Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Times, the Rationalists, and Fear of Neoreaction

The New York Times finally got around to publishing the article that led Scott Alexander to take down his blog. Alexander did not want his real name in the paper, the Times said they couldn't guarantee him anonymity, he took his blog down, his fans – who include dozens of Silicon Valley movers and shakers – deluged the Times with complaints, and they decided to sit on the story. But as this was happening, trolls thought it would be fun to post Alexander's real name all over the internet. He ended up quitting his job, launching his own psychiatric practice, moving his blog to SubStack, and publishing his name, Scott Siskind. When Scott went public with his real identity, the Times must have figured that the controversy was over, so they went ahead.

It's an ok article, partly about Siskind and partly about the deep roots that Rationalist movement has put down in Silicon Valley. But it has a weird slant. Cade Metz, the author, can't think of much bad to say about Siskind, because he is one of the nicest people on the planet, and a committed liberal besides. But there is still a level of suspicion in the tone that I find downright weird. Metz, like a lot of other people, thinks Tech Bros must be up to no good in some way or another, and he keeps making suggestions about what that trouble might me. Like this:

As he [Siskind] explored science, philosophy and A.I., he also argued that the media ignored that men were often harassed by women. He described some feminists as something close to Voldemort, the embodiment of evil in the Harry Potter books. He said that affirmative action was difficult to distinguish from “discriminating against white men.”

In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”
This is so unfair it's hard to know where to begin. Siskind "aligned himself" with Charles Murray by dividing all thinking about poverty into four general classes and then noting that both he and Charles Murray are in the group that thinks poverty is a real problem but will be very hard to solve.

Siskind commented, in a short link item, that he did not understand on what grounds James Damore was suing Google for discrimination, since the existence of affirmative seems to imply that discrimination against white men is not illegal. (He was right; Federal discrimination law only applies to "protected classes," and white men under 50 don't qualify.) 

It is true that Siskind once compared feminists to Voldemort. This happened because he once posted online about how he was sad that he was a medical student in his mid twenties who couldn't get a date. For this he was monstrously abused by self-proclaimed feminists who said he was obviously a jerk who felt entitled to sex with hot women, since everyone knows that all self-proclaimed "nice guys" are really entitled misogynous creeps. (Siskind's roundup of the things some women post on their blogs about "nice guys" genuinely shocked me. I dare you to read them and tell me those posts are not just straight-out mocking of losers.) Cade Metz does not mention any of this; he is just throwing generalized shade at Siskind and rationalists because at some level he thinks they must be racist and sexist. 

Siskind did write a long post titled Against Overgendering Harassment, which makes the entirely correct argument that 20% of harassment victims are men, so it is simply wrong to equate sexual harassment with male monstrousness and female virtue. 

The thing that most irritated me was the way Metz keeps trying to connect rationalists to neoreactionaries and fascists, when the single most important anti-reactionary piece every written is Scott Siskind's "Anti-Reactionary FAQ." My take-down of neoreaction has gotten about 300 views, Scott's more than 100,000. What else does he have to do to convince people that he is not a reactionary or a fascist?

There is one serious point at issue between rationalists like Siskind and NY Times liberals, and that concerns what topics are suitable for public discussion. Take, say, why African Americans score lower on IQ Tests than white Americans. Some rationalists have said, this is important, we really need to talk about this. Why is it true? And if the answer is "oppression," what does that mean? How does it work? If we can't talk about this problem at length and fully understand it, how can we ever solve it? To which NY Times liberals say, "Trust us, no good is going to come out of that conversation."

And the rationalists say, if you tell a curious 15-year-old nerd to just ignore the question , that is not going to work, he is going to scour the internet for answers, and if sane, rational people are not discussing these questions then he will end up on 8-kun or some secret right-wing site, because he will keep looking until he finds something. So to those who say a site like the old sub-Reddit associated with Siskind's blog was an "on ramp" to right wing views, the rationalists say, no this is the only way to fight such views, and the real on ramp is when people like you try to ban all discussing of these topics.

Which is not to say that rationalists think everything should be openly discussed; Siskind and his friends would never countenance Holocaust denial or a lot of other right-wing nonsense. But they do think that questions about hot button issues like race, gender, and trans identities need to be talked about. NY Times liberals think "we should have a discussion about trans identities before we start giving 12-year-olds sex hormones" is just a cover for trans hatred, and they think encouraging people to talk about these things only legitimizes views they find horrific.

But Cade Metz doesn't get into that; it would be too unliberal to frame the issue as if it had two sides. There are only the right people and the wrong people. And it seems to baffle him that Scott Siskind is a liberal, pro-gay, pro-trans, anti-sexist thinker who nonetheless thinks that 1) people on his political side can be horrible and wrong, and we should point this out, and 2) we should talk more about the things that bother us most, not shut down the discourse.

Again, though, I don't think Cade Metz is really motivated by a dislike of Siskind. What drives him is a sense that Silicon Valley is up to something bad, which must reflect the views of the tech world. If Twitter is not censoring right-wing lies severely enough, it must because they are secretly fascist sympathizers. Or something; he never really explains where his mistrust comes from.

If he read Scott Siskind more carefully he might learn something about how to actually lay out and defend his views, rather than just cast suspicion in every direction.


szopen said...

Wasn't is Scott Aaronson who was mocked for sharing his experiences (including that he considered committing suicide at one point), and Scott Alexander was just defending him?

szopen said...

Ah, forget my question. It was both.