The New York Times vs. Slate Star Codex
February 13, 2021 2:04 PM   Subscribe

In June of 2020, Scott Alexander, author of the popular and influential rationalist blog Slate Star Codex [previously] deleted the blog entirely:
Last week I talked to a New York Times technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex. [...] Unfortunately, he told me he had discovered my real name and would reveal it in the article, ie doxx me. “Scott Alexander” is my real first and middle name, but I’ve tried to keep my last name secret. I haven’t always done great at this, but I’ve done better than “have it get printed in the New York Times”.
The article has run. The headline: Silicon Valley's Safe Space.
posted by Sokka shot first (331 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Looks like the archives were restored, but the newest post there is indeed from June 2020. You don't miss your water until your 'well actually' runs dry.
posted by thelonius at 2:09 PM on February 13 [24 favorites]


Ah, the end of TFA says that he restarted the blog at a new site 2 weeks ago.
posted by thelonius at 2:18 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Here's a paywall free link
posted by signsofrain at 2:18 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I haven't read the article and I'm going to reserve most comment until I do, but within the commentary I have seen, something seems way out of proportion in the controversy here, and from what I understand it might have something to do with the social and economic status of SSC fans.
posted by rhizome at 2:19 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


The whole tone and tenor of this article feels more junior high vengeful than anything else. I think maybe there are topics of interest in there, but the way the whole thing is told is, to me, really off-putting.

The whole "you must have a place to discuss ideas" canard is really dumb if you aren't discarding the bad ideas from the discussion pile. I don't know how these supposedly thinking people can't see this, but apparently it's endemic in certain groups.
posted by hippybear at 2:21 PM on February 13 [20 favorites]


I got an email from a former member of the GamerGate movement, offering advice on managing PR. It was very thorough and they had obviously put a lot of effort into it, but it was all premised on this idea that GamerGate was some kind of shining PR success, even though as I remember it they managed to take a complaint about a video game review and mishandle it so badly that they literally got condemned by the UN General Assembly. But it's the thought that counts, and I am humbled by their support.
When this is what you point to as "people who showed me support in this ordeal who I'm humbled by", I've got questions.

Also relevant, a thread from Elizabeth Sandifer, writer of Neoreaction a Basilisk, on the subject.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:21 PM on February 13 [36 favorites]


I read that gamergate paragraph as sarcasm, fwiw.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 2:37 PM on February 13 [35 favorites]




When this is what you point to as "people who showed me support in this ordeal who I'm humbled by", I've got questions.

The surrounding paragraphs are just Scott giving examples of the weirdest emails he got and saying that he was "humbled by their support", for humorous effect. Here's the preceding paragraph:

I got an email from a very angry man who believed I personally wrote the entirety of Slate.com. He told me I was a hypocrite for wanting privacy even though Slate.com had apparently published some privacy-violating stories. I tried to correct him, but it seemed like his email client only accepted replies from people on his contact list. I think this might be what the Catholics call "invincible ignorance". But, uh, I'm sure if we got a chance to sort it out I would have been humbled by his support.
posted by martinrebas at 2:42 PM on February 13 [31 favorites]


The article came off a bit hard to follow. So there's a blog where people with Engineer's Disease gather to discuss ideas? And often their "rational" ideas tend towards the socially conservative? But also AI?
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:50 PM on February 13 [34 favorites]


Regarding "safe spaces", speech, and silicon valley: SSC is one of the rare voices that has SV currency that I've found *not* to be casually freezepeach.

This passage from a sprawling 2014 post has seemed extra-prescient to me for the last four years:
imagine a country full of bioweapon labs, where people toil day and night to invent new infectious agents. The existence of these labs, and their right to throw whatever they develop in the water supply is protected by law. And the country is also linked by the world’s most perfect mass transit system that every single person uses every day, so that any new pathogen can spread to the entire country instantaneously. You’d expect things to start going bad for that city pretty quickly.

Well, we have about a zillion think tanks researching new and better forms of propaganda. And we have constitutionally protected freedom of speech. And we have the Internet. So we’re kind of screwed.
The scissor-statement piece (previously) is essentially about the same thing.

Maybe I haven't spent enough time on SSC to sample whatever white supremacy and fascism flavors there may be when they're on offer... or maybe the NYT doesn't have its perspective dialed in here and is reaching for something to offset the "Biden's watch" story, with about as much substance.
posted by wildblueyonder at 2:53 PM on February 13 [16 favorites]


I found it a useful tool for myself, when following the earlier twists and turns of this story and the journalist's push to identify the author of the blog, to ask "How would everyone be acting and reacting if the anonymous author were a woman?"
posted by PhineasGage at 2:55 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


"[Mr. Siskind] believed in absolute free speech."

Hmm, seems like he should therefore be in full support of the NYT "doxxing" him, then, no? Wouldn't want to inhibit their speech in any way.
posted by axiom at 2:57 PM on February 13 [20 favorites]


So there's a blog where people with Engineer's Disease gather to discuss ideas? And often their "rational" ideas tend towards the socially conservative? But also AI?

Hacker News is another site that fits the above description almost exactly (and indeed Slate Star Codex posts often land on HN's front page, so it seems clear that their fanbases are much the same people).
posted by splitpeasoup at 3:00 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


So, there's a blog where people who claim to base all their judgements on "rational thinking," and the best they can come up with is, "there are three tribes: Blue, Red, & Gray"?
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:01 PM on February 13 [24 favorites]


Maybe I haven't spent enough time on SSC to sample whatever white supremacy and fascism flavors might be on offer

Quoting the article (and don't forget the sexism/misgyny):
As he explored science, philosophy and A.I., he also argued that the media ignored that men were often harassed by women. He described some feminists as something close to Voldemort, the embodiment of evil in the Harry Potter books. He said that affirmative action was difficult to distinguish from “discriminating against white men.”

In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”

He denounced the neoreactionaries, the anti-democratic, often racist movement popularized by Curtis Yarvin. But he also gave them a platform. His “blog roll” — the blogs he endorsed — included the work of Nick Land, a British philosopher whose writings on race, genetics and intelligence have been embraced by white nationalists.

In 2017, Mr. Siskind published an essay titled “Gender Imbalances Are Mostly Not Due to Offensive Attitudes.” The main reason computer scientists, mathematicians and other groups were predominantly male was not that the industries were sexist, he argued, but that women were simply less interested in joining.
Although, yes, a pretty fair amount of the more obvious white supremacy and fascism (often disguised as "meritocracy") was in the comments, themselves often almost as long and complex as the blog posts proper.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:02 PM on February 13 [33 favorites]


The frustrating thing about this article is that it makes a lot of insinuations, but doesn't fully expand on them. Elizabeth Sandifer and Scott Aaronson both make this argument from opposite ends.
posted by airmail at 3:04 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I found it a useful tool for myself, when following the earlier twists and turns of this story and the journalist's push to identify the author of the blog, to ask "How would everyone be acting and reacting if the anonymous author were a woman?"

The journalist's "push" was using a search engine, finding out SSC's identity was an open secret, and then when SSC threw a tantrum Metz tells him "bruh, even Google autocomplete knows who you are." That SSC then used this to weaponize the language of targets of actual harassment and threats as a way to martyr himself just makes him even more slimy.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 3:18 PM on February 13 [53 favorites]


Hmm, seems like he should therefore be in full support of the NYT "doxxing" him, then, no?

I have yet to meet a free speech absolutist who doesn’t turn tail and bolt when the consequences of their beliefs get personal. There’s nothing new or interesting about this guy’s story arc.
posted by mhoye at 3:20 PM on February 13 [89 favorites]


This sounds like pure male nonsense -- Tumblr for white men. "Discouraging private citizens from sharing their thoughts in blog form"? Nothing seems to discourage these creatures.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:25 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


I found it a useful tool for myself, when following the earlier twists and turns of this story and the journalist's push to identify the author of the blog, to ask "How would everyone be acting and reacting if the anonymous author were a woman?"
I feel like this kind of turnaround feels very meaningful but actually isn't. We all know that if the author of the blog in question had been a woman who was seen to be on the "other side," then the response of some of SA's defenders would have been to try to destroy her life. She would be harassed, threatened, possibly SWATed. Her employers would be harassed and threatened in an attempt, which may very well have be successful, to get her fired. Her family would be harassed, threatened, and possibly SWATed. This would go on for months, if not years. That's not going to happen to SA, in large part because he's not a woman, but also because the people who do that stuff see him as an ally.

I guess I'm not really sure I understand what naming SA accomplishes, but I don't think it's in any way the same thing as doxxing someone for whom being doxxed is putting a target on their back.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:32 PM on February 13 [26 favorites]


SSC lifecycle:
  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.
When you think that social justice is a threat to free speech but white supremacy and "human biodiversity" aren't, you end up with a community that's ultimately rotten no matter how intelligent most of the conversation seems to be.
posted by clawsoon at 3:32 PM on February 13 [165 favorites]


This didn’t seem worth deleting his account over.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:38 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya, Scott.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 3:38 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


So, there's a blog where people who claim to base all their judgements on "rational thinking," and the best they can come up with is, "there are three tribes: Blue, Red, & Gray"?

I mean, it seems more intellectually rigorous when it takes you 30,000 words to say it . . .

And that's the synopsis.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:40 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


Whatever magic I saw in SSC long disappeared once I read the comments. The community that formed from SSC's free-for-all threads, /r/TheMotte, captures the negativity of a particular strain of SSC fans all in one spot. Once I saw that quality in its distilled form, I couldn't help but see it in its dilute form too.

My guess is that the "outrage --> eyeballs --> money" cycle will probably take hold from here on, enabling that pernicious sub-population to eventually dominate readership and content. I hope not, but it seems likely to me.
posted by GammaGoblin at 3:45 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


So, it's a bunch of people who like smelling their own farts but don't want to smell anyone else's? Do I have that right?
posted by KingEdRa at 3:46 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


So, it's a bunch of people who like smelling their own farts but don't want to smell anyone else's? Do I have that right?

Basically, but you missed the 30,000 words explaining why their own farts are, according to all the rules of logic, evidence, and Bayesian inference, the only farts worthy of smelling.
posted by clawsoon at 4:04 PM on February 13 [40 favorites]


SSC lifecycle:
Wow, these are really informed people who hold really interesting discussions, despite the occasional weird jargon and strange selection of recurring topics.
*snip*
posted by clawsoon at 3:32 PM on February 13


Heh. It's likely due to the fact that I was teenage libertarian, and spent a decade as an engineer, so I'm more attuned to this sort of stuff, but my SSC lifecycle was more like:
1. Gets a link to a post from a friend. "Huh, interesting name for a website."
2. Visits site. "Oh, just more Randian, Rationalist, libertarian bullshit. No thanks."
posted by Anoplura at 4:07 PM on February 13 [32 favorites]


I wonder if Qanon is already starting to gain converts among this group. They seem prone to cultish and conspiratorial and racist/sexist thinking. Many of them may be atheists but we're tragically learning that Qanon is very, very big tent.
posted by treepour at 4:08 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Alexander's response to people who suggested he should try to convince NYT that he was in as much danger as women or other vulnerable people whose anonymity they would be more inclined to respect:
Why didn't I do this? Partly because it wasn't true. I don't think I had particularly strong arguments on any of these points. The amount I dislike death threats is basically the average amount that the average person would dislike them. The amount I would dislike losing my job...and et cetera. Realistically, my anonymity let me feel safe and comfortable. But it probably wasn't literally necessary to keep me alive...

But the other reason I didn't do it was...well, suppose Power comes up to you and says hey, I'm gonna kick you in the balls. And when you protest, they say...as long as you can prove that kicking you in the balls will cause long-term irrecoverable damage, they'll hold off...There's no dignified way to answer any of these questions except "fuck you." Just don't kick me in the balls!

In the New York Times' worldview, they start with the right to dox me, and I had to earn the right to remain anonymous by proving I'm the perfect sympathetic victim who satisfies all their criteria of victimhood. But in my worldview, I start with the right to anonymity, and they need to make an affirmative case for doxxing me. If anything happened at work, it would probably inconvenience me and my patients, but probably wouldn't literally kill either of us... Still! Don't kick me in the fucking balls!

I don't think anyone at the Times bore me ill will, at least not originally. But somehow that just made it even more infuriating...The main emotion I was able to pick up from them was annoyance that I was making their lives harder by making a big deal out of this. For them, it was Tuesday.

It's bad enough to get kicked in the balls because Power hates you. But it's infuriating to have it happen because Power can't bring itself to care.
posted by straight at 4:11 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


So, there's a blog where people who claim to base all their judgements on "rational thinking," and the best they can come up with is, "there are three tribes: Blue, Red, & Gray"?

Rational thinking... more like reductionist thinking, amirite? Actually, I'm not sure if there's much daylight between the two in those circles.
posted by un petit cadeau at 4:13 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


(Note that big quote is that long after I drastically edited it. Alexander never makes a point once when he can restate six times it with different examples.)
posted by straight at 4:13 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I went looking for one of the useful posts that I remember from SSC, where he talked about some of the really interesting research linking lead, interventions to remove lead from homes, and crime, but instead I found him talking about vegetable oil and homicide rates.
posted by clawsoon at 4:16 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Hacker News is another site that fits the above description almost exactly (and indeed Slate Star Codex posts often land on HN's front page, so it seems clear that their fanbases are much the same people).

I think HN is the farm team in this relationship.
posted by rhizome at 4:18 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]


Nooo now there’s no place left for boring sapiosexuals to post ten page musings about other people’s rights.
posted by theodolite at 4:28 PM on February 13 [31 favorites]


The thing is, Scott is a psychiatrist who would regularly blog lightly-disguised anecdotes about his patients. Prospective patients absolutely have a right to know this, and that the people who regularly read his blog could figure out his identity, and link that to anything an acquaintance might say about the psychiatrist they go to, makes things even worse.
posted by rishabguha at 4:29 PM on February 13 [57 favorites]


I'm so sad to see how tech culture has evolved in the last 25 years. It's always had a history of sexism and racism and stupid libertarianism, I won't deny that. But it also had all this wonderful utopianism and belief in humanity and progress and a healthy dose of let-your-freak-flag-fly. Why aren't the Stewart Brands and Frida-and-Mitch-Kapors seen as our cultural leaders instead of Peter Thiel and Paul Graham?
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on February 13 [58 favorites]


The Rationalists held regular meet-ups around the world, from Silicon Valley to Amsterdam to Australia. Some lived in group houses. Some practiced polyamory. “They are basically just hippies who talk a lot more about Bayes’ theorem than the original hippies,” said Scott Aaronson, a University of Texas professor who has stayed in one of the group houses.

This reminds me of the guy I knew in college who claimed to be "just a hippie" and mostly spent his time arguing with everyone who lived in the rooms around his and generally being an unpleasant person to be around. That's not actually what a hippie is, and this characterization feels a little disingenuous. I'm thankful that that guy's introspection and growth as a person eventually led him down a very, very different path of self-discovery. Openness to ideas isn't the problem; the problem here is believing that being radically open to ideas means we have to accept Nazism, racist algorithms, and discriminatory AI as just part of the "marketplace of ideas" and that such an idea marketplace will somehow guide people to discard the worst ideas. That's not really how human belief works.
posted by limeonaire at 5:06 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure why the NYT author thought doxing Scott was a good idea.

He sounds like an absolute garbage person and I agree with trying to take away his platform but he had already found a receptive audience from the worst type of billionaires and he was always going to be able to find somewhere prominent to keep spewing hate. If he hadn't popped up on substack I bet he would be on clubhouse right now.

Doxing him lets his audience interpret the justified public shaming of their abhorrent ideas as the mainstream media persecuting someone for speaking the truth. If he were a public figure that might be counterbalanced by the additional exposure the piece would get from the rest of the public but he's just some random psychiatrist.
posted by zymil at 5:06 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Also, though, seriously, revealing someone's name isn't "doxxing" them. I'm not thrilled that his claim to that effect was included in the framing of this post.
posted by limeonaire at 5:08 PM on February 13 [49 favorites]


Marginal Revolution is another site where the comments are a Rationalist anti-virtue-signaling cesspool. I think Tyler Cowen lives up to his own standards and provides some good challenging links and reflections. But it sure attracts some verbose cryptofascist trash to its comments.
posted by argybarg at 5:09 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


I hate that the article ends with "In his first post, Mr. Siskind shared his full name" as if to say, "See, he made such a big deal about it but it actually wasn't that important after all," without mentioning that he quit his job and made a bunch of other changes to his life that he said he'd feel obliged to make if the NYT article used his real name.
posted by straight at 5:18 PM on February 13 [24 favorites]


SSC was one of those blogs where everything seemed plausible to me, unless I knew something about the subject. As a good Bayesian would tell you, that meant I had to adjust my priors about what plausibility implies.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:18 PM on February 13 [31 favorites]


Scott Alexander just published a "Statement on New York Times Article" through his newsletter.
posted by doctornemo at 5:20 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


The other thing I'm not thrilled about in the framing of this post, sorry, is the notion that publication of this article indicates some kind of battle between publications. Maybe that's how Alexander and his acolytes want to see it, but no doubt the Times doesn't care about doing battle with these people; if anything, the article as it was ultimately published seems to bend over backwards to humanize commenters on the site and make sure the characterization is "fair," in ways that, as detailed above, are really more than fair. But of course, we wouldn't want to disturb the prominent voices who have decided to make that site their cause célèbre.
posted by limeonaire at 5:22 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


I hate that the article ends with "In his first post, Mr. Siskind shared his full name" as if to say, "See, he made such a big deal about it but it actually wasn't that important after all," without mentioning that he quit his job and made a bunch of other changes to his life that he said he'd feel obliged to make if the NYT article used his real name.

Yeah, I have a lot of problems with this article (it feels like the author wanted to write a hit piece on the IDW and slotted SSC in as the boogeyman) but the most frustrating element to me is that the author at no point defends his decision to use Mr. Siskind's real last name instead of the pseudonym he was better known under. It's not a hill to die on either way, but why devote so much of the article to it if you're not going to explain why you decided to do it that way?
posted by LSK at 5:23 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


a healthy dose of let-your-freak-flag-fly

Has that gone, though? Elon Musk sending a car to space, the continuing popularity of burning man, Scott Alexander’s atypical home life - these all seem like good examples of people doing whatever they want.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:31 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Some of that is a distinction between an internet culture thing—a large number of people on reddit seem to genuinely think that doxxing someone is illegal and you will go to jail for it—and a journalism culture thing—you identify people by their names. But I do think the author attempted to address that by pointing out that even Google's auto-complete was giving it away already; why should the New York Times promise to be less informative than auto-complete about someone who's out there influencing society?

Also, as far as I know, the Times didn't print his name at all until after he named himself in the Substack; there never ended up being a story last year at all.

But fundamentally, an unmoderated comment section in which people's humanity is up for debate means that your discussion will inevitably end up being held only among those people whose humanity is never up for debate.
posted by zachlipton at 5:40 PM on February 13 [41 favorites]


I have purposefully stayed away from SSC since it's a huge favorite of the HackerNews/If entire races must be enslaved in order to fulfill Mr Musk's vision, then so be it..."/I Am Very Smart/I read this one book, so here are 10,000 words about this subject... crowd.

If those dudes (and I get the feeling it is 99.99% dudes) love it, then I hate it.
posted by sideshow at 5:45 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Quoting the article (and don't forget the sexism/misgyny):
In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”

In the NYT article, Metz helpfully links to the post in which he says SSC "aligned himself with Charles Murray."

If you read that post, you will find that it's about several perspectives systemic poverty, roughly divided into quadrants based on questions like whether everybody wants to solve poverty or not and whether you can patch the current system with programs that would do so.

And where SSC apparently aligns himself with Murray appears to be his assertion that Murray "shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too... because I don’t have any better ideas."

I get hostility to Murray. I have a dim view of The Bell Curve and frankly anyone associated with the AEI as well. And I can imagine a deplatforming case that extends into making voices like Murray's simply unmentionable. So if *mentioning* Murray is the sin Metz or others mean to call SSC out for... OK, make the case in those terms.

But that's not the terms Metz makes the case in. Instead he's calling out SSC for... agreeing with Murray on UBI? Acknowledging that Murray holds racist views on IQ & heredity? But then kinda vaguely implying that SSC agrees with Murray's racial views on IQ & heredity or is more widely aligned than that. And the linked article presumably on which Metz basis his views *does not say that*.

And that makes Metz' contention feel ill-founded and maybe even a bit slimy.

I'm finding clawsoon's sourced-from-reddit take to be apt enough criticism. There's a lot of heat and weirdness that comes out of "rationalist" communities and perhaps some unsurprising limits on the rationalism to boot, and I've been through some similar cycles of interest and disillusionment. But none of that makes the NYT article look good to me. In fact, I'm now wondering why a reddit post is outdoing Metz's "professional" piece.

And reminded that wherever else I might take issue with SSC or any other "rationalist"... I'm fundamentally sympathetic to the privacy arguments. Is there a good reason to know SSC is? Should we start with the presumption that the NYT caries no privacy burdens for people who aren't public figures?
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:49 PM on February 13 [43 favorites]


Also, re: the white supremacy claims, it's worth pointing out that SSC had a reader survey each year where one of the questions was political affiliation. In 2020, the vast majority of readers, about 70%, identified as either social democratic (e.g. leftist) or liberal, with most of the rest identifying as libertarian (which, sure, say what you will about libertarians.) Essentially none of the readers identified as conservative or alt-right, which were also options on the survey.

I think there are fair criticisms of SSC and rationalists, but the NYT (and the comments here) characterizes the readerbase as having a substantial fascist and crypto-fascist element that just isn't really there, at least not more than other spaces online that aren't explicitly liberal and/or leftist.

It's easy to see how someone would believe there's a connection, because white supremacy is a bad thing and once you believe that something is bad it's easy to not give it credit and assume it's in league with other bad things, but there aren't just two factions, the leftists/liberals and the bad guys; this isn't good and evil. And if things must be divided into factions, the SSC readerbase is much closer politically to MeFi than to Breitbart.
posted by LSK at 5:57 PM on February 13 [22 favorites]


And where SSC apparently aligns himself with Murray appears to be his assertion that Murray "shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too... because I don’t have any better ideas."

Uh huh. And what about the sentence before the one you quoted?
posted by Panthalassa at 6:06 PM on February 13 [16 favorites]


limeonaire: the problem here is believing that being radically open to ideas means we have to accept Nazism, racist algorithms, and discriminatory AI as just part of the "marketplace of ideas" and that such an idea marketplace will somehow guide people to discard the worst ideas.

