they are increasingly controlled by cancel culture. If you express many opinions that were considered mainstream 20 years ago, you will be fired from almost any liberal leaning institution. And most institutions that don't fire you will face a backlash. They can face backlash just for not publicly supporting the progressive position.

All of which leads to you saying "I want to put out the raging fire that's consuming conservative politics and threatens the stability of American institutions."

Most Conservatives/Republican's would articulate the same goal - they feel that Progressives/Democrats have moved to radically remake the culture first and are now trying to do the same with government. They want to stop that raging fire.

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Hey John, that's a really thoughtful response and I appreciate it!

I'm not saying I have zero concerns with one's ability to talk about controversial topics and getting "canceled" but I still don't see the equivalency. Sure, some really privileged people have lost their privileged positions for saying things that one could argue was a point made in good faith. I also don't think we should immediately shame and cancel folks who hold conservative beliefs but haven't kept up with woke lingo and so say things that might be dated. Hostility to those people is dumb and counterproductive.

That being said, I don't feel bad when someone loses their job for comparing conservatives in Hollywood to Jews in Nazi Germany, to cite a recent example. You don't have a right to say dumb things and keep your job.

I just find cancellation concerns pretty wildly overblown. On the right, you have the collapse of trust in nearly all institutions, a willingness to abandon democratic virtues, reality itself in some instances (see: widespread belief that antifa actually stormed the capital, various flavors of COVID is a hoax, etc.) and ongoing actions to undermine liberal democracy as it exists today. Those facts are really not in dispute, and to me outweigh pretty much any cancellation one might consider egregious.

Some conservatives, like Ross Douthat, and I would argue Mitt Romney, are starting to come around to how severe the rot is on the right, and are starting to put aside their concerns about Woke-ism to help put the fire out.

So, in the end, I just don't see an equivalency between some privileged people losing their privileged positions (but not otherwise facing legal sanction or abrogation of their rights of any kind) to a major political party that just basically stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn a fair election, and then refuses to acknowledge that reality and is if anything doubling down on its own anti-democratic tendencies. Once they have been defeated, and defeated, and defeated, to the point where they are so discredited that conservative politics have rejoined civic society, then we can worry more about the raving twitter mob.

Also, on the "Trump held policy ideas that Clinton did in the '90s" meme, I don't think we're going to see eye to eye on that because it is a much more subjective thing, so I take your point.

BUT LET ME RANT: I struggle with how someone could look at the increase in polarization and with a straight face say that it was the Democrats that sprinted left while Republicans held the center. On a strictly policy that axis that might be true, but only because Republicans basically stopped caring about policy 20 years ago and have had much more success running in opposition to things instead of in support of things. I don't think we're going to see eye to eye on that because it is a much more subjective thing, so I take your point.

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"...some privileged people losing their privileged positions..."

I really dislike this rhetorical conceit. First, I would say those are the ones you may have heard about, but there are more ( Yascha Mounk has written about them: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/stop-firing-innocent/613615/ ). Second, regardless of how privileged you think they are, they are real people, and you shouldn't get to say it's fair game to hurt them just because you think they'll be "fine" by whatever standard you've defined.

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Appreciate your response. These discussions are very helpful in developing my thinking.

Equivalency is to me mostly a distraction. Its relevant when making an immediate choice on election day. Otherwise, we should recognize that ideas/policies/etc. can have good things and bad things and the discussion is about adding more of the former and removing the latter. My discussion with Conservatives is chiefly about their abandonment of actual policy and giving up on attempting to convince people. My discussion with Progressives is about how they want democracy, minority speech/rights, power sharing, but only on their terms.

For example: "I don't feel bad when someone loses their job for comparing conservatives in Hollywood to Jews in Nazi Germany, to cite a recent example. You don't have a right to say dumb things and keep your job."

This is a case in point. We want conservatives to participate in a democratic process, but then tell them they can't speak or advocate for their beliefs without facing enormous pushback and consequences because they are saying dumb things. (And they might be saying very dumb things, but people say dumb things all the time!)

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I definitely want conservative participation in democratic processes! I also want to put out there that there are things I don't think conservatives should be canceled for (for example, legitimate religious objection to gay marriage and abortion) but I kind of draw the line at holocaust and holocaust adjacent stuff (comparing the "plight" of conservatives in hollywood to Jews in Nazi Germany).

Otherwise, I agree, no side is perfect, and I do think woke cancel culture is destructive.

I just want to spend more time on the urgent (active conservative resistance to democratic process) issue.

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People always face consequences for speech, especially widely broadcast public speech.

Other people have lots of freedom in their response to one's speech -- ones employer can terminate that relationship, other people can disagree strongly and passionately (push back).

This is a feature, not a bug.

There are many ways to advocate strongly for conservative or liberal positions (or any) without making That Comparison, or any of the many others that our society treats as a third rail. But no ways to really avoid other people responding, sometimes strongly.

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Here's the difference. On the left of center, there's an ongoing fight about whether to play by the rules of liberal democracy, and the dominant leadership (Biden, Obama, Clinton) are clearly on the yes side. On the right of center, the illiberal side is clearly winning, and the dominant leadership is Trump.

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If I may intrude, first let me identify myself as probably center-left. I found the review, for reasons that are in part beyond the scope of this post, one of Scott's more poorly reasoned items. He either failed to understand, or to fairly render, Ezra's arguments. That having been said, let's take a look at your particular reference:

John E22 hr ago

Casey - I share your concerns about the Republican parties undemocratic turn and rejection of democratic norms. That being said, I think you underestimate what is happening among liberal elites.

Two points:

1) "Furthermore, I find it puzzling that the woke cancel mob is simultaneously master of liberal american politics, but also that Joe Biden is president, and moderate democrats dominated the 2020 primary."

"For many, that just shows how far the party has moved. Scott Alexander makes the point in his review of Ezra Klein's book that "Trump holds basically the same positions that Americans in the mainstream of either party would have held in a less polarized time (eg 1995); Clinton holds positions that everyone in 1995 (including her husband) would have thought insane, radical, and ultra-far-left."

Scott's take on this misses the point rather dramatically. Here is how I responded on Scott's thread:

"You make a mistake in this analysis focusing on particular policy positions. The reason Republicans are seen as going off the rails is their relationship to the truth and democratic systems, not because of their positions on capital gains taxes or infrastructure spending. Storming the Capitol, rejecting election results, believing a deadly virus is a hoax, arming as if for war, embracing violence, casting their opponents as pedophiles — these are the things “going off the rails” means. The Republican Party has been less and less concerned with public policy (Republicans didn’t bother to draft a platform in 2020), and more and more concerned with maintaining power, with or without democracy. Malcolm X wasn’t considered radical because he sought expanded civil rights; so did MLK. It was because he advocated doing so “by any means necessary.” The Republicans are analogous."

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Hi Nate: it's been more than a month since you posted this but I finally got around to listening to the interview with Schmactenberger on the Weinstein podcast after your recommendation and found it really valuable and interesting.

I wasn't aware of either of them, so I never would have found it without your recommendation. Thank you! :)

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I have had similar experiences with this and I agree with your position that we make post hoc arguments from moral preferences, not the other way around. I have had a hard time persuading folks of this, however.

But I think it is an important observation. Moral judgments are not (typically) the result of a logical deduction. We "rationalize" our "irrational" moral preferences, which probably come more from our psychology and personality than the dictates of our logic.

Given this belief, which I share with you, I would approach these fascist type rationalists with exactly this argument. Irrationality. I would argue that morality is not the product of rational logical deduction, but rather, that morality is a choice.

I choose not fascism. And that is enough. If we tell people that morals are a choice, and advise them to choose wisely and carefully, maybe that is a better prescription than telling them that morals are derived from some algebraic proof.

When I got muddled in my own philosophical investigations, this is what led me out of the muddle, at least. It wasn't philosophy that brought the personal enlightenment to me, it was psychology.

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Very Haidt-ian. (I agree.)

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Yes!

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I'm am EA and I mostly endorse this. It's clear that anti-enlightenment forces are now a clear and present danger, and deplatforming them is an effective countermeasure. I like Scott a lot, but I think he is doing some harm by giving some of these people a metaphorical booth in his bazaar. At the same time, I don't want it to become like so much of the Internet where any heresy at all is grounds for expulsion. There should be a line, but it should be a generous one.

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Great post. I just want to add a small comment to the "mind virus" idea. I think you're right the libertarian-to-alt-right pipeline really did exist in some form. I think with this framing one can convince themselves that certain ideas, entertained by SSC, are dangerous and need be controlled.

