The Banality of the Rationalists : Charlottesville

My first thought on seeing the images from Charlottesville was, hey, I know these guys!

Looks like a random sample of the SSC commentariat.

So my experiment was a fail.  I had wanted to scale the empathy wall between liberals and conservatives after reading Hoschild’s book.  I was so wrong.  As it turned out I lasted less than 2 months at Slate Star Codex.  First, almost no one would admit to being a conservative.  They all claimed membership in the “grey Tribe”, which is really just plausible deniability for Red Tribe, because they still vote with Red Tribe.  Second, when I looked at the composition of the commentariat– SSC was ~90% male, ~75% ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and ~90% white.  But they were ALL “rationalists”.  Apparently at SSC, the “politics of reason” rule the comments.  Now what rationalism allows for is a safe space to nuture outrè Red Tribe ideology, like “punching SJWs” and burning university campuses to the ground.  I accidentally wound up surveying the upper tier of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” marchers, the polo-shirt tiki-torch brigade.

I should have read Nagle’s book alongside Hoschild’s as it turns out.

I got banned.  To be clear, I’m not really sure why I was banned.  It could have been any number of things.  It just may be that the commentariat was designed to be self-regulating and I was reported too many times.  I was trying to conform to the commentariat rules at the time, but I simply couldn’t handle the utilitarian good of killing-terrorists-families and the utilitarian good of keeping-Assad-in-power, or the utilitarian good of a Trump Presidency.  At that point I became a fierce empiricist and was pushed farther left than when I started.  I had empiricist tendency prior to commenting– I believe liberals and conservatives have biological differences (an evolutionary advantage in the EEA, but not in 21st century America).  Most philosophers self-identify as empiricists as well.  I’m more Arendt than Augustine.  So like Arendt, I will defend the importance of the public sphere.

I understand that utility theory and rationalism are neutral, and thus can be used to defend racism, naziism, white nationalism, Trump, Assad, Hitler etc.  But the disturbing thing about SSC is the ability to cast out empirical evidence and privilege rationalist philosophy over real world events.  Its giving me a dim view of rationalism-as-practiced.  I understand that BURGT (Bayesian Utility Rational Game Theory) is neutral in theory, but in practice it seems to be highly permeable to Red Tribe ideologies that are unfit in 21st century environment, and certainly extremely unpalatable to someone with Blue Tribe genetic tendency like me.

One of the things I love about Twitter is the opportunity to witness whimsical exchanges like the one between Corey Robin and Chelsea Clinton on Arendt’s banality of evil.  It really had everything, a fake Chelsea Clinton account, a real Chelsea Clinton, 140 char twitter philosophy, a sword fight, intellectual one-up-man-ship.  And it did make me think about the banality of evil…What SSC does is foster the nuturing of dank memes, frankly evil ideology, antisocial and inhumane pathologies  in the name of free speech and “reason”– it normalizes terrible things.  Is it possible to separate politics from the public sphere?  Was I banned for contesting rationalist dogma?  Where is my free speech?

I am not going to claim that SSC commenters are Nazi-fluffers, but the rationalist community certainly seems to enable the use of utility theory to justify things like “punching SJWs”, free speech laws on campus, white identity politics, anti-no-platforming rules and free form justification of Trump’s incredible gaffe and error-filled presidency.

This is very simplistic but sometimes toy models can be useful– it just seems like if there is one thing both tribes should be able to agree upon, it is that Nazis are bad.  What is the utility good of carrying a Nazi flag?

So I’m waiting for the Scott Alexander post on Charlottesville.  For the continuation of the banality of the Rationalists.


Scott Alexander isnt going to post on Charlottesville– he’s going to the Effective Altruism Convention.

tant pis

UP-UPDATE:  check out @YesYoureRacist and fund his patreon

6 thoughts on “The Banality of the Rationalists : Charlottesville

  1. A lot of my comments have disappeared from the thread. Did you break a link? Or did you delete them? Can’t tell because when you delete your comment, my replies disappear for me even if you can still read them.


    • yup, and I also read Arendt’s book. I have read most of Arendt– I agree with her– philosophy needs to incorporate the public sphere…
      And Eichmann in Jerusalem is not really relevant to my argument–
      this post refines my thoughts– here–>
      Scott Alexander just built another witch coven at SSC — a coven of rationalist witches. Morally, Naziism is bad. Fascism is bad. This is morally obvious– But like the german citizenry SSC can rationalize standing next to nazis and fascists because of their hatred for antifa, and the eumeme that antifa is just as bad, bothsiderism. Rationalism and Utilitarianism wholly separated from morality is just apologia for atrocity.
      Only one side is carrying Nazi flags and tiki-torches.
      Like the Quillette article on Nagles book says, rationalism has become a “semi-cult”.
      heres the quote–

      Sticking in NorCal, it is surprising to see no mention of LessWrong and the “rationalist” semicult, which is a Tumblr-style identitarian support group that nonetheless often ends up treading into alt-right discursive and political territory;

      Lesswrong and SSC are fellow travellers.


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