Nazism and white supremacy are the sometimes-literal smallpox infected blankets of the marketplace of ideas.
posted by clawsoon at 6:10 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


People of all political stripes can be white supremacists.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:10 PM on February 13 [32 favorites]


"I was also warned by people 'in the know' that as soon as they got an excuse they would publish something as negative as possible about me, in order to punish me for embarrassing them"

"No need to take this one sentence out of context and try to spread it all over the internet."


Like you alluded to, zachlipton, I just feel like there are a number of misunderstandings about how publishing works evidenced in that new statement about the article. If you put something on the internet, then people will talk about it on the internet, if they are interested in it. But publications don't, like, "punish" people for "embarrassing" them. I just feel like some of what I'm reading here comes directly from mistaken notions about journalism and a lack of media literacy. It's OK if not everyone knows how this stuff works—news outlets could certainly do a better job of informing the public about their methods and how reporting works and what their ethics are and build trust with communities—but there really are some mistaken notions here.

National publications like that write about stuff if it is deemed newsworthy. While I certainly don't always agree with some of the things deemed "newsworthy" at some national publications, I would say, in general, there's a high bar to entry at the Times. They're not that likely to publish a story that took months to report like this on a whim or to punish someone, especially considering the big names supporting this blog. If anything, I'd bet the story probably changed when the would-be subject became super antagonistic and took down the whole blog when approached about a story. Also, publications like this normally don't write about ordinary citizens the same way they write about public figures. While Alexander has an interest in being seen as just an ordinary, somewhat unknown person who the big bad newspaper is picking on, by being the publisher of a prominent blog that's popular with a who's who of Silicon Valley figures, he could arguably be considered something of a public figure, though until this point a vaguely pseudonymous one.

As a psychiatrist, you also have to adhere to a code of ethics, and that doesn't change just because you happen to publish a pseudonymous blog. Yes, anonymity can be very important, and I'm in favor of anonymous and pseudonymous publishing. I never got behind that whole Facebook notion of enforcing use of someone's government name to write on the internet, obviously, for a whole number of reasons. But it's disingenuous, also, for Alexander to allude to the kind of harassment faced by women or trans people when they lose their pseudonymity as something that justifies his pseudonymity in an article like this, because he and his views are far from marginalized and he barely did a thing to anonymize himself.

If your anonymity matters to you—is material to you—and to your ability to freely write things you think are important on the internet, then do something to actually maintain it, rather than using your real name out in the clear, not even obfuscated, just slightly truncated. Or be more careful what you write about and how you write about it. If you do neither of those things, realize that the consequences that apply to anyone who holds some of the opinions you do may eventually apply to you and to your ability to continue working as a psychiatrist in good standing. Security through obscurity is not an effective or advisable way of doing this if you're gonna give shelter to commenters who hold eugenicist and similar views.
posted by limeonaire at 6:12 PM on February 13 [18 favorites]


In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and IQ in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”

Not surprised a New York Times guy is a bigger douchebag than the SSC guy
posted by Cezar Golescu at 6:16 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I haven't read SSC since 2016, and I know that it eventually took some steps to make the comments section less culture-warry, and a lot of those people switched to being awful on Reddit instead of SSC comments. But for much of the time that I read SSC, the comments section definitely had a substantial alt-right-ish element. It was much worse than old-school boyzone Metafilter, but with kind of the same philosophy that everyone's ideas should be fair game for getting trashed in the free marketplace of ideas, and if I feel awful when someone tells me that as a documented immigrant I shouldn't have been able to attend public schools, suck it up, buttercup, don't be such a snowflake.

The comments section - for the time that I was reading, at least - bore out the idea that if you don't moderate comments, the worst people chase out all the reasonable people, because it's just more hate speech than the majority of people can tolerate reading - some of it cloaked in the language of science and rationalism, and some of it really not!
posted by Jeanne at 6:19 PM on February 13 [34 favorites]


And where SSC apparently aligns himself with Murray appears to be his assertion that Murray “shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too... because I don’t have any better ideas.”

Uh huh. And what about the sentence before the one you quoted?

That sentence, just to make it accessible, is:
Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture
That’s an ambiguous sentence, but it’s hardly proof that he thinks that Charles Murray is right on about the bell curve.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:24 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Is there a good reason to know SSC is?

Sure. He's an intellectual lodestar for a significant number of wealthy, well-connected people who work in very high places in technology. I actually think the article does a really good job justifying its existence and (implicitly) why Scott's real name isn't out of bounds, as in this paragraph and the ones following it:
Slate Star Codex was a window into the Silicon Valley psyche. There are good reasons to try and understand that psyche, because the decisions made by tech companies and the people who run them eventually affect millions.
It's not hard to imagine that the deplatforming of the former President was the catalyst for the revision, resubmission and publishing of this article.
posted by Panthalassa at 6:25 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


Elizabeth Sandifer (quoted in the NYT story) on what's left out (I'm excerpting from a longer Twitter thread you should read in full):
Major oversights in it as I see. First, It does not acknowledge the fact that Yudkowsky is, at heart, a complete crank. This remains, to my mind, crucial to understanding the rationalist community’s influence on the world: they’re sci-fi writers being mistaken for scientists. You can’t really understand the harmful effects of SSC until you realize that it’s part of a larger movement of bullshit artists serving as cult leaders to the techbros.

Second, and more importantly, it never really explains the harm that’s being done by Scott Siskind and his followers. It comes close, noting that “SJWs” were the only group not welcome in SSC, but it doesn’t capture the harm of that because it doesn’t unpack the term.What is meant in practice when “SJWs” aren’t welcome in a space is that marginalized people speaking of the harm they experience are silenced. That’s it. That’s the meaning.

When Sam Altman complains that concerns about sexism and racism inhibit innovation, the point that really needs to be made, and that Cade should have asked for a response quote on, is that innovations unconcerned with sexism and racism hurt people.
The first part of that is more "Read Another Book," which yes, they need to, but not really the problem, but the second part nails it. The NYT article never entirely closes the loop on why anyone should care about all this. It matters because if the people who claim to be building the future of society are enamored of a space in which marginalized people who wish to share the ways in which today's society doesn't work for them are excluded, where their existence is subjected to high school debate rules, then guess who's not not remotely interested in building a society that works for everyone? That's the fundamental problem here, not that there's a blogger who has crappy opinions on the internet, but that the worldview in which "entrepreneurs had less room to explore new ideas" if people care about sexism and racism is one that almost definitionally is going to lead to more ideas that embody sexism and racism. And I wish the article dug into that more instead of returning its focus to SSC: all the pieces are there, but they're worth saying explicitly.
posted by zachlipton at 6:26 PM on February 13 [84 favorites]


That’s an ambiguous sentence, but it’s hardly proof that he thinks that Charles Murray is right on about the bell curve.

Yes. And why would anyone ever write a sentence that can be read as ambiguous on whether or not Charles Murray is right about the bell curve?
posted by Panthalassa at 6:28 PM on February 13 [37 favorites]


My memory of Scott Alexander in terms of racism was that his interest in biological determinism mostly led him down the path of wondering why Ashkenazi Jews were so smart. I seem to recall him musing about whether it was related somehow to the genetic diseases that are more common in Ashkenazi populations.

I don't recall him saying things about other racialized groups, but it wasn't a stretch for his commenters to pick up on the feeling that he was friendly to grouping people into "biological races" and assigning properties to them.
posted by clawsoon at 6:28 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


Well I sure understand Scott Siskind and his influence on Silicon Valley much better now that I know his real last name. Really puts all the pieces together.
posted by straight at 6:31 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


Well I sure understand Scott Siskind and his influence on Silicon Valley much better now that I know his real last name. Really puts all the pieces together.

It might put some pieces together for people who happen to have been his patients. I absolutely would not want to keep seeing someone as a psychiatrist if I learned they held some of the views he does, or harbor the kind of bad-faith arguments that are made in the comments on his site. He should be afraid of that. Because objectivity doesn't exist and one's views in one area of their life absolutely have bearing on others. Again, there's a reason psychiatrists have professional codes of conduct.
posted by limeonaire at 6:38 PM on February 13 [29 favorites]


That’s an ambiguous sentence, but it’s hardly proof that he thinks that Charles Murray is right on about the bell curve.
It’d be pretty easy to mention disagreeing with Murray, though — the man is not shy about cranking out words by the thousand, would it even take a dozen to distance himself from a notorious pseudoscientist?

This has been my problem with SSC: he’s definitely not the hard fringe IDW but there’s a tendency to avoid clarifying areas of plausible deniability and the comment section certainly had more troublesome people who felt they were among friends.
posted by adamsc at 6:42 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


I shouldn't make fun - because what have I accomplished? - but I went reading up on Curtis Yarvin and was amused to find that his company took seven years to create a messaging app, a notes app, and a weather app using a programming platform he created "described as 'complicated for even the most seasoned of functional programmers'."

It seems very on-brand for someone who Scott Alexander had "friendly and supportive" (and no doubt extremely long-winded) disagreements with to accomplish something simple in the most long-winded and complicated, though no doubt thoroughly logical and rational, way.
posted by clawsoon at 6:44 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Well I sure understand Scott Siskind and his influence on Silicon Valley much better now that I know his real last name. Really puts all the pieces together.

You could say this about almost anyone named in any article by any news publication. Should it not be the default to identify people by name in news articles? Perhaps – though I personally disagree. If you're going to make that argument, though, this isn't the way to do it.
posted by Panthalassa at 6:47 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


So this blog is the kind of place for intellectual chest beating, and walking the edges of misogyny, and facism? A boy's club where women are spoken of as girls or harpies, and the guys are eyeing each other intellectually and looking for an advantage, all in digital space? Is this where all the fired academics went?
posted by Oyéah at 6:51 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


It’s also worth noting that Scott Alexander published an excerpt from his blog in a journal under his actual name. At that point it looks like he’s fine with associating his blog with his real person when it helps him (academic cred, Bay Area contacts) and playing the anonymity card when faced with criticism
posted by rishabguha at 6:53 PM on February 13 [28 favorites]


As soon as I hit the "SJWs aren't welcome," I knew what was to follow.

Then James Damore came up, the very epitome of the undereducated, incurious, entitled white dude justifying his utter lack of empathy with simplistic logic and cherrypicked facts.

I can't say it better than Elizabeth Sandifer, so I'll quote her again (zachlipton did above):

What is meant in practice when “SJWs” aren’t welcome in a space is that marginalized people speaking of the harm they experience are silenced. That’s it. That’s the meaning.
posted by panglos at 7:03 PM on February 13 [39 favorites]


adamsc: It’d be pretty easy to mention disagreeing with Murray, though — the man is not shy about cranking out words by the thousand, would it even take a dozen to distance himself from a notorious pseudoscientist?

The post that has perhaps raised the most questions is the one on Kolmogorov, a Soviet scientist under Stalin. Scott talks about how, if you don't agree with an orthodoxy in power, you have to learn how to keep your mouth shut when you have dangerous opinions, how to build a whisper network, how to somehow identify and mentor and create a community for other people who also disagree with the orthodoxy.

The kind of community he has created has got people wondering if he's talking about himself in this post and his own relationship with racism and sexism. If he is, he's obviously a Kolmogorov, savvy enough to keep his mouth shut while incubating unacceptable opinions.

No way to prove anything either way, though, is there?
posted by clawsoon at 7:03 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]


SSC lifecycle

Thanks for that - it's also a very tidy precis of my own experience with The Daily WTF, which is a pity; it was a lot of fun for a while.

It does not acknowledge the fact that Yudkowsky is, at heart, a complete crank. This remains, to my mind, crucial to understanding the rationalist community’s influence on the world: they’re sci-fi writers being mistaken for scientists. You can’t really understand the harmful effects of SSC until you realize that it’s part of a larger movement of bullshit artists serving as cult leaders to the techbros.

Loudly seconded.

Engineers' Disease is insidious and awful.
posted by flabdablet at 7:08 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


If anyone here is seriously (or semi-seriously) asking what SSC is all about, you should really go look at it.

Note that I don't say you should read it - I mean that just a look at the utter tsunami of words on the page (before you even get to the comments) provides a certain . . . context for why SSC gets eye rolled by a lot of folks.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:10 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Should it not be the default to identify people by name in news articles?

Yes that is the question, and I was mocking one of the justifications put forward.

Limeonaire's point about his patients makes a little more sense. I'm sure lots of psychiatrists have opinions and biases that would disturb some of their patients if they knew about them. Usually there's no way to know about them. Maybe the press has a duty to publicly expose a psychiatrist's thoughts as a service to their potential patients when an opportunity like this presents itself? But that sure doesn't seem to be the justification given by the NYT.

The thing is, Scott is a psychiatrist who would regularly blog lightly-disguised anecdotes about his patients.


This would be an even better justification, if it were true. Maybe it is, but I always assumed he was drastically reworking and fictionalizing the details of those stories rather than merely filing off the serial numbers.
posted by straight at 7:14 PM on February 13


the problem here is believing that being radically open to ideas means we have to accept Nazism, racist algorithms, and discriminatory AI as just part of the "marketplace of ideas" and that such an idea marketplace will somehow guide people to discard the worst ideas.

And additionally that Nazism, et al., tend to be very successful in the "marketplace of ideas" because they are selling exactly what their target market wants: justification of their superiority over and/or ressentiment towards others.

re: the white supremacy claims, it's worth pointing out that [...] the vast majority of readers, about 70%, identified as either social democratic (e.g. leftist) or liberal

And surely there's no such thing as racism on the left...

"Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture.

That’s an ambiguous sentence

No it isn't. In the original context on SSC, the author emphasizes the word "all," thus pretty clearly implying that they do reduce SOME class differences to heredity. In other words: some people are poor because they have dumb, inferior genes. I'm sure that they have some "very sophisticated" bullshit double-talk about "biology precedes culture but culture emerges from biology but is a little different and affects biology but of course biology determines culture because of (handwave) science, so you know I'm not saying that every black person is inferior to every white person, but obviously there's gotta be some completely logical reason why I deserve my privilege and shouldn't have to care about the suffering of others"
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:17 PM on February 13 [28 favorites]


Funny how people polemicize about freedom of speech and diversity of opinion while they shut vast swaths of humanity out of the commons in order to let a few Nazis in.

It's like there are two different approaches to the paradox of tolerance: one in which you constrain the people who would hurt and demean others, and another in which you shut out the people who were hurt and demeaned because they had the audacity to ask the first group to stop.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:24 PM on February 13 [34 favorites]


You could say this about almost anyone named in any article by any news publication. Should it not be the default to identify people by name in news articles?

By the relevant name, of course. Authors regularly use pen names.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 7:36 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


soundguy99: Note that I don't say you should read it - I mean that just a look at the utter tsunami of words on the page (before you even get to the comments) provides a certain . . . context for why SSC gets eye rolled by a lot of folks.

That's true, but it's also true that he can be an engaging and intelligent writer. Sometimes even a pleasure to read. I'll give him that over Jordan Peterson.
posted by clawsoon at 7:45 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


The main thing I've noticed about hardcore rationalists, just like hardcore anything else, is that they seem to be complete prisoners of their own ideology.

They're totally committed to the idea of themselves as rational beings and behave as if reason is the only respectable intellectual tool to apply to any issue. Emotion, intuition and physicality, to the extent they're given any consideration at all, are implicitly held to be antithetical to reason and are usually treated, if acknowledged at all, as despicable.

From this grossly inadequate model of the human experience follows an almost complete lack of self-awareness.

Rationalist writings tend to be dominated by vast screeds of reasoning with precious little attention paid to the soundness of the premises upon which that reasoning rests. Anything resembling a grasp of the bleedin' obvious is usually conspicuous by its absence. There's nothing these folks like more than a Hard Problem, and if they can't find one they'll turn every easy one into one.

Sure, many rationalists are intelligent, engaging people. It's just a pity they choose to waste so much of that capacity on self-congratulatory preening and posturing. It's also a pity that so much of that preening and posturing actually turns out to work.

The Emperor has no clothes, but his hair gel game is top notch.
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 PM on February 13 [25 favorites]


It doesn't seem that complicated; if your name is an open secret, including _being posted in your own blog_, you are going to have to provide a newspaper a good reason why they should go along with the pretense that it isn't. Newspapers, at least good ones and the NYT does have quite a few good reporters along with the hacks, don't like to be seen as conspiring with the subject of a story. And Siskind and his blog are certainly newsworthy, given the destructive swathe the IDW types have torn.
posted by tavella at 8:09 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]


Emotion, intuition and physicality, to the extent they're given any consideration at all, are implicitly held to be antithetical to reason and are usually treated, if acknowledged at all, as despicable.

Ironically, it's pretty dumb for someone to think their wide-ranging dinner party conversations rise to the level of genius. Self-awareness is a form of intelligence, and a pretty important one at that.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:13 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


I think anyone who is surprised by how strongly some people are criticizing Scott Alexander here might benefit from the context of three of his most objectionable and widely read posts "Radicalizing the Romanceless", "Untitled" and "You Are Still Crying Wolf". Reading those makes it very difficult to be charitable to his other writings.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:14 PM on February 13 [36 favorites]


This whole "marketplace of ideas" tangent reminded me of why I hate the phrase "free market" so much: Namely that the whole point of a Market - from the very beginning of the concept - is to allow an exchange under an established set of rules. That can mean "I'll bring my pigs to the crossroads every Friday in June" or "I'll sell stock in my company to everyone at the same price".

In other words, Market = Rules. Libertarians fail to grasp this.

...to be fair, far too many economists fail to grasp this as well.

To apply this to ideas is to get the Tyranny of the Loud and Fast. For example, if you want to research vaccine safety you'll find that for every well-written, carefully-cited article explaining the reality, you'll get dozens - if not hundreds of click-bait bullshit blurbs.

Surprise! More is easier than better when it comes to ideas. ...and thanks to Facebook, Youtube, and friends, More is more successful.

The whole Right Wing Fascist pundit industry thrives on this. You just need someone with shallow-enough thinking not to stray from the message you're pushing, but well-spoken enough to sound plausibly "smart" or "curious".

Ben Shapiro doesn't need to make sense, as long as he's confident and smug and has a what sounds like a good conclusion. Joe Rogan isn't a horrible person, he's just "asking questions". (...and giving a huge signal boost to horrible people on his podcast.)

Not all speech is equally valuable.

There is no easy formula or hard black/white line for determining which speech should/shouldn't face scrutiny.

This shit is hard, and always will be.

But free speech absolutism* is dumb, childish, dangerous, and guaranteed to protect the ruling minority at the expense of the majority.

*very intentionally written by the rich, white, male minority government who expected that they and their descendants would remain the (minority!) rulers forever.
posted by Anoplura at 8:34 PM on February 13 [20 favorites]


I'm super late to this, but I dislike SSC and think this article does a very bad job of explaining why it's bad. They do all of this putting his name next to Murray's, when he literally says he likes eugenics:
I’ve said many times that I think the Reactionaries have some good ideas, but the narrative in which they place them turns me off (I feel the same way about Communists, feminists, libertarians, et al). Even though I like both basic income guarantees and eugenics, I don’t think these are two things that go well together – making the income conditional upon sterilization is a little too close to coercion for my purposes. Still, probably better than what we have right now.
It's also worth noting that he specifically requested that the much much more overtly racist/misogynistic spinoff community (/r/TheMotte) not be named anything related to him or SSC, so he doesn't want to be associated with it, but then he still directed people there when he shut down his blog the first time. He clearly knows he's building an on-ramp to ideas that are so objectionable that he doesn't want his pseudonym associated with them, but is fine with building that community as long as it won't damage his reputation.
posted by wesleyac at 8:36 PM on February 13 [52 favorites]


Quick note to maybe ignore the Minority/Majority stuff at the end of my last post, as it was a bit of a tangent that I didn't explain very well, and may come across as pro-Populist - which it is not.

I was just trying to make a quick point about How We Got Here, and maybe made it too quickly, and unnecessarily cryptically.

Sorry!
posted by Anoplura at 8:41 PM on February 13


free speech absolutism is dumb, childish, dangerous, and guaranteed to protect the ruling minority at the expense of the majority.

Full agreement.

I'm actually struggling to think of any absolutism that history hasn't shown to work this way.
posted by flabdablet at 8:44 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


A bunch of dudes decide world should run according to their biases and preferences, and call themselves "Rationalists" for reaching this conclusion. Classic.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:04 PM on February 13 [23 favorites]


re: the white supremacy claims, it's worth pointing out that [...] the vast majority of readers, about 70%, identified as either social democratic (e.g. leftist) or liberal

This might be news if you don't spend time staring into certain abysses but right-wing assholes love identifying themselves as "moderates" or "liberals" or other innocuous-sounding labels precisely because they know it gets people to not look too critically at them. Oh yeah, dude, I'm a liberal just like you, free speech! And now that your guard's down, here's the very edge of a racist idea. And once that makes sense to you and feels natural, here's a little more of it. And a little more, and a little more.

Fascists know you hate them. They know you don't trust them. And they're perfectly happy to lie and obfuscate about how they are and what they believe if they think it'll get you to listen to them and be receptive to what they say. They write articles and essays and do podcasts about how to talk to you.

The words people use to describe themselves, separate from their actual arguments and actions? Don't mean shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 PM on February 13 [41 favorites]


Whatever Scott Alexander Siskind's views, people are rushing to declare "gotchas" here that just don't make sense. He was clear that while he didn't mind his blog readers knowing his real name, he didn't want his blogging in the top google hits for patients (and originally, potential employers) looking him up. The article ends with a flourish about him resuming posting under his real name, but that was after he rearranged his life and quit his job.

Contra the article, he's not really a free-speech absolutist (see wildblueyonder's comment) but people are taking that from the article and going "hah! he believes in debating ideas! which necessarily happens through writing down words! but now he's complaining about someone writing down his name and publishing it in the New York Times! hypocrite!". Does anyone really think that follows?
posted by Slogby at 10:37 PM on February 13 [20 favorites]


right-wing assholes love identifying themselves as "moderates" or "liberals"

This is true, but the left also has its fair share of toxic twerps. You don't have to look too hard to find people who both believe in Medicare for All and complain about SJWs.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:59 PM on February 13 [15 favorites]


there was a time, until very recently, when the repub party was run by elites whose actual political ideology was totally opposite of what their average supporter believed, but they held it together due to imperfect information and propaganda. now, thanks to the politicization of everything and instant media, that's impossible, and the elites need to imitate the supporters. so, in a similar way, i wonder how much longer the tech-lords can hold these hilarious "rationalist" libertarian ideals (setting aside for a moment the merits of them), since literally nobody else in society subscribes to anything like this. i dunno... maybe it won't matter, because they aren't politicians? but on the other hand, they are definitely imposing a political ideology on the rest of society, and people can see it quite clearly, and it is pretty laughable. is it tenable for them? can they stay hidden in their mountain lair/blogs? thoughts?
posted by wibari at 11:20 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


Trying to figure out if the Rationalists and the Objectivists are different or just too dumb to know they’re the same.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:39 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]


Ive had quite a long journey with Alexander and the nationalists. I discovered him through less wrong which i had enjoyed, and was pleased to find a long blog with topics i liked to read about.