I would propose that we reframe this idea from an virus that infects people to a gateway drug that almost all hard-drug users pass through at some point on their way to the hard stuff. I think most people here agree that SSC had some good points even if we don't agree with all of it. Setting the limits for respectable discussion so that SSC is just out of bounds would deny all of us an opportunity to enrich ourselves, while many of the at-risk alt-right folks will find themselves a different pathway to the same end.

I know you, OP, are not suggesting SSC should be banned, but I just wanted to express this point without explicitly invoking the idea that free speech is valuable in itself, which most people have taken to calling "free speech absolutism."

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I think on the whole, SSC would pass my good faith test and adds more to the conversation that takes away from it.

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Great comment, thanks for sharing. You are so right... there’s no “rational” explanation for the idea that all humans have equal dignity. It’s the heart of humanism though, which, if I’m picking an -ism for myself, will always come first.

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Maybe there is a rational argument to be made for equality of human dignity to always be one’s First Principal. Without it, rationality alone can lead to some dark places, as you explain well. As a human, I have the ability to empathize with others (unique in the animal kingdom). The leap I’m willing to make is that because I want others to empathize with me, I must be willing to empathize with others to fulfill a social contract. My empathetic skills make it clear that feeling like you lack dignity in the eyes of others is awful, and is fuel for all manner of unproductive, anti-social behavior. Even in a cold, calculating, purely utilitarian respect, you can argue that basic equality, dignity and respect for each other is a necessary condition for human flourishing. (Also love just feels good 🥰 Happy Valentine’s Day!)

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"'rationalist' debates is one of the most effective mind-viruses the proto-fascists I discussed earlier use to inject their corrosive beliefs into the minds of unsuspecting targets [... and rationalist positions are] much, much more often than not, just starting points for very effective rhetoric"

I'm always a little worried when I see someone hopping on this train of thought, because it implies that in their minds, there's no effective counter for those arguments they find abhorrent, so the only way to fight them is to block them out. But if those arguments are *wrong*, then they won't hold up to scrutiny... so the implication seems to be that, at some level, you're afraid those arguments are *right*.

But as you point out, these beliefs ultimately rest on first principles. Since you "just accept certain values as articles of faith", you have no reason to shy away from a rigorous debate even with the sneakiest opponents: as soon as it becomes clear that they're starting with different assumptions than you, the debate will be over and you'll have a great example to bring up the next time someone mentions that topic.

"Yes," you might say, "I agree that's an appealing policy if your values are [whatever core values were at the heart of that disagreement]. Is that what you believe? Because I believe [the opposite]. Maybe you think you do too, but you're going to have to pick one or the other, and here's why."

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Agree with both of you, and Publius, to also pull in your mention of Rawls in another comment, when I was in The Right Stuff group, I tried to use Rawls explicitly, to which the fascists just responded, and I'm gonna paraphrase here, that it is bad for the weak to have any dominion over the strong, and even if I stated this from behind the veil of ignorance, I would organize my society such that the strong rule the weak and take my chances that I am not weak.

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Exactly. This is what Callicles said to Socrates. Nietzsche picked up this line of thought. It is not going to go away. It is in fact a legit opinion. I think the mistake we make is in trying to "debunk" it or prove it "wrong." I think we should frame these philosophical disagreements as psychological choices. Some people will choose genocide. Others will choose not. If it comes down to it, we may have to fight over it. But the idea that you are going to argue Hitler out of his position is folly.

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To find some humor in all of this, I always find it HILARIOUS that, remarkably, every fascist thinks they are the rightful individuals to be at the apex of society. Crazy how it always works out that way.

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I think I meant Thrasymachus. It's been a while. The strong should rule. It's an old idea.

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Good summary, thanks. I come from an immigrant culture so while I would never question the idea that all people are equal, we have debated in my house since as long as I can remember whether all cultures are equal. Is American culture better than this or that culture? I grew up in the USA and usually argue that yes, the culture here overall has been better than the cultures of the countries a lot of immigrants come from in terms of peoples rights and need for advancement and fair treatment for disenfranchised or historically oppressed groups. But the cultures people come from are often just richer cultures. More history, art, religion, color, mess. Seems sometimes like it comes close to arguing about race which we don’t intend to do.

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Hey Publius, you're pretty much dead on, but no irony needed, because I developed the "certain things might be better off taken on faith than reason" after reading Paul Tillich's "The Courage to Be".

For those watching from home, Tillich was a Christian existentialist who posits that God is the ontological basis of "being", which I took to mean that God isn't much different than faith of any kind in anything, and religions are different symbolic systems that capture similar but different sets of first principles.

Also, I don't think it's a coincidence that the most successful conservative resistance to, well, I'll just call it Trumpism and its disregard for civil society has come from those steeped in some kind of institutional organized religion. Mormons come to mind.

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I mean, you could argue that, but I don't see much daylight between your first paragraph and when fascists complain of liberals being intolerant of their intolerance, which, yeah, I don't really care. You don't get to argue that tolerance requires tolerance of intolerance. Something something extremism in defense of liberty, something something no vice, etc.

I think you're gonna have to work a lot harder to prove that rights-based liberalism has weakened public morality and religious tradition. I'm not gonna take that at face value, and I think organized religion did a lot of damage to itself in the second half of the 20th century by both generally aligning itself explicitly with right wing politics, focusing on culture war issues that inflame passion but don't really matter much, and failing to hold themselves accountable for serious breaches of trust (e.g., Catholic sex abuse scandal).

That being said, I think a Christian Left would be really good for the health of civil society.

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I see, good clarification of your point, and I agree. And I also absolutely think that collapsing participation in civic institutions and organized religion is a big part of the rot we see. It's no coincidence that Salt Lake City has the highest rates of things like upward mobility and social cohesion.

I wouldn't advocate for authoritarianism to enforce liberal democracy, and Turkey is a great example of why that's not a good situation. I think that liberal democracy is still robust enough to defend itself, but since we're a few generations removed from fascism being a state level threat, and about a generation removed from communism being the same, liberal democracy has lost some of it's antibodies. Discussions like these are hopefully innoculating us again!

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I assume that when you say "like a religious thinker might do" that you mean this as a criticism, but I would challenge this. Since Matt brings up invalid syllogisms, let me offer one for consideration here:

Some religious thoughts have been bad thoughts.

This thought is like some religious thoughts.

This thought is a bad thought.

This is an invalid syllogism, and if it is in fact what you are suggesting when you point out that the OP's adoption of some values is "much like a religious thinker" then I would point out that this argument fails to land.

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I don't know the book you are referencing, but I think there is an approach here that avoids some decent into religion. What you are framing as "faith," I would merely frame as "choice."

The way I would structure such an argument would begin with the observation that our moral instincts and moral judgments are not the outcome of a logical deduction. Rather, they come to us instantly. Our reasoning comes after. There are ways to suss this out, which I don't have links to handy at the moment, but it has been done.

The next step is to recognize that different people are going to have slightly different moral instincts. I might suggest using the word "preferences" here.

Bottom line, I would seek to build up a framework from which we see these preferences as parts of our psychology. Some folks will have slightly different preferences. Then I would argue that a lot of moral questions may have many different valid answers. What is justice? How do we build a just society? There are different ways to go about it. Sometimes there is more than one "correct" answer. That does not mean there is no "wrong" answers.

And so on. With this approach I think we can build a framework that allows for a range of different moral choices, rooted in our different psychological preferences, in which we acknowledge are not the end result of some process of pure logical deduction and we can land in a good place without so much zero sum conflict.

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I am not fluent in Rawls either, so forgive me here, but I would want to argue that the phrase "by agreeing on liberal principles which work to benefit everyone" is doing the work of a "first principle" here. A Nazi could simply disagree right at this point and declare that we should not try to benefit everyone, but rather, we should "let weakness fail." Or some such. I think this is what OP was encountering in those discussion groups. How do you deduce or derive the position that we should seek to benefit everyone? I suppose I should read Rawls, but what I would say is, yes, yes this Nazi view is a rational view and one we could choose. I don't need to show that it is logically or morally flawed to defeat it. I need only say, I choose not Nazi, how about you? In other words, frame it is a real choice, and ask people to choose wisely, rather than being drawn into the trap of trying to "prove" Nazism wrong, according to the rules of logic. There will always be those who choose fascism. Trying to argue people out of it is folly to some extent.

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So my perspective on this is interesting because I run a moderately popular philosophy discussion group / drinking club thing (or at least I did pre-pandemic) here in Seattle that attracts a lot of SSC-style rationalists, and my experience has been pretty mixed.

Most notably, on at least three occasions that I can recall we've had to expel rationalists who turned out to be deeply into really evil dark enlightenment shit and who were using the group to try to recruit, as well as harassing people and just generally being assholes.

