Voltaire never had to deal with online comment sections.
February 22, 2019 12:46 PM   Subscribe

"The Culture War Thread aimed to be a place where people with all sorts of different views could come together to talk to and learn from one another. I think this mostly succeeded. [...] you may have already guessed things went south. What happened? The short version is: a bunch of people harassed and threatened me for my role in hosting it, I had a nervous breakdown, and I asked the moderators to get rid of it." Slate Star Codex's Scott Alexander on the birth and death of a megathread, and how even an actively-managed discussion can go terribly, destructively awry.
"Whatever its biases and whatever its flaws, the Culture War thread was a place where very strange people from all parts of the political spectrum were able to engage with each other, treat each other respectfully, and sometimes even change their minds about some things. [...]

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

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

I am a pro-gay Jew who has dated trans people and votes pretty much straight Democrat. I lost distant family in the Holocaust. You can imagine how much fun this was for me."
posted by Kadin2048 (111 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would love some perspective from other participants on how bad the Culture War Thread was, in terms of hate speech and the like.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:05 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


this is interesting but certainly my opinion is coloured by my existing biases that SSC is a site that's basically an intellectual wank-fest for people to congratulate each other on their terrible opinions.

When someone else objected that it was a more specific “blatant” anti-transgender bias, I counted up all the mentions of transgender on three weeks worth of Culture War threads: of five references, two were celebrating how exciting/historic a transgender person recently winning an election was, a third was neutrally referring to the election, a fourth was a trans person talking about their experiences, and a fifth was someone else neutrally mentioning that they were transgender. This sort of thing happened enough times that I stopped being interested in arguing the point.

This is a weird argument. Not every transphobic comment starts by saying "here's my opinion on transgender people: etc". Sometimes people say something else about biological determinism which, if extended past the immediate context, is transphobic. I mean, sure, maybe the thread was not as anti-trans as some people think, but maybe it's also a lot more anti-trans than this simplistic analysis shows.
posted by GuyZero at 1:15 PM on February 22 [38 favorites]


Starting to read this and then glancing to the side to see an ad for MealSquares, The Optimized Internet Food is the funniest thing that happened to me this week
posted by theodolite at 1:23 PM on February 22 [10 favorites]


The telling thing about this is that pie chart of beliefs. 11% were "neoreactionary" (think Peter Thiel, far-right anti-democracy but not actively pro-racism as a core belief) and another 7% were "alt-right".

Probably many people have never personally met anyone who's "alt-right" or "neoreactionary" in their lives; these are as far-right as it's possible to get without literally joining the Nazi party. You don't have to be a sheltered liberal from the People's Republic of Berkeley to be very surprised, then, by a space where one out of every five people hold these views, and to feel that it must be a place unusually friendly to the extreme right.

There isn't really an extreme left to counterbalance this either. Almost all the left-leaning people are well within the mainstream. If it were 11% Trotskyists and 7% Maoists, that might be comparable.
posted by vogon_poet at 1:37 PM on February 22 [45 favorites]


SSC (like the rest of the pseudorationalist philosophical movement from which he diverged) is so frustratingly naive that it's hard to fathom. Part of his persona amounts to favoring the aesthetic of an ideology over its content. I guess this is the same thing as tone policing, but it has a distinctive beard-stroking intellectualism. Racism is fine, as long as it's the emotionally detached, cool scientific thought experimentation of "human biodiversity." Homophobia is fine, as long as your "opinion" that homosexuality shouldn't be "allowed" is said in your inside voice. Conversely, feminism and social justice-type ideas are OK if-and-only-if nobody raises their voice.

"Why can't we all calmly discuss who is genetically superior or who should be segregated from civic life? I can't believe anyone would find this ideologically conservative! I asked the participants of the cocktail party if THEY think they're conservative, and most of them said no! Sure, we had to ban a few people here and there who literally advocated for rape and genocide, but those were just random blips."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:45 PM on February 22 [62 favorites]


The telling thing about this is that pie chart of beliefs.

He sort of implies that people were coached on what to to answer (emphasis mine):

a technocratic, anti-democracy movement that the survey instructed people to endorse if they wanted to be more like “for example Singapore...

So apparently if you like Singapore's government, you're a neoreactionary. I don't know if this is really true and seems a little like push-polling to me.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


Also I went to go double-check what exactly a neoreactionary was and I got reminded of Curtis "Mencius Moldbug" Yarvin and then I popped an eyeball out of its socket rolling it so hard. And i remembered that the reason I dislike SSC isn't just their terrible (yet intellectually detached, natch) opinions, it's their hypergraphia. Basically racism is OK if you do it in a 20,000 word essay.
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on February 22 [22 favorites]


Calling something “The Culture War Thread” in an effort to attract online nazis then acting suprised that online nazis act like they always do seems like a perplexing waste of time. Also it should have had a “DEBATE ME!” subheading.
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on February 22 [15 favorites]


change_my_mind_meme.gif
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]


I am a pro-gay Jew who has dated trans people and votes pretty much straight Democrat.

I'm not sure why he thinks this is a rebuttal? Neither support for nor membership in marginalized groups means that you're not a bigot, even within your own in-group. For instance, Milo is a gay Jewish immigrant who made his name by allying himself with actual Nazis. There's plenty of Latinx Americans who are vehemently racist and oppose welcoming immigrants. There's an entire faction of feminists who violently attack trans men and women. Hell, the Prime Minister of Israel has echoed anti-Semitic rants about Soros.

Dude's got a long history of using his particular brand of long-winded wingnut screeds under a veneer of "rationalism" to attack lots of different people. This just sounds more like he had graduated to some low-key bothesidesism and found that too hard to maintain.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:53 PM on February 22 [33 favorites]


I'm not sure why he thinks this is a rebuttal?

Because all personal attributes are determined existentially by group membership. This is literally the thesis of half the "arguments" on SSC. (which, to be fair, I never read, so this is based on a sample of like 2 blog posts)
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


I would love some perspective from other participants on how bad the Culture War Thread was, in terms of hate speech and the like.

I used to read bits of it occasionally, in a kind of 'see what parts of the world you wouldn’t see otherwise thinks' kind of way. It wasn’t dominated by hate speech, but it was always there - the kind of polite racism / prejudice that’s oh-so-reasonable, but built atop a set of assumptions that are, at root, simply abhorrent. The mods would remove the worst elements, but never really faced up to that reality.

The 'rational-o-sphere' has always had this idea that all ideas should be considered on their merits & never really considered that maybe they were simply being used by people who just wanted to use them as a space to normalise their abhorrent views. Maybe this is one of Scott’s manifestations of Moloch.

