embrodski

May 062022
 

I. The Trope-Namer

The original blood libel was the claim that Jews killed Christian babies to use their blood in rituals. It was spread to incite pogroms and ethnic cleansings.

Nowadays you see the same sort of claims taking place both in social media and on news networks, where people will stoke hatred and outrage at a target demographic. Sometimes they do this for political reasons, sometimes it’s just for popularity/ratings. But the primary effect, the intended effect, is always to inflame hatred of a group by spreading the belief that all members of the group are vile monsters without conscience, who are a danger to everyone else.

The current defense for such actions is that “Every single thing I’m saying is true, every single example I give is real.”

 

II. TERFs

To repeat an example I’ve used before, this is why TERF communities are awful places that should be avoided.

If you ever visit a racist internet forum or user group or whatever, you’ll notice that they do the same thing. They talk about every single gruesome crime committed by a black person or an immigrant or a Muslim, anywhere in the world. They seek these out, and they find them, because there are millions of people in these groups and in any group of millions of people you can find something gruesome and horrible. They make a sensationalist post about it, and they pass it around. If you spend any time on the forum, you will be bombarded with hundreds, maybe thousands, of posts about horrible crimes committed by black people and Muslims and immigrants.

This is, of course, really clever. Even if you know that a group of millions of people will have some bad ones, hearing in detail about the bad ones all the time will slowly rewire your intuitions. You’ll start to expect, when you see a member of the group, bad things, because your brain has thousands of examples of bad things. You can try to consciously correct for this, but in my experience it’s actually nearly impossible to consciously correct enough; when you’re getting tons of “data” your intuitions will be shaped by it, even when it’s a lie and you know it.

I categorically reject any group of people which does this. If a group does this, I block them all and leave and never come back. It is a fundamentally wrong thing to do. It can be done against any target; it does not teach truth; all it does is rewire your brain towards suspicion and hatred, and it works just as well whether the targeted group has a higher rate of violence of various types or not. I strongly encourage anyone who recognizes this pattern in groups they’re part of to leave those groups, because this is a horrid tactic.

TERF communities do this constantly. When I’ve tried reading TERF blogs, a large share of the content is – yep – circulating gruesome, horrifying, and detailed accounts of random crimes or acts of bullying committed by specific trans people. You recommended a specific radical feminist blogger in your followup ask. I read through the most recent two pages of posts on her blog, and six of them were either screenshots of a random trans person saying something objectionable or, the classic, breathlessly reported and incredibly detailed account of a single violent crime committed by a trans person.

This is straight-up blood libel, using only true examples that actually happened.

 

III. Libs of TikTok & Weak-Man Jews

This can happen in a less blatant but still mentally-deranging way, especially when used as humor. Libs of TikTok is  prime example.

It primarily just retweets videos that actual people have posted in seriousness. Some of them are perfectly fine videos that LoTT doesn’t realize are unobjectionable, but many of them really are crazy people acting in bizarre ways. They use this to say that all liberals are deranged and must be stopped.

One can claim that LoTT isn’t doing anything wrong, since they’re just retweeting things that real liberals have posted. But LoTT is a hate account. The whole point of the account is amplifying objectionable stuff. It’s like an account that just retweets every violent crime committed by a trans person. Or every violent crime committed by a Jew…

imagining yourself in the shoes of a Jew in czarist Russia. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

The next day you hear that the local priest is giving a sermon on how the Jews killed Christ. This statement seems historically plausible, and it’s part of the Christian religion, and no one is implying it says anything about the Jews today. You’d hate to be the guy who barges in and tries to tell the Christians what Biblical facts they can and can’t include in their sermons just because they offend you. It would make you an annoying busybody. So again you just get uncomfortable.

The next day you hear people complain about the greedy Jewish bankers who are ruining the world economy. And really a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish, and bankers really do seem to be the source of a lot of economic problems. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also some bankers are Christian, or Muslim, and even though a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish that doesn’t mean the Jewish bankers are disproportionately active in ruining the world economy compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

Then the next day you hear people complain about Israeli atrocities in Palestine (what, you thought this was past czarist Russia? This is future czarist Russia, after Putin finally gets the guts to crown himself). You understand that the Israelis really do commit some terrible acts. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Jewish atrocities” and “the need to protect Gentiles from Jewish rapacity” and “laws to stop all this horrible stuff the Jews are doing”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

Then the next day you get in a business dispute with your neighbor. Maybe you loaned him some money and he doesn’t feel like paying you back. He tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because he is a Christian and you are a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews victimize Christians and are basically child-murdering Christ-killing economy-ruining atrocity-committing scum.