In fact i strongly remember first enjoying and agreeing with an article about an argument someone had made about being falsely accused of rape being less lklely than being struck by lightning. The only problem was that this was wildly incorrect, based on bad statistics. I agreed that making arguments, even well meaning ones, based on things which were just untrue was not a good idea.

Then, later, there was an article trying to quantify the "actual" amount of false accusations of rape.. and that was less comfortable. While i agreed with the broad idea that the conviction rate for false accusation was necessarily an under estimate of the true rate (we dont count murders by the number of people we convict for murder), the article was... very personal, and contained some really poor reasoning.

In fact despite his protesting in his response that he does support feminism, its clearly a very specific kind of feminism as, usually when he writes about feminists its to criticize them. And not always in a measured way on statistics.

Reading scott Alexander for me was a creeping realisation that he holds a lot of sketchy ideas, and these sketchy ideas take more and more hold the more recently you read his blog. He rarely explicitly says it, but its very clear that he is at least sympathetic to human biodiversity (scientifix racism). The Murray example is a good one; yes he appears to be focusing on an agreement he has with Murray... but why? Were there really no other public figures associated with this position that he had to choose the one strongly connected to racism?

And this is a recurring theme, he spends a remarkable amount of time being charitable to awful people. He may disagree with them, but he takes the time to be polite, articulate their position, and then take it apart. I mean, look at the anti reactionary faq. It seems superficially good, but then you realise he has spent tens of thousands of words taking down an argument for absolute monarchy. Why is he so familiar with this fringe lunatic? Why is he giving him the time of day?

You don't argue wjth facists, you punch them, because when you give them the oxygen of publicity some people listen. There is nothing intellectually sound about their arguments and there hasnt been for a century. Alexander not knowing this either indicates that hes very stupid, or much more sympathetic to facism than he should be.

Oh, and if you read any of his rants against feminists you will struggle to find the charity he will extend to racists and facists.

It is a shame. At his best, his writing can be insightful and funny, but ultimately i think he has been poisoned by his associations in life and in his past
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:59 AM on February 14 [30 favorites]


For people so into Bayes' Theorem, the Rationalists tend to ignore a lot of important historical priors.

It's like we're watching someone dump into our drinking water what appear to be the same toxic ideas that have poisoned our society for a long time. Ideas explicitly used to justify treating people as less than human. Many of us are, quite reasonably, alarmed.

And the Rationalists jump in front of us and say, "Wait, maybe those aren't quite the same ideas. We shouldn't stop him unless we're sure." As if we have no history to inform our estimates of how likely these ideas are to be toxic.
posted by straight at 1:14 AM on February 14 [28 favorites]


As someone who has worked plenty of jobs where if I said the wrong things in public my ass was grass and I had to find a new job

This seems more like an argument in favor of anonymity than against it.
posted by straight at 1:23 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I'm so sad to see how tech culture has evolved in the last 25 years. It's always had a history of sexism and racism and stupid libertarianism, I won't deny that. But it also had all this wonderful utopianism and belief in humanity and progress and a healthy dose of let-your-freak-flag-fly. Why aren't the Stewart Brands and Frida-and-Mitch-Kapors seen as our cultural leaders instead of Peter Thiel and Paul Graham?

Because the stupid libertarianism was kind of core to the tech culture ethos. It's the California Ideology: if we get rid of all that pesky existing culture and just let things grow free, we'll create a new, unique, better culture unencumbered by the old ways. It was a fusion of hippy counterculture and Objectivism, and like anything that derives from Objectivism, it doesn't work.

This is true, but the left also has its fair share of toxic twerps. You don't have to look too hard to find people who both believe in Medicare for All and complain about SJWs.

The dirtbag left are excellent examples of ostensible leftists who are strictly economic class-focused but reject intersectionality and don't really handle women and black people having opinions with grace and curiosity. You may have heard of Chapo Trap House.
posted by Merus at 1:27 AM on February 14 [29 favorites]


This might be news if you don't spend time staring into certain abysses but right-wing assholes love identifying themselves as "moderates" or "liberals" or other innocuous-sounding labels precisely because they know it gets people to not look too critically at them. Oh yeah, dude, I'm a liberal just like you, free speech! And now that your guard's down, here's the very edge of a racist idea. And once that makes sense to you and feels natural, here's a little more of it. And a little more, and a little more.

I'd been noticing this in some vague way but hadn't really put words to it. I think someone I argued with recently used this tactic on me. Or "I'm not ___, but I have some friends who are, and they're saying ___. I know that might sound ___, but if you think about it ___ way, it makes a lot of sense."
posted by limeonaire at 2:24 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


right-wing assholes love identifying themselves as "moderates" or "liberals" or other innocuous-sounding labels precisely because they know it gets people to not look too critically at them

That's certainly true - but they don't get away with it much on SCC. The rationalist community are very keen on every opinion being looked at critically. No matter who said it, no matter how they self-identify, no matter whether the conclusion is reassuring or disquietening - every opinion and every argument is fair game for even-handed critical assessment.

Including Scott Alexander himself; the SCC archives include a good number of essays followed by a change of opinion after some counter-arguments in the comments or in other publications. For example "Age Gaps And Birth Order Effects" followed by "[Partial Retraction] Age Gaps and Birth Order Effects".
posted by vincebowdren at 3:11 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I am a long-winded writer and chatty person. The existence of this dude was news to me; perhaps we were kindred spirits. So I clicked on the first link provided by proofs and refutations above. (Sorry for the typos, I am dictating.) I started reading and it first seemed like an entirely agreeable and sympathetic profile of a poor patient who was deeply affected by society which is to say by white supremacy (which was not mentioned by name), and then segued into some weird-ass thing about being a nice guy who was lonely, unlike one creepy patient who had just gotten into trouble for beating up his fifth wife after she discovered that he was busy having an affair with an ex-wife, one who had left him because he also used to beat her. The patient happily admitted to having beaten all five of his wives, which led the blog author into a discourse about feminism.

There are various links to Jezebel and other places demonstrating, supposedly, that feminists are somehow mean to nice guys. I did not finish reading it, I mostly skimmed, because I am an old person. Like, I literally do not have enough time left on the planet to attempt to parse whatever the hell this particular blog post was attempting to illustrate nor wherever the hell it was ultimately headed. I did feel a sense of whiplash as the post moved from the tale of an overworked Black man suffering the consequences of being trapped in a racist society to Alexander’s sense of grievance that a different patient, a thuggish abuser, got way more romantic action than he did.

I barely scraped through college. I am anything but an intellectual. Everything I know about philosophy I learned while watching the TV show The Good Place. So I could not define rationalism as a theory if you put a gun to my head. Still, nothing that I read suggested rational thought on the topics at hand. I’m not an expert; I’m probably wrong about that. Guess I will never know because I have spent enough time on this particular person. I do support blogs and all forms of personal expression; I do support people writing anonymously as long as they’re not encouraging, say, insurrection, murder, etc. I’m not that fond of assholes, though. Dunno if this guy is an asshole but he definitely seems asshole-adjacent. Enjoyed the post, thanks OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:13 AM on February 14 [31 favorites]


No matter who said it, no matter how they self-identify, no matter whether the conclusion is reassuring or disquietening - every opinion and every argument is fair game for even-handed critical assessment.

It doesn't matter how piously one approaches the matter - debating someone's humanity makes that person an asshole.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:15 AM on February 14 [29 favorites]


every opinion and every argument is fair game for even-handed critical assessment

That's kind of a large part of the problem here. There's a difference between a quite homogeneous group with Engineer's Disease and actual informed critical thinking by genuine experts, which includes acknowledging that people are experts in their own lived experiences. There's a high probability that something's gone terribly wrong with your critical assessments if you spend a lot of time discussing population genetics, yet actual population geneticists who do that for a living seemingly want nothing to do with you. Or simply put:

@pronounced_ing: As a former debater, I think that the “debate” mentality is a huge part of the problems in our public discourse. Debate—which many aspiring lawyers do in school—teaches you to treat everything like an academic thought experiment, rather than real issues that affect actual humans.

It's exactly this line of thinking that causes people to eventually conclude that "are some of my colleagues biologically inferior to do their jobs?" is an acceptable topic to debate at work, which for the avoidance of doubt, it is not. Like I said before, a discussion in which people's humanity is up for debate means that your discussion will inevitably end up being held only among those people whose humanity is never up for debate, which is exactly what happened when we look at SSC readers' demographics. What's rational about debating other actual people who you've already chased out of the room?

If every single possible opinion is fair game for critical assessment, the actual people having their existence critically assessed are going to nope out of the SCC lifecycle clawsoon posted rather quickly, because people don't enjoy being debated. If white supremacy is fair game for critical assessment, you chase off everyone who wants no part of that, become that kind of place, and then sit around discussing eugenics and human biodiversity and IQ differences without the involvement of actual experts/the actual people whose lives you're debating, that's not rational even-handed critical assessment at all.
posted by zachlipton at 4:19 AM on February 14 [51 favorites]


A bookshelf full of Ayn Rand plus a bad case of bothsiderism leads to mushy, sealioning polemic. Yaaaaaawn.
posted by Morpeth at 4:57 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


that's not rational even-handed critical assessment at all.

Well, it is, but it's not rational even-handed critical assessment of anything real. It's rational even-handed critical assessment of herds and herds of spherical cows of uniform density, done performatively for ego stroking purposes, and therefore about as tedious as can be expected.
posted by flabdablet at 5:09 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


I think that the “debate” mentality is a huge part of the problems in our public discourse. Debate—which many aspiring lawyers do in school—teaches you to treat everything like an academic thought experiment

And worse still, teaches you to treat truth as subservient to the ability to sell a preconceived position. Debating actively encourages cherry-picking convenient facts and ignoring and casting doubt on inconvenient ones.
posted by flabdablet at 5:16 AM on February 14 [19 favorites]


And worse still, teaches you to treat truth as subservient to the ability to sell a preconceived position. Debating actively encourages cherry-picking convenient facts and ignoring and casting doubt on inconvenient ones.

A lot of people have been asking "how could all those lawyers sign on to Trump's lawsuits?", and this here is the answer - the process of legal education in the US is designed to teach individuals that this is how the legal system should operate, and that lawyers should not be held accountable for their defenses of individuals that hire them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:42 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


This blog and the community around have, until now, totally escaped my attention. If only that ignorance had persisted.
posted by tommasz at 6:10 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


I literally do not have enough time left on the planet to attempt to parse whatever the hell this particular blog post was attempting to illustrate nor wherever the hell it was ultimately headed.

Then let me save you some time with the following precis:

A psychiatrist displays a lamentable lack of insight, posting a lengthy screed devoted to complaining about exasperated hyperbole on the basis that it is cruel and counterproductive, in which he indulges in exasperated hyperbole to preface a section where he quotes multiple examples of other people's exasperated hyperbole in order to preempt the criticism he apparently often experiences after posting exasperated hyperbole.

After many, many paragraphs of exasperated hyperbole, both quoted and his own, he goes on to conclude that toxicity within the Manosphere is entirely the fault of feminists failing to be sufficiently nice. And with no real surprise, I also gather that at some point some feminist somewhere failed to be sufficiently nice to him.

I particularly enjoyed this failed attempt to cherry-pick some data to support his preconceived conclusion:
I can’t Google Trends “Nice Guys”, because it picks up too much interference from normal discussion of people who are nice.
Oh, wait. That wasn't enjoyment, merely a sudden desire to express exasperated hyperbole.

Are we having rationality yet?
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 AM on February 14 [17 favorites]


He was clear that while he didn't mind his blog readers knowing his real name, he didn't want his blogging in the top google hits for patients (and originally, potential employers) looking him up. The article ends with a flourish about him resuming posting under his real name, but that was after he rearranged his life and quit his job.

Yeah, I have little sympathy for the argument that someone who has been granted a position of privilege suddenly being upset that people learning about their conduct has people rethinking that grant. The fact that he was "clear" about that request doesn't mean that the rest of us should entertain it, especially when we're talking about something as fraught as mental healthcare is.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:57 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


Note that I don't say you should read it - I mean that just a look at the utter tsunami of words on the page (before you even get to the comments) provides a certain . . . context for why SSC gets eye rolled by a lot of folks.

I really have to bristle at that notion. 15 years ago this level of verbosity in the blogosphere was the norm before the Internet fried our brains and got us used to distilling everything down to a tweet.
posted by ocschwar at 7:01 AM on February 14 [10 favorites]


I really have to bristle at that notion. It wasn't the Internet that fried our brains and got us used to distilling everything down to a tweet, it was Twitter. Credit where credit is due.
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Back when Stormy Daniels was regularly in the news, journalists went out of their way to use her legal name in publications, even though that’s not the name she performs under or is publicly known by.

Interestingly, nobody ever feels to point out that Reginald Dwight performs under the name of Elton John, or that Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.

This kerfuffule has recommitted me to the proposition that anyone who describes themself as a “rationalist” is an outright horrible person, or on their way to getting that merit badge. Nobody ever espouses “rationalism” and works their way to a position of openness, compassion, and sympathy for their fellow humans.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:15 AM on February 14 [14 favorites]


They're totally committed to the idea of themselves as rational beings and behave as if reason is the only respectable intellectual tool to apply to any issue.

Any "rational" review of any of the many scientific endeavors aimed at the human psyche, from sociology and economics to psychiatry to neurobiology, forces us to recognize that humans simply cannot make decisions based solely in logic and reason. Emotion is a fundamental part of everything we think and do. So the only reason to hold on so tightly to this identity despite the clear evidence is, ironically, an emotional need for it.
posted by solotoro at 7:28 AM on February 14 [19 favorites]


humans simply cannot make decisions based solely in logic and reason

And if I were a rationalist, I'm sure I'd come up with a plausible evolutionary explanation for why this is so.

Reason is good stuff, don't get me wrong. But as it turns out, a completely satisfactory existence can be had by employing about 10% reason and 90% habit, intuition, empathy and rules of thumb. Attempting to use reason to replace, rather than augment, all the other excellent stuff our brains do for us without conscious direction strikes me as strongly parallel to the inner-platform effect anti-pattern from software design.
posted by flabdablet at 7:52 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


It wasn't the Internet that fried our brains and got us used to distilling everything down to a tweet, it was Twitter.

Huh, I wouldn't put all the blame on Twitter. More the escalating attention for attention and the need to get people to consume and re-share whatever you are saying. The shorter the text, the more likely it is someone's going to read it and possibly pass it along. Even before Twitter a lot of bloggers, including me, were struggling to write shorter and shorter pieces in the hope they'd get more attention.

Related: memes, single image expressions of complex ideas. Also clickbait article headlines, where no one reads the article but passes it on because the headline is so good. The counter-example is YouTube videos where people take 20 minutes to explain something that would take 250 words.

(a derail, but I hope an interesting one.)
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Note that I don't say you should read it - I mean that just a look at the utter tsunami of words on the page (before you even get to the comments) provides a certain . . . context for why SSC gets eye rolled by a lot of folks.

I really have to bristle at that notion. 15 years ago this level of verbosity in the blogosphere was the norm before the Internet fried our brains and got us used to distilling everything down to a tweet.


126 years ago Mark Twain wrote:

"An author should

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style."

Suggesting that a lot of people were long-winded cranks on the internet 15 years ago is maybe not the winning argument you would hope, and as fun as it is to bash the Internet or Twitter or whatever for our supposed modern inability to read & comprehend long pieces of writing, valuing brevity and clarity in prose has been around a lot longer than Twitter.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:02 AM on February 14 [20 favorites]


The idea that wordcount is a virtue or a sign of complex, critical thought is... not compatible with my experiences as an undergrad philosophy major, or in interacting with my fellow human beings in any capacity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:02 AM on February 14 [26 favorites]


Nobody ever espouses “rationalism” and works their way to a position of openness, compassion, and sympathy for their fellow humans

Leibniz was OK
posted by thelonius at 8:11 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Nobody ever means nobody or ever when we say nobody ever.

Failing to understand this is always the mark of every true rationalist.

This isn't a very unique rule, there are literally trillions of others like it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:15 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


You may have heard of Chapo Trap House.
I have not only heard of it, I have heard it played in my own home. I have a feeling the only reason I haven't heard it recently is that I kept talking at whatever device it was playing on so it's listened to on headphones now.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:26 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


> "Huh, interesting name for a website."

What does it mean? I know what slate is, and what a star is, and what a codex is, but have no idea how they're supposed to combine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:28 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Scott Alexander apparently didn't like the look of Excreta Sandlot and went with a vaguely highfalutin' near-anagram instead.
posted by flabdablet at 8:34 AM on February 14 [12 favorites]


"As someone who has worked plenty of jobs where if I said the wrong things in public my ass was grass and I had to find a new job"

This seems more like an argument in favor of anonymity than against it.


This is rich coming from someone defending a guy who spent half his blog talking about his patients. Oops, I guess that HIPAA didn't mean much to him, and his own privacy is apparently more important to him than his patients' privacy.

Look, there's plenty of good reasons to lose your job for spilling the beans on private matters. Not taking HIPAA very seriously is one of the more serious good reasons.

The absolute disconnect between the respect for this guys privacy but his obvious disrespect for others' privacy is massive and about what I expected.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:35 AM on February 14 [15 favorites]


You could spell it as Slatest Arcodex instead, and make it uniformly incomprehensible.
posted by Grangousier at 8:35 AM on February 14




Or perhaps Old Ex Castrates.
posted by flabdablet at 8:40 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


All the defenses of this guy just scream "Rules for thee and not for me" from an increasingly out of touch managerial class.

Recently in another MeFi thread I brought up how Calvinism started as a reasonable rational piece of religious philosophy based on an understanding of a God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. It follows rationally that God would know all of history, the end of the universe, and who is going to hell and who is going to heaven.

Calvinism quickly devolved into people deciding that this meant they too could tell who is going to hell and who is going to heaven, and use it as a way to justify bigotry, hatred, and division.

The real problem with rationalism is exactly the problem the dumbfuck rationalists are trying to solve: That humans are not rational creatures, they are rationalizing creatures.

You can take any reasonable, "rational" thought and take it to an absurd fucking conclusion. The proof of this is in the comments sections of Slate Star Codex, in which you can find plenty of buffoons who take these writings to their most absurd conclusions. Is Scott Alexender Siskind the heart of the problem? No, but he helps enable the worst excesses of the problem, despite thinking he's helping solve it somehow.

You know what's a "logical and rational" solution to the world hunger problem?

"Kill all the hungry people, problem solved! What, you're disgusted with my ideas? I'm just discussing difficult concepts and you're angry about that! You need to learn to be more rational like me!"
posted by deadaluspark at 8:49 AM on February 14 [25 favorites]


Once on We Hunted the Mammoth, I poked fun at a troll for repeatedly interrupting the perfectly nice conversation that was happening and he came back with,"You think this is good conversation? Try Slate Star Codex for some real intellectual discourse!" I knew right then I should never ever click on Slate Star Codex.
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:21 AM on February 14 [15 favorites]


What was that other psychiatrist jackass with a blog? He used to post here, where a lot of people seemed to respect him, for some reason.
posted by thelonius at 9:28 AM on February 14


Cannon Fodder: I mean, look at the anti reactionary faq. It seems superficially good, but then you realise he has spent tens of thousands of words taking down an argument for absolute monarchy.

The prelude to the anti-reactionary faq was this post in which he spends thousands of words explaining reactionary ideas in great detail, with multiple asides saying that we have to take their arguments seriously about things like biological origins of the black-white achievement gap in the United States. He calls one defense of racist ideas "sympathetic and extraordinarily impressive".

Sure, he follows that up by saying that he's very interested in a comprehensive takedown of that argument, and that he feels there is a lot it doesn't explain, but he clearly finds the argument worth considering. He spent a lot of time talking sympathetically with people espousing reactionary views, making sure that he understood what they were saying.

I never remember him giving the same time or sympathy to anti-racists, feminists, or socialists. Sure, he'd spend thousands of words talking about them, but never talking sympathetically to them. He probably wouldn't have gotten very far if he tried, because it would be hard for him to hide the fact that, as he puts it, "there are a lot of social justice arguments I really hate."

Reading those two posts, the feeling I get is that ultimately he's sympathetic to reactionary ideas because he feels they'd be nice to him if they got power, and he hates social justice because he feels they'd be mean to him if they got power.

Which I guess from some selfishness-is-the-only-rational-approach viewpoint counts as rational.
posted by clawsoon at 9:32 AM on February 14 [24 favorites]


I don't know about any other psychiatrists with a blog, but I know psychiatrists James E. Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of Spokane, Washington helped the Bush administration codify "enhanced interrogation." If their use of rationality to justify torture doesn't expose "rationalism" for the fucking joke that it is, I don't know what does. These guys regularly argued that their "suggestions" to the CIA helped produce "actionable intelligence." Mitchell personally waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Big surprise, Mitchell identifies as an atheist. Just so we can put to bed the idea that "atheist rationalists" will always come to good, socially positive conclusions. (Full disclosure: consider myself an atheist, of the wild, emotional animal type, not the type that puts humanity on a pedestal.)

“The problem is (Mitchell and Jessen) were involved in drafting the guidelines (for the CIA) and didn’t know they were going to be applied at” CIA black-site prisons, Paszamant said. “There is a huge disconnect.”

Yeah, there's a huge disconnect in their ability to take responsibility for their own fucking words and deeds.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:39 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


> What was that other psychiatrist jackass with a blog? He used to post here, where a lot of people seemed to respect him, for some reason.

The Last Psychiatrist, maybe? Whose unifying principle to explain why everything had gone to shit was narcissism.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 9:42 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Whose unifying principle to explain why everything had gone to shit was narcissism.

I mean, to be fair, we did have a narcissist as President for four years, and he was supported by every narcissist in his party, and well... Yeah, it's gone pretty fucking badly and plenty of stuff went to shit.