That puts rationalists in the running for the title of most-frequently-expelled-ideological-subculture, alongside Jordan Peterson fans, Hindutva cranks, and various flavors of anarcho-capitalists and conspiracy theorists. And we take a pretty relaxed approach to moderation, since heated disagreement is part of the point of the group, so to get kicked out you really need to be doing stuff like blowing up at people, making threats, engaging in sexually harassment, or advocating for truly heinous points of view.

Now don't get me wrong, we get some rationalist who are great too. In fact, in one of the cases where we had to kick someone out it was actually another rationalist who clued me in that the guy was bad news, because he recognized some of the subcultural DE jargon he was using.

But the modal rationalist who shows up to our group is just a slightly odd young man who works in tech and believes strange, very religious-sounding, things about artificial intelligence. This being Seattle, we've got a number of regulars who actually do AI stuff for a living, and it can sometimes feel like they're stuck running some sort of weird de-radicalization center for people who have spent too much time on the LessWrong forums. I'm only half joking! I have met 19 year olds who appeared to be experiencing genuine anxiety over Roko's Basilisk.

So, I dunno. I've read a fair bit of SSC and found it sometimes interesting and sometimes kind of daft. I have mixed feelings about the larger subculture. I like the effective altruism and the bayesian rationality parts of it, but I think it has some really weird corners that don't seem terribly healthy, along with a small but genuinely dark underbelly where it intersects with the scary neo-reactionary stuff.

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I should add that the modal rationalist also tends to have a real problem with women.

Anti-feminism appears to have become pretty embedded in the subculture, and that seems to be reflected in how the young rationalist guys who show up to our group are interacting with people, to the point where we end up trying to sort of screen them and softly segregate the real assholes in order to keep them from driving women out the group.

I'm not sure how much of that can be pinned on the ideology per se, and how much is just par-for-the-course with young nerdy dudes, since plenty of non-rationalist identifying guys behave similarly. Still, with the rationalists it often has a more explicit ideological edge.

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I'd agree there is definitely a contingent within rationalism who very much fit the stereotype of Nice Guys who have a chip on their shoulder about their dating problems, and edge over towards incel ideology.

At the same time, I don't know that this is any _bigger_ a contingent than you find among any other group of nerdy young men. And FWIW, I was introduced to the term rationalism by a woman who is a self-identified rationalist, who was a member of a household in Berkeley that hosted a lot of parties. I've sat around a table and chatted with a group that included Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Siskind (though I did not at the time know that Scott was the author of SSC). I'd very much align myself with Matt's take here -- I think some of their ideas are peculiar, but I think they're worth engaging with, and that to the extent they've had any impact on the world, it's probably more for good than ill.

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Yeah, this is sort of where I'm at. I don't think it's a terrible movement at the level of the thought leaders, although I disagree pretty strongly with Yudkowsky in particular, but it doesn't seem to be doing it's average adherent many favors.

And the stubborn openness to neo-reactionary ideas is just bad, partly because the ideas in question are simply incorrect, and partly because the core rationalist fanbase (young men with a very high opinion of their own intelligence) is very impressionable and there are clearly people who are making their way from places like SSC and LessWrong into really dark shit.

I guess I feel about them sort of the same way I feel about anarchists, who are another ideological group we see a lot of. The thought leaders have lots of really interesting ideas that I enjoy engaging with, mixed in with some ideas that seem borderline insane to me. But in both cases the fans, who (almost by definition) are mostly the kind of impressionable young people who get mixed up in unusual ideologies, naturally tend to fixate on the really outlandish and extreme parts of the belief system.

So I've heard way more arcane pseudo-religious nonsense about the inevitable coming of robot god from the LessWrongers I've met than I have interesting stuff about trying to inculcate more rational habits of thought. And similarly, I've met a lot more anarchists who think they're somehow going to overthrow the government through petty vandalism than I have people who are thinking deeply about the role of hierarchy and domination in our society.

I guess there's just a sort of Sturgeon's Law for ideology. But that means that if you happen to find yourself a though leader within an weird ideological community then you have a pretty serious duty of care to not be leading people into dangerous or harmful territory.

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"if you happen to find yourself a though leader within an weird ideological community then you have a pretty serious duty of care to not be leading people into dangerous or harmful territory"

Good point. Perhaps Scott could write a 30,000 word post explaining in detail why neo-reactionary ideas are wrong, like this one: https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-faq/

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This and the original "Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet Sized Nutshell" were my introduction to Slate Star Codex and I've been a big fan of the site/blog ever since.

The basic liberalism (we should figure out how to help people in need, women and minorities shouldn't be discriminated against based on their gender/ethnicity, most people in the world have it much worse than the average American and could use some help) of the site seems really self-evident to me and I'm confused about how others see SSC as reactionary, IDW-adjacent, etc. I don't know how you go from Scott Alexander to Jordan Peterson without something else happening as well.

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Go hang out on r/themotte, which spun off from the main SSC subreddit, and which Alexander has sort-of-but-not-really distanced himself from, and you'll immediately bump into hardcore neo-reactionaries.

There's always been a contingent of the subculture that believes that stuff and, for whatever reason, the rest of them somehow never quite manage to fully cut ties with them. Which makes for quite the contrast with how they behave towards the people they refer to as SJWs!

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This feels like a description of most groups with fans. I tend to think that generally young people tend to edge toward a high level of extremism than older people though there are plenty of exceptions.

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>>it doesn't seem to be doing it's average adherent many favors.

Could just be a selection effect... do you think the people you're thinking of would've turned out better if they'd gotten involved in a different ideology?

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This seems to be a one of the NYT critiques. "Some shitty people like rationalism". I think this is because any community that has strong feelings about allowing open discourse and non judgment are going to attract people who want to argue for really shitty things. Rationalism is a community that values open discourse and non judgement and thus attracts both the non judgmental, and the awful who are trying to avoid judgement.

Basically the if you run an free speech absolutist discussion board eventually you're website will be overrun with nazis. And Rationalism has this problem a little bit.

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"Basically the if you run an free speech absolutist discussion board eventually you're website will be overrun with nazis."

More specifically, if you *start* a free speech absolutist discussion board, in an ecosystem full of established boards with stricter rules, eventually your website will be overrun with people saying the things they can't say anywhere else. Because when they want to say the things they *can* say everywhere else, they'll just do that.

If you started a new social media website, and its mission was to be exactly like Facebook except that you wouldn't ban porn, you'd quickly find that it was nothing but porn. Because people who just wanted to post their cat pictures, check in at the cafe, or argue about politics would still be better off doing it on Facebook, where all their friends and family were. They'd only use your site for the stuff they couldn't post on Facebook.

But notice that this isn't a problem for the big, established sites! Reddit and Twitter *do* allow porn, but they aren't overrun with it. In fact, unless you go looking for it, you might not ever encounter it, because it's just one of the many, many things people post there.

What this means is that we should be skeptical when someone points to a niche community experimenting with new rules of discourse and says "See, that's why those rules are bad, imagine if that happened everywhere."

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But that’s because Reddit at least went through several massive purges of objectionable material. This was exactly their problem. Advertisers didn’t want their stuff popping up alongside a pro-beastiality post.

Twitter does *not* allow porn, but I believe it operates on an “we’ll take it down if you report it” basis, so there’s still some.

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"But that’s because Reddit at least went through several massive purges of objectionable material."

Not quite.

It's true that Reddit has purged a lot of subreddits over the years, including some porn subreddits. But it's not true that they've purged the majority of porn from Reddit, or that Reddit has ever been "overrun" with porn.

A minority of the content on Reddit is porn -- including weird stuff that advertisers might not want to appear next to -- and it always has been.

"Twitter does *not* allow porn"

That's inaccurate. Twitter does, in fact, allow porn, as explained in their Sensitive Media Policy: https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/media-policy

Relevant quote from the policy: "You can share graphic violence and consensually produced adult content within your Tweets, provided that you mark this media as sensitive."

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Yeah, I think this is kind of where the article is coming from: there are lots of racists and sexists in the rationalist community. And Scott Alexander is seen as being a leader of the rationalist community. Therefore, Scott Alexander must be racist and sexist, and we can just cherry-pick some quotes to demonstrate that. QED.

The problem with that argument is that the relationship between "leader of the rationalist community" and "member of the rationalist community" isn't like "cult leader" and "cult follower". It's more like "sports star" and "sports fan". You have people like Scott who are "rationalism stars" and write articles full of logically correct arguments, pointing out hidden assumptions in other people's reasoning, avoiding common cognitive biases, not automatically assuming that arguments made by people/groups he likes are correct and arguments made by people/groups he dislikes are wrong, etc. And then you have lots of "rationalism fans" cheering him on, and some of them engage with the arguments and write really great comments on his articles, but a lot of them are more interested in just being associated with a winning team, and some of them are really only there so they can get into fistfights with the other team...

