What the Haters Hate

Cross-posted from Pu­tanu­monit. A bit more cul­ture-war­like and snarky than the LW stan­dard. Won’t make as much sense to peo­ple out­side the US. Pre­vi­ously on the sub­ject of the IDW and out­groups.


Ezra Klein’s lat­est es­say on the YouTube right /​ In­tel­lec­tual Dark Web is per­haps the vox­iest Vox ar­ti­cle ever. The Vox spe­cialty is walk­ing 90% of the way to­wards truth in care­ful, rea­soned steps, and then tak­ing a left turn off a steep cliff.

Klein’s ar­ti­cle re­sponds to a challenge by Dave Ru­bin, won­der­ing how he (Ru­bin) sud­denly be­came a con­ser­va­tive re­ac­tionary:

Group Definitions

Klein claims that Dave Ru­bin is part of some group, and they both agree that it’s a bad group to be part of. The ques­tion is: who is Dave Ru­bin in a group with? And what makes them part of the same group?

You could ask Dave Ru­bin which groups he iden­ti­fies with, and he’ll name ex­am­ples like liber­als, gays, Jews, and the In­tel­lec­tual Dark Web. But Klein notes that even the IDW will “draw a cir­cle around the most re­spectable sub­group of this world, use their preferred term for them­selves, and worry over the un­sa­vory char­ac­ters they were as­so­ci­at­ing with”. If you trust Ru­bin to define his own groups, there will be sus­pi­ciously few Nazis in them.

Another way to iden­tify this group is via a net­work graph, a net­work whose nodes are peo­ple Ezra Klein is sus­pi­cious of and whose edges are pod­cast ap­pear­ances and YouTube in­ter­views. Lucky for Klein, Re­becca Lewis of the Data & So­ciety re­search in­sti­tute cre­ated a chart of this net­work us­ing an al­gorithm, and we all know that al­gorithms are ob­jec­tive and trust­wor­thy.

(Of course, af­ter the al­gorithm had run they still had to man­u­ally re­move all the in­con­ve­nient data points, like Noam Chom­sky ap­pear­ing on Ste­fan Molyneux’ show).

Here’s how it works: Nazis have a Nazi num­ber of 0. If you in­ter­act with some­one whose Nazi num­ber is k, your num­ber is at most k+1. I in­ter­viewed Ge­offrey Miller, who did an event with Sam Har­ris, who recorded a pod­cast with Ezra Klein, who in­ter­viewed W. Ka­mau Bell, who in­ter­viewed Richard Spencer, who’s a known Nazi. So my Nazi num­ber is 5, and yours is at most 6 by virtue of read­ing Pu­tanu­monit. Con­grat­u­la­tions! You are within 6 de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion from a Nazi, and so you’re prac­ti­cally one your­self.

Klein no­ticed that his own Nazi num­ber is an un­flat­ter­ing 2, and re­minds us that “it’s worth be­ing care­ful with these di­a­grams”. He im­me­di­ately dis­re­gards his own warn­ing and claims that Ru­bin is fair game for the chart be­cause:

He’s part of a so­cial and al­gorith­mic net­work in which he’s cross-pol­li­nat­ing au­di­ences both in­ten­tion­ally, in terms of whom he has on and what shows he goes on, and un­in­ten­tion­ally, in terms of what the al­gorithm learns to show his fol­low­ers.

Get it? My link to Klein’s ar­ti­cle is “in­ten­tion­ally cross-pol­li­nat­ing au­di­ences” to Vox, and so it turns out that I’m a so­cial jus­tice ally and not a Nazi af­ter all. Whew, I was re­ally wor­ried there for a minute.

Agree not to Disagree

What defines this group be­sides the num­ber of lines you can draw on a chart? Klein comes up with an im­por­tant in­sight:

Ide­olog­i­cal coal­i­tions de­pend on the agree­ments you em­pha­size and the dis­agree­ments you live with. Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren sup­ports sin­gle-payer health care and Sen. Mark Warner doesn’t, but they’re still both Democrats. If Warner were anti-abor­tion, had signed Grover Norquist’s tax pledge, and had en­dorsed Don­ald Trump, he’d be out of the party. When you’re try­ing to un­der­stand an ide­olog­i­cal coal­i­tion, you’re look­ing for those lines.