This is probably one of those "You're not wrong Walter, you're just an asshole" type things.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:47 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


"In defense of interesting writing on controversial topics"

Matthew Yglesias, huh? Nope nope nope. Interesting writing on controversial topics, fine, whatever, but his obsession with birth rate has become creepy and there's a reason he's among that group who moved off more mainstream sites in the past year, as his aggressively "centrist" discourse fell out of favor with many who previously thought he was OK. He can go hang out with Bari Weiss and Nate Silver and Elizabeth Bruenig and Conor Friedersdorf and all the other upholders of cis white heteropatriarchy, apologists for Jeffrey Toobin, and maintainers of the status quo.
posted by limeonaire at 9:53 AM on February 14 [18 favorites]


A: Self-help guru Jordan Peterson is full of shit.
B: The reason JP is full of shit is mostly due to his reading of Stephen Hicks, whose philosophy is borderline incoherent and self-contradictory.
C: Sam Harris claiming to have “transcended philosophy” is just an example of him doing it profoundly badly.

Calling your moral philosophy “Objectivism” is the intellectual equivalent of calling it “Goodism”.
Who isn’t in favor of “Good”? And as it happens, I can scientifically identify what is “Good”, and it also lines up with my interests.
To me, these are the ABCs of “Rationalism.”
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:55 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Here's a rebuttal of the NYT's implication that SSC is at the centre of a network of Silicon Valley right-wingers:

Silicon Valley isn't full of fascists
Stereotyping the tech industry as a bunch of secretive right-wingers isn't correct, and it isn't helpful.

posted by vincebowdren at 10:10 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I don't give a shit what Noah Smith, a huge fan of Peter Thiel, who is a big fan of Curtis Yarvin/Mencius Moldbug, the godfather of Neoreaction, thinks about the tech industry and politics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:15 AM on February 14 [23 favorites]


As for Nazis in Scott’s comment section, I personally think he should have banned these people long ago — everything is better without Nazis, full stop. But I haven’t seen evidence that Nazi ideas have taken root among the Rationalists

So actual Nazis hanging out in the comment section isn't evidence that there are Nazi ideas among this circle? This repeated "I haven't seen evidence that" feels a bit sealioning to me.
posted by limeonaire at 10:18 AM on February 14 [22 favorites]


Ah yes, Silicon Valley, where we are supposed to remember how liberal everyone is while ignoring that 99% of them are workers with very little say in how the companies are run, but the people who run the companies are very, very right-wing and/or libertarian.

Cool, so you can prove anything with statistics. When the "liberals" in the industry are low level peons with no control over the business *cough* Google *cough* then this graph showing how liberal Silicon Valley leaders are is absolute bunkum.

Also a reminder to "centrists":
A corporation embracing black people or LGBT+ people doesn't mean they give a shit about those things as much as they know that they need to market to those people to make money and they could be losing some of the best workers by not hiring them. Give me a break with this "Silicon Valley is soooooo liberal" bullshit. It's about money, period.

Yeah, it's liberal if you take the American meaning of liberal which is essentially "center-right."
posted by deadaluspark at 10:21 AM on February 14 [14 favorites]


Silicon Valley isn't full of fascists

There's no meaningful distinction between being a fascist and giving free tech support to fascists.
posted by mhoye at 10:22 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]




Here's a rebuttal of the NYT's implication that SSC is at the centre of a network of Silicon Valley right-wingers
This article misunderstands a handful of things:
  • Influence doesn't come directly from readership — the fact that SSC isn't read by a huge number of people in the tech industry doesn't mean the ideas in it aren't common. I think it's really hard to tell if SSC is more a source of these ideas or a symptom, but the ideas are much much wider than SSC is individually. SSC (and /r/TheMotte) is a nexus for these ideas in the same way that 4chan was the nexus for a lot of recent political ideas. In both of those cases, it's hard to tell how much influence they actually have, whether it's overstated, etc, but clearly, watered down versions of the stuff in SSC and /r/TheMotte flow into the tech industry at large and become popular.
  • "Silicon Valley" consists of both workers, who are on the whole, more liberal than most of America (although also more libertarian at the same time, which I would argue is the much more important part to notice) and investors, who typically have much more extreme and distorted views. Many of the ideas in SSC are more popular with the investor class than the rank-and-file workers
  • He's now deleted all his posts in the thread, but the author completely misunderstands how popular racism is companies like Google. That thread was basically him going "Really? A lot people write racist stuff in the open at Google? Has anyone documented this?" and a bunch of Google employees and ex-Google employees going "Yeah, that shit was all over the place, you had to actively avoid it if you didn't want to see it"
posted by wesleyac at 10:29 AM on February 14 [19 favorites]


It's like one of those "I guess we'll never know" memes.

Smith and other apologists: Have Nazi ideas taken root in this circle? There are Nazis in the comments, sure, but does that mean the ideas have influence?

Multiple people: Um, actual Nazis in the comments seems like those ideas have currency there?

Smith and other apologists: I haven't seen evidence for this.

Multiple people: Haven't you heard of the Nazi bar parable? See also: actual Nazis and eugenicists in the comments.

Smith and other apologists: Oh well, I guess we'll never know.
posted by limeonaire at 10:31 AM on February 14 [16 favorites]


The Last Psychiatrist, maybe? Whose unifying principle to explain why everything had gone to shit was narcissism.

That was it! Maybe he's even right about narcissism. But I disliked his schtick.
posted by thelonius at 10:34 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I have been a Black Rock Ranger out at Burning Man.
I have over a decade of catering and bartending experience in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And a Libertarian is just a Conservative who smokes weed and likes porn. If this industry is “Liberal”, it’s in the classical 19th C. sense that believes 1 dollar = 1 vote, and that private property rights morally come before all others.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:45 AM on February 14 [35 favorites]


humans simply cannot make decisions based solely in logic and reason

Logic and reason are powerful tools for figuring out how to get what you want, and powerless for deciding what you want.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:52 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Also, a personal acquaintance who is a fundraiser for local non-profits reports that techies are THE ABSOLUTE WORST when it comes to charitable contributions to non-profits.

Robber Barons of past generations had the good sense to build libraries or fund the symphony or something as “guillotine repellant”. Even if noblesse oblige is a comes from a place of condescension and P.R. masked as civic mindedness, at least we got libraries out of it.

Today’s Technobarons don’t believe in the idea of “society”, would set up a sovereign state on their private land if they could, and feel no intrinsic motivation to put any of their wealth towards “strangers”. Why would I be surprised that they don’t run the Nazis out of their bar?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:57 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


I like Elizabeth Spiers' take on this. She hits on some of the same things several of us have in our comments.
posted by limeonaire at 11:09 AM on February 14 [19 favorites]


One factor - although probably only a part - re: the low amount of charitable donations from techies is their average age.

Many years ago I had a brief conversation with Bill Gates, and I had the temerity to ask why he wasn't giving more of his money away. He replied "Right now I am focused on building this business and making a fortune. Later in my life I will devote as much time and energy to giving it away as I am to making it right now."

I walked away thinking "bullshit bullshit bullshit," but he turned out to be telling the truth. I am offering no assessment of anyone else's charitable efforts, just reporting on a conversation and prediction that ended up surprising me.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:18 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


The claim that techies are terrible about donating to "local non profits" might be true but doesn't have to be an indictment of some of them. The whole point of the Effective Altruism belief system to which many of them subscribe is that you're going to get far more bang for your charitable giving buck by donating it to Against Malaria or GiveDirectly than the local opera house. To what degree you think this is a valid view is obviously debateable, and I'm open to hearing that tech people donate less to charity overall than other categories of workers do. I personally think that if you are earning a very high salary in an environment with extremely high rents and a homelessness crisis exacerbated by your and your employer's presence, it's a good idea morally and from an anti-guillotine perspective to donate money to help local people who are not on the winning end of the changes in your area's economy.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 11:25 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I walked away thinking "bullshit bullshit bullshit," but he turned out to be telling the truth. I am offering no assessment of anyone else's charitable efforts, just reporting on a conversation and prediction that ended up surprising me.

He's worth more than he was when he started "giving it away" and his form of "charity" is reassigning his wealth to a charity (which gives him a nice tax benefit!) which he controls and spending it on making unilateral decisions about things that should be democratically controlled and might be had he and others like him not drained so much money from the public coffers over the decades. A great example of his efforts to use his wealth to remake the public school system to fit his preferences.

He spends some of it on vaccines, and that's good! But a lot of what he's doing is getting a tax break to use his wealth to remake society to be what he, an unaccountable criminal billionaire, thinks it should be.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:30 AM on February 14 [32 favorites]


Except for its seemingly SSC-like length (laughing), Elizabeth Spiers' take is the best reaction to SSC and the NYT piece I have seen so far. Unlike many of the commenters here, she thinks Scott has interesting insights that are worthy of consideration and discussion, and she says she will continue to read his writing. I've literally never read SSC before this kerfluffle, but based on Spiers' comments I might dip into the new Substack once in a while.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:31 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


He spends some of it on vaccines, and that's good!

Given that Gates is the reason that Oxford licensed their COVID-19 vaccine to AstraZenica instead of the open license they were originally planning on, I have to question if it really is good.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:36 AM on February 14 [15 favorites]


The whole point of the Effective Altruism belief system to which many of them subscribe is that you're going to get far more bang for your charitable giving buck by donating it to Against Malaria or GiveDirectly than the local opera house

And yet if you bring up the idea that altruism and charity, no matter how effective, are poor substitutes for actual equitable systems that empower people, those same people react in much the same way a vampire reacts to sunlight.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:42 AM on February 14 [23 favorites]


I was referring to the actual provision of vaccines, which I am given to understand the B&MGF has done, but his efforts to replace public goods with private profits even in this field are unsurprising and another example of why societies cannot tolerate wealth concentration.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:42 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Effective Altruism is a good example of what I see as the holes in the rationalist program - okay, sure, yes, you should spend your charitable giving where it will do the most provable good. Malaria nets for everybody. But when a bunch of effective altruists decide that the risks posed by artificial intelligence are the most important/urgent risks to the survival of humanity - and therefore you should give money to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute even though it's really unclear to what extent they can do anything to prevent catastrophic artificial intelligence...

The chain of logic at least superficially makes sense, but I can't help but think that money spent on shelters and food banks is doing much more good in the world than money spent on preventing a science fiction dystopia.

You can feed me to the evil AI if I'm wrong about that.
posted by Jeanne at 11:44 AM on February 14 [25 favorites]


> And yet if you bring up the idea that altruism and charity, no matter how effective, are poor substitutes for actual equitable systems that empower people, those same people react in much the same way a vampire reacts to sunlight.

I think one of the big weaknesses of how EA is commonly done (to be clear, there are people who identify as EAs and their main thing they want to do is a socialist transformation of society) is that there's rarely interrogation of the historical circumstances and present structures that lead to tech people in SF making $300,000 a year, while for the recipients of the GiveDirectly money (or indeed many Americans), a few thousand dollars a year is an absolutely life changing amount of money.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 12:00 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


A whole lot of charity would be rendered unnecessary if people paid taxes and fair wages (including to contractors, "contingent employees," and workers at the bottom end of the supply chain) to begin with.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:03 PM on February 14 [18 favorites]


Logic and reason are powerful tools for figuring out how to get what you want, and powerless for deciding what you want.

Facts
.
Damasio and his colleagues have since studied over 50 patients with brain damage like Elliot’s who share this combination of emotional and decision-making defects. And researchers have found that patients with injuries to parts of the limbic system, an ancient group of brain structures important in generating emotions, also struggle with making decisions.
Reason is a tool for winning arguments, not for discerning truth, and those who extoll its virtues as soverign are generally insufferable jerks shading their prejudices and interests with the assertion of objective truth and disinterested analysis.

Hogwash.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:24 PM on February 14 [9 favorites]


MetaFilter: Insufferable jerks shading their prejudices and interests with the assertion of objective truth and disinterested analysis.
posted by PhineasGage at 12:48 PM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Today’s Technobarons don’t believe in the idea of “society”, would set up a sovereign state on their private land if they could, and feel no intrinsic motivation to put any of their wealth towards “strangers”.

not all technobarons
posted by flabdablet at 12:49 PM on February 14


I think many arguments against SSC are framed wrongly and incompletely. All he and the Rationalists are are libertarians under the guise of STEM. Like if Jordan Peterson were a tech-savvy Silicon Valley person.

So the real problem with them is not their flawed understanding of STEM (a trap to debate this with them) but that they are a specific strata of capitalists waging class warfare from an ideological technocratic angle. And great dead philosophers and living academics have already published entire books critiques of this general phenomenon, that would be applicable to SSC and Bill Gates and Aaronson and everyone else in the NYTimes article.
posted by polymodus at 12:52 PM on February 14 [10 favorites]


Reason is a tool for winning arguments, not for discerning truth

Can be used for either. Working out how an engineered system has failed is much harder to do without it, for example.

I've noticed that people whose main use for reason is winning arguments frequently seem quite reluctant to apply it to the consequences of their own participation.

those who extol its virtues as sovereign are generally insufferable jerks shading their prejudices and interests with the assertion of objective truth and disinterested analysis.

This has also been my experience with most of the people I've encountered who do this.
posted by flabdablet at 12:56 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Anyway as long as we're going in on Rationalists I really should recommend Elizabeth Sandifer's Neoreaction A Basilisk, which deals with the movement, its origins, and its role in giving birth the neoreactionaries.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:03 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


Elizabeth Sandifer's Neoreaction A Basilisk
I think a Twitter thread form her, discussing the article, was posted way up above. I'd like to read the book.

Almost every time I encounter someone who makes a big to-do out of being super logical, they turn out to know very little about logic. A lot of times, they seem to think that "logical" means "100% devoted to scientism".
posted by thelonius at 1:13 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


When Sam Altman complains that concerns about sexism and racism inhibit innovation, the point that really needs to be made, and that Cade should have asked for a response quote on, is that innovations unconcerned with sexism and racism hurt people.
And that sexism and racism inhibit innovation! Oh, the problem-solving power (in whatever domain you choose) that would be unleashed if we got rid of that shit.
posted by inexorably_forward at 1:14 PM on February 14 [10 favorites]


I started writing something on my phone, got muddled and stopped. But I'm going to try again. Because there's a historical tie here with the rationalists and the alt-right.

I'm friends on facebook with a woman who is very prominent in the rationalist community. In fact, I'm anticipating seeing something about this on her facebook in a day or two. I know her from when we were both part of the New York skeptical community. A large part of the skeptical community came not out of liberal atheists who did not believe in a supernatural and were kind of annoyed at the woo that shows up in leftist circles, not to mention the threat the fundamentalists (a word that has fallen out of favor for evangelical, which is sad, because it exiles the small evangelical left) Christians posed to the health of democracy (like myself), but out of libertarians who are convinced that all these women believing in supernatural things was what was holding back American progress. Initially, it looked very similar, going after people like Peter Popoff and Uri Geller, but there then turned to this work at debunking "post modernism" as was seen in academia in the 90s onward. I've written about how this helped get the TERFs in the UK going, but in the US, it gave us the people who attempted to give intellectual backing to gamergate (see the atheist turn anti-feminists on youtube) and the rationalist movement, including LessWrong and apparently SSC. (There are still some leftist skeptics out there fighting the good fight, like PZ Meyers and Rebecca Watson, but they just don't have the prominence of others. )

Conflated with "post modernism" and mushy headed ideas coming out of leftist academics is the idea of equal right for disadvantaged people. I suspect this is because a lot of the movements get a start or at least a boost by student activists, combined with the studies showing how shat upon POC/women/LGBT/visibly disabled people are coming out of social science research. This primes them to give credence to Murray/neo-Phrenology or whatever the "I can't believe it's not racism" de jure is.

There is a hardcore belief within these circles that good ideas will always triumph over bad and if an idea is triumphing it is because it is good. It cannot be that the people promoting it have more money/time/rhetorical training than those who are directly effected by it.

Finally, I can't remember which of those defenses of SSC listed the fact that it was quoted by David Brooks. If you are quoted by David Brooks, I tend to look askance at anything you've written, but I will give credence to the fact that he can occasionally quote reasonable people or misunderstand someone in his quoting off them. Listing a quotation by David Brooks as a defense of SSC damages the rest of the defense. Not fatally, but it's similar to starting off an apologia for the Bible by talking about how David Koresch and Jim Jones liked to quote it extensively.
posted by Hactar at 1:15 PM on February 14 [26 favorites]


There is a hardcore belief within these circles that good ideas will always triumph over bad and if an idea is triumphing it is because it is good.

And it's not just ideas. Much of what these people write becomes a lot more predictable, and reads as much more internally consistent, if you approach it with the assumption that they're operating from an unexamined belief that the entire world is naturally just, rather than justice being a thing that people have banded together and worked long and hard to bring into being, a thing we all need to work much harder on if it's ever going to get anywhere near available to all, and a thing that's not reliably robust in the presence of extreme disparities in personal power.

Ask any of them directly whether they subscribe to Just World and most will strongly deny it. But their reasoning becomes far less apparently incoherent if you identify that as their implicit starting point.
posted by flabdablet at 1:29 PM on February 14 [13 favorites]


I guess this is a kind of side note to all of this. Knowing a bit about the sausage factory that leads to a published article, I can see that there are very clear hallmarks of division between the author and the editor, and this article - especially the most flawed parts of it - are at least partially a result of that. So, don't put all of this on Cade Metz. His editor(s), who get to remain nameless here, are equally at fault.

And, of course, you can't really tell which side of this the author was on, vs. the editor(s). (Using only the article as context.)
posted by Citrus at 1:37 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


seemingly SSC-like length (laughing), Elizabeth Spiers' take is the best reaction

I got half way through (judging by the scroll bar) and had yet to find much content worth the length -- "journalists are usually way less personally invested/interested in a subject than the subject thinks" doesn't really require that many paragraphs to say -- and gave up. What did you find worthwhile about it?
posted by tavella at 1:50 PM on February 14


Aw, man. A few years back I dated a guy for a while who drinks deeply of the SSC. Longtime employee at a tech behemoth, high powered graduate degree from a world class research university. That article was a real walk down memory lane; he was obsessed with all that stuff.

Alas, doomed romance. I recoiled in horror when the told me that he didn't believe in democracy and that the closest thing he had to a religion was his refusal to vote. He lost respect for me when I literally fell off the couch laughing that the people he knew who wanted to have their heads and/or bodies frozen upon death, in hopes that their consciousness could be revived in another vessel, were fellow "rationalists".

Good times.
posted by Sublimity at 1:53 PM on February 14 [16 favorites]


PhineasGage: Unlike many of the commenters here, she thinks Scott has interesting insights that are worthy of consideration and discussion, and she says she will continue to read his writing. I've literally never read SSC before this kerfluffle, but based on Spiers' comments I might dip into the new Substack once in a while.

Scott does have some interesting thoughts, much like Steven Pinker (who happens to be a big fan of Scott).

The problem that the average Mefite has with both of them, I think, is that both of them believe that social justice is bad. It "made life a living a hell for many innocent and thoughtful people (while accomplishing pretty much nothing in improving the lives of the disadvantaged and oppressed)", as Pinker puts it.

Like James Damore, they believe that it's wrong and dangerous to make diversity and equity into moral issues. They should be "rational" issues so that people don't get so worked up about them.

Every step of racial progress that has been made in American history over the past 200 years has had people like this. Intelligent, calm, rational, interesting people taking the side of "let's keep this discussion rational and not make it into a moral issue".

Those rationalists have always bemoaned the "progressive mob": Look at it ruin people's lives for making calm, rational arguments in favour of keeping slavery or keeping voting restrictions or keeping segregation! How dangerous to the fabric of American civilization that we have moralized this discussion and can't discuss it calmly!

In 1965 there was William F. Buckley Jr. In 1835, there were the people who didn't support slavery but felt that the aggressive tactics of antislavery activists "violated a classical understanding of the public sphere as a place of rational-critical discussion" (PDF).

That's the role that people like Pinker and Siskind are playing today. So you'll encounter lots of interesting and intelligently expressed ideas when reading them, but it'll be in a context of "failing to calmly consider the ideas of racists and anti-feminists is morally wrong, and it's dangerous to sympathetically consider the ideas of feminists and anti-racism activists."
posted by clawsoon at 2:16 PM on February 14 [54 favorites]


Citrus: So, don't put all of this on Cade Metz. His editor(s), who get to remain nameless here, are equally at fault.

IIRC, the folks over at SneerClub thought based on past work that Cade Metz was going to write a very friendly puff piece about Slate Star Codex right up until Siskind freaked out about his last name being revealed. (And, of course, the SSC people were equally convinced from the start that it was going to be a completely unfair hit piece.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:24 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Basic rule:
You make space for Nazis and their ideas, you have chosen to sided with the Nazis, and you are a legitimate target to get punched and curb stomped, just as much as someone with a 3MWNA tattoo flashing white power gang signs.
Tolerance is not a moral precept, it is a peace treaty.

You make a place for Nazis at the table, then you are a Nazi and there is nothing for you but war. Because to be a Nazi is to a priori have rejected peace and tolerance. We already had a metric World War of litigation on that issue, and the Nazis were hanged 5-at-a-ti meat the end of it.

There is Nazi, and there is anti-Nazi. Anyone who tells you there is a 3rd option has by default made their choice.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:52 PM on February 14 [20 favorites]


Scott Aaronson has interesting thoughts to the extent that I when bored sometimes hate-read his politics blog posts, or interesting in that they trigger in me a mild "WTF??" mental response; his quantum prosletyzing is way better and inspiring, and I'd wish he'd apply the same rigor and honesty that he clearly does with his science to his political commentary.
posted by polymodus at 4:19 PM on February 14


No matter who said it, no matter how they self-identify, no matter whether the conclusion is reassuring or disquietening - every opinion and every argument is fair game for even-handed critical assessment.

I tend to be, heh, skeptical, about "even-handed critical assessment" in which the protagonists conclude that they are naturally and systematically superior every time.
posted by tavella at 4:45 PM on February 14 [16 favorites]


Slight derail, but I'm unfamiliar with "human biodiversity" being a code word for scientific racism/eugenics -- how and when did that happen?
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:43 PM on February 14


Human Biodiversity:
An ideological successor to eugenics, human biodiversity (HBD) is, like eugenics (from the Greek words for “good” and “breeding”) primarily a euphemism. Ostensibly, HBD refers to the scientifically proven (and therefore apolitical) genetic differences between groups of humans. The term fuses biological and liberal language into a benign-sounding neologism, like “neurodiversity,” a key term within the autism rights movement.

But it is just pseudoscientific racism, updated for the Internet age.