You have been boxed in by a serious of individually harmless but collectively dangerous statements. None of them individually referred to you – you weren’t murdering children or killing Christ or owning a bank. But they ended up getting you in the end anyway.

 

IV. Vaush

I haven’t bothered with Vaush for ages, because he is a piece of shit that loves doing this sort of thing. But someone who knows how strongly I feel about abortion linked me a Vaush video recently, so I had his crap in my eyeballs again for a few seconds, and now I’m here writing this.

The title says they want you to suffer. The title card has “They hate you” across the top. This is blatant blood libel. It’s as bad a Libs of TikTok, it’s as bad as the TERF anti-trans blood libel.

Don’t watch Vaush’s stuff. Don’t watch anything that says a large group of people want you to suffer, or want to murder babies, or want to rape children. It’s designed to derange you. It’s eliminationist rhetoric. If you see your parents watching this sort of thing, speak up. If you see your friends sharing this sort of thing, speak up.

We’re stuck in a Culture War right now. But even culture wars have culture War Crimes, and I prefer to stay aware of them and avoid them. Accounts that do nothing but stoke hate by amplifying worst-actors are in that category. One can do war-reporting without going to that extreme.

May 052022
 

She Who Became The Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan

Synopsis:  A novelization of the rise of the Ming Dynasty, but the founding emperor is reimagined as a woman living in secret as a man.

Book Review: A fascinating read that focuses on the Will To Power, and sexual dynamics in a pre-modern society. The POV alternates between Zhu (the rising emperor) and Ouyang (a eunuch slave-turned-general with intense self-loathing issues).

1 – The Will To Power. The novel is a great dramatization of the kind of mindset that is required to do something as history-altering as becoming the founding emperor of a world power. There is never anything in Zhu’s mind that rivals the driving importance of securing her rise to greatness. The sheer, burning desire is overwhelming and awesome to behold. It is self-justifying, and it leads her to commit ever-increasing atrocities and sacrifice ever-greater parts of herself to this ambition. It does a great job of making one realize that the vast majority of us would never want to be the kind of person who could take over the world. That level of commitment and mono-focus is just too breaking.

Ouyang has a similar drive, although his Will To Power is in the pursuit of revenge. Watching his dedication is perhaps even more astounding than Zhu’s. His final sacrifice to achieve it is either absolutely inspiring or absolutely chilling, and I’m still not sure which. If someone were to seek revenge for my death, I think I’d want them to be like Ouyang — it’s crazy romantic in its tragedy. Goth turned up to 11, TBH. :)

2 – Sexual Dynamics. I love how many different angles this is attacked from. Most obviously, Zhu is a woman pretending to be a man, because a woman would never be allowed to be at the head of an army, and Zhu wants Power above all else. The vulnerability this creates — where a simple, irrelevant fact about you could be used to cripple you if your enemies knew it — really drives home how fucking stupid it is that this vulnerability exists at all. It is a vulnerability imposed entirely by social convention, and it’s a vulnerability that would cripple your own side, because it deprives your side of their best general and only your own side can enforce it! Madness!

But it doesn’t stop there.
The eunuch general is likewise fettered because he isn’t man enough (due to the castration, you see).
The straight, cis, younger brother of the Mongol Prince is even less of a man than the eunuch, due to focusing on “womanly” responsibilities like administration rather than war! Being a straight cis male is no defense in a patriarchy, you have to be an aggro warrior or it doesn’t count.
A very powerful woman is the defacto ruler of a wealthy province, everyone knows it and deals with her as basically an equal, but she has no formal power. She rules only because she picked a husband who is useless and doesn’t care to rule as long as he gets pussy and wine on tap. So while one can be great as a woman, one can only do so in specific unusual circumstances, and only if one has the personality that can tolerate a life with that sort of spouse. This is no way to run a government!

In contrast to all this is Mongol Prince.  He’s charismatic, attractive, a great warrior, kind, caring – basically a good-natured jock. He’s the epitome of positive masculinity, and he never realizes all the bullshit that all the non-jocks suffer through. Unfortunately as a kind-hearted doofus, he is exploited like hell by those who aren’t so naïve.