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Well, I think he himself expresses racist and sexist views, albeit wrapped in a lot of other material, and that’s at least partly why some of his audience is so awful.

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I feel like an accusation of racist and sexism probably warrants a little more detail than this sort of drive-by assertion, but perhaps you were too busy beating your spouse to provide it.

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'Warrants a little more detail'- here's some extensive written evidence of Scott's own thoughts? https://web.archive.org/web/20210217195335/https://twitter.com/TopherTBrennan/status/1362108632070905857

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I can't pull up the actual links in Topher's tweet, but the argument he makes is:

"just that the Slate Star Codex community was far more welcoming to the far-right than to so-called "SJWs". That's a simple fact"

I think that's at least partly true but it is not, you'll note, evidence of "expressing racist and sexist views"

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It is true that a community is judged by the behavior of its members, even if that behavior is not advocated for or caused by the community.

It's not always rational (see what I did there?), but we do judge groups that way. The only preventative response is for the community to very publicly cast out or disavow that member.

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I want to know *everything* about how "Hindutva cranks" became one of your most-expelled subcultures. I get how *worldwide* it would be a pretty common form of crank, but are there... a lot of them in ...Seattle?

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Indian tech engineers who, if I can play amateur psychoanalyst, are lonely in a new environment and have gotten Very Online as a result.

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Also, this is explicitly a group for people who want to spend their Saturday nights getting into philosophical arguments so there is a massive selection bias in favor of strongly opinionated weirdos of all kinds.

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Oh yeah, one of them showed up in a rationalist FB group I follow. It's been... interesting...

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As a liberal rationalist who craves interesting spaces but loathes the racist fucks who keep popping up, your group sounds wonderful and I'd love to learn more about it.

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For sure! Who knows when we'll be meeting again, but I expect our first couple post pandemic meetups will be bangers.

https://www.meetup.com/Drunken-Philosophy/

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You hit the nail on the head! I was raised in a very religious environment and much of the conversation on AI parallels religious themes almost perfectly. I also browsed around some of the SSC and rationalist subreddits and found some extremely socially conservative (borderline alt-right) in adjacent communities. There are some really strange/concerning parts of the movement that give me pause for the broader ideology.

Also, any way I can find out more about your group? Moving to Seattle and looking for a way to get involved and meet people (when it's safe of course).

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Sure! I'm always happy to recruit people.

https://www.meetup.com/Drunken-Philosophy/

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Absolutely. We don't get that many Christians, which is pretty unsurprising for a group that's made up mostly of young, college educated, Seattleites, but some of my favorite regulars are really smart Christians of various stripes who can really give the hordes of reddit atheists a run for their money.

https://www.meetup.com/Drunken-Philosophy/

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I’m back with a post-coffee, hotter take.

Metz and Alexander and the entire Rationalist community and every one of us is subject to the good guys/bad guys illusion. We almost all intuitively believe we are good people. Whatever we take pride in is part of what makes us good. Anyone who seems to challenge an idea we take pride in is bad. People who band together in “mobs” or “news rooms” or “communities” who spend significant time challenging things we consider to be not just good, but core to our very being, are Very Bad. Judging others as Very Bad is a defense mechanism to avoid confronting the evidence we might not be Very Good, and resulting justification also ends up makes us feel Very Good! Meanwhile our all out attack feeds their need to defend and the loop goes on, fueling tribalism forever. For Metz and the NYT, anti-racism is Good, skepticism is Bad. For Rationalists, logic is Good, feelings are Bad.

None of this is a particularly hot take. But Metz’s reference to the onslaught of hate mail he got from SSC fans suggests it was a pivotal moment in his decision that this movement was rotten to the core. You see the same crystallization of extreme opposition in the face of “mobs” from the likes of Lindsay Graham (Kavanaugh hearings), McConnell (Jan 6), even anti-racism post Charlottesville. It’s just ironic that collective action rooted in anger and self righteousness will almost always backfire. To be super cliche, this is why MLKs nonviolence philosophy was the most successful social change movement in modern history.

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Just want to say that I always find your substack comments insightful, well-reasoned, measured and rewarding. And one of the things I've noticed is that you force yourself away from those dichotomies and try to understand the other side. Thank you.

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Why, thank you!! You made my day 😊

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"Pitchforks cut both ways."

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Well said. Condense this into a bumper sticker and a few memes and let’s make thinking this way more normal.

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One of my favorite old kids books that my son inherited is Pickles The Fire Cat. It includes this passage:

“Pickles, you are not a bad cat.

You are not a good cat.

You are good and bad.

And bad and good.

You are a mixed-up cat.

What you need is a good home.

Then you will be good."

Sure beats “Anti-Racist Baby.”

http://www.readalouddad.com/2013/02/pickles-fire-cat-club-averill.html?m=1

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I agree. this is a great point.

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Quick pitch for Effective Altruism: the poorest people in the world have ~40x less than Americans (incomes of <$1000/year, and no social safety nets), so money spent helping them goes way further.

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EA is great! My only quibble with the Effective Altruists is that they sometimes give the impression of being utilitarians, and utilitarianism is ridiculous.

Maybe I'd put it as follows: disinterested benevolence should be *one* of your motivations as a well-rounded human being, and EA explains that whenever you act on that motivation you should be as efficient as possible: e.g., donating to malaria eradication rather than BLM. But there's no rational obligation to give disinterested benevolence any specific weighting, much less treat it as the one thing that matters in life. If drinking a $10 cocktail dominates donating an extra $10 to fight malaria, that's okay too.

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How much a right do I have to my cocktail in light of all the suffering? How much am I justified in investing extra in my children when so many other children suffer? What if I buy not a cocktail but an unnecessary and expensive luxury good? Is it fair to say there is no clear answer to these questions? I’m not a philosopher.

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I think this is why you usually don't hear EAs discussing "rights" - because once you've internalized the idea of everything being trade-offs, you tend to be less inclined to draw absolute lines in the sand and say "this is allowed and that is not". What you get instead is people saying "poor people can get a lot more use out of my money than I can, but giving away everything isn't sustainable, so let's just pick a number that we can stick with - maybe 10% - and give that. It's much better than doing nothing but not so much that we'll wreck ourselves in the process. It may not be optimal, but that's okay - we're not aiming for optimal. We're just trying to do better."

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As someone who has attended EA meetups and been influenced by their perspective, I can say that many people working out these questions not as thought experiments but practical questions are actually quite pragmatic about it. So it's not, "How much a right do I have to my cocktail?" but, "How much can I give to high impact charities so that I will keep doing so consistently for years and not as a kind of 'fad diet' for my budget? What is realistic for me—honestly—without consigning myself to a joyless life?" For some people, maybe that's only $25 a month, with goals to increase that number year over year. Actually *doing that* even in the absence of perfect philosophy does make a real, positive impact on the lives of other people. And it's something most people don't do.

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Yes, I think it's fair to say there's no clear answer. One of the reasons I don't care for the term "rationalist" is that some people use it with the implication that all of human behavior should be subject to rational judgement, and I think that's wrong. People have exogenous desires and preferences that can be critiqued and modified in the light of reason, but the critique only works by exploiting *other* desires and preferences they already have.

I'm with David Hume (from "A Treatise of Human Nature"):

"Where a passion is neither founded on false suppositions, nor chooses means insufficient for the end, the understanding can neither justify nor condemn it. ’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. ’Tis not contrary to reason for me to choose my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. ’Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg’d lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter"

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Well articulated thank you.

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Its interesting to me that policy discussions usually operate in a “utilitarianism but only for Americans” moral framework.

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This comes up a lot in the debate over immigration. Any policy other than open borders is tough to justify on either a utilitarian or a Kantian view. But both those doctrines are wrong, so supporting controls on immigration is actually fine!

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Isn't this open border/open labor market issue kind of another variant of Keynes "in the long run we're all dead" point? Sure in the abstract there's maybe no reason why an American should get paid more for doing the same work than a non American. But that's cold comfort to people who've lost their livelihood because some philosophy-king decided their lives are worth sacrificing for the greater good of humanity.

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I also love the simplicity of Give Directly

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FWIW, here are the counts of political affiliation on the 2019 SSC Poll

Social Democrat: 2297

Liberal: 2062

Libertarian: 1561

Conservative: 526

Neoreactionary: 389

Alt-right: 205

Marxist: 136

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The NYT is a bad outlet, that does bad reporting. It misuses it’s name and access to give bad journalists the possibility of writing bad faith articles on topics that other journalist don’t have access too, or that other journalists report as news rather than idiotic takes on society.

It’s about time for people outside of the NYT to stop having tortured introductions on how the 7th bad quality/bad faith article coming from the NYT this week, actually doesn’t represent the paper.

