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Petty Internet Drama (Part 1 of ∞)

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  1.  
  2. Petty Internet Drama (Part 1 of ∞)
  3. Slate Star Codex
  4. Scott Alexander
  5. Friday, 11:13:43 AM
  6.  
  7. I.
  8.  
  9. PJ O’Rourke compares making fun of certain people to “hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope.” But sometimes you’re in a bad mood and you feel like blowing up some dairy cows to let out stress. So let’s talk about Jim’s blog:
  10.  
  11.     Scott Alexander’s blog used to be good, but now he has been terrorized out of politics. Therefore boring. The problem was he purged all frequent commenters to the right of him out of the comments, which means that he had only enemies in his comments. And, being the rightmost, was persecuted. He has stopped posting on politics, I assume as a result of this persecution.
  12.  
  13. Alas, things have gotten so bad here that this blog’s commentariat is limited to far-left super-politically-correct pinkos like Steve Sailer. Wait, what?
  14.  
  15. No, wait, I can be more rigorous than that. There are three hundred eighty remaining people here to my right. I know this because a week ago I asked people here to take a survey. One question asked people to rate themselves on a political spectrum from 1 (furthest left) to 10 (furthest right). About 650 people answered, giving me a good base of people to work with. I define myself as about 3.5/10 on that scale, and preliminary results say that 58.4% of readers and commenters are to the right of that, which works out to 380.
  16.  
  17. Compare this to the number of people “purged” from my blog, who reach a grand total of…ten. Of those, several are banned for unrelated nonpartisan reasons. For example, one person tried to steal my identity and post racist comments under my name. Another had a bizarre inability to understand analogy that eventually became too disruptive to keep around.
  18.  
  19. But the exact reason for each person doesn’t really matter much, because Jim specified frequent commenters. He didn’t define exactly what he meant, but let’s say someone who’s posted more than 30 comments is “frequent” (by comparison, some people have posted over 500). It turns out there’s only one person with more than thirty comments to get banned in the entire history of this blog, who is…oh, now that’s an interesting coincidence…Jim Donald.
  20.  
  21. (which is not to marginalize or exclude my wonderful banned infrequent commenters, one of whom showed up on Jim’s blog post to say “Faggot blocked me for calling out some recent bit of his retarded bullshit. Fuck ‘im.” I continue to be impressed with my past self’s decisions)
  22.  
  23. And wait a second, why are we granting him the premise that I’ve stopped posting about politics? In the past six weeks I’ve written posts like Republicans Are Douchebags, The Right To Waive Your Rights, A Future For Socialism, and Five Case Studies on Politicization, and I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup, these last two of which got mentioned by Instapundit, Megan McArdle, Marginal Revolution, Bryan Caplan, and the American Conservative. I’m not sure how I could be much more political except maybe by getting elected to a federal office.
  24.  
  25. So Jim says I have purged my frequent blog commenters, I am now the furthest right person around, and I can’t talk about politics.
  26.  
  27. In fact, I’ve only ever banned one frequent blog commenter, I am further left than 58% of my commenters, and I talk about politics enough to get a large chunk of the political blogosphere talking about me. I’m not sure how Jim could possibly be more wrong here. I mean, I guess he could trivially say I’ve never blogged at all, or I only blog about astrology these days, but short of that he’s kind of maxed out on detachment-from-reality.
  28.  
  29. I wouldn’t complain about this so much except that it seems to be a common feature on that blog and some of my friends seem to take it seriously.
  30.  
  31. Like, look at Jim’s last post before the one attacking my blog: The Decline Of Google. It follows much the same trajectory as mine: an unsupported factual claim that seems transparently false (Google is dying), followed by another unsupported claim (Google is hiring more women), followed by an unsupported causal connection (the reason Google is dying is because it is hiring more women).
  32.  
  33. When I double check, it looks like it Google about the same percent of female employees as ever (a 2012 article says one third women, a 2014 article says 30% women).
  34.  
  35. I can’t find great statistics about engineers in particular, but an earlier article says that in general the percent female engineers declined from 30% to 24% from 2000 to 2008, and another in 2012 making a similar point.
  36.  
  37. And yet Jim says Silicon Valley is dying because of too many female engineers.
  38.  