For an even less charitable view than mine, see r/sneerclub.
posted by pharm at 2:01 PM on February 22 [11 favorites]


Sneerclub are the Real Heroes TBH, they’re essentially r/shitSSCandRationalistsSay
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:03 PM on February 22 [8 favorites]


SSC's non-right-wing readership largely consists of people who want to debate neo-reactionaries and the alt-right. This is why there is an increased number of them relative to MetaFilter, where expressing those viewpoints will get your comments deleted. It's completely fine prefer the latter policy to the former. Having a variety of safe spaces is a good thing!

What is bizarre is that this thread has continued the conflation of "wants to debate with illiberal ideas" with "has illiberal ideas." Well-- actually it's not that bizarre at all, is it? If Scott has illiberal ideas it's completely fine that the left harassed him into a nervous breakdown.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 2:05 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]


Actually, now that I think about it, it's less that he found his schtick too hard to maintain, it's more that he's a "freedom of speech means freedom from consequences" That Guy. And in classic That Guy fashion, he's less upset about the content of the speech than the fact that the consequences of allowing it was tarnishing his "brand," and would rather make other people deal with it.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:06 PM on February 22 [18 favorites]


Pompous. That’s the word I was searching for. SSC, like LessWrong, is pompous in the extreme. It makes sense that that community would bristle at the notion of being jeered at, because the whole rational-sphere is a type of narcissism wherein you position yourself as a philosopher king. For the love of God, why even name-check Voltaire except as a Freudian signal that you think of your blog comments as the fucking School of Athens?

I’m mad
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:06 PM on February 22 [15 favorites]


he's less upset about the content of the speech than the fact that the consequences of allowing it was tarnishing his "brand,"

It sounded to me like he's upset about being doxxed and having trolls calling his workplace to harass him.
posted by straight at 2:14 PM on February 22 [24 favorites]


see r/sneerclub

From a comment there:

"If I believe this argument, because I am a rationalist, it must be true."

Holy shit, this is half of neoreactionary arguments in a nutshell. They don't acknowledge the power of motivated reasoning.
posted by GuyZero at 2:25 PM on February 22 [22 favorites]


This comment on r/sneerclub is a great summary of how Scott’s blog & r/SSC in particular have attracted a neo-rectionary / right readership.
posted by pharm at 2:26 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]


I don't go to reddit for any reason, but I do read SSC. There's a lot of interesting stuff on there about a wide range of topics and there are few websites I'd trade it for. I especially like how undefinitive it is-the answer to many big questions are a hundred varieties of maybe and I feel like the site faces that reality in a forthright way. I don't read the comments there (or really anywhere but here) so I can't comment on what goes on there. It's hard to stand behind your own ideas on the internet, to say nothing of random strangers on whatever loosely associated reddit thread--I can't help noticing that almost all of the SSC critics in this thread are lobbing their criticism from anonymous accounts. I don't ever go to MeFight Club either but if that was full of Nazis or whatever I hope we'd say that doesn't reflect our values and should be severed from association with the site, not that Metafilter was full of Nazis.
posted by Kwine at 2:28 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


I can't help noticing that almost all of the SSC critics in this thread are lobbing their criticism from anonymous accounts.

You do know that Scott Alexander is a pseudonym, right?
posted by zombieflanders at 2:32 PM on February 22 [17 favorites]


I feel bad that SSC tarnished the name of all the good Moldbugs out there in the world.
posted by GuyZero at 2:33 PM on February 22


haha, i guess i didn't! That changes things considerably, I'd say.
posted by Kwine at 2:34 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Terrible people do seem to follow Scott around the internet. Maybe it’s a curse?
posted by pharm at 2:36 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Maybe it’s a curse?

Biological determinism more likely. Probably pheromonal.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on February 22 [28 favorites]


I've never read SSC or the threads under discussion but this seemed like an interesting analysis of some community/moderation issues and I enjoyed reading it.

Is the prevailing opinion here that "Scott" deserved the doxing, harassment, etc he got because his views are sufficiently bad?
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:38 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


Is the prevailing opinion here that "Scott" deserved the doxing, harassment, etc he got because his views are sufficiently bad?

if only metafilter had surveys you could adequately re-assess each of us based on the aggregate opinion. so sad.

but for my part I didn't even know he'd been doxxed. I haven't made a bunch of easy dunks on this crew since the last time I brought up Rothko's basilisk. Of course doxxing is bad, sheesh. who is pro-doxxing? it's axiomatically bad. Doxxing is bad and only bad people like it. That people have done worse things to the guy doesn't mean I can't continue to mock his so-called arguments. This is not exactly kicking someone when they're down.
posted by GuyZero at 2:43 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


It sounded to me like he's upset about being doxxed and having trolls calling his workplace to harass him.

Unless he's understating things, the details he's provided sound a lot milder than stories I've heard about feminist and left wing activists being targeted. One person stalked him and lied to try and get him fired - and yes that's inexcusable. But honestly I've heard of similar stories from friends who got that treatment just for being women on the internet.

And the "doxxing" he received he presents of the "I know who you are" kind, not the "I know where you live" kind. The latter is definitely a threat. The former, well, I think there's a legitimate question about how much right to anonymity someone has when they are actively involved in shaping public discussions of politics as more than an individual expressing their opinions. And that's I think a ongoing question as the internet as a format for public discourse continues to take shape.

And the "harassment" isn't people lying about him or saying "he'd batter watch his back" so much as people exercising their freedom of speech to say "yeah, you shouldn't be friends with this guy because his actions are supporting bad people." If you want to say they can't do that, it's definitely curtailing those people's freedom of speech in favor of this guy's right to give a platform to people who hate democracy.

He's written a big long article trying to act like he's in the same boat as feminist commentators who have been harassed off the internet, but he's not. The facts he's using to construct that narrative just aren't in the same ballpark of severity. I know it's something of a judgement call on how bad this sort of thing is, but it seems to me his complaints are both technically correct (barely), and yet dishonest in their presentation.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:47 PM on February 22 [19 favorites]


It’s a paradox - Scott insists on his liberal values & then makes space for people that would happily put him in his friends in the gulag should they ever get power. He’s the left’s idea of a “centrist” made flesh.

So does he deserve to be doxed? No, because that’s a shitty thing to do. Called out for failing to do anything about the space he’s making for Nazi’s to push their ideas? Yeah, I think at some point you have to draw the line.
posted by pharm at 2:48 PM on February 22 [13 favorites]


I'm interested in the phenomenon where the culture war stuff is "quarantined" to the culture war thread, which then grows and grows and becomes an even more salient aspect of the whole. I think a comparison to the MeFi politics threads is interesting -- I know that I have seen people complain in MetaTalk that they feel the culture from those has bled through to the rest of the site. I'm also a member of various Discord servers where a similar struggle has been fought with regards to quarantining political debate and sexual content. The right policy is a mystery to me.