Let’s treat as what it is, a press room filled with bad people, both morally and at their job. If it closed down tomorrow, we’d be in a better place.

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Which is the good mass-market, general interest newspaper? (personally, I'm a fan of the The Guardian, but it has its own issues.)

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I personally enjoy reading The Guardian and the Washington Post. While I definitely agree that they have their own issues, to me it seems that the NYT is on a league of its own.

The NYT does a poor job at basic journalism, from the having trouble reporting stories in an unbiased factual way, to failing to match headlines to the contents of the article, to promoting niche or irrelevant information over important one, to selecting OpEds based on vitality and outrage potential, instead of genuine interest of the argument.

Also on a larger level, the NYT seems to do a particularly bad job dealing with its inherit notoriety. Journalists constantly pick fights on Twitter, often coming off as bitter and misinformed. Editor’s actions are swayed by the internet almost on a daily basis.

All and all, the entire thing comes off as an adaptation of lord of the flies for the news room.

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They are still unparalleled in investigative journalism.

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I went looking for more info on this, since I couldn't think of recent examples other than Trump's tax returns, and couldn't find much (sometimes I'm terrible at googling...). What are good recent examples of the times famously unrivalled investigative journalism?

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All you’re saying seems inherent in a mainstream paper that tries to tell the establishment what it’s supposed to think on any given subject.

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I'm not an expert on the NYT or newspapers in general, so happy to be wrong or that my argument only makes sense to me. However my argument is the opposite, the NYT is extraordinarily bad in comparison with others, not only because of the extra spotlight it has on, but also on more basic, run of the mill things.

I do agree that some of the things I mentioned can be excused if the purpose is not to transmit news but to bludgeon people in the head with the ideology of the journalists that happen to work there (speaking of journalists now, not opinion). If that's what people are looking for, some sort of faux 19th century pamphlet matching the world views of adopted brooklynites, and they are willing to overlook the rest of the issues, then, by all means those people should keep their subscriptions. If that's the case though, the rest of the world probably still shouldn't treat it as a religion, and stop sandwiching criticism of individual articles between praises for the institution.

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I think this is a good point. It strikes me similar to Scorsese saying that the superhero movies are bad. Like I agree, and I think a person that really loves film should maybe look at some other movies and I have my preference and I’m really impressed by movies that are really good IMO but also find a pretty big audience (I am a Tarantino lover), but mass produced stuff has its place. Sounds pejorative but just making mass produced stuff suck a little less is a more effective objective than hating on it because it sucks. It will always suck because its suckiness is forever intertwined with its mass producedness. Again not trying to sound pejorative just agree with you and try to put stuff in proportion and perspective as much as possible.

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I 100% agree with everything you said, and understand that my last bit about it closing down can be out of proportion. That probably came out of frustration with the weird place the times occupies in culture and journalism, lots of people have problems with their editorial choices from an ideological perspective, for me the problem has more to do with basic journalism.

The times is a mass market newspaper that does not have to bend to market forces, and while that can be good ideologically (no one needs more tabloids and celebrity coverage) it is terrible when it's place akin to a religion means that journalists have no incentive to be good at their jobs. It's important that other media people stop treating it as an untouchable institution and that subscribers stop seeing their subscription money as charity.

If people like it, then they should pay for it and read it. But if they don't like it, if it annoy's them at least once a week, then they should read something else and stop paying for the times. That would allow other papers to became more prominent, and would incentivise the times to take a good look at the quality of their journalism. Hopefully, with time, the NYT would be able to prioritise journalism again and, as you said, suck less, even be enjoyable to read again for a large swath of people.

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Yeah, I was considering canceling my subscription but this might be the last straw.

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I have found myself with the same thought but then that feels like an overreaction. Home delivery of the actual paper is somehow central to my blue tribe identity and while I subscribe to the Washington Post online as well, the idea of only getting my rather sad hometown paper in print is too sad. Did you read Heather McGhee's piece in the Sunday Review today? That made me feel a lot better about the NYT today.

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I hadn’t, I just took a look. I will say prior to last fall, I would have loved that piece. I had a bit of a break through/melt down last fall when I learned that “racial resentment” wasn’t what I thought and conservatives aren’t generally any more evil than liberals. I realized pieces like that one had been fueling a sense moral superiority that was blinding me to the humanity of others and my own flaws. NYT is full of pieces like this, I know they are absolutely well intentioned, but after my brain rewired, I just don’t like the effect they have on me anymore. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/renos/files/carneyenos.pdf

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I don't feel morally superior to anyone (as a white woman I am super aware that I am the worst -- sarcasm and wince), but just to clarify -- do you disagree that Republican messaging uses zero sum ideas that play on some fears that a more generous social welfare state (or more inclusionary zoning in the suburbs) will come at the expense of white people and mainly benefit others? I guess what I found most refreshing was the reminder that "white privilege" is not something that needs to be taken away from white people, but rather needs to be extended to all because if we extend the benefit of the doubt to all the world will be a better place. I guess the whiteness and white privilege framing seems to have become entirely counter productive at this point so that I think a bunch of people are running around thinking that "white privilege" is something that needs to be taken away from white people and in addition to just thinking that white privilege is really just a way to characterize assumptions about how one should be treated that everyone should be able to take for granted it is just the worst messaging because a successful coalition needs to include a fair number of white people and it's a pretty terrible argument to suggest that the only way to accomplish racial healing is for them to be subject to unfair treatment or discrimination.

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I admit I spend a lot of time reflecting on morality and human tendencies, both positive and negative, and that spending that time puts me in a position to more often find myself comparing myself to others and deriving a sense of smug satisfaction before I can bat it back down--I'm likely a weirdo outlier here.

Regarding white privilege, I think the way you described it (highlighting a lack of access that ought to be rectified rather than unfair advantages to be eliminated) is the best way to think of it. However I think many of us in liberal circles tend to see white privilege in instances where it is, more accurately, another privilege at work- sometimes it's wealth, educational status, location, citizenship, being a native English speaker, etc etc. All of these are privileges can be enjoyed by people of any race. I'm not denying white privilege exists--frequently getting the benefit of the doubt from other white people, for example. But the privilege McGhee specifically is describing towards the end of her piece is native born American citizenship, a privilege she also enjoys.

I've come to genuinely believe most white Republicans are not nearly as motivated by a sense of white group loyalty as many Democrats intuitively believe they are. The Righteous Mind is a good look into the moral matrix of conservatives. I tend to believe most are genuinely concerned about the growth of government programs and the effects those programs have on society. They are deeply distrustful of Democrats, not because we are a multi-racial coalition but because we seem to think the federal government is the solution to all that ails us. They do undeniably have a xenophobic streak, and while it's rooted in the human tendency to want to form tribes, it can clearly go too far and lead to the inhumane treatment of others. I do hope we can get back to bipartisan discussions of immigration reform rooted in basic human decency, but I don't think we'll get there if we assume their perspective is rooted in white privilege.

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So, the NYT piece is worth reading? We’ve done edifying things all day like church, walking the dogs, and registering for a vaccine injection

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Personally, I'm less concerned about nonsense in their op-ed section than I am about nonsense in the rest of the paper. Sure, there's plenty of good reporting. Maybe mostly good reporting. But it seems to me that unlike a decade or two ago, today's NYT is willing to suppress inconvenient truths that run counter to their employees' political agendas and elevate lies when they support that agenda.

Maybe this is too simplistic of a take, but I believe journalistic enterprises run within a hierarchy of values that's maintained by the leadership. It seems to me that the NYT has reordered their hierarchy and now truth-seeking is ranked below social justice activism in that values hierarchy.

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Maybe the things u dislike about NYT may be an issue with running a newspaper that needs a really large subscription base and would like to continue to get more subscribers. They need to go viral. They need to accept the evolving values of their workers. A lot of norms most notably what exactly is racist are in flux and haven’t landed in a particular spot yet. Are there others that have those objectives that does a way way better job? It seems a lot of people who think really critically about issues don’t like this newspaper but maybe they don’t like this entire genre of journalism anymore. If true then we have to contend that it isn’t going anywhere and smaller outlets may be more “right” but will struggle to reach that wider audience. It’s tough for me just to cancel my NYT subscription even though there’s stuff I don’t like. I think they are important, influential, and I love my Economist but I don’t know of a large American daily newspaper doing a way better job. Glad I support slow boring though. I just don’t know of a better job anyone is doing addressing the “hot” and “big” issues in this country that does a better job than Matt. Does anyone else get to 500k Twitter followers without constantly trying to smack people down or parrot viral slogans or takes? Matt is doing it the right way I think.

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>> It seems a lot of people who think really critically about issues don’t like this newspaper but maybe they don’t like this entire genre of journalism anymore.