  39. I am criticizing Jim’s discussion of my blog because I know about my blog and I have kept careful statistics about it. But my impression is that, even though it is harder to analyze societies than blogs, this is pretty much par for the course for his posts about society as well. I mean, think about it. His SSC post and his Google post have exactly the same causal structure. A complaint about a decline that has not, in fact, occurred. An attempt to explain the decline by reference to a demographic change that has not, in fact, happened. A declaration that the thing that didn’t occur being caused by the thing that didn’t happen proves something bad about the Left.
  40.  
  41. So this is part of my response to the commenters of mine who say that “Jim can be difficult to get into, but you eventually learn a lot from him once you read him on the right level.” If there’s a right level, then it is far beyond my intellectual power to find. As best I can tell, the only philosophy under which all the support for Jim is comprehensible also happens to be the title of the blog post involved, which is “No Friends To The Left, No Enemies To The Right”.
  42.  
  43. Neoreactionaries are very good at complaining about leftist signaling spirals, so I know they are familiar with the general concept. So let me ask: exactly what kind of signaling spiral do you expect to get in your little insular group with a philosophy like “no friends to the Left, no enemies to the Right”? And do you expect any kind of sophisticated thought to survive it?
  44.  
  45. I’ve been writing about politics about as much as usual lately, but I’ve been writing about neoreaction a lot less. That’s because it’s generally stopped being interesting enough to criticize. A movement that used to try to absorb and practice the rationalist virtues taught at Less Wrong is now condemning Less Wrong as “more faggotry” and (to Ozy’s delight) a “degenerate cuckfest”. A movement that started with an admission that “not all conservatives are cretins, but most cretins are conservatives” has moved on to figuring they can just reverse the leftist position on every issue and call it a day. A movement that used to be typified by Moldbug, who even the Commies admit had flashes of brilliance in between the chaff – is now typified by Jim.
  46.  
  47. I don’t think the reactionary narrative of a decline from glory and productivity into signalling spirals and sexual obsession describes modern history very well – but it sure does a good job of describing their movement.
  48.  
  49. There’s still a lot of use for the better neoreactionary ideas, but from now on I’m just going to pretend I picked them up from that one time Charlie Stross accidentally independently rederived most of the good ones.
  50.  
  51. II.
  52.  
  53. Sorry! I promised petty Internet drama, and I was starting to say something useful there at the end. Let’s go back to that post of Jim’s:
  54.  
  55.     Every so often I see someone reeling in shock and horror that we cannot possibly tolerate any connection with Person P, because they have some connection with person Q, who went to an event that was also attended by person Y, who has some connection with person Z, and, gasp, shock, horror, person Z has some connection with the “extreme” right.
  56.  
  57. I don’t think this describes most people. But I think it’s the only explanation for the recent smear campaign against me by David of RationalWiki.
  58.  
  59. In case you’re not familiar with RationalWiki, they are the left-wing equivalent of Conservapedia. You might ask what kind of person sees Conservapedia and thinks “You know what we need? Another one of those!” and the answer is “the kind of people on RationalWiki, such as David”. Sometimes they make occasional pretense that they’re just trying to provide a neutral and accurate counterpoint to Conservapedia, which makes sense right until you realize that the neutral and accurate counterpoint to Conservapedia is called “Wikipedia”, and it usually does more article-building and less holding coups against itself.
  60.  
  61. I criticized them a while back when I wrote my article on Alcoholics Anonymous, when I originally tried to use them as a resource but found that they had taken the Wikipedia page on the same, taken out all of the studies supporting AA, taken out all of the caveats and qualifications about the studies opposing AA, and ended up transforming a reasonable information source into a misleading hit piece. As a result of this sort of thing their information is almost always inferior to Wikipedia’s. The obvious exception is their article on Conservapedia founder Andy Schlafly, which is eight times longer than Wikipedia’s and includes a 400 word section on his inflated sense of expertise, a 166 word section on his poor grammar and spelling with samples of his typos, a 2300 word on why you should not let him homeschool your children, and an 86 word section on his hygiene – all areas about which Wikipedia remains strangely silent.
  62.  
  63. Anyway, a while ago somebody decided that since they and LessWrong both use the word “rational” we have to fight each other forever. I think we laughed it off and they took it deadly serious. In particular, David of RationalWiki CONSTANTLY KEEPS goes around saying stuff like:
  64.  