I recently saw this study about Reddit behavior in the aftermath of the bans of large Reddit hate subs, where it seemed like eliminating the subreddits successfully eliminated the majority of the behavior (or at least moved it off Reddit) i.e. it was actually possible to kill it rather than resorting to "quarantining" it. Of course, if the behavior in question is behavior that you actively want, but you just don't want it to dominate discussion everywhere, that's a different story.
posted by value of information at 2:50 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


It's amazing that Scott Alexander complained about liberals and also failed to mention the doxxing and harassment occurred: "when in actual real life scott ended up getting doxxed by some reactionary incel weirdo on the suspicion of having shadowbanned [a far-right weirdo]"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:50 PM on February 22 [11 favorites]


ok well like I said I don't have prior history with SSC so from my perspective this just looks like a big ol' thread of people talking right past the FPP.

but for my part I didn't even know he'd been doxxed.

case in point; this was a significant part of the linked article.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:51 PM on February 22 [14 favorites]


value of information: Vindication of my position on the politics threads!
posted by pharm at 2:54 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


(is that actually grammatical?)
posted by pharm at 2:55 PM on February 22


case in point; this was a significant part of the linked article.

it was 3700 words into the linked article and it's debatable whether it was "significant". Mea culpa, I have terrible reading comprehension.
posted by GuyZero at 2:55 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


So let me get this straight- he got doxxed and harassed by the alt-right he was creating a safe space for in his thread? This strikes me very much as a "lay down with dogs get fleas" situation.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:55 PM on February 22 [10 favorites]


Lay down with Nazi dogs, wake up with Nazi fleas.
posted by valkane at 2:58 PM on February 22 [10 favorites]


What is bizarre is that this thread has continued the conflation of "wants to debate with illiberal ideas" with "has illiberal ideas."

As Karl Popper so famously pointed out with the paradox of tolerance, there can be no debate with illiberal ideas, because illiberal philosophy is literally built on the principle that some people are better than others. Wanting to have the debate is enabling the philosophy, which harms people.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:59 PM on February 22 [21 favorites]


So let me get this straight- he got doxxed and harassed by the alt-right he was creating a safe space for in his thread?

per tmotat's link, somebody on reddit says that one instance of doxxing was perpetrated by an alt-right character on tumblr. The actual FPP presents other information. People should read it!
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:02 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


He may have been doxxed and harassed by people of other political affiliations, but I'd think it's worth a mention, especially if "my working theory is that most of the people I talk to about this kind of thing are Bay Area liberals for whom the thread was their first/only exposure to a space with any substantial right-wing presence at all, "
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:03 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


What is bizarre is that this thread has continued the conflation

Do you really not understand why people would group together all forms of "wants to create a space for illiberal ideas regardless of stated justifications", or do you just rhetorically not understand it? If the former, there's plenty of explanations already in this thread that deserve a careful re-examination.
posted by traveler_ at 3:08 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]


Well prize bull octorok, if you read the article he admits the doxxing/harassment wasn't related entirely to the thread:
"not all of this was because of the Culture War thread. Some of this was because of my own bad opinions and my own bad judgment."
I think we can all agree that doxxing is bad, but it seems to me that this guy is a very unreliable narrator, and the reddit links are helping me understand why people have issues with him and his now closed thread.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:09 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


I'm going to push back against the idea that "doxing" is one singular thing that is universally bad. There are forms of it that are morally equivalent to, say, knowing Bill Cosby is a rapist even though he hadn't been convicted of anything. Or knowing that anti-gay-rights Senator Examplo is actually in the closet and guess who's getting outed! Could a person really sit on the knowledge that abusive Wikipedia edits were coming from a CEO's office with a clean conscience?
posted by traveler_ at 3:13 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


I don't read SSC because I dislike his political tone and I find his writing inefficient. I think he leverages his professional status in his writing to assert his opinions in a way that I don't get much out of. I'll give an example, in this week's post on GPT he mentions P = NP and superficially uses it to makes an argument about AI that takes multiple paragraphs but boils down to an opinion that could have been stated in 3 sentences. Like if it's a personal blog for personal opinions, fine, whatever.
posted by polymodus at 3:16 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


Human: All the cells in the body are unique in their own ways and need to express themselves to their fullest.

Cancer cells: YAY!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:34 PM on February 22 [25 favorites]


> As Karl Popper so famously pointed out with the paradox of tolerance, there can be no debate with illiberal ideas, because illiberal philosophy is literally built on the principle that some people are better than others.
It is perfectly possible to attack the axiomatic foundations on which these philosophies rest. Ignoring these differences implicitly accepts those axioms and is harmful, agreed.

> Wanting to have the debate is enabling the philosophy, which harms people.
The philosophy is already enabled by people believing in and proselytizing it. Not having the debate doesn't change this. If you hold that some ideas are dangerous enough that they should never allowed to be spoken at all, that's where we'll diverge axiomatically.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 3:34 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


I'm very glad it's not possible on Metafilter to "sort by controversial."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:54 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


I feel like a key difference is that people who espouse the absolute free speech free ideas culture have never experienced a case where they were personally harmed by such speech. Like, I'd love to see someone explain empathically to me how such a situation was overcome by such a principle, personally. Showing that there was skin in the game would be a lot more convincing.
posted by polymodus at 3:55 PM on February 22 [13 favorites]


The philosophy is already enabled by people believing in and proselytizing it. Not having the debate doesn't change this.

It does, actually. Let's create an example - let's say that I'm moderating an online space, and a TERF comes in and starts espousing their views, which includes the idea that transgender people don't exist. By "allowing the debate", I am sending a signal that this position has some merit. Which, in turn, tells transgender people that my online space is not safe for them. In comparison, if I don't allow the gender identity of transgender individuals to be put up for debate and boot the TERF, I am telling transgender people that my space is safe for them.

The mistake that you (and Alexander) make is that coexistence is possible, when it's not. And in those cases, I'd rather have the people just wanting to live their lives over the bigots.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:16 PM on February 22 [37 favorites]


NoxAeternum's example isn't just hypothetical. In the comments on Scott's article is a transgender woman Heather who explains in detail exactly how the treatment of trans issues in the culture war thread made her feel unwelcome and unsafe.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 4:25 PM on February 22 [16 favorites]


the criticism is coming from inside the subreddit
Try and empathize with this. From someone who reads SJ-criticism and feels criticized, the thing that's truly angering about the CW threads is to see yourself being criticized by a milquetoast "classical liberal" who is ideologically indistinguishable from Michael Bloomberg in almost every way, and then to see yourself criticized by a guy who just finished posting about how Africa consists almost entirely of violent criminals who for HBD reasons could never be capable of forming a functioning government, and then to see those people look at each other - whether aware or unaware of how wildly different their politics are - and say "Yes, we are on the same page and in the same tribe".