I think you're onto something with this. Also, I wonder if things are really different now or if easy access to a wider range of facts and opinions has just opened all of our eyes to biases in reporting that have been there all along. I also think all of this has just made traditional genres of journalism much less relevant overall.

I know the way I consume journalism has changed drastically in the past decade or so. I used to subscribe to several publications and spend a significant amount of time engaging with each of them regularly. Some of my former subscriptions included NYT, WSJ, Economist, Time Magazine, and Scientific American among others. In addition to watching the local nightly news, I also regularly watched the news on ABC each night (don't know why I chose that one, really). This handful of mainstream outlets was the predominant way I learned about the world.

Now I don't subscribe to any mainstream publications or regularly follow any news sites aside from very cursory headline checking and a quick 10 minute Tivo scan through the local news show each night. All my subscription dollars are now paid through substack and patreon to individual journalists, pundits, and podcasters.

I mostly track the daily news by following the twitter feeds of a large list of people I've come to trust and who represent a broad range of viewpoints and point me to interesting reporting or twitter threads on the issues of the day.

(btw - I don't have a twitter account, I follow people using browser bookmarks organized into folders by subject area).

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Reading your comment thinking yup that’s a great way to set up your journalism microworld. Also obviously the wider public won’t be doing that. I tend to read the economist every week. My wife listens to some npr which I overhear and annoy her with comments on what I perceive to be unfair presentation of this or that, then a little sub stack, then I really try not to read a whole lot more news politics. Make sure to put some other learning in your algorithm is the advice (usually undesired probably) I give to my loved ones who are fixated on msnbc. Usually I’m ignored. I’m kinda fine with it what do I know anyway.

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I don’t read NYT much but I do wonder how much of the bad rep it’s garnered on Twitter is about selectively pulling out bad articles, as opposed to a wholistic view. If most of the paper is good reporting, that’s a good reason to have it around. It’s a profitable newspaper in a world where that’s increasingly difficult to find.

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Read a random article about a reasonably controversial topic in which you're a subject matter expert. You'll be shocked.

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Exactly.

It seems to me that most NYT reporting is informed much more by narratives than by truth-seeking. The way this works is that a high-level narrative about how an incident or event should be framed is constructed very early on. The narrative is partly based on what's known about the incident and partly based on the political leanings of NYT staff.

Once the narrative forms around an incident or issue, reporting will generally conform to the narrative regardless of contradicting facts that are later uncovered. They'll be ignored unless they become so obvious and widely reported that it's too embarrassing to continue to ignore them (eg Covington kids).

It's extremely rare to see serious coverage of an angle that runs counter to the narrative. It's also exceedingly difficult to modify or puncture the narrative even after it's become plainly obvious to the non-indoctrinated that the story is wrong.

Articles about the topic will only quote experts that support the narrative and expert quotes will be routinely used to launder opinion into reported articles. Experts with similar expertise and prominence in a given subject area, but with contrarian views that don't support the narrative, will be ignored.

This to me describes the way the NYT conducts most of its journalism in a nutshell.

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But also, NYT is big, and it’s place in the journalism world might honestly be permanent or semipermanent. It’s not getting less important. Maybe NYT subscribers need to also subscribe to someone independent, widely trusted who is like an NYT ombudsman from outside the org. Not a hater, not someone who’s going to simply cherry pick every suboptimal article and beat them over the head with it, but who’s role is kinda I’m here to help you make sense of the good and needs improvement and bad work of this extremely influential journalism product. No confidence that there is a market for this just spitballing.

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I hate the bad op-eds and the crude ideological mission of the Times’ op-ed page, but those are op-eds, they are opinion; Far worse is the perversion of editorial judgement in the news section. Now it’s not uncommon to see unsupported activist statements inserted in the news stories. A real news editor would have stripped those out before they ever saw press, just on professional principle and likely delivered a scolding along with it. Consider the fact that it took *two months* for Times readers to hear about what was actually going on in Seattle, for the news editors to actually send a real reporter down there and talk to people and, you know, *get the story.*

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I think it is odd that the tech section of the newspaper has such a broad view of what constitutes political extremism. This article does a good job pointing out how rationalists have heterodox and someone interesting world views. But the frame of the article is that these opinions should have you barred from polite society (I think?).

But why are we raking Scott Alexander over the coals for a slightly approving cite of Charles Murray when Charles Murray is still a senior fellow at aei? Shouldn’t the times run a similar hit piece on aei and all the normal republicans who probably read and line Charles Murray’s stuff?

Who gets to decide what kind of political/philosophical views are scandalous? The New York Times tech section seems to have decided that views which are substantially to the left of Marco Rubio are hugely problematic if you are influential in the tech sector. I don’t think this makes a ton of sense. Especially since if you were in finance with similar views there wouldn’t be any coverage. My suspicion is this is because finance and politics reporters are a lot more moderate than tech and culture reporters so their views on what kind of political views are news worthy differ massively.

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I likewise object to even discussing Charles Murray being outside the Overton window. I think the burden of proof when you call somebody racist in public should be on the accuser.

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I agree Nate. I would go further and say to unjustly call someone a racist should carry a social cost. It doesn’t. Media types quickly jump to the implications. I will hear dozens of conversations between media types of the racism and wonder “what did this person do again?” Unjustly calling someone a racist is bad and there should be a cost to it. Many people seem to love this song that they don’t know the lyrics to. When you ask them the lyrics they look at you like you’re missing the point.

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This sounds like Merc’s law - conservatives can’t be criticized because they have no agency, only Democrats are ever responsible for anything.

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What problem, specifically, do you have with Murray’s work?

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Yglesias wrote a pretty solid rebuke a while ago https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vox.com/platform/amp/2018/4/10/17182692/bell-curve-charles-murray-policy-wrong

Basically he is overly invested in genetic determinism (there is a lot public policy can do to improve people’s potential).

Also he believes that immiserating poor children by slashing the welfare state is necessary to correctly balance the population... this is fairly abhorrent.

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“...he believes that immiserating poor children by slashing the welfare state is necessary to correctly balance the population...”

Oh? Can you quote him saying that?

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The technically precise description of America’s fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. We urge generally that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended.

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That rather seems to mean that they think it would be better if those children had not been born to poor women.

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It’s from the article I linked above

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Ken, I think the MY piece someone already linked to is a really good general-interest summary of Murray's problems. My drive-by summary is that he has the kind of incredibly difficult relationship with intellectual elitism necessary to square his brand as the "kids these days" guy with his ongoing support for the Republic Party and its rejection of intellectualism - https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/magazine/21wwln-Q4-t.html

The more technical critique centres on whether the statistical work in race and IQ in the Bell Curve is even robust on its own terms. My view is that, while we can fight about whether anyone should be engaging in race science at all, it's such a toxic area that doing it badly is really inexcusable in a way that normal statistical errors might not be. That debate, on the statistical merits of Murray's work, is very interesting, very technical and (I like to think only slightly) beyond my ability to fully evaluate. This Comsa Shalizi piece is a reasonable entree, I think http://bactra.org/weblog/523.html

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I think I have read that second linked essay before. I definitely have read others like it that attempt in various clever ways to argue something that is obvious nonsense: That intelligence cannot be measured and doesn’t run in families.

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I don't think either of those claims are attributable to Shalizi's piece, Ken, nor are they necessary in order to object to the Bell Curve's treatment of racial differences in intelligence. For the record, I personally don't believe either of them.

As I understand it: Murray's statistical approach relies on the existence of a factor of general intelligence, 'g', which underpins various different measures of intellectual aptitude, as a concrete feature of human genetic makeup. Shalizi argues - again, as I understand it not having reread the piece - that the data are consistent with 'g' existing only as an emergent property of various genetically unrelated measures, meaning that 'g' is a social construct rather than an inherent feature of human genetics.

This is not the same as claiming that 'intelligence can't be measured', but it is saying that - for the purposes of conducting heritability analysis - measured differences in 'g' are less like differences in height and more like differences in, say, ability to juggle:

Now, juggling well is pretty obviously partly heritable, and while it is a social construct and fuzzy at the edges (whose performance was the best?) it's also pretty clearly measuring something real. Some people are better at juggling, some are worse.

But conducting genetic analysis of the extent to which juggling ability is genetically linked with race is a very, very different job to looking at average racial variations in height. Even tying height to race is nontrivial, due to the kinds of cultural and economics factors which have led to rapid increase in average Japanese height and rapid decrease in Nortk Korean height over a couple of generations. But looking at subjective juggling scores for two groups and trying to tie it back to their race's genetics is incredibly tough to do - you're much, much more likely to be capturing something else. That's the accusation leveled at Murray, and saying that you think intelligence is partly heritable is a bit of a non-sequitur in that debate.