The ide­ol­ogy that Dave Ru­bin and his friends can’t agree to dis­agree on is what defines them as a group. Ac­cord­ing to Klein, this ide­ol­ogy is re­ac­tion, or an­tag­o­nism, to the pro­gres­sive pro­ject :

Their re­ac­tionary poli­tics and con­nec­tions to tra­di­tional modes of power show that what they are most of­ten fight­ing for is ac­tu­ally the sta­tus quo—a re­turn to tra­di­tional gen­der and racial norms, or a be­lief in the in­di­vi­d­ual over an un­der­stand­ing of group op­pres­sion.

What is the right-wing sta­tus quo that Ru­bin and the rest of the “re­ac­tionary right” are defend­ing? It’s a world of le­gal­ized drugs, re­formed pris­ons, gay rights, and abor­tion ac­cess. Klein ex­plic­itly ex­cludes all of the above from the pur­suit of so­cial jus­tice, and dou­bles down on “a re­turn to tra­di­tional gen­der and racial norms”, even though all four of Ru­bin’s stated poli­ti­cal stances have to do with race and gen­der.

Since it’s hard to catch Ru­bin him­self say­ing any­thing prob­le­matic about women and racial minori­ties, Klein posts clips of Milo Yi­annopolous and Jor­dan Peter­son, two Ru­bin guests, hat­ing on fem­i­nism. The clips in­tend to show that hat­ing on fem­i­nism is one thing the “re­ac­tionary right” agrees not to dis­agree on. What do the self-styled IDWs have to say in their defense?

The per­son who first styled him­self IDW is Eric We­in­stein, a five-time guest on the Ru­bin Re­port. Here’s what Eric had this to say on a show with “re­ac­tionary right” su­per­star Joe Ro­gan:

  • Women should be paid more by STEM com­pa­nies as a policy, to ac­count for the fact that men are more ag­gres­sive in salary ne­go­ti­a­tions and that women are bet­ter at many non-STEM things than men.

  • Men are over­rep­re­sented among Sili­con Valley founders be­cause they “over­promise”, a eu­phemism for “bul­lshit and hope it doesn’t catch up with you”.

  • Fields like eco­nomics and physics are los­ing out on valuable con­tri­bu­tions by women be­cause of their over­com­pet­i­tive ma­cho cul­ture.

  • The great­est “oilfield” of un­tapped po­ten­tial in the world is the minds of Asian women.

I don’t think that We­in­stein, who’s mar­ried to an In­dian economist, will find much agree­ment with Jor­dan Peter­son on any of those. And yet the two have ap­peared on stage to­gether mul­ti­ple times. So what do the two of them, and ev­ery­one else in the group, have in com­mon? I can think of two things:

  1. They’re both com­mit­ted to the free ex­pres­sion of ideas, and so are their in­ter­view­ers. This is why Ru­bin and Ro­gan rarely push back hard against any opinions ex­pressed on their shows, even opinions di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to each other.

  2. They’re both sick of Vox’s shit.

I already ex­pressed my wish, on the most IDW-al­igned mag­a­z­ine, that they fo­cus more on free speech and bold ideas and less on boo­ing the out­group. I ex­plic­itly iden­ti­fied Vox and Ezra Klein as sym­bols of the out­group.

Klein also couldn’t help no­tice that a lot of peo­ple kinda hate Vox, rang­ing from the “re­ac­tionary right” to leftist pod­cast­ers Chapo Trap House. But while Chapo are prob­a­bly just al­lies join­ing the good fight with a few mis­guided as­sump­tions, the fact that the right “can’t be in sym­pa­thy with the SJWs” means that they’re against race and gen­der equal­ity.

And this is where Klein falls off a cliff – think­ing that hat­ing a cer­tain tribe means that you op­pose the stated goals of their ide­ol­ogy, even when the two have very lit­tle to do with each other.