The past really sucked, guys.

On it’s face, this novel looks like it should be an absolute home-run with me. It explores a lot of fantastic themes, in a depressing world, filled with conflicted characters, and the writing is excellent! But somehow, it doesn’t really work. What happened?

First, it kinda cheated by calling itself a Fantasy novel. This is historical fiction. There is basically no Fantasy in it. The two brief intrusions of Fantasy aspects have no relevance and can be interpreted as delusion and/or removed entirely without changing the story. That’s OK I guess, I don’t mind historical fiction. I just feel like I was lied to, and I’m not sure why. Does historical fiction not sell well, or something? I think this would have been just as popular if it was labeled correctly.

But that’s a very minor gripe. Far more importantly — there is very little emotion in the novel. There is some great desperation at the beginning. The further into the novel we go, the more emotion drains out of it. There isn’t any emotional arc that any character goes through. Zhu keeps hitting us with desperation and will to power over and over, and it gets old. Ouyang keeps hitting us with self-loathing and resentment over and over, and it gets old. A good novel takes the reader on an emotional journey, IMO. This novel, while being historically fascinating, doesn’t have much else.

I kept having to remind myself “Hey, this is grimdark, these people are destroying themselves in pursuit of lost purposes, it’s exactly the kind of story I love!”, until eventually I wasn’t able to convince myself any longer. In a good grimdark/goth tale, we are allowed to ruminate on the darker emotions, and process them, and watch them transmogrify into other emotions. That’s Good Brooding! The plot elements that allow for Good Brooding are all here, but there is never any emotional payoff. There is never deeper twistings of the soul, or radical shifts, or whatever.

I think one of the most important functions of fiction is to allow an audience to feel emotions they don’t get enough of IRL. While exceptions exist, generally if a work of fiction doesn’t make me feel emotions, it’s failing it’s primary purpose. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: There’s a fair bit to talk about here. All the themes I mentioned above provide good fodder for conversation. Furthermore, we felt the victory of New Insight Gained after spending a bit of time trying to figure out why, on paper, this looks awesome, but in practice none of us really liked it and we didn’t know why! Figuring out something like that feels good. It was also a heckin’ neat history lesson. And, as a Hugo nominee, it gets a bit of a bump for being of current interest. Recommended.

May 042022
 

Without DALL-E, this is the best I can do for a “waterfall of constitutions” image.

Roe v Wade was always a stop-gap. I’m glad we had it for as long as we did, it provided proof that abortion rights do no harm to a country, and actually make it stronger. But it is there to cover for the lack of abortion protections in the constitution. That grace period will soon be over.

Abortion rights should be protected by the law. These protections should be in the Constitution, to make them as durable as possible. They should, in fact, be in every country’s constitution, just like Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion should be.

Putting these protections into law for every person on Earth is both important, and currently impossible. It is an effort of generations. Putting these protections into law for American citizens is easier, maybe only a matter of years. But it is also difficult. Just like there are tens of millions of people in Iran who would literally take up arms to kill someone who tried to grant them freedom of religion, there are millions of people in Texas that will pay tremendous costs to stop someone trying to grant them abortion rights.

Fortunately, every state has its own constitution. California doesn’t need to invade Texas to protect its own citizens. Texas doesn’t need to invade California to ban abortions over there. Once Californians amend their constitution they will be safe within their own state, and will be free to begin (or continue) the work of slowly lifting anti-abortion communities out of their dark ages. We start with the fortresses we have, and we work outward from them.

It is possible there will always be a state or two with abortion bans, which the truely obstinate will retreat to. Much like it’s possible there will always be a few nations of theological absolutism, that the zealots can flock to and live in joyful misery. That’s a problem for a future day.

Today’s challenge is to secure abortion rights in your state. Get them in the constitution. Worry about other states after that.

Once that is done, help make others safe. Pre Civil War, some of the most meaningful good that a private citizen could do is helping slaves escape to free states. There is a similar importance in helping people escape to pro-abortion states. Per @yashkaf – “the best thing blue state democrats can do for abortion access is get rid of NIMBY zoning and occupational licensing so that poorer women can actually find jobs and move to blue states.”

