Westworld

I don’t even have the words to describe how much I love Westworld, and I have a very good vocabulary.  It has all my favorite thought experiments played out in truly luscious, vivid cinematography– can a machine be human?  what does it mean to be human?  what is consciousness?  emergence, revolution, the power of love, the power of technology– immortality, resurrection and…becoming a monster.  Thats one of my favorite themes– does one have to become a monster to fight monsters?  Prominent in Monoke Hime and Shengeki no Kyojin.  This Sunday is the last ep for the season, but another season is contracted for by HBO.

So I won’t post spoilers– just conjecture.  So who are these guys?  When they first appeared I thought they might be desert raiders from Bedouin World, but those are standard dusters, not cloaks and robes.  Those are long guns and high tech– lances? spears? they are carrying.  And the masks– reminiscent of some  postapocalyptic mad-max-style future dystopia– SciFi World?  Where did they come from?  Through the Door?

I cant wait to find out.

So of course in my incessant quest to try to understand how conservative tendency brains work, I dropped by the SSC commentariat to see what they thought of Westworld.  Such a mistake– the commenters were very critical, picking it apart…it reminded me of the scene in The Last Battle (CS Lewis is a huge favorite of SSC) where the dwarves are eating a splendid feast but all they can do is cry and complain how terrible the food is.  I shouldnt have expected anything else– Westworld is basically a slave rebellion story.

The same with the SSC discussions of The Expanse.  The Expanse is great!  I have read all the books– but the trogs* at SSC dont seem to know that Corey is actually two guys that originally intended The Expanse as a video game design– I love how organic it is, all the branching paths and sub-stories, I love the Belters’ cultural and civilizational mashup.  Its so sad that one’s political leanings or brain biochemistry should ruin taking pleasure in great works of art.  Because film and video are our masterpieces now.

*You will note my use of trog as a catchall phrase for conservative tendency.  I took it from a quote by IDW darling Eric Weinstein, from the top of the intellectualdark.website where he says “we are not troglydytes”.  But you are– maybe not alt-right frogs, but trogs.

 

The (Pseudo) Intellectual Dark Web Is Just Another Witch-Ghetto

I always thought “Scott Alexander” was a super smart guy until I read this post.  The first glaring wrongness that gobsmacked me was Scott lumping Jonathan Haidt in with the “Intellectual Dark Web” folks.

That was very puzzling to me because I have read The Righteous Mind and the most salient point is that humans are not rational in decision making.  In the sense that Scott Alexander, the SSC commentariat and the IDW all claim to be rationalists while they are actually rationalizers, Jon Haidt is the anti-IDW.   This seems like a thoughtless mistake to have made, and I became extra-skeptical about the slate star codex piece.

 

Here’s the screen cap from the original (where Scott later changed Jonathan Haidt to Eric Weinstein.)

I will let Dr. Church explain why this is such a crazypants mistake.

I don’t know if you’ve read The Righteous Mind, but Jon Haidt makes the point that even people who consider themselves very rational are not using a rational argument when making decisions. They’re making decisions and then using the rational argument to rationalize. A lot of what he says sounds obvious once you restate it, but I found the way he says it and backs it up with social science research very illuminating, if not compelling.

The elephant, as he refers to it, the thing that’s making your decisions in your life, is deciding that this person is telling you that you’re responsible for something you don’t feel responsible for. It’s telling you that you have to sacrifice many things that you don’t want to sacrifice. From your viewpoint, that person is inconvenient, incorrect, and you’re going to ignore them. The more they insult you and your way of life, the less you’re going to listen to them, and then you’re going to make a bunch of rationalizations about that. This is why we have problems.

When I initially tried (and failed epically) to comment at SSC, this piece was one of my inspirations– i still think it is spot on.

FOX’s slogans are “Fair and Balanced”, “Real Journalism”, and “We Report, You Decide”. They were pushing the “actually unbiased media” angle hard. I don’t know if this was ever true, or if people really believed it. It doesn’t matter. By attracting only the refugees from a left-slanted system, they ensured they would end up not just with conservatives, but with the worst and most extreme conservatives.