If opposing SJWs is your raison d'etre, then you're going to tolerate a lot of witches in your garden who are willing to join you under that banner. And if opposing SJWs is your raison d'etre, then when people who look like SJWs start criticizing you for tolerating witches, you're going to complain about the SJWs and not the witches. If someone is then linked from outside and sees that you or your subreddit is more interested in complaining about the Left being kinda mean than about the actual racists in their midst, are they wrong?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:33 PM on February 22 [23 favorites]


I was wondering if this would pop up here, and am not really surprised at the tone of some of the comments. (I had to edit this because the recent comments have been pretty good.)

My first thought is that the arguments Scott describes as being used against him sound like what Ian Danskin describes as rhetorical ship-of-Theseus arguments: arguments that, when you dig into the context, turn out to be made of a series of wild leaps that individually could be justifiable, but not when they're used in a clearly bad faith way like this. Danksin makes the point that this technique is always abusive, and crosses ideological boundaries.

Similarly, "Scott Alexander is a bigot" is a wild, wild leap to get to from "Scott Alexander believes that bigotry can be defeated exclusively by reasoned arguments" which I find a little exhausting but I can't say is actually wrong: both Megan Phelps-Roper (ex Westboro) and Derek Black (ex white supremacist) were essentially argued out of their ideologies despite growing up in them and being taught to distrust anything that people trying to persuade them are saying.

The complications are two-fold: it's not clear that the liberal value of argument and debate can work when fascists are invited to defend their ideas, as fascism is designed to essentially exploit, and then subvert, liberal values by building an argument based on fear and loss aversion. There's supposed to be a remedy to this, more speech, but fascists can take over faster than their arguments can be fully dismantled, and fascism is optimised to do so because if it doesn't, it'll choke on its own contradictions.

The other complication is that it's not clear whether these liberal values have ever truly been implemented: the Western philosophers who proposed and championed these values were perfectly willing to ignore the speech of the impoverished, and the Americans who set up a country inspired by these values were often slave owners. There's real limitations on this kind of debate: the people having it both have to agree that the other is part of their in-group and thus worthy of respect, and group psychology tells us if there's an in-group, there has to be an out-group who can't get a fair hearing.
posted by Merus at 4:42 PM on February 22 [12 favorites]


In hindsight, I should have also mentioned the tolerance paradox as a complication, but I think that's covered upthread enough.
posted by Merus at 4:45 PM on February 22


Once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all... Any fair moderation policy won’t provide the moderator with any excuse to delete him. But it will be very embarrassing for to New York Times to have anybody who visits their website see pro-pedophilia manifestos a bunch of the time... “So they should deal with it! That’s the bargain they made when deciding to host the national conversation!” ... No, you don’t understand... Allowing any aspect of your brand to come anywhere near something unpopular and taboo is like a giant Christmas present for people who hate you...

Wow, this is pure. Written by someone claiming to value honest argument. They come out with one of those p*ss-poor excuses for arguments that function purely as trolling. This is self-demonstrating the exact reason not to do this.

It is the NYT's choice which discussions they want to host, and how. It is also their responsibility. If the NYT allowed that discussion as a derail in "every thread about sexual minorities", they would be falling dystopically short of their responsibility.

Child abuse does immense harm to a large number of real people. You might think you have some legitimate purpose to examine arguments that it should be tolerated. But examining those arguments also has real downsides. This amount of harm is something to treat with care and respect. That includes not using it as an X placeholder for a set extreme opinions. Or for that matter, slipping in one "gotcha. maybe I believe in this one? do you?".

It is legitimate to criticize such lack of care.

It certainly leaves me with no expectation of any value to be found here.
posted by sourcejedi at 4:46 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


> I feel like a key difference is that people who espouse the absolute free speech free ideas culture have never experienced a case where they were personally harmed by such speech. Like, I'd love to see someone explain empathically to me how such a situation can be overcome by such a principle. Showing that there was skin in the game would be a lot more convincing.

I would not describe myself as a free speech absolutist but I can see how my comments may be read as such. To clarify my position: I am quite familiar with being harmed by speech. It is not that I want to allow this without consequence -- rather I am intimately interested in allowing communities to discuss a response absolutely including violence. It is extremely important to me that meting violence be decided as a community rather than being monopolized.

In this case the SSC community (appears to have) decided that the profession of e.g. neoreactionary thought was not itself enough to warrant removing that member. Unsatisfied with this, a small portion of people decided to use violence to change that. I recognize that neoreactionary thought is inherently violent but believe that, like people, communities should choose their own boundaries.

(All of this assumes we're dealing with a community where individuals are free to join or leave at any time.)
posted by ReadEvalPost at 4:57 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


In case anybody was wondering what HBD stands for but is hesitant to follow that in fear of what right wing rabbit hole it might lead to: Human BioDiversity, aka "let's come up with pseudoscientific reasons our racial prejudices are justified".
posted by foxfirefey at 5:00 PM on February 22 [19 favorites]


"In case anybody was wondering what HBD stands for..."

Any time I run into a new acronym in a thread like this, I try to avoid learning new vocabulary words. I don't say "oh, never heard that term before, wonder what it means," because it will inevitably be some awful bullshit. Awful bullshit that I now know is part of some people's everyday working vocabulary.
posted by el io at 5:09 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


Not having the debate doesn't change this. If you hold that some ideas are dangerous enough that they should never allowed to be spoken at all, that's where we'll diverge axiomatically.

What we water grows.

If people want to speak they’re welcome to. That doesn’t mean that paying attention to them is necessary or desirable.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:10 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


both Megan Phelps-Roper (ex Westboro) and Derek Black (ex white supremacist) were essentially argued out of their ideologies

IIRC, for both of those cases it took a focussed long term effort — away from the origin communities of these people — and was much more akin to deprogramming than participation in an open forum, or some kind of rationalism incubator or w/ev.
posted by fleacircus at 5:11 PM on February 22 [18 favorites]


> It does, actually. Let's create an example - let's say that I'm moderating an online space, and a TERF comes in and starts espousing their views, which includes the idea that transgender people don't exist. By "allowing the debate", I am sending a signal that this position has some merit.

This is true if you have organized the space to only allow the profession of ideas you and the community believe have merit. (And to clarify my position: this is a completely fine organization of a space. I am definitely not of the opinion all communities should accept any speech.) If the online space is organized by the community such that the expression of value judgements does not imply acceptance by the broader community I do not see how allowing the speech implies merit.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 5:12 PM on February 22


"If the online space is organized by the community such that the expression of value judgements does not imply acceptance by the broader community I do not see how allowing the speech implies merit."