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This bit is particularly stupid: “Thus the sum of height and triglycerides is heritable.” No one believes the two are connected. But the various traits that are contained in the statistical concept of g are pretty obviously connected. G is a decent predictor of, for example, academic achievement, income, subjective assessments of intelligence, work performance, and criminality.

The essay you linked to was written in 2007, which predates work that shows correlations between intelligence and particular genes. There is every reason to think such connections will continue to be discovered.

As far as correlations between race and intelligence, I think the evidence is fairly thin.

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I think maybe we're talking past each other, Ken. It's common ground between us that 'intelligence' is both relatively heritable and relatively measurable.

But 'g is a societal construct' and 'g is useful for measuring a range of phenomena we consider to be interrelated' are not opposites, or even really in opposition. g is absolutely applicable across a range of intelligence-related domains because it is, by construction, the correlation between different domains of intelligence. It is calculated based on the correlated variations, and the bits that are not correlated are excluded from g.

Again, let's think about the less-charged territory of juggling, and the universal measure of juggling ability, "j". Now, j is partly heritable, and modern genetics will be able to find genes linked to higher or lower j scores, even though there is no 'gene for juggling'. j scores will, by construction, positively correlate with (but not perfectly map to) various sub-skills associated with juggling, like hand-eye coordination and visual acuity. It will likewise correlate with a penumbra of a penumbra of non-juggling juggling-adjacent activities (fire twirling? Knife throwing? I genetically lack the ability to juggle and so know little about it). 'j' is in those sense absolutely real, but in other important senses, a social/statistical construct, not a feature of human genetics with 'genes for' it.

That difference doesn't matter for a lot of purposes but does, I gather, matter for determining whether average racial differences are due to genetic differences.

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This is a worthy tribute to SSC because it is extremely long.

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founding

If only it were divided into roman-numeralled sections.

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To be really cynical, the piece sure seems to doing the heavy lifting of giving people justification to assume any “rational” objection or counterpoint to modern progressive thought is, indeed, rooted in racism or sexism. That even attempting to center logic over emotion is a tool of white supremacy. (For the record, I am with Matt in the “somewhere in the middle of Alexander and Lowery” self-assessment, maybe a bit closer to Alexander, but I think the “rationalist” inclination to view human emotion as a flaw to outmaneuver instead of a feature to appreciate is a bug.) The six degrees of guilt by association was totally ridiculous but was the heart of the piece. Ironic that Metz linked to the Blue Team/Red Team piece but didn’t seem to read it with a shred of introspection.

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Seems like it is hard for people to contend with the idea that there might not be a single set of opinions and actions that result from looking at things as reasonably as you can. We can all try to be a little more reasonable, but the ones being pure rationalists might need to dip their toes in less rationalist preferences and whatnot based on personal experience and affiliations and other things even though giving total control to ones biases and prejudices would be kinda horrible. Life’s weird like that.

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Yeah, i don’t know much about rationalism as a discipline but it does sound like it falls into the fallacy that there are objective answers to complicated questions. On the other hand, I think the “read the room” folks also fall into that trap. At the end of the day, you kind of need to accept that life is a little subjective.

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Love the praise given to Tolstoy on the back flap of the version of Anna Karenina I read: something about how Tolstoy was not about prescribing exactly how a better world would look but a widely held view of literary intellectuals of the time that the better task is to pose the right questions in the right way, make the reader a little uncomfortable, and then seek their own answers. I think it’s a great perspective on what we seek to gain from great writers.

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I read the Metz article after people in the SB comments mentioned it earlier today, and while after reading this post and Siskind's (I'm saying it) reply I certainly see its flaws, I don't think it constitutes nearly the 'hit job' people seem to think it is. In particular I don't think that Metz' article really suggests that Silicon Valley is sexist and racist as Matt says it does.

The NYT article starts off noting the diverse and influential readership of SSC. Most of the people who are quoted seem to have an appreciation for it, even as some point out the free-speech-absolutist posture that made it idiosyncratic. The article sites SSC within 'Rationalism', and tries to engage a little bit with what that is (mentioning effective altruism) and gets into why this might be particularly appealing to Silicon Valley types, as it appears to be. It's not very in-depth, but I think it's mostly the article Matt wanted!

Because the blog up and vanished when the NYT 'threatened' to give it and it's not-really-anonymous author some press, I think Metz' article is at some pains to give an explanation of why his reporting got such a frosty reception, and it's in the service of this that he dredges up a list of past statements of Siskind's that might explain his aversion to publicity. Clearly Metz and/or his editor really blew it here and wound up insinuating that Siskind expressed specific views that he actually had not, but as Matt notes the broader point that Siskind had written things that would be deemed controversial about race-adjacent topics is completely true, and with slightly less laziness this section could have been totally fine! Importantly, though, these views are only attributed to Siskind himself and not 'Silicon Valley' in general.

The connection to the latter and Peter Thiel is made a little further down in noting another episode in which a prominent Rationalist was eager to avoid associations between their movement and reactionary politics, but Metz doesn't make Thiel and Siskind sound more personally connected than they really are, nor does he say that any other Valley people had sexist or racist views. The episode just serves as an analogy to the furious reaction Metz apparently received from Siskind's fans when they got wind the NYT might publish his name.

In sum, I don't read the NYT article as unduly critical of Rationalism or Silicon Valley or as suggesting that people shouldn't discuss or read controversial ideas. Clearly they bungled their attempt to explain what those controversial ideas actually were in this case, but I see incompetence, not malice. Metz was trying to write an article about Rationalism and its traction among tech elites, which as Matt notes is a perfectly newsworthy subject. Then this weird thing happened with SSC shutting down and that kind of 'became the story' in a way that probably Metz did not originally intend and which seems to have sent the project off the rails in some respects.

I'm afraid people are really amped up over this 'cancel culture' thing and so are primed to read an intent into an article like Metz' that I think isn't really there. Taking the pattern to an extreme, over on his Substack Siskind seems to think the Times misrepresented his views in order to get back at him for not cooperating with their reporting efforts, but if he really believes that I have a tin foil hat to sell him.

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that's my impression, as well. The Times is trying to be a general interest paper. The SSC people appear to be a pretty intense subculture. Even if this article has flaws, I think it's hard to imagine that the Times could do any reporting that would not be profoundly annoying to them.

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I mean, there was literally a New Yorker article over the summer that was better written, more accurate, and more positively-received among SSC people.

The reason to characterize this one as a "hit job" is that it would be so easy to improve it with minor changes that any editor or competent writer familiar with the subject matter should see on first pass. So it's either incompetence or malice. YMMV.

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It does seem implausible that "The Times" as a whole did this as retaliation, but isn't it plausible that Metz himself ended up with some understandable antipathy in his heart as a result of the mobbing he received, and this colored the tone of the article?

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You bet! The presentation of Siskind's views really does seem unfair. Of course we can only speculate about what processes caused the article to end up this way. Metz' editor should have prevented the writer's personal antipathy from coloring the article, but apparently the editor was attacked by Siskind's fans as well, so maybe they were in the same besieged mindset. Maybe the paper wanted to play up a 'conflict' angle or pushed Metz to provide examples of controversial views that would explain Siskind's spotlight aversion, but Metz' heart wasn't really in it and he did an extremely sloppy job and nobody really looked into it the way they should have.

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If you read the Aaronson piece about this, it really does seem like Metz had all the information he needed to know he was portraying Siskind in a false light: https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=5310

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I certainly do not say there is no implication of racism and / or sexism! On the contrary, Siskind himself has his words taken out of context in a totally unfair way that more than implies he has been racist and or sexist. What I was taking issue with was the third point in Matt's syllogistic reading, that the article goes even further to suggest that Silicon Valley is therefore racist or sexist because of some of it's bigwigs' intellectual affinity with some of the material on Siskind's blog. I just don't think it really makes that leap.

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What drives me absolutely crazy about self-congratulatory blogs like SCC is that the authors and supporters have incredible blind spots. They support “fearless inquiry” yet that fearless inquiry into social issues somehow always supports retrograde positions of maybe 100 years ago. For instance, “fearless inquiry” into whether women are as smart as men (our brains are physically smaller and we have a different mix of grey/white matter).

Somehow there’s never a “fearless inquiry” as to whether, say men shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and perhaps not even allowed to hold political office. If I were myself not into reading the room, I could build an extremely compelling, if unethical, case for it. And a lot of people who enjoy stroking their chins over the Bell Curve would get extremely angry to suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of “maybe people like you are inferior and deserve social status.”

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I, too, am angry at all the blogs that haven't written all the posts you thought about writing.

More seriously: you should actually write those arguments, or at least not-not write them because you feel like they would make people (who you don't respect and happily call racist) uncomfortable.