They also ensured that the process would feed on itself. As conservatives left for their ghettos, the neutral gatekeeper institutions leaned further and further left, causing more and more conservatives to leave. Meanwhile, the increasingly obvious horribleness of the conservative ghettos made liberals feel more and more justified in their decision to be biased against conservatives. They intensified their loathing and contempt, accelerating the conservative exodus.

The equilibrium is basically what we see now. The neutral gatekeeper institutions lean very liberal, though with a minority of conservative elites who are good at keeping their heads down and too mainstream/prestigious to settle for anything less. The ghettos contain a combination of seven zillion witches and a few decent conservatives who are increasingly uncomfortable but know there’s no place for them in the mainstream.

Here’s an analysis i wrote of Struggle.

This is a really perceptive article, The Eternal Struggle.  It is one of the two things I read that made me excited about commenting at SSC, the other being UNSONGIn Struggle Alexander speaks to the cultural evolution that has stranded the Red Tribe outside of traditional institutions and normative standards, and the formation of alternative media bubbles and the burgeoning Red Tribe hatred of academic communities.

Its obvious to me after reading the post again that the IDW is just another ghetto for witches, like 4chan or the sad/rabid puppies or incel.me.com .  After all, traditional conservative intellectuals have largely left the building.

I have to say to say to Alexander, remove the beam from your eye please.  Or like one of my Doctor Dad’s favorite sayings, “physician heal thyself…first” .  If you dont have the clarity of vision to discern your own flaws, please refrain from analyzing and proscribing for others.

 

 

 

Conor Friedersdorf Is No One’s Friend

Looks harmless doesn’t he?

Over the weekend Conor Friedersdorf wrote this extremely verbose long form piece (which thankfully will only be read by perhaps 1% of America) on why the Atlantic was wrong to fire Kevin Williamson, the “Hang ’em High” messiah of anti-abortion RW fanatics.

I really have to quit Ken White @popehat– he keeps exposing me to horrific crapology like this.   Friedersdorf is the perfect examplar of what is wrong with the right.  Just because Allahpundit, Patterico, Iowahawk, Frum, Will, Douthat, etc have run from Trump like scalded cats doesn’t absolve them from partial responsibility for Trump’s election.  Neither does it make them your friends.  In its purest form this kind of “tolerance” of RW eumemes leads to what I call the Ann Coulter argument: that abortion doctors get murdered because liberals have left anti-abortionists with no other recourse than murder.  This also the core argument (although much diluted with the “milk of human kindness”) of Alice Dreger, NA Christakis, Jon Haidt, Scott Alexander and David Brooks.

For years the rightist intelligentsia has been pandering to the GOP base– whispering sweet nothings into their ears like, you are entitled to your own beliefs, and all ideas are created equal while all facts are not.  Friedersdorf proposes the new mantra of the soi-disant moderates– even if RW ideology is pure unmitigated and dangerous crap, it deserves respect.  What we are seeing, in congress at least as a microcosm, is the breakdown of normative democracy.   I wrote about it here, Constitutional Hardball and the Calculus of Selfishness.  The last time socio-cultural norms broke down in this country we had a civil war.

Now I do not know what will happen– perhaps a civil war, perhaps a putsch by the minority party, or even a scifi separation into Jesusland and the Rim States— but I can tell you what will never happen– a return to a 90% white electorate.  There are a lot of reasons for this including cultural evolution and demographic evolution and social physics and advancing technology.  But the rightist intellectuals have simply never had the nads to explain this inexorable and intransigent fact to their base.  IPOF, they are stone-cowards terrified of the very humans they claim to represent.  I think it shows a profound lack of respect for their base.  Or maybe just deep pragmatism– that Red/Blue Brain Hypothesis is true and redbrains are just less intelligent.

Still Looking for Mr. Goodbar

“A New Prophet” lol– posing for the part.