This is largely impossible, though.
posted by klangklangston at 5:14 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]


We don't have to *imagine* what kind of speech is judged to have merit on r/SSC's culture war threads. Reddit has upvotes, and there's a consistent pattern of extremely racist comments (like a defense of the 14 words) getting heavily upvoted and even the most blasé defenses of milquetoast leftism getting heavily downvoted.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 5:16 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


Unsatisfied with this, a small portion of people decided to use violence to change that.

Was it really violence? Everything I saw was words. And if we're counting words as violence, how much worse should comments by "alt-right" people on that site be considered?

Anyway, you're entire approach seems divorced of any knowledge of human beings or the world or America in 2019. What we have seen in reality is that you change people's minds through decades, long full spectrum, propaganda efforts. If one of the nodes in that effort has been shut down, all the better.
posted by Balna Watya at 5:17 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]


This is largely impossible, though.

Not only is it impossible, it's circular logic. Cutting through the logical contortions, "a liberal society cannot produce harmful language" is what the assertion is. But that's the philosophical debate (it's begging the question).
posted by polymodus at 5:20 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


Unsatisfied with this, a small portion of people decided to use violence to change that

No they did not. At least not that I can tell from having read the article. This is why I called his piece dishonest. What he attests to in the article are people naming him, insulting him, and telling his friends that he palled around with terrible people and they should ditch him. That is not violence.

There was on instance, as I previously stated, where someone called his employer and lied to try and get him fired. That does rise to a case of stalking and harassment, though not a violent threat.

Frankly, I am more inclined to agree that having a place where people can argue and be persuaded is possibly a good thing, and he wasn't doing any worse than anyone else in trying to win a war with words instead of guns. But the people who disagree with that, people who think he did real harm? They have a right to free speech, too. They have a right to insult him, to find his friends and tell them he's garbage.

If you're going to accept the guy who wants me killed because I'm gay as having a valid point of view, the person who just wants to share the name of someone who they think is a bad person is certainly less extreme - guess what, they have a valid point of view, too, and can use their free speech to tell the world exactly who you are.

Yeah, the person who went so far as get the guy fired, yeah, they should be punished, but justics must be fair. So should all the other folks from right wing organizations who've done that sort of thing and worse. So should every creep who's gone and stalked and acted threatening to a woman just for being a woman. And then realize that is a really tall order.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:28 PM on February 22 [15 favorites]


The awful culture-war-ness of the culture-war thread didn't bother me as much as the self-congratulatory rationalism: "WE are the people who have the strength of mind and will to debate our ideas; THOSE SJWs are too scared to debate us, they know their ideas wouldn't stand up to rigorous debate." It's a self-congratulation that doesn't take into account how exhausting and how scary it can be to feel surrounded by people who don't think you have the right to exist. (And that's not to deny the people on the other side who were trying hard - but you get super burned out trying to argue with people who absolutely are not arguing in good faith or open to having their minds changed.)

So I don't really care whether the thread exists or not, as long as I don't have to engage with it to do more than point and laugh, but if you want to hold it up as an exemplary model of rational debate, you have to pay attention to what kind of people are getting driven out. (Which is the reason I abandoned SSC's comments section ages before I stopped reading SSC itself.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:44 PM on February 22 [21 favorites]


If the online space is organized by the community such that the expression of value judgements does not imply acceptance by the broader community I do not see how allowing the speech implies merit.

You are saying that someone's identity is up for debate. That's how you are "implying merit".

Again, you're arguing that bigots and their targets should coexist, which is a rather offensive proposition. Simply put, it's the biker bar argument - if you own a bar and a biker gang starts frequenting it, you have only two choices - chase them off, or accept that you now run a biker bar. There is no third option.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:45 PM on February 22 [33 favorites]


Is there a cutesy-but-opaque phrase for the phenomenon where someone deflects a whole bunch of valid criticism by creating a victim narrative around themselves and appealing to The Thing That's Destroying Our Society Today.

The Peruvian Haberdashery? Can we call it that? How about the Artichoke Dilemma
posted by fleacircus at 5:52 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


I'd argue it's a variation of Schrodinger's Douchebag, myself.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:57 PM on February 22 [8 favorites]


It's difficult to respond to all comments and I don't want to monopolize this thread. I am happy to address anything in MeMail. Two quick points:

> Was it really violence? Everything I saw was words.
> There was on instance, as I previously stated, where someone called his employer and lied to try and get him fired. That does rise to a case of stalking and harassment, though not a violent threat.

My use of the word violence was not precise and it needs to be for that word. "Unsatisfied with this, a small portion of people decided to use harassment to change that" is indeed more accurate.

> Not only is it impossible, it's circular logic. Cutting through the logical contortions, "a liberal society cannot produce harmful language" is what the assertion is. But that's the philosophical debate (it's begging the question).

That is absolutely not what I meant to assert. Rather: "a community may allow for expression of harmful language without accepting it as true."
posted by ReadEvalPost at 6:00 PM on February 22


Rather: "a community may allow for expression of harmful language without accepting it as true."

Nope. If you say "this language is accepable in our community", you are legitimizing it in your community. You don't get to make a safe space for bigots and then pretend you're not enabling them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:06 PM on February 22 [20 favorites]


There's also this question of "what is this really achieving?" when it comes to these discussions. If 13% of participants in a discussion say they're "against homosexuality" in 2019, it doesn't seem to me that any kind of further earnest rational discussion is going to serve any productive purpose or convince them to change their mind. There aren't revolutionary new arguments for accepting gay people that are just waiting to be developed and unleashed on homophobes; nobody's going to flip sides if they're presented with a suitably persuasive scientific study or thought experiment in an internet discussion forum. Nothing is achieved by such a discussion, and there's plenty of harm that comes from holding a referendum on whether someone's identity is valid.
posted by zachlipton at 6:13 PM on February 22 [18 favorites]


here aren't revolutionary new arguments for accepting gay people that are just waiting to be developed and unleashed on homophobes; nobody's going to flip sides if they're presented with a suitably persuasive scientific study or thought experiment in an internet discussion forum. Nothing is achieved by such a discussion, and there's plenty of harm that comes from holding a referendum on whether someone's identity is valid.

Even if one accepts that such a referendum had value or that it might convince homophobes to change their opinions (which to be clear, I do not personally accept), it does not follow that having that discussion anywhere, anytime has value. Trying to have an all-encompassing "culture wars" thread is inviting everyone with a grudge to come in and put their bigotry on display, not trying to create an environment in which those who are not homophobic explain why this is a rational position to take.
posted by thegears at 6:22 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


"This man was not Voltaire, that we downvoted"
posted by thelonius at 7:39 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


if you own a bar and a biker gang starts frequenting it, you have only two choices - chase them off, or accept that you now run a biker bar. There is no third option.

This is so spot on, this whole story reminds me of Hunter Thompson and his book, Hells Angels. The only difference is, unlike Mr. Anonymous Blog-Dude, Thompson kinda knew what he was doing.