“Human biodiversity” appropriates scientific authority by posing as an empirical, rational discourse on the genetically proven physical and mental variation between humans. It uses the language of genetics to underscore, for example, the prevalence of Mongolians in sumo wrestling, the IQ scores of black people or the inbreeding patterns of Ashkenazi Jews. The refrain of HBD bloggers and forum commenters is that the (gene-driven, according to them) dissimilarities they outline are “non-negligible” or “non-trivial” and have, accordingly, social policy implications. Though it has a rational, policy-wonk zing to it, that’s just Internet forum-ese for “you’re genetically distinct from us and should be treated differently.”
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:51 PM on February 14 [15 favorites]


I think I first encountered "human biodiversity" as a euphemism via HBD Chick.
posted by clawsoon at 6:55 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


The thing to bear in mind with stuff like that is that race isn't actually biologically real and the boundaries between "races" are fuzzy at best, there's greater diversity within "races" than between them, and so the instant you ask a question like "is there a difference between black people and white people in terms of genetic predisposition to intelligence?" you have, by talking about "black people" and "white people" as though these were distinct genetic groups, already failed and left supportable biology behind, and no such project will generate any knowledge other than knowledge about the individuals responsible for it and their desires and assumptions about the world.

A group that finds such questions irresistible is not an intellectual colloquy. It is simply a pack of racists trying to invent sciencey-sounding excuses.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 PM on February 14 [30 favorites]




deadaluspark: I know psychiatrists James E. Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of Spokane, Washington helped the Bush administration codify "enhanced interrogation."

Hinging an argument on a transitive relation between psychiatrists and psychologists here is problematic. The actual link posted starts with Spokane psychologists Mitchell and Jessen called to testify. There is a difference between psychiatrists and psychologists, just as as there is between psychiatrists and physiatrists (although less so for the latter example, because they are both subspecialized physicians). At that time, the medicine-derived ethical code from the AMA/APA for psychiatrists/physicians disallowed participation in the deliberate causing of harm without the expectation of treatment. The psychologists' APA was not as explicit about disallowing this behavior. It has since attempted to clarify its position. However, its own report shows how leadership at the time enabled psychologists' APA collaboration with the Bush administration's torture program. The psychiatrists' APA did not. That's not to say that psychiatrists can't be arseholes, but for that sort of thing they would have had to disavow common ethical principles codified and shared by a majority of the profession.
posted by meehawl at 9:08 PM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Anyway, if you're curious what kind of people SSC's defenders really are, I recommend reading the replies to Conor Friersdorf using a quote-tweet to aim an abusive dogpile at Elizabeth Sandifer because he's mad at her for telling people about SSC and knows how readily filth harass trans women. These people are scum.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:47 PM on February 14 [12 favorites]


If I was a patient of Siskind's, I think I would be most upset about the times on his blog he railed against drug regulations, wishing that more effective drugs could become available despite their higher fatality rates.

I don't think I'd like to find out that my doctor was a eugenicist.

To the degree that anything bad has happened to him from this, I think it's a self wound, and he has only himself to blame.
posted by fleacircus at 12:10 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that.

The thing that the fans of this kind of writer frequently miss, it seems to me, is that to the extent their writing is interesting it isn't original, and to the extent it's original it isn't interesting.

This is 2021. The Internet is a thing. Everybody with access to the Internet has access to more interesting, thought-provoking writing than any of us could ever consume in a lifetime of trying.

It's super rare to find a Scott Alexander or a Sam Harris or a Jordan Peterson provoking thoughts that haven't been provoked better by somebody else who doesn't mistake reflexive sneering at social justice for worthwhile commentary on it. Having adopted the rule of thumb that says anybody who sneers at social justice is best ignored might very occasionally mean that I miss out on a genuinely useful contribution from somebody who does this; but this risk is completely swamped by the amount of time freed up for the almost always more thoughtful writers who don't.

This isn't me choosing to live in an opinion bubble where the things I believe most strongly are never subjected to substantial challenge and everybody I read is ideologically on side. This is me understanding that writers who make it obvious at every turn that they do occupy such a bubble are a waste of my time, especially given that their bubble is inflated with farts.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 AM on February 15 [32 favorites]


My only regret is that I am not the author of “their bubble is inflated with farts.” Someone will do the MetaFilter thing shortly; I just want to pause briefly to enjoy and honor that turn of phrase. Thank you, flabdablet.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:41 AM on February 15 [11 favorites]


The thing to bear in mind with stuff like that is that race isn't actually biologically real and the boundaries between "races" are fuzzy at best, there's greater diversity within "races" than between them, and so the instant you ask a question like "is there a difference between black people and white people in terms of genetic predisposition to intelligence?" you have, by talking about "black people" and "white people" as though these were distinct genetic groups, already failed and left supportable biology behind, and no such project will generate any knowledge other than knowledge about the individuals responsible for it and their desires and assumptions about the world.

It's also important to observe that the value we put on traits such as these are in large part socially constructed. IQ being a eugenicist project is relatively well-known at this point, but we only value some of these things because we have decided, as a society, that they are important, and not because they necessarily lead to better outcomes. (There actually is an inverse link between 'genius-level' IQs and successful transitions to adulthood - people with IQs much higher than the norm are far more likely to flame out in early adulthood. We also know that the model of the lone genius Great Man who invents the future is largely untrue; the vast majority of 'innovation' comes from a community of peers, able to build on each other's half-formed ideas.)
posted by Merus at 1:55 AM on February 15 [12 favorites]


This would be an even better justification, if it were true. Maybe it is, but I always assumed he was drastically reworking and fictionalizing the details of those stories rather than merely filing off the serial numbers.

Why would you assume that? Beyond Siskind not meriting the benefit of the doubt from his own behavior, there's the point that doctor-patient privilege is something we as a society take very seriously, and thus practicioners talking about their patients have an affirmative duty to note that the stories have been properly anonymized or permission for disclosure has been properly obtained.

To the degree that anything bad has happened to him from this, I think it's a self wound, and he has only himself to blame.

For all his railing about being doxxed, about being "kicked in the balls", Siskind makes it clear that he knew what he was doing in the details, that his use of a pen name wasn't out of either effect or for protection, but in order to avoid professional opprobrium for his writings and for the community he built. The situation feels like the stereotypical unfaithful spouse angry that someone under no obligation to maintain their confidence has revealed their infidelity to their spouse, resulting in them facing negative consequences. But in this case, it's even more fraught, because the situation is a mental health professional actively concealing information that would have their patients and employers questioning their relationship with him, purely because it would cause that questioning.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:16 AM on February 15 [13 favorites]


I encourage everybody, but particularly those who build the image of a person from things others - whether defenders or accusers - say about them, to base their opinion of Scott Alexander on what he writes. I used to read Slate Star Codex articles regularly and found a lot of value in it, even if I don't agree with everything Scott wrote. But the most relevant thing I learned from reading it is that he's a good person who's trying to do their best to help others, and so I'm proud to be hereby counted among his defenders. I consider the way he's vilified on Metafilter one of our biggest failings as a community.
posted by hat_eater at 3:22 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


I encourage everybody, but particularly those who build the image of a person from things others - whether defenders or accusers - say about them, to base their opinion of Scott Alexander on what he writes.

You do realize that many of us criticizing him are doing so having read his writings, as well as looking at the cultures he built in the communities around said writings and what ideas got championed there? It turns out that people question whether someone is "trying to do their best to help others" by creating a safe space to discuss bigotry and debate people's humanity. People didn't just come to these conclusions, but based it on their own assessment, and to try to argue that the only way they would have come to their position is because they haven't looked at the matter at hand - when there is ample evidence to the contrary in this thread - is arguing in bad faith. You call for us to show charity, but refuse to show that same charity to the people who you are attempting to admonish - and then wonder why your call is not received well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:53 AM on February 15 [19 favorites]


Unless those others are women or people of color, in which case he is doing his best to hurt us in every way possible.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:18 AM on February 15 [14 favorites]


base their opinion of Scott Alexander on what he writes.

This is good advice. It doesn't take long to discern the odour.
posted by flabdablet at 4:34 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]


I consider the way he's vilified on Metafilter one of our biggest failings as a community.

Portraying valid criticism of a less-than-mediocre white man who platformed fascism/eugenics/etc as one of the biggest failings of this community, instead of decades of both hard and soft bigotry and harassment within the community, is a perfect example of the problem with SSC and his defenders.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 5:39 AM on February 15 [22 favorites]


A bit late to the party, so most of what should be said have been said already. It appears no one linked to my favourite incident, so I'll do it. Remember the time, when Siskind picked a fight, with MeFi's own idlewords? And was promptly forced to eat his hat (animated gif).
posted by kmt at 5:43 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Rob Beschizza, on Twitter:
Just like to repeat that the NYT's mangled article about Slate Star Codex was so focused on framing the silicon valley neoreaction with Scott Alexander that it jauntily skipped over an actual VC suggesting, in 2013, they organize far-right online mobs against women journalists.
posted by kandinski at 5:55 AM on February 15 [15 favorites]


It's nice to see some centrist infighting for a change, between two blogs which both take perverse pride in being 'gray', in triangulating to an enlightened center between the extremes of 'nordic capitalism' and 'white christian ethno-state', and platform fascism in the name of promoting debate.
posted by Pyry at 6:24 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


was promptly forced to eat his hat

...which, I note with dry amusement, he also does performatively and unconvincingly.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Those of you who enjoy watching Siskind hammer a Chesterton pastiche into the ground might also appreciate Yudkowski having a crack at Rowling.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 AM on February 15


base their opinion of Scott Alexander on what he writes

hat_eater, this is from the link you posted:

I got an email from Balaji Srinivasan, a man whose anti-corporate-media crusade straddles a previously unrecognized border between endearing and terrifying. He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists. I'm not sure any of them were especially actionable, at least not while the Geneva Convention remains in effect. But it was still a good learning experience. In particular, I learned never to make an enemy of Balaji Srinivasan. I am humbled by his support.

Believe me, I am absolutely basing my disgust with this man on the things he writes.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:01 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


It feels like SSC illustrates how a "community" is more than the words on the screen - it's made up of affect, phrasing, the choice of things to discuss, the presence and exclusion of various people, the way it fits in with the spirit of the age, etc. SSC functions as a creepy right-wing space even though not literally every word posted by Scott Alexander is right wing. Anyone reading SSC sustainedly can see how this works.

And of course that's how "rationality" denies what's really going on - only the words on the screen count. The relationships, the references, the tone don't, they're invisible because they can't be counted or can be counted only partially and with difficulty.

Frankly, if I were the guy's patient, I'd want to know that he was anti-feminist and provided a platform for "inquiry" into eugenics and racism. Those are pretty big things, and given that women and POC are already disbelieved and undertreated, I'd be very dubious about going to a practitioner like this. Again, it's a question of "atmosphere", bias and affect - he would probably say that of course he treats his women patients fairly and his BIPOC patients fairly and his views don't impinge on his treatment strategies...and if we were rationalists we'd accept that of course you can be very into anti-feminism and still treat women effectively.
posted by Frowner at 8:02 AM on February 15 [17 favorites]


That google was auto-completing his pen name is not at all a convincing argument. That the immortal panopticon with no respect for privacy is leaking information should never be accepted as "damage is done, might as well."
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:14 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The article illustrates why privacy questions are complicated.

I mean, it's true that autocomplete and "everyone knows" are not justifications for printing the name on any old pseudonymous blog in the NYT. We all know that there's a huge difference between "I am sort of well known in some parts of the blogosphere and if you really want to try you can find out my actual name" and "my actual name is front and center in the NYT". These are different levels of privacy, as we recognize when we recognize, eg, that TERFs publicize the identities and work of trans women in order to bring danger and anxiety on them. Real fame is different from "some people know who I am".

I really think this points to the non-existance of "rationality", because the "rational" take is "if we want anyone to be pseudonymous on the internet, we have to let everyone be pseudonymous on the internet, and if it's okay to dox a Nazi it's also okay to dox a trans woman; if you argue that doctors and ministers are special cases and their patients need to know if they hold very marked views, then parents also need to know if their children's teachers are gay".

But of course, that's not how it works and not what anyone really thinks. People think that the harms they disapprove of are the ones that need to be made public. So for instance, I do think doxxing Nazis is good and I do think doxxing trans women on the basis of their transness is bad. I do want to know if my doctor is actually a TERF or a men's rights activist and I don't think parents need to know their children's teachers sexuality. And this is because I believe that being a Nazi is bad and being trans is fine and that being an MRA makes you likely to be a bad doctor and being gay doesn't really mean much about your teaching skills. I can't abstract those beliefs away.

(FTR, I did in fact read SSC regularly some years ago - it was linked a lot by various lefty blogs at the time. It had a vibe, you know, but more of a "pedantic college guy" vibe than a "feminists are categorically bad" vibe. When I came back to it a bit more recently, it had changed.)
posted by Frowner at 8:34 AM on February 15 [19 favorites]


That google was auto-completing his pen name is not at all a convincing argument. That the immortal panopticon with no respect for privacy is leaking information should never be accepted as "damage is done, might as well."

He literally posted an excerpt of work published under his own name and acknowledged it as his own. He was not attempting to remain anonymous to his readers, only to people who might find his work objectionable.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:44 AM on February 15 [12 favorites]


That the immortal panopticon with no respect for privacy is leaking information should never be accepted as "damage is done, might as well."

Good thing that's not the argument being made, then. Instead, the point is that Siskind's call for privacy is similar to that of the cheating spouse - he's demanding that we respect his "privacy" not because it would endanger him, but because having people in his professional orbit see that he gives a safe space for bigots to debate the humanity of others would have understandable negative repercussions as questions would be raised about his ability to do his job. As you have noticed, a number of us don't see such a request as worthy of honoring, especially given that he works as a mental health professional, with all of the concerns stemming from that.

Siskind is trying to argue that we are, out of some vague nod to privacy, obliged to maintain the facade he has created to avoid facing professional repercussions from his conduct. Many of us, however, look at how he is concealing pertinent information from both his patients and peers, and feel an obligation to them to protect them from harm, and thus we reject the argument that we are obliged to keep the facade up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:55 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Believe me, I am absolutely basing my disgust with this man on the things he writes.

Eh? In that section "I am humbled by X's support" = "big name X offered comically useless help (and is quite possibly a lunatic)". The people by whose support he's actually humbled are mentioned further down.

I agree that Mefi "doesn't do Siskind well", as we like to say. Last thread I was involved in, I learned he once considered suicide as the result of some student political fracas where he got on the wrong side of some SJ types, which might explain his fascination with writing long essays justifying disagreeing with some other SJ types.

Ironically, I see that long essay writing on SJ as part of the whole Rationalist schtick of taking ideas seriously, which also leads him to write long essays on why he isn't a libertarian or a neo-reactionary (and not immediately ban the nRX commenters). Rather than just not taking any of these more out-there political ideas too seriously (including the more out there SJ ideas), he feels he ought to engage. officer_fred suggested that nerds have malfunctioning bullshit detectors, but I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"
posted by pw201 at 9:01 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I learned he once considered suicide as the result of some student political fracas where he got on the wrong side of some SJ types, which might explain his fascination with writing long essays justifying disagreeing with some other SJ types.

His own description of the events is so lacking any sort of context or details that taking it at face value and providing it as a defense in of itself raises questions.

I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

Do you assume that his critics have never had to engage with stuff like bigotry or fascism?
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:13 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


officer_fred suggested that nerds have malfunctioning bullshit detectors, but I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

To which the response is "I don't need to engage with Nazi ideology to know it's bullshit." As I said earlier, it doesn't matter how pious you are in your approach - the moment you open the discussion on someone's humanity, you have become an asshole, do not pass go, do not collect 200 zorkmids. If Siskind is worried that people will voice concerns about his ability to perform his job based on his writings and the community he helped foster, perhaps he should reflect on what people see those things representing to them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:15 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Eh? In that section "I am humbled by X's support" = "big name X offered comically useless help (and is quite possibly a lunatic)". The people by whose support he's actually humbled are mentioned further down.

In one of the first paragraphs of that piece, he makes sure everyone knows he has the support of a powerful man with the desire to terrorize journalists.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:21 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]


The Jan 6th insurrection and attempted lynching of American Senators and Representatives was, as someone smarter than me opined, “The result of treating White Supremacy as an idea to be discussed rather than a violent ideology to be combatted and defeated.”

In short, fuck these self-styled “Rationalists” and their defenders. There is no earthly reason we need to treat them and their arguments as reasonable when they have gone to such lengths to make a place for the unreasonable at the table.

And there are real lives in the balance.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:21 AM on February 15 [16 favorites]


(including the more out there SJ ideas)

Also, which social justice ideas do you consider "more out there"?
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:23 AM on February 15 [10 favorites]


I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

To which the obvious riposte is that I know bullshit when I smell it and DARVO is a particularly ripe variety.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

My riposte would actually be pointing out that it's not the ideas that make me realize it's bullshit, it's that it's a classic bullshit-artist spewing them.
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.” -Sartre
Look, if I'm dealing with someone who obviously is arguing in bath faith (which is actually pretty easy to spot in most cases), then I'm not going to bother with trying to deconstruct their argument because... the argument is in bad faith to begin with, so why the fuck would I bother with refuting it when it's painfully obvious it is bullshit?

Refuting it is giving them space to breathe and giving their bullshit ass ideas credence.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:34 AM on February 15 [18 favorites]


I'm sure Siskind's response would be "how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

If you need to give Nazis a forum to spread their hate in order to decide that White Supremacy and Nazism is inherently and on its face evil, then no. AT BEST you have completely ceased to even TRY to suss out Bullshit.

At some point, “Nazi-or-not” is such an important question to answer definitively...
“White-Supremacist-or-not” is such a vital categorization to have absolutely ZERO ambiguity about...
If someone refuses to draw a THICK, UNAMBIGUOUS LINE and actively positioning themself on the NOT-NAZI side of that line, if they’re at all hesitant about making a clear declaration...

At that point, the safest decision is to slap a “Nazi” label on said person, and treat them as such. I refer once again to the “No Nazis in the Bar” rule.

People like Siskind are arguing that the well-groomed, polite skinhead who wants a beer should be made welcome. Those jerks can settle their tab and get the fuck at as well.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:44 AM on February 15 [12 favorites]


I can't believe it was Scott Adams this whole time
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:46 AM on February 15 [17 favorites]


I can't believe it was Scott Adams this whole time

I can't believe I've had the same joke in my head since yesterday but didn't go with it.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:55 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


I got an email from Balaji Srinivasan, a man whose anti-corporate-media crusade straddles a previously unrecognized border between endearing and terrifying. He had some very creative suggestions for how to deal with journalists.

A bunch of people were tweeting screenshots of the quote in which Srinivasan talks about how "it may be interesting" to dox and sic people on a vulnerable reporter. He responded by tweeting a bunch of links to articles about how the press is mean and out to get people. What a roundabout way of defending yourself with "I know you are but what am I??"

"how do you know your bullshit detector is working if you never engage with any ideas you're dismissing as bullshit?"

How much time have you spent really considering whether Earth has has 4 corner simultaneous 4-day time cube? Life is short. You have to make choices about what you consume, and in many ways you are what you eat. Repeatedly focusing on or giving credence to racist and sexist ideologies is a specific choice, especially when someone isn't extending that same consideration to other subjects, including the thoughts and writings of people who are harmed by those ideas. Techbros could be having wide-ranging, quasi-intellectual conversations about, I don't know, the rivalry between Caravaggio or Giovanni Baglione, or the merits and difficulties of Africa's green belt project, or literally anything else, but the zeitgeist keeps circling back to whether women and minorities are valuable or deserving of equal treatment. It isn't an open-minded exploration. It's a fixation, and one that comes with real-world consequences.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:12 AM on February 15 [48 favorites]


That should be "Caravaggio and Giovanni Baglione."
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:21 AM on February 15


The reek of false equivalence emanating from the considered suicide piece linked above is pretty overwhelming, for what it's worth.

I'm prepared to entertain the possibility that the piece in question was in fact written in good faith, but if it was then the man who wrote it really really needs to tune his nose more carefully to the scent of that reek in his own work.

The nub of the trouble with the rationalist worldview, incidentally, is right there in that essay:
A Christian proverb says: “The Church is not a country club for saints, but a hospital for sinners”. Likewise, the rationalist community is not an ivory tower for people with no biases or strong emotional reactions, it’s a dojo for people learning to resist them.
To my way of thinking, seeking to resist one's biases and strong emotional reactions is seeking to diminish oneself.

The project is, in any case, impossible. Perfect objectivity is a false idol. Human beings have biases and strong emotional reactions; that's just how we operate.

Of course, with dedicated work it's feasible to bullshit ourselves into believing that we're making progress with the project. But we never really do, and I find it very difficult to respect the views of anybody who styles themselves an intellectual and disagrees with this. Bullshitting ourselves pretty quickly becomes habitual, and if they've bullshat themselves about that, the overwhelming likelihood is that they've bullshat themselves about a whole pile of other stuff as well. Thanks for your time, Doctor, but I'm going to go talk to somebody else.

It seems to me far better to recognize bias and strong emotions as inherent and valuable parts of being a whole person and learn to steer them in directions that mostly don't hurt people. Pretend you don't have any and they're only going to poke out in directions you didn't anticipate and cause pain you didn't intend to inflict.

It further seems to me that if you have caused pain to another person, the way to deal with that once your attention's been drawn to it is pretty simple:

1. Decide whether you care about it or not. For example, I personally have no objection whatsoever to inflicting pain on people who consistently choose to abuse a power they hold over others.

2. If you do care, apologize promptly and do what you can to make things right. Sometimes there is no way to make things right, in which case you just apologize, then go away and think about what you've done.

Notably absent from this list:

3. Publish a long, self-indulgent essay explaining that you have no choice but to continue inflicting this kind of pain because others elsewhere have inflicted something arguably similar on you.
posted by flabdablet at 10:39 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


pw201: Rather than just not taking any of these more out-there political ideas too seriously (including the more out there SJ ideas), he feels he ought to engage.

That's the thing, though: He engages seriously with far-right and reactionary ideas. He does not engage seriously with social justice ideas. This has been true for a long time.

His reaction to social justices ideas is, as he describes it, a fearful lizard-brain reaction. It's quite possible that it's associated with the conflict and consideration of suicide that you mentioned.

If he is ever going to consider social justice ideas seriously, he's probably going to have to get over that. He's usually open to ideas, but in that case his fear made him decide that he would rather kill himself than consider that he might be wrong. And he hasn't gotten past that fear in all these years since.

I'll be impressed if he ever does for social justice ideas what he did for neo-reaction: Spend months reading their writing, spend hours and hours in friendly interactions with them understanding exactly what they mean and why, write tens of thousands of words explaining clearly and sympathetically what they believe and which parts he thinks we should take seriously... and then, sure, write an anti-social-justice faq.

But so far he hasn't been able to get over his fear and do that.
posted by clawsoon at 10:41 AM on February 15 [23 favorites]


Maybe he's even right about narcissism. But I disliked his schtick.