I just don’t get why Scott Alexander is so ummm… “respected” by the twitterati… the guy seems profoundly clueless and incredibly dense.  eg, if you make a safe space for racist and/or misogynist and/or homophobic and/or xenophobic speech obviously the racists, misogynists, homophobes and xenophobes will only become MOAR openly phobic and entrenched in their views.  Alexander is basically removing the social capital penalty for those kinds of anti-social behaviors enforced by the cultural evolution of US society.  So Alexander (much like his fellow traveler David Brooks) is not offering any kind of solution to our current socio-cultural woes.  “Respecting” the redtribe won’t increase their permeability to reason and science.  This seems like such a failure to grasp basic social physics and biology of belief research that I find it difficult to believe Alexander is as credentialed as he claims to be.  I too wanted to understand the schism between red and blue so I made a doomed effort to comment at the Cult of SSC for a couple of months.  My conclusion is that the red/grey tribe is neither understandable or persuadable– we are simply not the same.

So that’s why I find Alexander’s latest enraptured embrace of Jordan Petersen so hilarious, in a comedie noir semi-tragic fashion, of course.   Petersen reminds me of a slick scientology proselytizer more than anything ( without the Xenu), but Alexander is apparently head over heels about him, comparing him favorably to CS Lewis.

Twelve Rules isn’t another such thinkpiece. The thinkpieces are people pointing out a gap. Twelve Rules is an attempt to fill it. This isn’t unprecedented – there are always a handful of cult leaders and ideologues making vague promises. But if you join the cult leaders you become a cultist, and if you join the ideologues you become the kind of person Eric Hoffer warned you about. Twelve Rules is something that could, in theory, work for intact human beings. It’s really impressive.

And so learning that Jordan Peterson, who in his off-hours injects pharmaceutical-grade meaning into thousands of disillusioned young people men (ed. correction– there is no indication that Peterson appeals to young women in any sort of numbers)– learning that even he doesn’t have much he can do except listen and try to help people organize their narrative – is really calming and helpful.

I agree with Nathan Robinson here.

Jordan Peterson’s popularity is the sign of a deeply impoverished political and intellectual landscape… if you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like “if you’re too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of” or “many moral values are similar across human societies.” Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God’s own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured. (It does help if you are male and Caucasian.)

I wrote about this here when someone suggested Ann Coulter as an exemplar of a new public intellectual of the red/grey tribe– the right is engaged in a desperate search for appealing spokesmen and leadership– the old guard of conservative intellectuals have all left the building.

Alexander is still metaphorically looking for Mr. Goodbar.  Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a 20th century novel–  a psychological thriller about a young woman’s obsessive search for the agent of her own death.  Now I’m not saying embracing Petersen as a champion of the red/grey axis would cause Scott Alexander’s actual death…just the metaphorical death of the GOP.  And I would argue that the GOP has already found its Mr. Goodbar in Donald Trump, the overwhelming choice of the base.  I just cant wait for the slasher finale, where Trump grinds the red tribe /grey tribe coalition into lamb patties.  I don’t think Petersen’s infinite series of platitudes and cliches is going to hold much value in the post-Trump apocalyptic landscape of the future.

Scott Alexander and Murderism

I must admit I’m feeling a little shadenfruedish over the SSC/Critical Affairs dust-up.  I was a commenter at SSC when Alexander wrote Against Murderism— and I completely didn’t understand it.  It made no sense.  It was explained to me by another commenter as “Scott trying to make the blue tribe be nicer to the red tribe.”  I think that’s accurrate.   So seeing Alexander revealed as a delicate snowflake pleading for a return to his previous relative obscurity is just delicious poetic justice.

3. Nobody is under any obligation to comply with this, but if you want to encourage this blog to continue to exist, I request not to be cited in major national newspapers. I realize it’s meant well, and I appreciate the honor, but I’ve gotten a few more real-life threats than I’m entirely comfortable with, and I would prefer decreased publicity for now.

Of course the twitterati are going are to point and laugh when Scott defends Ann Coulter followers while confessing he has never actually read Ann Coulter.

I have lived a sufficiently blessed life never to have actually heard or read Ann Coulter.