Hunter was fascinated by the brutes that he ran into during his delving into the counterculture; they were kinda fun, even though he knew intellectually they were violent pieces of shit. And in the end, he got his ass kicked by them. But unlike this psychiatrist, or whatever this guy claims to be, he never blamed them. Thompson knew that what he reported might have consequences.

This guy isn’t a journalist, per se, but then what is he? A blogger?

This story also reminds me of P.J. O’Rourke talking about going back to his university newspaper, where the staff were arguing about whether or not they should print a Pro-American Nazi advertisement. It was all about arguing as to whether or not free speech came into play. P.J. said he was surprised that none of the kids on staff ever considered just throwing the piece of shit ad into the garbage.

Because that’s what it boils down to. Either you’re a for-real journalist, or a piece of shit fence-sitter. Either you’re willing to stand up for fellow human beings, or sit at the same table as racists and sexists and foul brutes.
posted by valkane at 7:40 PM on February 22 [15 favorites]


So part of his proof the Culture War threads aren't biased is something from fifty years ago in 2018. He looked at ten random top comments from one CW thread (out of "thousands of comments per week") He made his own judgment of the ideological slant of the comments and determined they were roughly balanced out: four neutral, three left-liberal, four "center right", which means no further right than the National Review, and therefore not far right.

Imagine thinking that settled the matter. It's pretty wild. In this post today, he cites this then turns around and accuses people who disagree of being the ones who are biased because they live in a bubble.

You can read the comments as linked from his tumblr yourself if you want. I did, back when. A comment fishing for an anti-Affirmative Action counter to a pro-Affirmative Action argument, from a user who later says they are "fairly firmly anti-AA" is LEFT-LIBERAL. A piñata-hoisting comment like, "most cultural appropriations claims are bogus, this one may not be, y'all want to take a swing?" is LEFT-LIBERAL. A gotcha comment making you think it's mad about Sarah Jeong, but it's fake-mad about Laura Ingraham, you hypocrite, is LEFT-LIBERAL. That's all the left-liberal ones. Not sure which one was supposed to be the "left" part of the left-liberal.
posted by fleacircus at 12:04 AM on February 23 [18 favorites]


I always thought it would be fun/funny to send a flotilla of Marxists to SSC - I don't think they're really prepared to deal with that.
posted by atoxyl at 1:25 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


I always thought it would be fun/funny to send a flotilla of Marxists to SSC - I don't think they're really prepared to deal with that.

Oh, I think they are. Actual leftists would get shouted down and then banned. For fuck's sake, dipshit cites Popper in support of platforming the neonazi voice? As one critic of SSC's carefully cultivated community pointed out, "I once got banned for 10 days just for suggesting that opposition to gay marriage was motivated by homophobia, while in the background white supremacists were going around calling motherfuckers "mulattos" and "mixed breeds", and citing the Nazi proverb that "the Jew cries out in pain even as he strikes you"."

The cryptofash allegations are honestly pretty credible. HBD is just white ethnonationalism with a catchy acronym, and the fact that Scott Alexander is a big proponent of it is very telling.
posted by kafziel at 2:40 AM on February 23 [26 favorites]


I don't think they're really prepared to deal with that

As kafziel says, maybe they are prepared, but I know for sure I'm not prepared to deal with a place like SSC. Good mental health choices and all that.

I'll stick to checking in on Tankies vs Ultras if I feel the need to observe a swirling, endless morass of vitriolic discussion. At least they don't tolerate hate speech.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 3:32 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Huh - I got the impression that they don't like banning people very often but maybe it's true that they only let the far-right guys stay. I had assumed that far-left folks just weren't that interested.

I don't know if my fantasy was more to have a Red Kahina/Phil Greaves style crank show up and give them hell, or someone with real heterodox economics cred and argumentative skills.
posted by atoxyl at 4:00 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


SSC go on Chapo you coward.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:16 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


"Human Biodiversity (HBD)" is more specifically a euphemism for eugenics.

Slash pedant.
posted by Yowser at 8:28 AM on February 23


Allowing any aspect of your brand to come anywhere near something unpopular and taboo is like a giant Christmas present for people who hate you...

So, this is another part of the problem, one I keep harping on in thread after thread - the use of euphemistic language to avoid the actual discussion at hand. Terms like "unpopular" and "taboo" are used to avoid actually discussing why something might be such, because that discussion carries with it the potential to realize, Mitchell and Webb style, that you are in fact one of the baddies. It's a form of bad faith, and it needs to be recognized as such.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:35 AM on February 23 [16 favorites]


The most sea-lioning of sea lions.

"Scott Alexander" should be be sat down for a few days in front of a character actor reading some of his own old posts in a William F. Buckley accent. The whole idea of a "Culture War" has always betrayed such a facile understanding of both of those words.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:54 AM on February 23 [7 favorites]


Anyway we've talked about SSC before and I get the appeal of some of his writing, but from what I've seen the reddit is about what you'd expect SSC + Reddit to be and the culture war threads the most obnoxious example of that.
posted by atoxyl at 11:55 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I notice a lot of people commenting about how the internet pre-2000 was so much better, without any seeming awareness of what an echo chamber it was at the time. In the cases where I even mentioned being female back then I regularly ran into people who simply assumed I was lying because I was too knowledgeable or not flirty enough or just that "there are no women on the internet." It only felt more civil if you were made of unmarked categories.
posted by Karmakaze at 4:12 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


There's an entire faction of feminists who violently attack trans men and women.

What? Who exactly is this entire faction of feminists?

I'm aware of TERFs from subreddits like GenderCritical, but they're not literally violently attacking anybody.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:28 PM on February 23


Adorno in America - "In their interviews and empirical research, the team behind The Authoritarian Personality consistently found cases of the tolerant and egalitarian enfolding more racist and anti-Semitic views. Rather than simply seeing the first as a mask for the second, however, the authors attempted to show how imbricated the two views were and how easily they could co-habit in the same mind."

"In case anybody was wondering what HBD stands for..."

i thought it stood for happy birthday!
posted by kliuless at 11:14 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Of course doxxing is bad, sheesh. who is pro-doxxing? it's axiomatically bad. Doxxing is bad and only bad people like it.

Doxxing Nazis is a very valid Antifa tactic, and it has been used countless times to shut active racists down. I know that it isn't allowed here and that the subject of this thread wasn't doxxed for being a Nazi, but I personally don't think that doxxing is always bad.

