I’m increasingly disturbed by the ferocious polarization of America exposed by the 2016 election. So when I read Arlie Hoschild’s book Stranger’s In Their Own Land I became all excited to scale the “empathy wall” for my own cohort (high IQ high SES high educational attainment). The SSC commentariat is widely admired– I loved UNSONG, Scott Alexanders alternative kabbalist universe, and the two posts I was instructed to read were awesome. I think a rationalist community is a noble goal, and the idea of a neutral space for discussion was appealing. I could finally learn what made conservatives tick! And scale the empathy wall.
Yet it did not go well.
This is pretty much how SSC saw me:
I was pretty much viewed as an attacker from day one– I was accused of being a troll, of being a moby, of being a sock-puppet for some banned-but-not-forgotten commenters, of being an “islamist” (apparently because I advocate islamic self-representative government instead of trying to bomb/drone muslims into secular democracy), of being a hater, of being a fake.
An SSC commenter hate-stalked my blog, made fun of my passion for social physics, chaos and complexity science, and then held a public shaming to absolve herself of all guilt and further humiliate me.
But I persevered…I tried to change my comment style, tried to learn all the SSC jargon (muggle-realism, incels, paperclips, steelmanning, redpill etc) and learn all the SSC rules and comment-eating monster trigger-words, while weaning myself of my near-pathological addiction to domain acronym speak, and trying to obey the Steelman Protocol.
But in the end, this is how I saw the SSC commentariat– as the Zygote monster from Blomkamp’s new Oats short. This is sadly convolved with how extremely physically repulsive Trump is to me– I guess that is the real reason I couldn’t believe Trump got elected. In my head Trump IS the Zygote monster, all mashed together with the worst parts of the Red Tribe, a thousand grasping greedy hands beslimed with blood and fluids. And I’m sure Red Tribers hated Obama and HRC just as much.
Yeah, I wasn’t assimilated. I mean, I was trying to fit in when I accidentally drove my up-armored Blue Tribe tendency humvee over an IED buried in my own psyche.
I couldn’t handle the “rationalist” discussion of the utility good of killing-terrorist-families. I should have quit right there. To be fair, I never got brave enough to admit to the SSC commentariat that I actually am a muslim revert, whereby I might have used Augustinian circles to explain that all muslims see themselves as part of the Ummah, and that muslims are all technically one tribe. I thought the moral universe and one tribe theory (we are all h. sapiens sapiens, so we are all one) would have prevented this kind of discussion. But no.
And I really just couldn’t stand it, so I behaved badly. I just can’t muster any empathy for these people. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. I feel sympathy for the Red Tribe…their cultural fitness is eroding. But that isn’t empathy. I can’t walk in their shoes, I can’t understand them, I can’t scale the wall.
It is said that the SSC comments section is like a dinner party. Well, I unexpectedly threw up all over the table service during the fish course. Commenting at SSC actually pushed me way further left. I’m more Frank Rich than Arlie Hoschild after my little jaunt into cultural tourism.
And the worst thing is, this proves Haidt’s thesis, and doesn’t help at all with mine.
My thesis is that two peer phenotypes arose in the EEA, and polarization is happening because the Red Tribe is losing fitness parity in the 21st century environment. The CCP is breaking down…but if that’s true, we can fix it! We can use technology to reshape the adaptive landscape.
But instead it looks like Haidt is correct. And that means there’s no technology fix.
I’m just as complicit in this as the Red Tribe–that is the depressing truth. “I hate them.” “They are evil.” I want to punch-back too. And punching-back means no more outreach, no more trying to persuade the other side, no more trying to understand them.
If they don’t want to be helped, just leave them behind.