Small Minds

In The Ide­ol­ogy is not the Move­ment, Scott Alexan­der lays out the fol­low­ing model of how tribes form:

1. Let’s get to­gether to do X
2. Let’s get to­gether to do X, and have drinks af­ter­wards
3. Let’s get to­gether to dis­cuss things from an X-in­formed per­spec­tive
4. Let’s get to­gether to dis­cuss the sorts of things that in­ter­est peo­ple who do X
5. Let’s get to­gether to dis­cuss how the sort of peo­ple who do X are much bet­ter than the sort of peo­ple who do Y.
6. Dat­ing site for the sort of peo­ple who do X
7. Oh god, it was so an­noy­ing, she spent the whole date talk­ing about X.
8. X? What X?

In Scott’s main ex­am­ple, he claims that it’s not very use­ful to un­der­stand “Shia Mus­lims” in 2018 as “the peo­ple who be­lieve that Ali ibn Abi Talib was ap­pointed the right­ful Cal­iph by Muham­mad at Ghadir Khumm”. Shia are the peo­ple who do Shia stuff, who date other Shias, and who out­group Sun­nis. Very few of them de­vote any mindspace at all to de­bat­ing the Cal­iphate as­cen­sion.

It was said: Great minds dis­cuss ideas, av­er­age minds dis­cuss events, small minds dis­cuss peo­ple. I don’t think that’s en­tirely fair – we are so­cial mon­keys with elephants in our brains; dis­cussing peo­ple and events is what we’re made for. I would per­haps grant that small minds dis­cuss ideas 0.5% of the time, and great minds do so 5% per­cent of the time, but all of us spend at least 95% of our thoughts on peo­ple and events. Mus­lim his­tory is com­pli­cated, and peo­ple got shit to do.

Tribes drift away from the flags they origi­nally ral­lied around, es­pe­cially poli­ti­cal tribes since poli­tics is about tribes. Imag­ine any of the poli­ti­cal lead­ers from 50 years ago try­ing to fit in with the mod­ern in­car­na­tions of their move­ments. And if peo­ple spend so lit­tle time pon­der­ing the cen­tral ideas of their own tribe, how much less effort do they spend on the ide­ol­ogy of their out­group?

The great mind of Brian Ca­plan coined the con­cept of the Ide­olog­i­cal Tur­ing Test– be­ing able to rep­re­sent your out­group’s ide­ol­ogy so faith­fully that they could think you are one of them. Pass­ing the ITT is galaxy mind level: it is hard, it is rare, and a lot of peo­ple aren’t even aware that it’s a thing.

For ex­am­ple, Ezra Klein:

The un­bridge­able di­vides to­day, the ones that seem to define which side you’re re­ally on, re­volve around is­sues of race, gen­der, iden­tity, and equal­ity.

I don’t know how to put this del­i­cately: this sen­tence is writ­ten from a po­si­tion so deep up one’s own ass that a proc­tol­o­gist wouldn’t dare ven­ture near. By Klein’s logic, ev­ery­one who dis­likes SJWs only does so be­cause they perfectly un­der­stand SJW ide­ol­ogy, in SJWs’ own lan­guage, and then chooses to just do the op­po­site. Klein’s in­group cer­tainly defines it­self by what they say on race, gen­der, iden­tity, and equal­ity. But Klein’s out­group mostly defines it­self by de­spis­ing Klein’s in­group.

Klein not only is in­ca­pable of pass­ing the IDW’s Ide­olog­i­cal Tur­ing Test, but he also seems un­aware of the fact that some­one can fail to pass his own. The only way I can imag­ine this hap­pen­ing is that Klein is so ab­sorbed in his ide­ol­ogy that he can’t fathom other minds be­ing differ­ent.