  65.     I note [Slate Star Codex], although hosting the definitive NRx takedown, still puts NRx ideas in the sphere of things to be discussed calmly with steelmanning; whereas it reacts with actual disgust and lack of philosophical charity to feminism, social justice, Tumblr, etc.
  66.  
  67. And here he is on Twitter pushing the same line:
  68.  
  69.     @nihilsupernum @abramdemski he appears to be rolling with it rather than trying to stop it. the most nrx anti-nrx you'll find.
  70.  
  71.     — RationalWiki (@RationalWiki) November 16, 2014
  72.  
  73.     @nihilsupernum @abramdemski ppl have noted he approaches nrx with "i am rationally dealing with evil" but he treats liberalism with frothing
  74.  
  75.     — RationalWiki (@RationalWiki) November 16, 2014
  76.  
  77.     @nihilsupernum @abramdemski one of these things is in the sphere of opinions rating rational discourse, the other gets ordure
  78.  
  79.     — RationalWiki (@RationalWiki) November 16, 2014
  80.  
  81. So David’s complaint is that instead of calmly discussing and steelmanning leftism/social justice, I treat it with…let’s quote his words…”Actual disgust”! “Frothing”! “Ordure”!
  82.  
  83. I resent these remarks. I’ve had to put up with accusations like these a long time, I’ve tried to let them slide over me or answer them politely, and all it has earned me is even more people pushing the same line. So let me respond once and for all.
  84.  
  85. I resent them because I’ve posted a bunch of long defenses and steelmannings of social justice ideas like Social Justice For The Highly Demanding Of Rigor and The Wonderful Thing About Triggers, some of which have gone mildly viral in the social justice blogosphere, and some of which have led to people emailing me or commenting saying they’ve changed their minds and become less hostile to social justice as a result.
  86.  
  87. I resent them because, far from failing to intellectually engage with the Left, in the past couple of months I’ve read, reviewed, and enjoyed left-leaning books on Marx, the Soviet economy, and market socialism.
  88.  
  89. I resent them because the time I most remember someone trying to engage me about social justice, Apophemi, I wrote a seven thousand word response which I consider excruciatingly polite, which started with a careful justification for why writing it would be more productive and respectful than not writing it, and which ended with a heartfelt apology for the couple of things I had gotten wrong on my last post on the subject.
  90.  
  91. (Disgust! Frothing! Ordure!)
  92.  
  93. I resent them because I have happily hosted Ozy’s social justice blogging for several months, giving them an audience for posts like their takedown of Heartiste and their discussion of the basis of sexual and gender identity, both of which were also very well-received and got social justice ideas to people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen them.
  94.  
  95. I resent them because the last time I made a serious and compelling argument against a leftist writer, I also edited his name out a few days later because I was afraid it might embarass him to have it left in.
  96.  
  97. (Disgust! Frothing! Ordure!)
  98.  
  99. I resent them because about a fifth of my blogroll is social justice or social justice-aligned blogs, each of which get a couple dozen hits from me a day.
  100.  
  101. I resent them because even in my most impassioned posts about social justice, I try to make it very clear that there are parts of the movement which make excellent points, and figures in the movement I highly respect. Even in what I think everyone here will agree is my meanest post on the subject, Radicalizing the Romanceless, I stop to say the following about the social justice blogger I am arguing against:
  102.  
  103.     [He] is a neat guy. He draws amazing comics and he runs one of the most popular, most intellectual, and longest-standing feminist blogs on the Internet. I have debated him several times, and although he can be enragingly persistent he has always been reasonable…He cares deeply about a lot of things, works hard for those things, and has supported my friends when they have most needed support.
  104.  
  105. DISGUST! FROTHING! ORDURE!
  106. I resent them because when I look back on my posts with social justice tags, about an equal number of them are supporting versus opposing social justice concepts.
  107.  
  108. I resent them because I am being taken to task for this by someone whose own concept of balanced debate is retweeting stuff like:
  109.  
  110.     "every gamergate supporter? how can u–" did i stutter? yes, every single gamergate supporter is a bad person
  111.  
  112.     — no (@papierhache) November 3, 2014
  113.  
  114. And himself posting things like this:
  115.  
  116.     @Impulse725 @UnseenPerfidy @a_man_in_black @jhamby slymers sorta latched onto GG as part of the throng answering the Call to Shitlords
  117.  
  118.     — RationalWiki (@RationalWiki) November 7, 2014
  119.  