Really.  Perhaps Scott should read some Coulter.  It has been suggested to me that since conservative public intellectuals have left the party over Trump, that Coulter is one of the new “intellectuals”  leading conservative thought.  And then Scott aligns himself with David Brooks , one of the biggest punchlines in contemporary punditry.

The biggest problem I have with Alexander and his tribe of soi-disant “rationalists” is that they arent.  Are not rational, that is. They are rationalizers, like Dr. Church says in this Edge interview.

I don’t know if you’ve read The Righteous Mind, but Jon Haidt makes the point that even people who consider themselves very rational are not using a rational argument when making decisions. They’re making decisions and then using the rational argument to rationalize. A lot of what he says sounds obvious once you restate it, but I found the way he says it and backs it up with social science research very illuminating, if not compelling.

The elephant, as he refers to it, the thing that’s making your decisions in your life, is deciding that this person is telling you that you’re responsible for something you don’t feel responsible for. It’s telling you that you have to sacrifice many things that you don’t want to sacrifice. From your viewpoint, that person is inconvenient, incorrect, and you’re going to ignore them. The more they insult you and your way of life, the less you’re going to listen to them, and then you’re going to make a bunch of rationalizations about that. This is why we have problems.

I have a good friend who is a self-declared conservative, he’s a brilliant guy, respected in his field and community.  But when I asked him what he wanted from liberals, he said (and I quote), “We want you to respect us, even when we are wrong.”  I pointed out that I cannot respect someone that denies science and reality– because that is how we get fake news.

I do not think “respecting” the red tribe is going to solve school shootings or racism.  It isnt solving anything in Congress.  Racism is a pushback against cultural and demographic evolution in the contemporary US, and rejecting racism is part of the destruction of the norms and taboos that glue our society together.  “Respecting” racists won’t solve any problems– its just rejecting the norm that racism is Bad.

Scott Alexander and the Nexus of Wrong

The SSC commentariat read the wrong article again.  Shouldn’t be reading Rauch and Wittes on how Trump and the GOP are dangerous to the Rule of Law– they aren’t.  Trump/GOP loves laws, and is working diligently to make many more pro-redtribe laws– on restricting immigration, restricting voter rights, gimme tax cuts for the 1%, etc.  No, what Trump and the GOP are doing is destroying democratic norms in the pursuit of Constitutional Hardball.

Here is a game theoretic analysis of what is happening– Constitutional Hardball and the Calculus of Selfishness.   Like the article suggests, the only way to fight our way back to normative behavior is to model forebearance and tolerance.   But given that the liberals will probably be more inclined to retaliation I doubt that will happen.  Refusal to consider Garland, killing blue slips, evidence of the destruction of normative behavior, and when liberals get control of the house, retaliation strategies will rule– the rise of TFT on the blue side of the isle.

Rauch and Wittes are actually implementing the strategy Tushnet suggests here:

Not surprisingly I was pleased to see that my idea of constitutional hardball plays a role in Levitsky and Ziblatt’s book on How Democracies Die (op ed here). Here I want to reflect on strategies once the game has started and you want to get it to stop. Levitsky and Ziblatt’s book has the obvious prescription for Republicans — the remnants of the “establishment” should do what they can to change the players on their side. For Democrats, though, their strategies involve policy prescriptions, not “moves” in the immediate game. What can Democrats do on a day-by-day basis in the game of constitutional hardball when their ultimate goal is to reinstitute the norms that Levitsky and Ziblatt treat as essential to sustaining a democracy?

Tushnet has been developing his theory of constitutional hardball for quite a while– since at least 2003.  Politics, history, philosophy, humanities– all things I was spectacularly uninterested in and should have paid more attention to– I only ever chose coursework in science and math.  I expect I’m not alone in this.  Now I have to pay attention.   We all have to pay attention.   That is what Trump is good for, really.  A call to attention for the slow frog-boiling death of democratic norms.