The Last Psychiatrist definitely had the stark, often misanthropic and absolutist tone of an edgelord, but I think his actual observations and conclusions were ultimately more compassionate than a lot of these other blogs that have that same tone. But yeah, that ability of presenting an alternate view of reality that will blows your mind, using cutting language and lack of sympathy- that's definitely characteristic of a lot of reactionary, counter-liberal outlets.

Because there's a historical tie here with the rationalists and the alt-right.

Great post! Really provides a lot of detail. A random commentator created a useful chart that attempts to chart the historical progression. Previously.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:00 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I can't believe it was Scott Adams this whole time

I can't believe I've had the same joke in my head since yesterday but didn't go with it.


I seriously only came into the thread hoping it was Scott Adams - At first I thought it was, because everything in the FPP made me think of him. I kept reading and reading and couldn't believe no one had mentioned Scott Adams. Comments like "I consider the way he's vilified on Metafilter one of our biggest failings as a community" and nobody else made the connection?

And then I finally get down here after an hour of reading and no one has mentioned it! I get to be the one to do it! And I hit the "6 new comments" thing and there OverlappingElvis is.

I feel like that was a better use of my time than actually reading this guy's blog would have been, but still. Very deflated over here.
posted by nickmark at 11:50 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


flabdablet, could you say more about what you mean? When I think of overcoming bias, I think of things like recognizing that when "the whole internet" is talking about something (or "everybody" is voting for Candidate A), that means the extremely tiny subset that I'm most connected to. Or of taking extra care, when I feel critical of something a woman does, to ask myself whether I would I feel the same way if a man did it. Or that when making decisions about screening for disease (or means testing) you need to take into account the effectiveness of the test, the prevalence in the population of what you're looking for, and the potential harm of the test itself.

That doesn't seem like what you're talking about. Could you give examples? And is what you're saying relevant to the kinds of bias I'm thinking of?
posted by straight at 11:58 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


IIRC, the folks over at SneerClub thought based on past work that Cade Metz was going to write a very friendly puff piece about Slate Star Codex right up until Siskind freaked out about his last name being revealed. (And, of course, the SSC people were equally convinced from the start that it was going to be a completely unfair hit piece.)

Yeah it’s weird how rushed this feels given that it took months to come out. I’m familiar enough with SSC and the rationalist crowd to know that Metz could have been both fairer and harsher.
posted by atoxyl at 12:06 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing just posted a recap & response to the NYT piece, which a wide range of MeFites participating in this thread might agree with.
posted by PhineasGage at 12:13 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


" When I think of overcoming bias, I think of things like recognizing that when "the whole internet" is talking about something (or "everybody" is voting for Candidate A), that means the extremely tiny subset that I'm most connected to. "

I'm not flabdabet, but I'm a woman who has spent a lot of my life around male-dominated fields that highly value "rational thinking" (law, theology, philosophy) and I come at this a slightly different way than flabdabet, but I think it's related.

In general, the men I know who most prize rationality, and consider themselves rational (especially if they announce to others that they're very rational thinkers), are the men who are tightly-wound balls of emotionality who have no idea they're tightly-wound balls of emotionality. They make decisions emotionally, and then, because they deny that they are emotional beings who think emotionally, they come up with elaborate "rational" justifications for their emotional decision. When I learned the term "motivated reasoning," I was like "oh thank God, there's a word for this." They're making gut decisions motivated by feelings and biases, and then providing elaborate overlays of "rational argument" that justifies their emotional conclusion, and then denying that there's any emotional component at all and "it's only rational." It's actually one of the very worst kinds of bias, because, having soothed themselves that they are actually a good and rational thinker and not a bad and emotional (read: feminine) thinker, they can stand secure in their rationalization of their emotional decisions, and will not rexamine those arguments honestly, but will continue to insist that it's completely rational and the only possible outcome, because admitting there might be a flaw in their reasoning is actually threatening to their self-image and would force them to confront that they're emotional beings engaging in motivated reasoning.

So to give a kind-of low-key social example, there are a lot of lawyers (male and female) in my social circle. Imagine that their kid was having a problem with the school, and they're talking to some friends about it over dinner. And the male lawyer parent wants to SMACK THOSE JERKS DOWN for hurting his kid, and talks himself into how going full litigator on their asses is the only rational decision. And he's able to rationalize it with fancy words, but the fact is that he's MAD and he wants to hurt and scare the people who hurt his kids, and he's talking himself into it being a good idea. The female lawyer parent, by contrast, will be like, "I'm trying to think through the best way to handle this, and I'm just so ANGRY, and I'm trying really hard to separate how pissed I am from what the best way to handle this for my kid is."

In that example, I think the female lawyer parent is the more rational of the two, because she is naming a key factor impacting how she's thinking (she's MAD), recognizing that it might drive her towards bad decisions and that it's coloring her thinking, and that she has to re-examine her thoughts (and double-check them with friends outside the situation) to make sure she's not letting her anger drive her decisions. The male lawyer parent denies he's allowing emotionality to impact him right off the bad, and so CANNOT assess the impact his anger is having on his reasoning and to what impact it's distorting his decisions-making.

I know there's a psychology term for this but I can't remember what it is, where highly-skilled thinkers observe themselves thinking and think about how they're thinking? And it's a really crucial higher-order thinking skill? And I think most self-proclaimed "rationalists" flatly don't have that ability. Assessing their thinking process honestly would reveal to them assumptions and emotions and biases, and undermine their idea of themselves as "rational" people. It would quite literally require them to recognize themselves as failures, since only "rational" thinking is virtuous, and other forms of thinking are failure states for weaker minds and lesser human beings. ("It's literally what separates us from the animals!" says Rational Man, not realizing homo sapiens are animals.)

Or to give a personal example, when I began teaching philosophy, I realized fairly early on that I had no ethical problem with eating meat or wearing leather, but I had a huge ethical problem with wearing fur. And I FELT really strongly about the fur. Instead of coming up with a big list of rationalizations for why fur is bad but meat is fine (which lots of people do! And some of those arguments are good!), I went, "Huh. I have a really strong feeling here. That's interesting. I wonder why I feel so strongly about this. It seems like these are ... all kinda the same thing? But my moral intuitions are different. Huh." And I proceeded to think about it once a semester for the next five years, when we got to that unit in the ethics class, and sometimes I'd illustrate to students my thought process. And the conclusion I eventually came to, after pondering it for some years, was that yes, there is an ethical inconsistency in my thinking. There's SOME ethical difference (to me) between animals as food and as fur, but not enough to justify my differing attitudes towards them. My ethical conclusions were, it became clear to me, strongly influenced by growing up in the late 80s seeing protestors throw paint on rich people wearing furs. And I thought it's probably okay for me to be inconsistent, as long as I'm recognizing that I'm inconsistent and why. At first I was like, "Huh, I guess I don't really have an ethical problem with people wearing fur? I just don't want to wear any because it feels ethically gross." But over the intervening ten years, I've shifted more towards, "Huh, maybe I have a bigger ethical problem with eating meat than I realized," and have cut down my meat consumption considerably in response.

But we aren't JUST rational beings, and our emotions a) heavily influence our "rational" thoughts and b) give us incredibly valuable information to improve our ability to think, either by recognizing the validity of emotions and acting upon them in some cases, or by recognizing that they're there and maybe it would not be a great idea to talk yourself into acting on them.

I always thought strong emotions were the most interesting place to do ethics. When students had a strong emotional reaction to a topic, I'd say "well this is interesting, you feel strongly about this -- let's find out what your moral intuition is, and then let's examine it and talk it through."

But fundamentally -- and I do think this is strongly gendered in American society, though of course individuals act differently -- culture looks at women who are saying "I'm just so ANGRY and I'm trying to carefully re-think this situation and identify where my anger is impacting me so that I'm sure I'm thinking clearly. Kind-of clearly. Mostly clearly." and culture says, "There go women, thinking with their emotions!" And looks at a man who IGNORES emotions while acting on them, and, because he dresses up his emotional activity in a lot of "rational thinking," says, "Ah, there's a man who's being rational!" When really, to me, the woman in that comparison is thinking much more clearly and rationally because she is able to recognize and name her irrationality, while the man -- who has the same irrationality -- is not able to even admit that he has any.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:44 PM on February 15 [68 favorites]


I think your point is broadly correct (I've had to train myself away from that kind of thinking) but to illustrate it by generalizing from a lawyer's dinner party to the whole of society undermines it a bit.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Terry Gilliam’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen is one of my favourite movies. In that movie, the Baron is continuously butting heads with the supposedly rational “men of reason” in charge who see no place in the world for his flights of fancy. When I hear people wittering on about rationality and the like, I think of the withering take the Baron has on on rationalists.

“Reality? Your "reality", sir, is lies and balderdash, and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever.”
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:20 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Robespierre was a Rationalist.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:03 PM on February 15


I enjoyed much of Siskind's writing, the small parts I have sampled. Still riding the "Life's Too Short" train but I wanted to acknowledge that much. Also, he couldn't be Scott Adams because Scott is greedier for attention, a trait I recognize in part because I share it.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:39 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Wholly devaluing emotion is, itself, irrational.

Writing emotion off entirely means disregarding (or thinking that you're disregarding) one of the means by which your brain is processing things, even as it's happening.

I have exactly zero expertise in this other than, you know, being someone who both thinks and feels, but this paper seems like it does a pretty good job of discussing the interplay between emotion and reason in evaluation and decision-making, as well as the ways in which emotion was disregarded by social science until fairly recently.

Emotion and reason are tools of assessment that inform one another. They're both flawed. Sometimes one does a better job than the other, but that goes both ways. Sometimes you need to be conscious of your knee-jerk reactions and try to override them, especially when it comes to treating other people well, e.g., "I'm frustrated with this project and everything is irritating me and I should not take that out on the people around me." Other times you may realize something emotionally before you can put it to words and it's important to not brush it aside, e.g., having a strong, queasy feeling that you shouldn't be left alone with someone, even though you don't yet have concrete proof that it's a bad idea.

So it's important to acknowledge both reason and emotion. We're weird little multiprocessing meat robots who are trying to make sense of one another and the universe around us and we need all the help we can get.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:43 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


So if Siskind is the guy at the bar arguing the well-groomed skinhead should be allowed to stay, then Balaji Srinivasan is the “Tom Metzger” who is behind the scenes organizing the thuggish skinheads to follow after once the well-groomed one doesn’t get 86’d.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:36 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


In general, the men I know who most prize rationality, and consider themselves rational (especially if they announce to others that they're very rational thinkers), are the men who are tightly-wound balls of emotionality who have no idea they're tightly-wound balls of emotionality.

Can confirm, with the proviso that some of those I've personally encountered do have at least some glimmer of how tightly wound they are but are heavily invested in trying to deny and/or hide it. This is sad, because what they're trying to hide is totally obvious from the outside regardless of how strong the internal denial is, and dangerous: these are the guys that are fragile as fuck and liable to explode like Prince Rupert drops if you nick them very slightly in just the wrong place.
posted by flabdablet at 8:50 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


From this Twitter thread, here is an interesting bit of Scott Siskind interaction from LiveJournal days, where someone expresses admiration for a eugenics charity that pays drug addicts to be sterilized, and Siskind responds with, "I...actually think I am probably going to donate to that charity next time I get money. Though I'd feel better if it were something more reversible."

I think I was enough of a shithead at age 17 to say something glib about sterilization, but I believe Siskind meant it then as a well considered thing, and I don't think he has changed much since then.

In fact one of the most damning things about Siskind, IMHO, is that for all the years he has been stewing to overcome bias in his little bubble of free thinking and open discussion, and for all the belief of the power of those things, he hasn't really moved much from his centrist starting point. Behind all the words and the details, after all the inspiration porn and neat thoughts, he seems to actually learn very little.

He's in a perpetual state of kind of reactionary water-treading against anything that might pull him leftward, always glancing fondly towards some kind of techno-fascism.
posted by fleacircus at 10:40 PM on February 15 [18 favorites]


Me: that's why he writes essays about why he disagrees with SJers, libertarians and nRXers.

Replies: you shouldn't need to write an essay to know that Nazis are wrong.

Despite the claims of some of the more excitable people on Twitter, SJers and Libertarians aren't Nazis. Some nRXers are, from what I can tell (I don't spend a lot of time looking at their stuff), but the Anti-nRX FAQ is mainly arguing against monarchism, not Nazism. So I take it that Siskind does not think he needs to write an essay arguing against Nazism for people to know it's wrong, either.

I wonder which way the chronology goes: does he see lots of nRXers turning up in his comments (or on LessWrong, say) and decide to write the Contra nRX, or vice versa? I think it's the former, because why bother otherwise? So, what's Mefi got against a long essay arguing with nRXer entryists? That the sites involved (LW and SlateStarCodex) didn't just ban them outright, I guess.

Tom Chivers wrote a book on Rationalists and has recently argued that what Siskind is about is the lost art of persuasion. Note: it's on UnHinged, so you mustn't read the comments (except mine if you're in danger of becoming a "lockdown sceptic" or want some evidence that I'm not a closet Rightist, I suppose).

It's an empirical question whether being banned or having a massive essay written against you is more persuasive. I welcome research in this area.

He does not engage seriously with social justice ideas.

Well, he did do a couple of those stats posts on SJ ideas, though. The best one is Social Justice For The Highly-Demanding-Of-Rigor (which starts of by saying that as he's being linked by anti-feminists, it'd be fun to do a post defending SJ). I enjoyed the suggestion of a massive SJ FAQ on similar lines to the nRXer and the liberterarian ones, although I doubt that'd be well received here.

Wholly devaluing emotion is, itself, irrational.

Julia Galef agrees (summarised on LessWrong here). The position you're attributing to the Rationalists is known as the Straw Vulcan.
posted by pw201 at 3:07 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


pw201, you are cherry picking arguments out of a thread of comments. I would certainly agree that it wouldn't be accurate to say that Scott's flaw is pure logic based arguments.

The problem is that he has consistent flaws in his thinking that infects his work. He is consistently too quick to give slack to right wing and extremists thinkers and not offer the same to moderate thinkers in social justice. For that matter, his failure to truly engage with left wing economic ideas are a reflection of who he speaks too and spends time with.

His writing has been consistently hostile to feminists in particular. It's true that he wrote a handful of good articles supporting feminism (those co-incided, I should note, with the time he was dating a feminist), but when you compare them to the bile and bad thinking he is able to deliver against feminists it simply doesn't balance out.

Compare the insane "You are Still Crying Wolf" with Untitled and wonder why he is able to give more charity to Donald Trump than Laurie Penny?

The flaw in the idea that you can consider everyone's arguments equally is that there simply isn't time to do that! Spending a huge amount of energy taking the good out of, say, Douglas Murray or Stephen Hsu means you are not spending time on thinkers who don't have a preoccupation with racial components of intelligence.

I have enjoyed his writing. I enjoyed Unsong, although I think it needed a serious edit (the protagonist is the least interesting character in the whole thing). But it is unavoidable to note that Alexanders thinking is poisoned in particular ways. And to be honest he's only got worse in this regard. My favourite writing of his pretty much all dates from 5 years ago.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:11 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]


I've seen mentions of Nazis among the SSC commenters, but I remember any. Does anyone have details?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:42 AM on February 16


I'd still like to hear which social justice ideas you consider "more out there," pw201
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:06 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I should have checked what I posted. I meant that I don't remember any Nazis among the ssc commenters.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:20 AM on February 16


I should have checked what I posted. I meant that I don't remember any Nazis among the ssc commenters.

I don't think anyone is talking about actual "Sieg Heil" open Nazis, more that people were arguing in favor of various flavors of white supremacy, often couched in terms of eugenics/"human bio diversity", or anti-affirmative-action (because strict meritocracy utterly ignoring the existence of societal bias is "rationally" the bestest method of organizing society), things like that, which ultimately boil down to at the very least a position of "We need to maintain the white supremacist status quo that currently exists in the US, although we will not acknowledge that the status quo is white supremacist."

And as the last twelve years have shown us, it's not a huge leap from that position to open & overt white supremacy.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:51 AM on February 16 [9 favorites]


I think when we’re collapsing distinctions between race-neutral policies on the one hand and Nazism/white supremacism on the other, this is not helpful to understanding what’s really going on at SSC. That is an instance of the confusion which seems to emblematize discussion of SSC here. Lots of people favor race neutrality who do not have any desire to maintain or advance white supremacy.
posted by PaulVario at 8:45 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


What are these "race-neutral policies?" Because as pointed out, opposing affirmative action is in no way race-neutral unless you strip every single bit of context from your argument.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 8:56 AM on February 16 [16 favorites]


What the hell is “race neutrality”? Never mind, I can figure it out myself. This particular white person is deeply skeptical it is even possible that people who “favor race neutrality who do not have any desire to maintain or advance white supremacy” are necessarily aware of WTF they are talking about. Why would this even be a thing? Who would benefit? Why? How?
posted by Bella Donna at 8:59 AM on February 16 [13 favorites]


"crypto-fascists" is the term you're looking for. slate star codex is very obviously a crypto-fascist breeding ground; all you need to know this is by merely having to endure the arguments of the kind of people who crawl out of the muck in order to defend it's old-fashioned brand of crypto-fascism.
posted by rotten at 9:01 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]


Lots of people favor race neutrality who do not have any desire to maintain or advance white supremacy.

White supremacy's whole deal is trying to pass itself off as "race neutrality." White people being on top forever is just the "rational" result of "rational" forces donchaknow? This just sounds like another euphemism, along the lines of "human biodiversity."
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:10 AM on February 16 [17 favorites]


"Race neutrality" is the dying hope that if all well-intentioned people just agreed to stop talking about race, racism would go away.

We tried that already, and what we found is that it works the same as everyone agreeing not to talk about what the schoolyard bully is doing.
posted by clawsoon at 9:11 AM on February 16 [19 favorites]


It's true that "race neutrality" usually amounts to tacit support for white supremacy, at best.

But even putting that aside, there were several straight-up white supremacists who were prolific commenters at SSC when I was reading it, notably Steve Sailer, who writes for VDare.
posted by Jeanne at 9:23 AM on February 16 [18 favorites]


Here's another thing, from Siskind's tumblr, regarding a weird fascist group's plan to make a whole MMO as a piece of propaganda -- but Siskind has a better idea:
This is dumb. What I want is a Harry Potter fanfic set in a world where blood purism is correct.

[...]

Since every generation new Muggleborns are being added to the gene pool, then assuming random intermarriage and no continued effect from whatever process positively selected magical ability in wizards in the first place, as long as marriage with Muggleborns is allowed wizarding ability should get gradually weaker with every generation.

The dirty secret of the magical community is that there is no such thing as the Interdict of Merlin. It’s a myth created by the liberal media at the Daily Prophet to explain why wizards can no longer live up to the magical deeds of their ancestors, with the reality being that the blood purists are 100% correct and every generation of interbreeding means less and less magical ability and soon it will die out completely.

A good exploration of this topic would treat it as the morally complex issue it is - can we really exclude brilliant wizards like Hermione from the community on purely statistical grounds? Is it possible to believe that Voldemort’s methods were unspeakably evil, but that it would be ethical to pursue the same goals by more "nudge" style methods like incentivizing pureblood wizards to only breed with one another? Is this why the Sorting Hat is under orders to stick so many of them together in Slytherin House?

I wouldn’t expect the Metapedia folks to be able to do this correctly, but that they don’t even try is more evidence that fascists are utterly incompetent at everything.
tfw ur a softboy eugenicist and the danged inept nazis won't work towards ur common goal
posted by fleacircus at 10:11 AM on February 16 [20 favorites]


What I want is a Harry Potter fanfic set in a world where blood purism is correct.

Tolkien and Rowling (and probably lots of fantasy I'm not familiar with) are all about the effects of "blood" and breeding. You are what you were born to be. Nobility results from pure blood.

Maybe it wasn't so great that so many kids were pulled into reading by Harry Potter.
posted by clawsoon at 10:43 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


A good exploration of this topic would treat it as the morally complex issue it is

Am I being too literal in thinking, A. Not morally complex because wizards are imaginary unless this is an icky metaphor that you find entirely too exciting and B. do you want to see "a Harry Potter fanfic set in a world where blood purism is correct" because you support racism, ableism, white supremacy, misogyny, or all of the above and/or more?

A long time ago I did a post about internet fanboys who spend their lives being aggressively political online without doing any actual political work. It is called "Political hobbyists are ruining politics" and yeah, they are. Political hobbyists are disproportionately college-educated white men. Meanwhile, guess who does not have time for politics as a hobby? Actual activitists, many women, most people of color, others from marginalized communities.

This guy's hobby is writing about his thoughts. I do that as well. My thoughts are, apparently, less morally complex. I think this guy could not be more white nor more unaware of his white privilege, which is a total thing. That he and others are unaware of it does not make it any less real nor any less damaging to the people who have and continue to suffer as a result of structural racism and white supremacy. Who, by the way, do not benefit from so-called race neutral policies, which tend to simply reinforce existing social inequities (according to my admittedly brief survey of the topic). So fuck this guy.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:43 AM on February 16 [13 favorites]




Yeah, Freddie can kindly go fuck off with that noise. "Well, he was agreeing with a known vocal bigot on this position, not that one" is not the ringing defense one thinks, especially considering that a review of Siskind's own writings show that he is amenable to Murray's views on race given his position on eugenics, among other things. Which comes to the point - nobody had an obligation to Siskind to maintain the facade he erected in order to conceal the views he held from his patients and employers. It turns out that a lot of people think that a mental health professional who isn't bothered by eugenics is a mental health professional who cannot be trusted for good reason.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:15 PM on February 16 [14 favorites]


Well, he was agreeing with a known vocal bigot on this position, not that one" is not the ringing defense one thinks,

The piece is not a defense of Alexander, and I personally think that a bigot happening to support a good policy doesn't make everyone who supports that policy a bigot as well.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 3:27 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


especially considering that a review of Siskind's own writings show that he is amenable to Murray's views on race given his position on eugenics, among other things. Which comes to the point

Yes, the point of DeBoer's article is a critique of this article and the media culture that produced it.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 3:29 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Lots of people favor race neutrality who do not have any desire to maintain or advance white supremacy.

Well but race is a thing that does not exist, except as a concept not grounded in reality that racists use as a reason to organize society by skin color and/or ethnicity. Any scholarship or even thinking about "race neutrality" is euphemistic at best.
posted by rhizome at 3:41 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


The piece is not a defense of Alexander, and I personally think that a bigot happening to support a good policy doesn't make everyone who supports that policy a bigot as well.