There's absolutely a good contrarian case for reducing/restrict male access to various positions of power, and writing it would be a stunning rebuke to all those slatestarcodex posts arguing that women are biologically unable to hold certain roles, which you linked to in your comment.

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I’m angry that you’re angry!

In all seriousness, I would feel weird putting forth an argument that I really thought was unethical just to see if it pissed of the people I thought it would piss off. I’m just saying people at SSC aren’t that imaginative in their transgressive suggestions. What about moving everyone who isn’t of direct Native American descent into a small reservation, and returning all the remaining land to those with the prior claim? What about raising the voting age to 65, on the basis that only then will you have sufficient wisdom to make decisions for the country?

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If you do decide to build that case ... please post it. On the political office front, an argument built around de-risking institutions with male vs. female crime rates, violence, corruption, etc. would be interesting to wrestle with.

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Yes! The “fearless inquiry” seems to have strict guard rails. I think many in the community can be aware and critical of this too. Like.. Matt’s post is about a big and sort of diverse community so I’m hesitant to generalize. But reflecting on the conversations I had with folks... they’ll deliver hot takes, but they don’t want to be made uncomfortable. Some want to be soothed that their low/non participation in their own physical community is in no way in conflict with their status as a smart, ethical and good person. That’s why I liked the “who gets to have safe spaces” focus of the NYTs piece.

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Although this is spot on about many people and bloggers, I feel it isn't quite fair to say about Slate Star Codex.

It's true that he wrote some very critical things about some feminists, like Amanda Marcotte, in some very specific context. But he also wrote many things that aren't "from 100 years ago", like a passionate defense of transgender people's right to transition (https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/), or a post on how ordinary polyamory is (https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/06/polyamory-is-boring/).

Or this: "One of America's top pro-life groups, Focus on the Family, spends two hundred thousand dead children a year pushing its message of conservatism and opposition to abortion. Take a second to fully appreciate the irony there."

(https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/efh270/a_modest_proposal_by_scott_alexander_2008_i_think/).

And in the SSC comments I do remember encountering some radical and very controversial faminist-ish ideas, for example, that any sexual act between a man and a woman should be considered rape.

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Well, the author is an asexual man who lives in a polyamorous group home, so I don’t find his defense of trans rights particularly heroic. In fact, for me, it cements even more his ability to sympathize with people similar to him, while disdaining people unlike him in race and sex. Which of course is something his entire blog pretends he doesn’t do.

Again, as a libertarian, it’s extremely likely he’s pro choice. So are MRAs, and that is absolutely not driven by their respect for female autonomy.

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>as a libertarian...

Scott is a liberal democrat (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/statement-on-new-york-times-article). He voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primaries last year and for Hillary Clinton in the previous elections (I have vague memory that he voted for Clinton in those primaries too, but can't find the link).

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Deserve lower* social status.

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Sure. I find the tilt in the NYT frustrating as well. Matt has also written about bias in the MSM, and I agree with him. But that doesn’t absolve SA, who is the topic of this post.

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I am not at all sure about this, but I think it's possible that Cade Metz violated or at least pushed the edges of the NYT policy on anonymity for sources (you said this isn't so interesting, and it's a bit conspiratorial, so maybe not so valuable, but I'm curious what folks think).

He offered anonymity to Mason (https://twitter.com/webdevMason/status/1275516063489253376), and the policy says, "The Times sometimes agrees not to identify people who provide information for our articles. Under our guidelines, anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way." (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/reader-center/how-the-times-uses-anonymous-sources.html?fbclid=IwAR0mSjKDLl3K8gTNFfkEuTz8mribAzZkQUpxbDbQEgNMSoRdfL2skAowqOs)

This doesn't seem to qualify!

Anyway, hadn't seen this discussed, so I thought I might add it.

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Someone needs to assemble a fund for the best hundred or two hundred little newspapers out there, so that donors can spread their wealth effectively.

Small newspapers are a vital part of a diversified media ecosystem, and they are dying. As they die, local mischief goes unreported.

MY retweeted a plea from Seung Min Kim to support local newspapers. But how do I do that?

1) There's no reason to think that the local paper closest to me is the neediest or most deserving.

2) There's no reason to think that if I support my paper here, then Arizonans will support their paper and Louisianans will support their paper. I cannot enforce their behavior.

But the "Indie paper index fund," or whatever it's called, curated by Ms. Kim or someone else knowledgeable, would allow for effective altruism applied to the problem of keeping locals alive. Your money goes to a variety of papers across the country that are still doing real journalism.

Please, someone set this up! Give it an ActBlue page!

(Tangentially related to the main topic, via diversifying the informational ecosphere, as well as EA.)

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This is a really good idea. Someone with some clout should organize it.

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Yeah, moderate clout, but more importantly a good overview of small papers at the national level, who's doing real reporting, who's just reprinting USA Today, and so on.

I feel like Dave Weigel might know this sort of thing -- a real newspaper guy who also travels a lot.

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Lol, I can’t stand Weigel. ;p I agree with Dan S, it should be more like a mutual fund. It might even be relatively easy to put together based on Pulitzers won, and perhaps also on paucity of local papers. There are a lot of good papers in SF, LA, and the area in between, so the need is lower. So some focus on “news deserts.”

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It'd be nice to support at least one paper per state capitol/statehouse. A lot of bad stuff happens at the state level, and flies under the national radar of the NYT, WaPo, etc.

Pulitzers -- good idea. Propublca also does great stuff.

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What I really hate is when I make a major buy in, say, the prevention of childhood leukemia, and then the short-sellers come in and start bidding up the pro-leukemia stocks. Or I donate to the SPCA, and some hedge fund goes long on puppy-mills.

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It’s semantics vs. pragmatics.

The rationalist crowd leans very hard on semantics, which means they can communicate very clearly and directly. But it also makes them seem socially inept, and also sort of obtuse about things like racist dogwhistles.

Meanwhile the journalists lean very hard on pragmatics. They’re constantly looking for implicatures in the use of language and assume the plain semantic meaning is irrelevant. This is good for journalists, it means they can read between the lines and try to see the motivation behind PR and political bullshit.

But when they run into rationalists this mental habit isn’t very helpful. They end up seeming very paranoid, refusing to see the obvious semantic meaning of the claims being made, instead looking for implicatures that aren’t there.

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I tried to read some SSC after all this controversy started and...man, it's amazing to me that THIS is what's causing such an uproar. What I've ready mostly feels like kinda boring conservative viewpoints wrapped up in a package of writing that is so dense and obtuse as to make it feel far more intellectually stimulating than it is. (Any editor worth their salt would have him cut at least a quarter of his text in every post.) To each their own, I guess; maybe there's more to it that I'm not seeing, but I do find it borderline unreadable.

Not saying that in any way justifies the weird NYT hit piece; just that it's shocking that this blog, of all things, blew up enough about it for it to become such a flashpoint anyway.

Rationalism is quite frustrating, too. It so often feels like an excuse people give to absolve themselves of the responsibility to think critically on any topic. That sex differences in personality paper is a perfect example. In my experience, people cite that paper (and similar research) as an example that gender roles are "real" instead of "socially constructed" (which then often leads to less-than-progressive opinions on trans people), when in fact, it seems to actually show the opposite (that gender roles are highly contingent on the type of society they're being expressed in). You can't escape interpretation; every fact has to be interpreted, so saying whether something is "true" or "false" is only the first, and easiest, part of the problem. It also seems like a kind of sad life to lead. "Sorry, we can't go out and enjoy the arts, that would be frivolous because the money would be more rationally spent donating to effective charities." Kinda dreary!

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rationalism as an effort to scrutinize one's assumptions and hold them to account against evidence seems appealing to me. rationalism as the premise that I'm rational and you're not seems like a recipe for disaster. I think there's lots of evidence that it's easy to segue from one to the other.

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This feels a bit like a straw man. Ultimately I don’t really care how other people choose to spend their time and money as long as it doesn’t hurt others or destroy civilization. Maybe you are concerned it is doing the latter?

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> But something about the internet is making people into infantile conformists with no taste or appreciation for the life of the mind and frankly I’m sick of it.

It's the dunking, which doesn't just get you little hearts, it encourages followers/observers to swarm the target and maybe ruin their life.

Dunking is just short-form bullying for people who never got to be the bully. It marks the victim as unworthy of defense so others know it is safe to pile on.

Stop dunking if you actually care about this. Or don't, collect your hearts, keep growing your clout, and blame the engineers.

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I gave you a heart, but don't let it go to your head! :)

Seriously though, it's not like marginalized people are automatically more pure of heart than others. Given the opportunity, they have as much chance of being bullies as everyone else. Disturbingly, some people think this is only fair.

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