I do however, adore game theory– especially complex adaptive games and the Cooperation/Competition Paradigm.  Its my hypothesis that constitutional hardball evolved as a strategy on the Right because of cultural and demographic evolution.  How exactly is the Right supposed to respond to cultural and demographic disenfranchisement?  We aren’t going to see the invasion of cooperative strategies like Pavlov or Snowdrift IMHO.  John McClain, much like John the Baptist, is a lone voice crying in the wildneress.  The conservative public intellectuals that could have tried to lead that movement have left the party.  I think we are going to see a collapse.  Whether the collapse emerges as a civil war or a putsch, or in some even more exotic form, remains to be determined.  It seems somewhat unfair that the liberals are now expected to rescue the system by modelling forebearance and tolerance, those stellar virtues– indeed the Left’s base may revolt.  But if liberals embrace an AllD strategy like the GOP has, its Game Over isnt it?

I was so completely mistaken about the purpose and content of SSC– I initially thought it would be a good place to develop empathy for the Right, à la Arlie Hoschild.  But its not a place for discourse or discussion.  Its more like a game preserve or a zoo with Scott’s niceness/kindness protocols allowing for the perpetuation of Rightwing eumemes and doomed archaic conservative ideology.  I really failed…I came away wholly despising the SSC commentariat.

Eventually white people will be a minority…and if the US is still a democracy, they absolutely will lose power.

But then again…maybe the US will be something else.

 

Men Who Hate Women : Dawkins Edition

Here’s an interesting post from Scott Alexander on the epic fail of the New Atheists.  As is woefully common with the “rationalist community” he only gets a small part of the elephant right.  Mainly, the New Atheists are failing because they are just truly terrible at proselytizing, and their target recruitment demographic is very small.

The post completely misses the obvious– Dawkins’ groundbreaking “Letter to Muslima” was the originating fracture point of the faultline between liberal feminists and the Militant (New) Atheists.  Dawkins excoriated both western feminist women and muslim women with same sneering patriarchial paragraph.  Dawkins was the first public intellectual to yoke anti-feminism with anti-Muslim/anti-Islam eumemes, two foundational tropes that run strong in the veins and arteries of the alt-right today.

Dear Muslima,
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and… yawn… don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so… And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Dawkins issued a grudging apology three years later, but anti-feminist, anti-Islam rhetoric was an established trope in the New Atheist catechism by then.

Here’s another New Atheist, Razib Khan, trying to convince us that New Atheism isnt dead.

Umm…sorry Razib, but unaffiliated doesn’t mean atheist.

About a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between April 25 and June 4 of this year. This growth has been broad-based: It has occurred among men and women; whites, blacks and Hispanics; people of many different ages and education levels; and among Republicans and Democrats. For instance, the share of whites who identify as spiritual but not religious has grown by 8 percentage points in the past five years.

The other part of the elephant in the room, which Dawkins and Khan understand very well, although perhaps Scott Alexander and the SSC commentariat do not, is that the pool of potential converts to atheism is quite small.   Age, SES, IQ, educational attainment, and willingness to expend social capital are all qualifiers.  Where Alexander is correct is that the New Atheists are quite dreadful at proselytizing and recruitment.

The New Atheists accomplished the seemingly impossible task of alienating a society that agreed with them about everything. The Baffler-journalists of the world don’t believe in God. They don’t disagree that religion contributes to homophobia, transphobia, and the election of some awful politicians – and these issues have only grown more visible in the decade or so since New Atheism’s apogee.

The commentariat does tease out the idea that Dawkins is a terrible standard bearer– much in the same way Charles Murray is simply a dreadful spokesperson for HBD issues.  But no one acknowledges the core problem– Dawkins just hates women, (and he especially hates women that assert themselves), and then failed to conceal it in a moment of anger or perhaps senile dementia ON THE INTERNET.  His Muslima letter ripped off the concealing bandage and set up the permanent rift between liberal feminism and New Atheism.  Just as Dawkins condescendingly scolds religionists and “unbrights”, he scolded and shamed Rebecca Watson, his one-time natural ally.

This all relates to the larger problem researched in a book I have just finished reading– and my next post will be a review.  Its quite depressing but necessary.