As the old joke goes, if Charles Murray told me that the sky was blue, I'd go outside for independent verification. You don't cite bigots to support your position - at least if you don't want to look like you're comfortable with bigotry. Which comes back to the point of why DeBoer wrote the piece - because he's been in the same position as Siskind, for the exact same reasons, and is thus using Siskind to argue that his treatment was wrong, while avoiding the point people make that if you don't boot the bigots and fascists out of your community, people start to think that you don't have a problem with their beliefs.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:50 PM on February 16 [10 favorites]


DeBoer sure fills his piece up with quite a colorful cast of characters he hates, some of whom might even exist somewhere.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:53 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


This whole discussion is a bit strange, there are so many words that say so little. I am glad, though, that more people in the white 'tech' industry are being scrutinized for being fellow-travelers of fascists, and useful idiots. But the new york times seems like exactly the worst vehicle to read for that scrutiny; but perhaps somehow useful for emotionally impacting rich silicon valley types? I can't tell.

Most of the linked discussion here seems a like a white liberal "east coast vs west coast" spat, when there are much larger stakes attached to the questions raised. Is there going to be a Contrapoints video about this?

I originally thought that this discussion would include more from metafilter posters on Timnit Gebru, so i'm going to link to kliuless's post on economics and that discussion, which featured this article on ai ethics and anti-racism, which I still want to read.

Thanks to everyone who posted in that thread!
posted by eustatic at 4:46 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Scott Alexander is not in the Gizmodo Media Slack

...He doesn’t tell the same tired, shitty jokes that journalists make on Twitter literally from the minute they get up to the minute they go to bed. He’s not performatively filling his feed with only women writers and artists, because he’s just not that interested in cishet men anymore, man. He doesn’t make references to whatever shithouse bar in Nolita media people used to go to after work to snort coke. He doesn’t use Twitter as an outlet to scream his dedication to BIPOC to the world, knowing this will look good on his resume. He’s not a thirty three year old white person who speaks like a Black teenager, like half the journalists on Twitter. And most importantly, he jumped the line. He didn’t get paid $250 a week by Refinery79 for 60 hours of work for two years to climb the latter...


Wow, so much disdain, racism, and anti-feminism—as if writers only speak publicly about their support for diversifying workplaces or newsrooms, or care about BIPOC or women writers and artists, for some performative, transactional purpose. Such inability to spell ladder. Was the misspelling of Refinery29 some kind of deliberate jab? Uh, enjoy Fredrik deBoer, everyone, a dude who likes to write about really smart people, allegedly.
posted by limeonaire at 5:02 PM on February 16 [16 favorites]


Oh, *him*. Did he decide that Freddie made him look too declasse'?
posted by tavella at 5:25 PM on February 16


I've seen mentions of Nazis among the SSC commenters, but I remember any. Does anyone have details?

I should have checked what I posted. I meant that I don't remember any Nazis among the ssc commenters.

...

I think when we’re collapsing distinctions between race-neutral policies on the one hand and Nazism/white supremacism on the other, this is not helpful to understanding what’s really going on at SSC. That is an instance of the confusion which seems to emblematize discussion of SSC here. Lots of people favor race neutrality who do not have any desire to maintain or advance white supremacy.

...

It's true that "race neutrality" usually amounts to tacit support for white supremacy, at best.

But even putting that aside, there were several straight-up white supremacists who were prolific commenters at SSC when I was reading it, notably Steve Sailer, who writes for VDare.


I'm not collapsing anything. As Jeanne noted, actual white supremacists have been spotted among the commenters at SSC.

I searched for Nazi references and found lots of half-baked Nazi apologias and "what if" scenarios in the comments on this post about a book about Nazis, which on a skim feels like a bit of a honeypot for white supremacist arguments. I don't feel like reading all of it—too long, too many bad arguments, not interested—but there are some real gems in there. Especially great are a number of comments on that post that try to turn it around and suggest that SJWs of all kinds, including animal lovers, vegans, feminists, etc., are the real Nazis, or peddle common misconceptions such as that Nazis improved workers' material conditions (it was a trick of statistics, lies, and coercion).

So that's at least one post.
posted by limeonaire at 5:41 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]


Enjoying how NYT is becoming itself a primary source of Drama, like some current-events themed "reality TV" show or somesuch. Like, besides this, just in the past week or so off the top of my head:
  • Apparently they also operate a travel agency where fancy boarding school type kids can be chaperoned by the talent, but their guy has to go and say a racial slur in front of the children
  • Some thing with former boarding school kid Taylor Lorenz and social media service Clubhouse, making "false claims" about a guy and upset about being blocked or something
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:57 PM on February 16


Imagine being a woman (cis or trans) seeking psychiatric help after a sexual assault. Imagine seeing Siskind. And then imagine finding out afterwards that he wrote this (that proofs and refutations linked). Yes, it's from 2014, but JESUS CHRIST.

He says:
I will have to use virginity statistics as a proxy for the harder-to-measure romancelessness statistics, but these are bad enough. In high school each extra IQ point above average increases chances of male virginity by about 3%. 35% of MIT grad students have never had sex, compared to only 20% of average nineteen year old men. Compared with virgins, men with more sexual experience are likely to drink more alcohol, attend church less, and have a criminal history. [...] If you’re smart, don’t drink much, stay out of fights, display a friendly personality, and have no criminal history – then you are the population most at risk of being miserable and alone. “At risk” doesn’t mean “for sure”, any more than every single smoker gets lung cancer and every single nonsmoker lives to a ripe old age – but your odds get worse. In other words, everything that “nice guys” complain of is pretty darned accurate. But that shouldn’t be too hard to guess… [...]

Barry is possibly the most feminist man who has ever existed, palpably exudes respect for women, and this is well-known in every circle feminists frequent. He is reduced to apophatic complaints about how sad he is that he doesn’t think he’ll ever have a real romantic relationship. Henry has four domestic violence charges against him by his four ex-wives and is cheating on his current wife with one of those ex-wives. And as soon as he gets out of the psychiatric hospital where he was committed for violent behavior against women and maybe serves the jail sentence he has pending for said behavior, he is going to find another girlfriend approximately instantaneously.

And this seems unfair. I don’t know how to put the basic insight behind niceguyhood any clearer than that. There are a lot of statistics backing up the point, but the statistics only corroborate the obvious intuitive insight that this seems unfair.
So like here's the thing. The link he links to about MIT men having less sex than less-intelligent men? ALSO SHOWS THAT WOMEN HAVE LESS SEX THAN MEN AT LITERALLY EVERY INTELLIGENCE LEVEL. (Except IQ of 100, where they're even.) It is well-known -- and was well-known in 2014!! -- that high-achieving women ALSO significantly delay their "sexual debut."

But Siskind acts like "women," who are apparently all interchangeable, are choosing to have sex with low-intelligence domestic abusers, leaving the poor MIT (male) students without sex ever. But statistics show that high-achieving women have even less sex than high-achieving men!

The research is really clear that ambitious teenagers of BOTH genders are much more likely to delay sexual activity BY MANY YEARS. But by focusing only on men -- only on "nice guys" who are working hard and going to have good jobs and are smart! -- he is able to say that "women," in general, are choosing the WRONG MEN. Not that women who are high-achieving are having EVEN LESS SEX than their male high-achieving peers. Just that women, as an amorphous, interchangeable mass, ought to be choosing "nice guys" who work really hard in college, instead of physical abuser Henry. What about the "nice girls" who are working hard and becoming rocket scientists and doctors, and who are being ignored by the great mass of men? Well, they don't exist. We have high-achieving men, we have low-achieving men (who are apparently the only ones who beat women), and we have "women," who don't exist independently of men's desire for them.

What about these intelligent, high-achieving women seeking partners, who are rejected by the Barrys of the world? I'm forced to assume that those women are too demanding, too feminist (as Siskind tells us several times); which means that the Barrys of the world want unstable partners who make few demands and put up with terrible behavior (like Henry's partners) BUT ALSO who somehow live up to Barry's standards?

Either Siskind doesn't think women can be intelligent, or he thinks that intelligent women are excluded from womanhood. Either way, he admires Henry, the wife-beater, for getting so much action. And one must assume that several female victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence were treated by a man who thinks the wife-beater has a lot of game, and that women either can't be intelligent or can't be women, and that women's sexuality doesn't matter one tiny bit compared to men at MIT who aren't having sex on demand.

(And honestly that's just the first thing wrong with this screed; there's A WHOLE LOT ELSE.)

I mean definitely we should talk about his support for white supremacists, but OH MY GOD his denigration of women is INCREDIBLY overt and HE CLEARLY AND DEFINITELY TREATED WOMEN during the course of his psychiatric practice. What kind of incredible abuse from their trusted therapist and credentialed doctor must those women have experienced? If you're defending his racial positions, why do you think his attitudes towards women are okay? Or his incredibly overt cherry-picking where he acts like high-achieving MEN uniquely never get sex, when in fact high-achieving women have EVEN LESS sex? Do you just assume that men all want sex and women don't? Did you just not notice that he treated women as an amorphous, interchangeable mass who literally did not bear mentioning? Did you think he was correctly and honestly citing the social science literature? HE DEFINITELY ISN'T.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:31 PM on February 16 [53 favorites]


DeBoer sure fills his piece up with quite a colorful cast of characters he hates, some of whom might even exist somewhere.

He writes so well about New York media culture because he's part of it. Hates it as much as it deserves yet too weak to leave it behind.

Wow, so much disdain, racism, and anti-feminism—as if writers only speak publicly about their support for diversifying workplaces or newsrooms, or care about BIPOC or women writers and artists, for some performative, transactional purpose.

If you're doing it on Twitter between filing pieces for the New York Times then yes, you're doing it for a transactional purpose.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 6:38 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


He writes so well

Not so fast.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:39 PM on February 16 [14 favorites]


2,000 words on how the Times is full of arugula-eating elitists isn't exactly an insightful insider take on New York media culture.

Also, sometimes people say what they mean because they mean it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:06 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


can i just say that Eyebrows McGee has been on a flippin' RAMPAGE of great comments lately?
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:28 PM on February 16 [12 favorites]


So both wrong and whiny about unfairness, eh? That bubble is truly filled with farts.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:37 AM on February 17


Why aren't the Stewart Brands and Frida-and-Mitch-Kapors seen as our cultural leaders instead of Peter Thiel and Paul Graham?

Patrick Collison, one of the billionaires the NYT article describes as an avid Slate Star Codex fan, is on the board of Steward Brand's Long Now foundation. Are those two groups of people really as inseparable as you think?

I think it's easy to romanticize 70s counterculture, but technology culture today is ideologically hard to distinguish from the counterculture from which it was birthed.
posted by rlio at 4:35 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


Wow, so much disdain, racism, and anti-feminism—as if writers only speak publicly about their support for diversifying workplaces or newsrooms, or care about BIPOC or women writers and artists, for some performative, transactional purpose.

...

If you're doing it on Twitter between filing pieces for the New York Times then yes, you're doing it for a transactional purpose.


Ew, no. It's entirely possible to be a working journalist and care deeply about equity and inclusion in the newsroom and in general, and write about it, and be sincere in doing so. I know many people who do. Newsrooms sometimes make it hard for you if you do (see also: my own previous experience as a working journalist), but...this is really just painting writers with a broad brush. I haven't filed for the New York Times, but my first career was in journalism and I'm journalist-adjacent now (and a leader in multiple diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives), so you're basically saying my interest, leadership, and writing in that area is solely transactional. That'd be incorrect.
posted by limeonaire at 6:03 AM on February 17 [11 favorites]


Also, I'm not special for caring about diversifying workplaces and newsrooms or elevating the voices of BIPOC or women writers and artists. I think everyone should care about those things, and it should be so much the norm that no one is bizarrely called out for doing so or told their sincere support for historically marginalized people is solely performative. There's a better future that we all could imagine—and should be imagining—together. Sure, some may be supporting these initiatives for performative reasons, and everyone has their motivations, but are those everyone's motivations? No.
posted by limeonaire at 6:12 AM on February 17 [10 favorites]


I think everyone should care about those things, and it should be so much the norm that no one is bizarrely called out for doing so or told their sincere support for historically marginalized people is solely performative.

Which gets to the issue - people like Siskind, deBoer, Friersdorf, etc. want to hold positions that harm marginalized people without facing repercussions for doing so. And now that they are facing those repercussions, they want to claim that they are victims because people think less of them now that they know about their viewpoints. Which is why we need to respond with "no, you are not victims - you are facing the result of people now knowing what you actually think of them and responding accordingly."
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:47 AM on February 17 [14 favorites]


The fact these Rationalists, in all their self declared brilliance and logic, can't conceive of anyone having an earnest, genuine interest in the rights and well being of others says much, much more about these rational, logical men than anyone they criticize.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:55 AM on February 17 [13 favorites]


"out there": I had slightly confused the Scotts with my officer_fred link: that thread was about Scott Aaronson, who'd been convinced, from attending a compulsory workshop on harrassment for students with a plentiful list of things that "might be" harrassment, that he should never approach a woman he was sexually interested in. A compulsory workshop should certainly not leave anyone with that impression.

Looking over the old links, Siskind did write about the Aaronsen drama in the infamous "Untitled". I came across commenter arthur slapping down a "just man up and take the red pill, dude" MRA in the comments at the same time as noting that Amanda Marcotte (who wrote this) was doing the same as the MRA (except with the "blue pill", I suppose): "You’re just spitting the Alpha Bru-Bru version of the same hateful message Marcotte spits out about how anyone who says anything about their problems needs to shut up and go away."

I agree with arthur, so regard Marcotte's post as "out there" (as does Siskind, to put it mildly). Hope that's enough to be going on with!
posted by pw201 at 8:33 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


You see an equivalence between MRA thinking, and Marcotte's objections to Scott "Shtetl Optimized" Aaronson's writing? Thank you, yes, that is very clarifying.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:45 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


> pw201: "A compulsory workshop should certainly not leave anyone with that impression."

Having attended some of these compulsory workshops with some less-than-receptive people in the audience, I am curious to know how or why you believe that this was due to the workshop and not Aaronson himself?
posted by mhum at 8:46 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


Or we can hold Aaronson accountable for not acknowledging the the fact that women are people too, and that the most effective way to avoid being seen as a creep or a harasser is to actually get to know someone and see how they would receive romantic/sexual overtures. His argument was a wrongful rejection of his own agency in his own interactions. Not to mention that there aren't any "do's" to give because that's not how human interaction works.

I remember when we discussed Penny's rebuttal to Aaronson's diatribe, and the sentiment that I (and quite a few others) got regarding Aaronson was that he lacked any willingness to actually engage in introspection, especially the sort that would reflect on his own agency. Furthermore, there was a repeated push to show him charity that he refused to give himself, which gets tiresome. And the thing is that several of us dealt with the same fears! But we dealt with them, mainly by grasping the concept of sonder - that everyone else has a rich inner world like our own and thus have their own world views. Turns out that women, when approached respectfully as people, are quite receptive to the ideas of sexy times! And if you think that women are just waiting for you to approach them to label you a creep, then you aren't looking at them as people.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:32 AM on February 17 [13 favorites]


(Also, let's not forget that Aaronson's comments came out of Walter Lewin being outed as a serial sexual harasser, and Aaronson being more concerned that Lewin's lectures were pulled than at the harm that Lewin had done to his victims.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:36 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I agree with arthur, so regard Marcotte's post as "out there" (as does Siskind, to put it mildly).

This kind of false equivalence is pretty much the reason why Atwood said “men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.” Also, providing examples of Siskind and his defenders using or platforming the ideology of extremist hate groups associated with multiple acts of violent terrorism might not be as helpful to your arguments as you think they are.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:38 AM on February 17 [13 favorites]


few scrupulous aspie nerds

But then you're left saying that a SJ focussed workshop shouldn't cater to a non-NT minority,

No. Just fucking no.

You are equating non-NT and/or "on the autism spectrum" people with being unable to process sexual desires in a way that is acceptable to NT people and appropriate in a professional setting, or even in a "normal society" setting. Time and time again non-NT folks have pointed out that this is a thing they are capable of doing. That they even sometimes appreciate guidance on how to navigate these waters. Setting up some kind of weird false dichotomy of conflicting minorities where we have to choose between respectful feminism + treating women like regular human beings and non-NT folks is . . . fuck, it's fucking horrible.

AND in the second place, you're blanket assuming that men who are shy or lacking confidence in romantic/sexual situations are non-NT, which, again, no. We live in a patriarchal society, as men we get a lot of shitty and conflicting information about how to navigate this whether we're NT or not, lots of NT people are "nerds", you can't just excuse shitty behavior to women by saying, "Well, they're (probably) as**e." JAYsus.

(As an NT person, apologies to any non-NT folks if I'm off-base on something.)
posted by soundguy99 at 9:42 AM on February 17 [19 favorites]


If workshops have an effect on prospective harassers, one could argue that the needs of the women whom the men in the workshop might otherwise harass outweigh the needs of the few scrupulous aspie nerds who'll walk away overcome with guilt over normal sexual desires. But then you're left saying that a SJ focussed workshop shouldn't cater to a non-NT minority, aren't you? Some here might find a statement like that "extremely clarifying".

Speaking as an AFAB autistic person, this is a hot mess and deeply offensive on many levels.

(On preview: thank you, soundguy99; I for one appreciate your comment.)
posted by Lexica at 9:44 AM on February 17 [18 favorites]


Having attended some of these compulsory workshops with some less-than-receptive people in the audience, I am curious to know how or why you believe that this was due to the workshop and not Aaronson himself?

Indeed. I too have attended various "compulsory" workshops of this nature. It's funny that we call these workshops "compulsory", but my annual radiation safety refresher, which is also compulsory, is seldom described that way. For that matter, it is compulsory that I prepare monthly budget reports, steer customer contracts to completion and take business phonecalls, but we don't frame that as some kind of tragedy - it's the conditions of the job. The conditions of the job include taking the trainings that make you fit, per your employer, to do the job. I can't just say, "It's my right to stick my hands in the radioactive bits of the equipment, stop oppressing me".

I mean obviously compulsory participation in capitalism and the attendant white supremacy, misogyny, etc is bad tout court, but that's not what people are talking about.

that thread was about Scott Aaronson, who'd been convinced, from attending a compulsory workshop on harrassment for students with a plentiful list of things that "might be" harrassment, that he should never approach a woman he was sexually interested in.

I have an unpopular opinion: In general, you shouldn't be approaching co-workers or even random classmates in whom you are "sexually interested", just as you shouldn't be tapping women on the shoulder on the subway to ask what they're listening to on their headphones. The 1% of the time when your attention is welcome is dwarfed by the 99% of the time when it's not and it makes things uncomfortable for witnesses. I've been to these anti-harassment workshops and they're almost always very focused on work examples and work behavior precisely because they want to give specific, actionable examples. "Never send a drink to a woman at the bar", for instance, rarely comes up.

Also, a cold approach based on "sexual interest" is usually going to be creepy in any setting except a bar, a hook-up-ish party, etc etc. If I were volunteering as I did pre-pandemic and I started hitting on the random woman who gave me my paperwork because I found her "sexually interesting", I wouldn't really expect to get anywhere because we had no mutual rapport and there was no clear sign that she was looking to hook up with random volunteers.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on February 17 [14 favorites]


I have an unpopular opinion: In general, you shouldn't be approaching co-workers or even random classmates in whom you are "sexually interested", just as you shouldn't be tapping women on the shoulder on the subway to ask what they're listening to on their headphones.

I don't see that as an unpopular opinion in general - I think that for many of us, the idea that there is a time and place for approaching people in a sexual context - and that the workplace/classroom/random social meeting is not it - is accepted social behavior. But, it is unpopular with a certain sort of individual who has been taught that they have a right to women's bodies regardless of context, and thus find the idea to be an affront, and are quite vocal about it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:54 AM on February 17 [10 favorites]


This thread is apparently still going, so popping in to drop this off . This is honestly even worse than I would have expected: SSC is basically admitted to be a palatable front for hardcore racism, with the express goal of harvesting neo-reactionary clicks and making their views more acceptable to the mainstream.

Among the "ideas" that Scott thinks need to be discussed more: "why black people are intrinsically stupid" and "why we should beat our children"
posted by rishabguha at 11:59 AM on February 17 [16 favorites]


Absolutely chilling to read, especially stuff like this:
Despite considering myself pretty smart and clueful, I constantly learn new and important things (like the crime stuff, or the WWII history. or the HBD) from the Reactionaries.
Was the only reason this isn't 14 words long because he can't abide being succinct?
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 12:20 PM on February 17 [12 favorites]


"I will appreciate if you NEVER TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS, not even in confidence. And by 'appreciate,' I mean that if you ever do, I will probably leave the internet forever or seek some sort of horrible revenge."

Another Siskund piece on a contentious topic which opens with a joke that might be a threat or a threat that might be a joke
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:26 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Aaaaaaand that Tweet has been deleted.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:24 PM on February 17




It's satisfying to see him state explicitly something that had to be gleaned as a pattern, and that SSC defenders would act like you were crazy to even suggest.
posted by fleacircus at 1:45 PM on February 17 [7 favorites]


This is about as close to a Scooby-Doo style mask removal you can get these days.
posted by MetaFilter World Peace at 1:46 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


Among the "ideas" that Scott thinks need to be discussed more: "why black people are intrinsically stupid" and "why we should beat our children"

If the latter mention here is about the “corporal punishment” reference, I think this is actually more about the argument that, say, Singapore style caning is more humane then sending somebody to prison for years and years. That’s a popular one with self-consciously heterodox types!

The race/IQ stuff is of course the elephant in the room as far as reasons people have a problem with the SSC crowd that SA really doesn’t want to talk about!
posted by atoxyl at 3:55 PM on February 17


or the WWII history

I don’t think SA actually means what one might think this might be a euphemism for in context of a list of things one might learn from neoreactionaries. But just seeing this and thinking about how bad it looks in that context, how bad it looks in the middle of that specific list, I had to laugh.
posted by atoxyl at 3:59 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I’m really into WWII History, you know (taps glass front of SS medal collection case).
posted by atoxyl at 4:02 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


To everyone upthread who was coming with that I didn’t see any Nazi stuff in the comments... THIS is the modern face of neo-Nazi/neo-reactionary vocabulary.

They listen to Jordan Peterson and Sam Hicks, the try to have “reasoned debates” about whose fundamental human rights are up for questioning. They use the cloak and veneer of “science” the same way the Nazis did, as an excuse for their bullshit program of “Superiority”. But their “science” is the equivalent of Nazi Archeology looking for Atlantis and the “Aryans”.

It’s not all skinheads with Viking Runes and Thor’s Hammer tattooed on them like the Qanon Shaman. These days, since Charlottesville and the Capitol Riots, it’s just white guys in khakis “who have questions”. These are the ones always trying to reason their way out of the “peace treaty” that is society.