It's kind of like punching, in that regard. Punching is usually the wrong thing to do, but sometimes it's the right thing to do, including when punching Nazis.
posted by bootlegpop at 11:17 PM on February 23 [10 favorites]


I think I’ve become afraid, bitter, paranoid, and quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with me (along a dimension that too closely resembles some of the really bad people I’ve had to deal with) is a bad actor who needs to be discredited and destroyed.
This seems to be where the whole Internet - including Metafilter - has gone.
posted by clawsoon at 8:57 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


Pruitt-Igoe:I'm aware of TERFs from subreddits like GenderCritical, but they're not literally violently attacking anybody.

Some TERFs have had great sport (as they saw it) deliberately outing trans people to their communities or employers in the hope that they would be sacked from their jobs & forced into poverty. I imagine the people on the receiving end of that treatment felt violated, whether or not any actual physical violence was used.
posted by pharm at 9:16 AM on February 24 [9 favorites]


NB. The threat of violence from the knuckle-draggers in said trans people’s communities would be very real & the TERFs in question were clearly happy to expose them to the very real risk of physical assault. I think that counts as a literal attack. It certainly does for me.

(To draw a parallel - is someone who calls in a SWAT team on their personal online hate figure using violence? I think so & the same goes for the TERFs deliberately outing trans people.)
posted by pharm at 9:22 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I think I’ve become afraid, bitter, paranoid, and quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with me (along a dimension that too closely resembles some of the really bad people I’ve had to deal with) is a bad actor who needs to be discredited and destroyed.

Again with the euphemistic weasel wording. This is one of the most pervasive forms of bad faith argumentation that I see these days - the abuse of the word "difference" to obscure the actual argument at hand (and that one may not be on the right side of it.) It's so prevalent, I've started calling it the "difference of opinion" fallacy.

At this point, whenever I see or hear it now, I'm reminded of the response to the South fighting for "state's rights":
"A state's right to do what, sir?
That statement, to me, illustrates why this is a bad faith argument clearly, and cuts through the deception in it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:29 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Another comment from sneerclub about the problems with rationalism in general and Scott Alexander in particular:
The thing with a lot of SA's writings (and a lot of general LW/rationalist/r/ssc discussion) is they take the form of "person trying to figure out some things based on not much background knowledge and first principles", these things tend to sound appealing or convincing to people who also aren't familiar with the subjects involved.

Many rationalist takes on subjects that the person is not an expert on end up being wrong or nonsense (see the recent discussion about probability, and also a lot of Yud's work), but are taken as gospel by the community.
Me at 20 years old.
posted by clawsoon at 9:38 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


This seems to be where the whole Internet - including Metafilter - has gone.

Huh, that seems pretty reductive to me. From over here "discredited" is veeeery different from "destroyed," and the latter seems to show up a lot more in the SSC context than the MF one.

Sadly some of us felt at least partly justified in knee-jerking a bit when a not-insignificant chunk the English-speaking world went from edgelording to full-on vocally ethno-nationalist and voted to affirm it.

Like, a lot of people are just actually pretty shitty, and even more of them are bad critical thinkers, and parroting certain kinds of echo-chamber bullshit might mean one or the other or both. So when someone is clearly doing that, there's a pretty quick slide from "I disagree with this person" to "ah, I know how this shit plays out, nope nope nope."

F'rinstance I've been around long enough to know that arguing Curtis Yarvin (or whatever he's calling himself these days) "has some good points" is a strong indicator of being a fucking misogynist.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:43 AM on February 24 [9 favorites]


aspersioncast: Like, a lot of people are just actually pretty shitty, and even more of them are bad critical thinkers, and parroting certain kinds of echo-chamber bullshit might mean one or the other or both. So when someone is clearly doing that, there's a pretty quick slide from "I disagree with this person" to "ah, I know how this shit plays out, nope nope nope."

Aye, perhaps it's the case that the assumption of bad faith is, in fact, the realistic position.

Sigh.
posted by clawsoon at 9:50 AM on February 24


perhaps it's the case that the assumption of bad faith is, in fact, the realistic position.

I mean I totally feel you that that sucks, and it means sometimes not actually engaging with people who are genuinely trying to understand something, and that seems super-regrettable.

Getting MetaTalk-y, but I don't see any real way to thread the needle without heavy moderation and a lot of self-policing, which basically gets you this forum here, warts and all. This is one of the few places on the internet that I generally assume good faith, but we learned not long ago that plenty of that is probably due to a huge volume of deleted comments.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:53 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, this thread has alerted me to some helpful criticisms of rationalism, like the SSC reddit thread asking experts what they think of rationalist discussions of their area of expertise.
posted by clawsoon at 11:00 AM on February 24


That, plus a fair amount of self-censorship - at this point regular commentators here know pretty much the boundaries of what is likely to be allowed to stay up & if they have differing opinions on some topics? Well, they probably keep those to themselves.

I think some of the grief over the loss of culture war thread is over the loss of a space where this wasn’t true, or at least wasn’t true for a much wider range of acceptable ideas than you’ll ever see espoused on Metafilter. That’s a genuine loss for those people.

(As a regular r/sneerclub reader I’m probably required to add that if you’ve open up your forum to the point that the alt-right & neo-reactionaries are using it as a happy hunting ground for new recruits, it’s probably time you re-examined your priorities in life. See: paradox of tolerance etc etc.)
posted by pharm at 11:06 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


SSC lifecycle, from SneerClub:
  1. Wow, these are really informed people who hold really interesting discussions, despite the occasional weird jargon and strange selection of recurring topics.
  2. Jeez, I've never seen someone say such a horrible thing with no apology or qualification; interesting that the rest of them don't seem to mind.
  3. I never thought I was the kind of person to do it, but this seems like a nice congenial place to hold a discussion so I guess I'll take a polite stand for basic human decency that almost everyone will agree with, since no one else has done it yet.
  4. Hm, there's a lot of pushback, but maybe it'll build character to have dialogues with these people and learn how they got to be like this.
  5. Well, at least it'll sharpen my debating skills and help me realize what I believe in.
  6. Well, somebody has to die on this hill so at least we can say the good guys went down fighting.
  7. Ugh, this is turning me into a hostile crank and I'm sure I'm not changing any minds, so maybe I'll just let the snowflakes have their safe space and quietly lurk for the less toxic topics.
  8. I don't actually care what these people think about any topic or put any trust in the information that they seemed to possess, so I'm not learning anything here except that some people are too far gone and talking to them is fruitless, which is the opposite of what I expected.
posted by clawsoon at 1:42 PM on February 24 [14 favorites]


From the comments on the SSC lifecycle post:
the whole expansive Rationalist community, with all its diverse intellectual interests far beyond science and math, is LARPing academia.
It me. :-(
posted by clawsoon at 2:27 PM on February 24 [8 favorites]


Don't forget the hypergraphia: gee, this is a 20,000 word essay on a topic, there must be something really important to learn here.