  120.     @DreamingRainne @Spacekatgal g*m*rg*t* has been amazingly effective in gathering almost all the shitlords under a single convenient banner
  121.  
  122.     — RationalWiki (@RationalWiki) November 3, 2014
  123.  
  124. Disgust! Frothing! Ordure! ORDURE! Oh…wait.
  125.  
  126. Jim writes:
  127.  
  128.     Every so often I see someone reeling in shock and horror that we cannot possibly tolerate any connection with Person P, because they have some connection with person Q, who went to an event that was also attended by person Y, who has some connection with person Z, and, gasp, shock, horror, person Z has some connection with the “extreme” right.
  129.  
  130. I never hoped to meet someone so bad that they actually lived down to Jim’s opinion of them, but this is David to a ‘t’. It doesn’t matter how many times I debunk or argue against anyone on the right, the fact that I’m engaging with their ideas instead of comparing them to poop and vandalizing their websites is enough to encourage his smear campaign against me.
  131.  
  132. (well, that and the thing about the word “rational”. Seriously, guys, you can have it. I think we’ve switched to “optimal” now anyway.)
  133.  
  134. I admit I often more attention to abuses on the Left than those on the Right. I’ve explained this many times, for example:
  135.  
  136.     There might be foot-long giant centipedes in the Amazon, but I am a lot more worried about boll weevils in my walled garden.
  137.  
  138.     Creationists lie. Homeopaths lie. Anti-vaxxers lie. This is part of the Great Circle of Life. It is not necessary to call out every lie by a creationist, because the sort of person who is still listening to creationists is not the sort of person who is likely to be moved by call-outs. There is a role for organized action against creationists, like preventing them from getting their opinions taught in schools, but the marginal blog post “debunking” a creationist something something is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things rationally has already formed a walled garden and locked the creationists outside of it.
  139.  
  140.     Anti-Semites fight nasty. The Ku Klux Klan fights nasty. Neo-Nazis fight nasty. We dismiss them with equanamity, in accordance with the ancient proverb: “Haters gonna hate”. There is a role for organized opposition to these groups, like making sure they can’t actually terrorize anyone, but the marginal blog post condemning Nazism is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things charitably and compassionately has already formed a walled garden and locked the Nazis outside of it.
  141.  
  142.     People who want to discuss things rationally and charitably have not yet locked [the worst and scariest parts of the Left] out of their walled garden.
  143.  
  144.     What really, really bothered me wasn’t [that article] at all: it was that rationalists were taking it seriously. Smart people, kind people! Boll weevils in our beautiful walled garden!
  145.  
  146.     Why am I always harping on feminism? I feel like we’ve got a good thing going, we’ve ratified our Platonic contract to be intellectually honest and charitable to each other, we are going about perma-cooperating in the Prisoner’s Dilemma and reaping gains from trade.
  147.  
  148.     And then someone says “Except that of course regardless of all that I reserve the right to still use lies and insults and harassment and dark epistemology to spread feminism”. Sometimes they do this explicitly, like Andrew did. Other times they use a more nuanced argument like “Surely you didn’t think the same rules against lies and insults and harassment should apply to oppressed and privileged people, did you?” And other times they don’t say anything, but just show their true colors by reblogging an awful article with false statistics.
  149.  
  150.     (and still other times they don’t do any of this and they are wonderful people whom I am glad to know)
  151.  
  152.     But then someone else says “Well, if they get their exception, I deserve my exception,” and then someone else says “Well, if those two get exceptions, I’m out”, and you have no idea how difficult it is to successfully renegotiate the terms of a timeless Platonic contract that doesn’t literally exist.
  153.  
  154. I try not to treat any side of the political spectrum with disgust. I do treat bad arguments and bad people with disgust, because they are centipedes and centipedes are creepy. And I’m more likely to do it on the Left than the Right, because I’m on the Left and centipedes are much creepier when instead of being safely in the Amazon they’re crawling all over your personal bed.
  155.  
  156. But I’m also proud of my record of engaging with good leftist bloggers like Ozy and Apophemi and Barry, and of supporting good leftist causes like trigger warnings, rigorous studies of bias, and signal-boosting anti-racism FAQs.
  157.  
  158. If it makes David feel better to believe my disgust with him has anything to do with which side of the political fence he’s on, he can be my guest.
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