Fundamentally mistrust anyone who labels themself a “Rationalist“. Anybody who ever went down that path most likely is a trash-human.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:23 PM on February 17 [15 favorites]


Without in the least defending any of their views, could we not call someone a "trash" person?
posted by PhineasGage at 4:48 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


Just to try to be empathetic for a moment: it is crappy to have a bunch of people dunk on something that's been meaningful to you, even if I think it deserves to be dunked on. I'd feel pretty bad if I was on a site where 30 people were talking about how Metafilter is everything that is wrong with the universe, and I stood up to defend it, and had another 30 people jump at the opportunity to tell me why I'm wrong.

I hope that, even so, people posting in defense of SSC can consider what people are saying here, and lend those arguments at least as much consideration as they would anything posted on Siskind's site.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:04 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


could we not call someone a "trash" person?

Is
Person espousing a reprehensible, trash ideology
a more pleasing choice?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:13 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


I'd feel pretty bad if I was on a site where 30 people were talking about how Metafilter is everything that is wrong with the universe, and I stood up to defend it, and had another 30 people jump at the opportunity to tell me why I'm wrong.

Pretty much exactly that happened to me on The Daily WTF, which is what prompted me to realize that there is nothing actually wrong with feeling bad, if it's serving as an actionable signal that I'm hanging out with the wrong people.

On this site, those who challenge the things I post can be relied upon to do so from a wide variety of thoughtful individual viewpoints. That makes it a far healthier place to be than any of those whose tolerance of intolerance invites routine milkshake-shitting by one-note bloviators with nothing to offer but grievance, self-aggrandizement and projection.

Siskind reads like a man who has been drinklng shit milkshakes for so many years that now he thinks that's how ideas are supposed to taste. So I won't be visiting his drugstore for mine, thanks all the same.
posted by flabdablet at 5:52 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


I will probably leave the internet forever or seek some sort of horrible revenge.
I'm guessing that "leave the internet forever" is probably too much to hope for at this point, unfortunately.

In any case, it's nice to have such a clear demonstration of what a cryptofascist looks like — you usually don't get them straight-up admitting it like this. If you didn't realize that this was what was going on, despite people saying this for years, maybe it's worth reflecting on why you missed it.
posted by wesleyac at 5:53 PM on February 17 [7 favorites]


I have some friends who are ex-LessWrongers who got over it. It's not easy to wise up and move on.

I’m really into WWII History, you know (taps glass front of SS medal collection case).

As it turns out, (as someone pointed out on Twitter), pretty much; the the WWII link in question is about how Churchill should not have gone to war with Hitler because Stalin was the world's biggest bad guy (and FDR was controlled by Russia).
posted by fleacircus at 8:48 PM on February 17 [11 favorites]


> fleacircus: "the WWII link in question is about how Churchill should not have gone to war with Hitler because Stalin was the world's biggest bad guy (and FDR was controlled by Russia)."

Oh holy crap, you weren't kidding. If anything, this might even underplay the article's... err... "unconventional" position. Here's one tidbit that jumped out at me:
When the US finally joins the war, it does so with – as best as one can decipher – only a few clear war aims: 1) demanding unconditional surrender (of Germany and Japan – aka the only bulwarks against Soviet domination of post-war Europe and Asia); 2) establishing the United Nations; and 3) ending European (excluding Soviet) colonialism.

If you, gentle reader, can come up with a list of war aims that would be more destructive to mankind at the time than those, the next round is on me. Perhaps entirely coincidentally (or perhaps not) these aims would seem to all work towards the direct benefit of the Soviets. It’s almost like Soviets were making US foreign policy.
posted by mhum at 5:02 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


Jesus wept. That's worse than William S. Lind grousing in 2006 that, paraphrasing, "Western civilization was doomed when the Schlieffen plan failed and World War I went on for years instead of being swiftly ended, but maybe we could have pulled it out if the Central Powers had won."
posted by ob1quixote at 5:19 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]




It's interesting/horrifying to go back and read some of the old SSC stuff in light of the admissions in the email. Like the infamous "Still Crying Wolf" post, a long, strained denial that Trump is a racist. It was written in 2016; Scott updated it after Charlottesville to let everyone know that, if anything, a violent rally of only "a few hundred" nazis proved his point that white supremacy is a small and relatively harmless force in America.

What's obvious now is that Scott had already convinced himself that forging a cynical alliance with white supremacists and circulating their views was a distasteful but necessary (even heroic?) course of action. So this post serves two purposes:

-It's another little step in his grand secret plan to rehabilitate reactionary thought so he can talk about eugenics at parties without people making him feel bad. Drastically raising the bar for what you can consider racist furthers the plan. So does saying "when you look at the graphs, these views are quite mainstream!" So does saying "white supremacists are actually quite thin on the ground," which means that consorting with them is harmless. So does saying that's what actually bad about Trump is his irrationality and incoherence, which lets people who consider themselves rational off the hook.

-It's about soothing the intense cognitive dissonance that Scott must have felt when Trump openly forged a cynical alliance with white supremacists and was then accurately called a racist and a fascist instead of being hailed as a bold, open-minded intellectual adventurer. The piece moves gradually from a detached, academic tone to irritation to resentment to anger as he parries each attack on Trump, a person he has nothing in common with by the way (unless you count their avowed support for queer people and minorities). He dismisses 16 such arguments, each more clueless, more small-minded than the last. The very density of the accusations is proof they're the product of deranged paranoia.

Scott concludes by mentioning that he treated two transgender patients for suicidal ideation after the election. He feels terrible about their plight, and he can't help but get furious at the people who made them believe that fascism is coming back: it's you, SJW. You have only yourselves to blame if all this wolf crying attracts real wolves. Not that such a thing will ever happen. But it will be your fault when it does.
posted by Iridic at 1:45 PM on February 19 [20 favorites]


You are equating non-NT and/or "on the autism spectrum" people with being unable to process sexual desires in a way that is acceptable to NT people and appropriate in a professional setting, or even in a "normal society" setting.

Nope. I said (in a mysteriously disappeared comment, so I'm now trying to remember exactly what I did say) that I had no way of knowing what the workshop was actually like so Aaronson could be to blame, but that it'd be bad for it not to recognise that there are scrupulous people out there. Those people are looking for guidance, as replies said. They have a habit of taking what they're told very seriously, as Aaronson did. I antcipated an objection (that it's just tough luck for those people because protecting women from harrassment is more important than considering those people) by saying that there needn't be dichotomy of needs there, so it's a bit rich to say I've set up the false dichotomy myself. I agree that not all of the scrupulous people are non-NT (and not all non-NT people are scrupulous), but Aaronson himself is non-NT, and we're talking about him.

I read the leaked emails and am now roughly where @miniver on Twitter is in this thread: I missed important good criticisms of Scott [Siskind] in a forest of bad criticisms. So I am going to try to collect the important stuff. Siskind hasn't been straight with us. He thinks that he's clever enough to bathe in the effluent of the nRXers and fish for the "gold nuggets" without getting dirty, but that was naive: doing so has shifted his views towards theirs more than its shifted theirs towards his.
posted by pw201 at 4:27 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


The @miniver thread has some good stuff, but that concluding note—All this makes Scott a dangerous sucker who has aided reactionaries. It does not make him A reactionary.

Who gives a shit? Why maintain that distinction for the dude responsible for TheMotte? Whether Scott's 100% a proud and outspoken Nazi, or he's "only" a sympathizer who wants to drag the world further toward reaction for his own tactical reasons, the solution is the same: don't link to his shit, don't promote his shit, don't let him borrow your platform. There are other essayists out there.
posted by Iridic at 8:42 AM on February 20 [13 favorites]


You’re gonna have to explain how “scrupulous” and “looking for guidance” are not just dogwhistles for autism before you get taken at face value as an honest argumentor, @pw201.

And upfront, the belief that you can’t do so is is why so many people flagged your earlier comment as abusive noise, causing the moderators to look at it, and then to nuke it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:48 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I agree that not all of the scrupulous people are non-NT (and not all non-NT people are scrupulous), but Aaronson himself is non-NT, and we're talking about him.

The point you're missing is that it's quite possible to be both non-NT and misogynistic - Aaronson is an excellent example of this, given that his whole statement about how he feared approaching women literally came out of a post he made about Walter Lewin being outed as a serial sexual harasser where he was more concerned about Lewin's reputation and that MIT had pulled his lectures than he was about Lewin's victims. You're arguing that we should give Aaronson the benefit of the doubt even given the above, while not expecting the same of him. Too often in our society we allow misogyny to be hidden behind "scrupulousness" (see also: Billy Graham Rule, the). You argue that Aaronson was looking for guidance, but his comments showed more an expectation that other people (especially women) would pick up the slack on the emotional labor so he didn't have to.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:59 AM on February 20 [9 favorites]


Elizabeth Sandifer has a new post up and it's pretty brutal, and IMO rightfully so:

The Beigeness, or How to Kill People with Bad Writing: The Scott Alexander Method
I have, in other words, very little to gain by writing this. There is not a lot that I want from this essay other than to have it written. Nor am I doing it because I enjoy sneering at these people. I mean, yes, I enjoyed writing some of the lines. That reuse of the “probably not the literal worst” image? I’m proud of that. Also the all caps bit in response to point #7 in the “you’re allowed to respond to this” section of “Untitled.” I like my craft, and I like doing things I’m good at. But writing this has meant literal hours of being angry, upset, and horrified. It has not been good for my mental health over the last couple of days. I had bits of fun doing it, but I didn’t do it for fun and I mostly didn’t enjoy it.

I’m doing it… for the same reason I broke down crying a few paragraphs ago, frankly. Because I am angry. Because I have looked at this situation and I see Scott Siskind peddling pernicious bullshit in ways that make the world an actively worse place and I am angry about it. I see him bilking $250 a year from people for it and I am angry. Not because $250 is too much a year for supporting a writer—plenty of people give me that every year—but because it’s too much for the fucking beigeness of Scott Siskind. It’s too much for eugenics and sexism. It’s too much for shoddy arguments that hurt people.

So yeah. What I want is for Scott Siskind to stop hurting people while the number of people whose deaths his actions have directly and materially contributed to is still in the single digits. What I want is for people to stop listening to his poorly written and poorly argued bullshit. What I want, in fact, is for people to stop listening to all of it: Siskind, Yudkowsky, Moldbug, Thiel, Trump, Bannon, and all of the other fucking idiots helping work towards human extinction. I want them to shut up and go away and stop making the world an actively worse place to live in.

I don’t expect this essay will accomplish that though. So my second choice is that one of the well-meaning people to be suckered in by Siskind’s con will read this and go “oh, shit” because they finally see what’s been done to them and what purposes it served. And they’ll go and be better people afterwards who don’t read eugenicists and sexists and maybe when they hear someone talk about being sexually assaulted they’ll actually listen and work to make a world where that happens less. So by all means, if you find yourself arguing with some Slate Star Codex fan online, link this article. If I can manage this happening once, frankly, all 12,500 words of this and the genuine unhappiness they provoked will be worthwhile.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 9:09 AM on February 20 [24 favorites]


It's long, but I highly recommend reading that Elizabeth Sandifer essay Glegrinof the Pig-Man links to above.

I'll confess that I'd been reading this thread with a "Yes, but..." hesitation, because I've read a bunch of Siskind's articles that I thought had interesting and worthwhile ideas. I went into Sandifer's article interested to hear some detailed criticism of stuff I've found persuasive in his writing. At first I was disappointed because she chose two of Siskind's weakest/wrongest essays, but as she went through and documented all the flaws in his reasoning (and demonstrating how they are harmful), I realized that I'd missed half of them. Many of her critiques apply to lots of other things he's written as well.

So Sandifer's article has me seriously questioning my ability to read Siskind's stuff and recognize what's wrong and/or harmful in it. At a minimum, I won't be recommending or defending his writing to anyone in the future.
posted by straight at 7:52 PM on February 20 [16 favorites]


There is no shame in having been scammed by a well practiced con artist.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]




Yeah sometimes I call Siskind a pundit, because his arguments are pretty leaky, and because a lot of the time he IS operating like a center right pundit, with article forms that are like, "Hm, is this cherry picked straw man liberal piety a correct model of reality? Let's apply our brains, oh well, gosh, it turns out to be much more complex! Aren't we smart? Where does this lead? Gee, who can say? ;)."

But I think the most infuriating thing about his writing, and trying to argue with SSC-defenders, is there is heavy use of a kind of "I'm not saying X, but [thing that amounts to/implies to X]." It is a general kind of problem you see anywhere, sort of asserting what your argument is saying, as if that had power to override what it's really saying. But it doesn't! In Rationalist land, these assertions must be taken VERY SERIOUSLY. If someone says, "I don't mean X" then you have to generously believe they don't mean X, even if X is clearly implied, or there's no particular reason to discard context because that's where the real meaning is. You MUST wring your hands about it publicly and give it power.

So it is exhausting as fuck to deal with SSC-type arguers, because Siskind throws SO MANY of these little denials and hedges and assertions into his writing. You are screaming at these people, "He's saying X!" and they are going, "Actually, over here he says he's not saying X." That doesn't matter! It's completely irrelevant what someone merely asserts their argument says. It brings to mind the poop in the ice cream metaphor. You point at the poop, they point out a part where there's no poop as if that disproves the poop.

This kind of thinking also leads to really foolish things, like Siskind's whole Crying Wolf thing with Trump because he thought (or pretended to think) Trump should e.g. be taken at his word that one time he said he liked the gays, despite everything else your eyes and brain are telling you. It's almost like a child's game... you can't attack them, they said the magic word, they have one foot still in the square.

Of course SSC people are quite hypocritical with their good faith. It is extremely common for them to think other people who disagree with them have a fundamentally different kind of brain; they're reasonable and scientific -- and you're not. There's no hope of talking to you and nothing worth listening to in what you say. W/r/t trying to shear issues from their context, they have high decoupling vs. low decoupling for that. But more broadly it's a general sort of deliberate stupidity that they think is actually a sign of high discussion standards and intelligence.

Which is exactly the kind of thinking you want to inspire in your audience if your goal is to numb them to humanistic and context-ful ways of thinking, then distract them with some new little nifty thought-toy, all so you can more easily slip regressive ideas into their brains.
posted by fleacircus at 1:17 PM on February 21 [12 favorites]


It's on Thread reader:

And now that's gone, too. SneerClub has been kind enough to point to more archived copies of the Siskind emails.
posted by clawsoon at 4:19 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


HBD is probably partially correct... I will appreciate if you NEVER TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS
So he really did think of himself as the Kolmogorov of racism, huh?
posted by clawsoon at 4:31 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]


It's unfortunate that Siskind's fears of being ostracized and having his career ruined by this are probably overblown. A study linked by the person who released the emails: The Mythical Taboo on Race and Intelligence. There's definitely money out there for such a "brave" and "thought-provoking" writer.
posted by clawsoon at 5:09 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I really wish that all the consequences he was afraid of were actually possible. Instead, he'll likely make $50k a month on Substack writing overwrought rants about being silenced all of his life, then end up appointed by the next GOP administration to serve on their eugenics council.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:09 PM on February 21 [11 favorites]


I'm feeling a moment of sadness about the ending of all this. I've recognized for a while that Siskind hasn't given fair consideration to all sides, but the way that he seemed to sincerely say that he was going to give fair consideration appealed to me. It felt like a good thing. A noble thing, even. I know that if I hadn't been raised with the feeling that fairly considering ideas that you don't agree with is a noble thing, I never would've ended up on Metafilter. I never would've reconsidered my ideas about gender and sex and sexuality. I probably would've still been deep in the bowels of Evangelicalism, maybe even a preacher in some small Canadian town. So to me it feels like being fair-minded is a path toward progress. It's something I will still try to do, despite being had by someone who was cynically appealing to my respect for it.
posted by clawsoon at 6:13 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]


It's completely feasible to be fair-minded and possess a functioning horseshit detector.
posted by flabdablet at 6:40 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


He loves to say that he's going to give fair consideration to all sides specifically to get you to feel good about him, secure in the knowledge that you'll probably never go back and check to see if he actually did it.

(He didn't, and he never meant to.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 PM on February 21 [11 favorites]


I know I'm late to the game, but I just saw this thread. I'm a long-time reader of Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten). For what it's worth, I'm also a progressive Democrat, I voted for Biden, and my preferred form of government would be the sort of cradle-to-grave socialism that's practiced in Scandinavian countries.

If I only knew about the blog based on the comments above, I would conclude that it's some kind of horrible cesspool of hate and intolerance. Nothing could be further from the truth. The anti-SSC sentiments are grossly exaggerated, to say the least. I read the blog mostly for the posts related to science and medicine, though many of the other posts were interesting, as well. I rarely participated in the comment threads. Frankly, I have little knowledge of (or interest in) the sort of hot-button issues that people have been discussing. I know nothing about neo-reactionaries, and I had to Google "HBD" to find out what it means. If you take away all the content that some people find objectionable, you'd still be left with a large body of work that contains thoughtful, nuanced discussions of interesting issues. The anti-SSC vitriol is surprising to me and is unwarranted. When Scott moved the blog to SubStack, I gladly signed-up at the $100 level, and I have no regrets about that.
posted by alex1965 at 9:50 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


No thanks, I don't think I'll be ignoring the Nazi race science like the kind that killed six million of my people in the unlikely event I may find something kinda sorta valuable.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 10:22 AM on February 22 [10 favorites]


Frankly, I have little knowledge of (or interest in) the sort of hot-button issues that people have been discussing.

Some truly classic rationalism right here.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:38 AM on February 22 [8 favorites]


It must be nice to be a cis het white man who can just hang out with people who want to murder the rest of us and just enjoy talking about ideas.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:47 AM on February 22 [15 favorites]


I mean, where would we be if we couldn't ask, "what if," right? \s

I've recognized for a while that Siskind hasn't given fair consideration to all sides, but the way that he seemed to sincerely say that he was going to give fair consideration appealed to me.

Nice to see you again, my career strategy. Unfortunately, desire is not the same thing as ambition, as motivation, as progress. As actually doing the thing.
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


alex1965: If I only knew about the blog based on the comments above, I would conclude that it's some kind of horrible cesspool of hate and intolerance.

In some ways it's worse than that. It's easy to identify and stay away from obvious cesspools. They smell bad. You immediately know that they're going to give you some horrible disease. No Stormfront for me, no-sir-ee.

SSC is more like a glow-in-the-dark grandfather clock with radium paint. Very scientific! Very interesting! Look at the craftsmanship!

I've enjoyed SSC a lot myself in the past, at least until I started noticing that he didn't give the fair shake to all sides that he promised.

If you read the leaked email linked upthread, you see what the reason for that is. One of his goals has been to promote neo-reactionary and racist ideas by appealing to our desire for reasonable, intelligent, fair-minded discussion.
posted by clawsoon at 3:26 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]


There is no shame in having been scammed by a well practiced con artist.

Words to live by. But there is something deeply unsettling about having been taken in by what appears, based on the leaked emails, to have been something not terribly far from a KKK psyop.

I had added SSC to my Feedly on somebody's recommendation and gradually came to simply scroll past his posts because I never seemed to learn anything interesting from them. But I definitely failed to pick up on the warning signs that he was more than just an overgrown version of That Guy In A Discussion Class.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:05 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]


Pope Guilty: Anyway as long as we're going in on Rationalists I really should recommend Elizabeth Sandifer's Neoreaction A Basilisk, which deals with the movement, its origins, and its role in giving birth the neoreactionaries.

I'm reading it now. It's a weird book, though I suspect I'd write a weird book, too, if I'd spent that much time reading Yarvin and Land and Yudkowsky. (I didn't expect quite so much Milton.)

This part isn't completely unexpected, given how much neo-reactionaries seem to hate people: Yarvin has designed
a programming language in which there’s an increment operator but no decrement, such that you have to write a recursive function using increments to accomplish what is typically among the simplest things you can do in a programming language.
posted by clawsoon at 5:41 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Frankly, I have little knowledge of (or interest in) the sort of hot-button issues that people have been discussing.

Frankly, the faster that thoughtful people can extract themselves from soporific quagmires of fascination with how many angels a rational market would allocate per pinhead and get interested in these hot-button issues, the faster they'll be justly addressed.
posted by flabdablet at 7:52 PM on February 23 [9 favorites]


Sometimes, when you belong to a group that is the subject of a hot-button issue, you don't have much of a choice about knowing or caring about it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:50 PM on February 25 [11 favorites]


A description of Siskind's ability to describe cognitive biases without seeing his own:
Scott Alexander is a walking talking 'trapped prior' when it comes to leftism.

Like if I had a parasitic bug visibly sucking blood out of my skull and I talked about the existence of these parasitic bugs that attached to people and injected a paralytic making it impossible for the host to see them at all so the bug can drain their fluids.

And you can see this bug sucking on my fluids as I talk. And I describe how the paralytic works and the bug sucks a little and I blink a bit, shake my head, and keep on going into the finer details of the bug's mouth parts.

May I remind you, this is the man who went from writing about feminism being Voldemort to embracing neoreactionaries in his community to "You Are Still Calling Wolf" to a dodgy essay about being silent/complicit about racism.
posted by clawsoon at 4:38 AM on March 11 [10 favorites]


The movie Good is based on a play Isaw back in the ending decades of the last century.

The protagonist Halder is a “good” man; a university professor, a family man, liberal minded, living in Germany in the 1930s.

And the whole experience is like watching Schindler’s List “through a mirror darkly”.

Both Schindler and Halder start as one kind of person. And over the course of the events, you see them change by inches until they are unrecognizeable from the person they once were. You never quite are sure when exactly the changed happens, but at the end of the movie the transformation is both complete, and makes complete sense.

At the end of Schindler’s List Schindler has gone from war profiteer and slaver to humanitarian subverting a fascist regime at risk of his own life and cost of his personal fortune. And at the end, he dons the uniform of the prisoners he saved.

At the end of Good, Halder goes from liberal college professor to “I just joined the party for professional reasons” to full Nazi, and it makes sense. Because we are shown how he is seduced to go along, we’re just asking questions, aren’t you in favor of good things?

Halder is Schindler mirror, because at the end when he dons an SS uniform, you’re never quite sure when the transformation happened. But you can see how it happened.

These “less-wrong rationalist” types seem mostly to be “Halders”. They are seduced by the appeals to reason and “we’re here for good things”. And then they end up as white supremacists and egenecists. You can’t see the switch flip, there’s not discrete inflection point.

But when they finally go all-in an “put on the uniform”... it makes sense that that was their end point.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:06 AM on March 11 [10 favorites]


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