[RON HOWARD VOICEOVER]

There was nothing important to learn there.
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on February 24 [14 favorites]


As someone put it earlier, it's academia cosplay. It's trying to adopt the form of academic discourse without understanding the spirit. (Not to say that academia doesn't have it's own issues with bigotry, of course - but at the same time the academy does boot cranks out.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:30 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


Alexander's problem is he thinks he can be neutral on a core disagreement between conservatives and liberals.

Liberals believe (as a liberal, I would say "recognize") that our society is stacked against some people, not because of their unpopular opinions, but because of who they are. In an unmoderated discussion, those people are at a disadvantage, again, not because they are defending a minority opinion but because they are having to defend their existence as people who deserve to be treated as equals. A comment section that doesn't take this dynamic into account is unfairly biased against them.

Conservatives believe that the above is not true.

You can't have a comment section with a neutral stance between conservatives and liberals on this issue.
posted by straight at 11:29 AM on February 25 [9 favorites]


I'd shift that a little bit, because I don't think "liberal" and "conservative" are very useful descriptors here due to some definitional/usage problems. Like, Alexander nominally identifies as a liberal, but he illustrates something that's been a known issue with liberal pluralistic democracies for a while: that people who don't believe in liberal pluralistic democracy can exploit structural weaknesses to undermine it (related to the aforementioned Popper toleration paradox). The go-to example is usually fascists using the procedures of liberal pluralistic democracy to destroy liberal pluralistic democracy. You can't have a fruitful discussion with people who don't agree on some basic premises, and a large part of the strategy of antagonists to pluralistic liberal democracy is bad faith — not just crypto-fascists, but also the very real strategy of Communist front organizations. But where Communism is based on a radical egalitarianism, fascism is based on hierarchical domination that is inherently opposed to the notion of egalitarianism that is inherent in most foundations of liberalism, even as liberals are often willing to excuse unequal outcomes or starting points — it's that notion of egalitarian process that bad faith actors exploit, including fascists and crypto-fascists, arguing that their ideas should be treated the same under that value of equal process. But without a commitment to actual egalitarian ideals, there's no reason to include them under the aegis of fair discussion.

Just wanted to push back because I think getting a little more technical than the colloquial versions of "liberal" and "conservative" is worthwhile here.
posted by klangklangston at 12:45 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was purposely being kinda vague with my labels there. Alexander's crowd would probably say it was a divide between classical liberals and SJW's. But however you divide them, there's a fundamental disagreement about what counts as a fair and open forum for discussion.

You might say it's a disagreement about whether it's more important for all ideas to be included or for all people to be included.
posted by straight at 1:08 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


You might say it's a disagreement about whether it's more important for all ideas to be included or for all people to be included.

What's revolting is how the former tries to square the circle - they argue that it's the fault of those victimized for leaving the forum, and that they should just have "thicker skins".

Of course, hold their dialogue up for criticism, and they very quickly start looking for their own "safe space" (that is, some place where they can be unaccountable for what they say.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:46 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


what's wrong with the current media ecosystem:
This is the fundamental difference between the old blogosphere and the current media environment. In the OB, the main mode of engagement was not between bloggers and their commentators--it was between bloggers and other *bloggers.*

That took more investment. The barriers to entry to starting your own blog are not as high as starting your own twitter--but the cost of writing up a blog post were certainly larger than the cost of sending off a tweet.

[...]

OK, so let's re-cap. The current media environment is dominated by aggregators, which throw everyone and everything into one vast soup. This makes it difficult to set up distinct little communities that can do their own thing separate from the broader currents of the culture war.

As part of one big soup, the psychos will find you--and not only that, they will chase you across platforms and spaces, which are porous enough to make that possible.

This puts insane pressure on mods, impossibly tasked w/ creating impartial rules to govern these 'communities.'

The old media environment, in contrast, was a thousand smaller archipelagos only loosely linked together. These were true communities. Yet these communities lacked overarching moderators or rule-makers--every node in the network ruled itself.

This gave trolls little room to play in (or they had to become much smarter in their tactics), kept drama from one community from spilling into another, and made it easy to establish a sense of shared expectations and norms. There was always the the option to create your own node in the network.

There were also two side benefits to all this: a more elevated discussion generally, and the ability for talented no-names to rise in their chosen communities on the strength of their ideas and writing.

This is not the entire story. Obviously the polarization of American society writ large is part of the reason thing are the way they are now. But I believe things would be significantly saner if twitter, tumblr, and reddit were not around to make things worse.
posted by kliuless at 6:09 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


You have to love the mythmaking the "rationalist" set does to try to put the blame for enabling bigots and white supremacists anywhere but their own actions. Also, note the euphemistic language the author of the thread uses to avoid grappling with who, exactly, they're enabling - "stupid people", "psychos", etc. The purpose is to evade responsibility, and instead create a strawman on whom the blame can be dumped.

Let's also note the fetishization of "fairness" (which seems to be a reoccurring thing here as well). This is highlighted with this comment:
This puts insane pressure on mods, impossibly tasked w/ creating impartial rules to govern these 'communities.'
The reality is that the successful communities online do not have impartial rules. For example, mods at r/askhistorians do not allow Holocaust denial on their subreddit, and boot anyone who brings it up. That's not an "impartial" rule - it pretty specifically says that one specific idea is strictly verboten there! And yet, it's an important rule that protects the community there because it says that those who believe in that idea are not welcome and will find no succor there. This very website has similar rules as well, which is part of why it's endured.

In short, the reason the "rationalists" have issues with bigots and white supremacists is simple - they refuse to kick them out. Perhaps they should give that a try.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:47 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to nostalgia over the days of blogs, but I don't really buy that person's characterizations.. Twitter is a special case with a unique structure and a special relation to real media who have chosen to live there. But Reddit is the archipelago they are talking about. Tumblr is an archipelago of bloggish things with an internal aggregator. They are not all "soups". So when the author of those tweets generalizes from Twitter to Reddit/Tumblr it's baffling to me.

And I mean there's still blogs, there's still irc and usenet and phpBB and mailing lists and discords. There's even weird old unthreaded general interest link discussion sites. SomethingAwful and 4chan are also their own archipelagos and some parts are "actually not so bad". There's communities galore. What's really different is that people are radicalized more, I think. Some of that is because of social media but a lot of it is just that history didn't actually end and the world is still changing.

More specifically, while I don't really know anything about the author of those tweets, if they are involved in the skeptic community and those are the bloggy salad days they are remembering fondly — well, the skeptic community has undergone a massive reactionary shift, and it's not Twitter's fault.
posted by fleacircus at 9:45 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Or maybe more women and people of color are on the internet and the white dudes who used to dominate the discourse even more than they do now can't handle hearing what they have to say.
posted by straight at 10:28 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


« Older “I need to sleep, I can't get no sleep”   |   Phone Apps quietly ship data to big companies, in... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.