(I guess I can imag­ine an­other op­tion: Klein is know­ingly ly­ing for what he thinks is a wor­thy cause. )

As for the IDW: some of them are fight­ing for progress on gen­der and race equal­ity but dis­agree with Klein on the way to get there (e.g., the We­in­steins), some are in fact op­posed to the pro­gres­sive fight (e.g., Ben Shapiro), and some do their best to ig­nore this en­tire topic and fo­cus on other things (e.g., Sam Har­ris). Very few of them I think would get a high score on a So­cial Jus­tice ITT, and nei­ther would I. On the topic of what­ever “post-mod­ern cul­tural neo-Marx­ism” is, I’m more in­clined to trust a trans­gen­der YouTu­ber in a wig than Jor­dan Peter­son, who uses it as a catch-all term for his out­group.

Allow me to make it sim­ple: Jihadis don’t hate “Amer­i­can free­dom and democ­racy”, they just hate Amer­i­cans. How many of them do you think have read The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the Bill of Rights? Neo­con­ser­va­tives don’t hate Is­lam, they hate Is­lamists. How many of them do you think have read the Qur’an? Do you think that the Nazis had the­olog­i­cal quib­bles with Ju­daism or did they just need out­groups?

Quick segue away from Hitler. I was at a party on Satur­day, and a man was in­tro­duced to me as: “a re­ally smart per­son who hates Ra­tion­al­ity”. And yes, this is a hum­ble­brag – I’m very proud of hav­ing cul­ti­vated a rep­u­ta­tion such that friends will in­tro­duce me to some­one who de­plores my in­group and ex­pect a fun and cu­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion.

What did this gen­tle­man hate about Ra­tion­al­ity? He couldn’t stand the in­suffer­able ar­ro­gance of Eliezer, who in his opinion isn’t only wrong on quan­tum the­ory but has the gall to den­i­grate physi­cists for dis­agree­ing with him. Also, a ra­tio­nal­ist was be­ing a dick to him at Burn­ing Man and wasn’t con­demned quickly enough by other ra­tio­nal­ists around them.

I tried to push for dis­agree­ments on core is­sues, and those turned out to be ei­ther minor quib­bles or mi­s­un­der­stand­ings. For ex­am­ple, he thought that LessWrong es­pouses a strict and wrong defi­ni­tion of “in­tel­li­gence” (most of us don’t). He said we’re un­aware of the tor­tured his­tory of “ra­tio­nal­ity pro­jects” (some of us are). We don’t even dis­agree much on the in­di­vi­d­u­als: I agree that Eliezer is ar­ro­gant (which doesn’t change the fact that he’s usu­ally right), and I agree that the other ra­tio­nal­ist is a dick (al­though I see our com­mu­nity’s tol­er­ance of weirdos as a pos­i­tive, not a nega­tive).

There are whole on­line com­mu­ni­ties ded­i­cated to de­test­ing ra­tio­nal­ists, but they’re not do­ing it be­cause they think sunk cost bias doesn’t ex­ist or that Bayes’ The­o­rem is wrong or even that Scott’s model of tribe for­ma­tion is mis­guided. They’re cer­tainly not do­ing it be­cause they hate “clear think­ing and true be­liefs”. I hang out in those spaces oc­ca­sion­ally for the per­verse plea­sure it gives me, and most peo­ple are there be­cause they met or read a few ra­tio­nal­ists and had a strong per­sonal aver­sion to them.

If you en­joyed read­ing this es­say be­cause Ezra Klein is your out­group, make sure not to make the same mis­take he does. I dis­like Vox be­cause what they do has the effect of sup­press­ing in­di­vi­d­ual ex­pres­sion of ideas in fa­vor of anti-co­op­er­a­tive nar­ra­tives. But I don’t think that Klein wakes up in the morn­ing think­ing: How can I best em­power Moloch and pro­mote in­ter­group con­flict by sup­press­ing the ex­change of ideas out­side of gated in­sti­tu­tions? Not be­cause he’s on my side in the fight against Moloch, but be­cause he doesn’t even know what this frame­work means.

But that means he’s also not di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to ev­ery­thing I be­lieve in. This is heart­en­ing be­cause it leaves room for co­op­er­a­tion and agree­ment; we are not merely fight­ing in a zero-sum game. But co­op­er­a­tion re­quires learn­ing to speak the same lan­guage and pass­ing each other’s Ide­olog­i­cal Tur­ing Test, and that is not easy to do.