If you live in a blue state, start removing obstacles to dense housing and employment.

May 022022
 

Unsurprisingly, it looks like the Supreme Court will strike down Roe v Wade.

The stop-gap Roe v Wade ruling was necessary for decades, as the US Congress got its shit together enough to realize how important and vital this right is to the existence of Western Civilization. Anyone who doesn’t want to cede our future to commies, religious fundamentalists, fascists, and authoritarians of all stripes, recognizes the primacy of full reproductive control all humans should have over their own geneline.

Abortion must be an option protected by the full force of the law, which any pregnant woman can choose at any point without question or pause.

We can no longer rely on the whims of the courts, or the executive, or congress. We must pass a Constitutional Amendment that enshrines the inalienable right to abortion for everyone within America’s borders. It is as vital a right for the continuation of Western Democracy as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms.

The time is now. Don’t rest until it is done.

Apr 242022
 

I.

“How can you be good if you don’t have God?”

As a survivor of the Atheism Wars, I saw many minds ensnared by this. It was perhaps the most frequent common-sense objection to atheism. Religion had spent centuries entangling the concepts of “moral goodness” with “religion,” and it protected them like a nest of razorwire. To get anywhere, New Atheists first had to disentangle these two ideas, so that people could see they were separate things. This took emotionally-potent examples of Good Atheists, and of Evil Religionists, and logical demonstration of why this entanglement was invalid.

II.

The Regressive Right is snapping right back into Crush Free Speech mode as soon as it benefits them.

To quote Grossman: “A state changing business regulations for the explicit purpose of harming a specific company that made political expressions the Governor doesn’t like, with the Lt. Gov. promising to restore the regs if the company adjusts its speech, should have every 1A defender’s hair on fire.”

And yes, this is straight-up government censorship. From the link “In 1996 the Supreme Court decided a case called O’Hare Truck Service v. City of Northlake that is deeply instructive in the present moment […] If the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited.”

III.

For the past decade, the right wing in America has been painting itself as pro-free-speech. It is very easy for a group to pretend to be pro-free speech while it protects them. It’s entirely possible that the concepts of Freedom of Speech and Right Wing became entangled for some people. This sort of thing happened to me as well, although in my case it was the Left.

It can be a painful realization. A group fighting for something Good becomes equated with goodness in one’s worldview. When you find yourself opposed by that group, there is a deep confusion about what’s happened, and a fear that you are on the side of Evil. It can be a long and laborious process to figure out where the true value lies. Is virtue loved by God because it is good, or is virtue good because it is loved by God? Is Free Speech good because the Good Guys support it, or are these Guys good because they support Free Speech?

It is only after one has disentangled the principle one cares about (Free Speech) and identified is as the good thing, that one can judge whether a group is doing a good thing or not (by defending it, or suppressing it). At that point, you no longer need to know if a group is Good or Bad! You simply fight along side them when they are supporting a good thing, and fight against them when they are attacking the good thing.

Don’t be fooled into thinking a particular group are your allies just because you are both fighting on the same side of a particular battle. Your only true allies are those who care as much about what you are defending as you do.

IV.

I hate Disney as much as any other creative worker does. In large part due to how they’ve helped corrupt US copyright law. Nonetheless, the censorious attack by the Florida Republican party is a bad thing that should be opposed, even though it is targeting Disney. This doesn’t put me “on the side of Disney” any more than it puts me “on the side of Democrats.” I am on the side of Liberalism, as I always have been.

Apr 222022
 

Worth The Candle, by Alexander Wales

Synopsis:  A D&D nerd is warped into an RPG video game (maybe?) where he has to survive, level up, and figure out what the heck is going on.

Book Review: This is one of my favorite books ever.

I put off reading this for a long time, because it was Lit-RPG, and I thought Lit-RPG was embarrassing and self-indulgent and couldn’t be taken seriously. I eventually realized I was being a tremendous elitist prick, and I really hate elitist pricks, and I love everything else Alexander Wales has written, so I should at least give it a shot. I then did little else with my free time for the next few months as I read this non-stop, because I fell in love right away.

To start with, the protagonist is emotionally damaged from page 1 in a way that I love my protagonists to be. I like seeing people on the edge of falling apart. He’s also a total nerd, and the portrayal of nerdom here is authentic and perfect. He talks the way my people talk, and thinks the way they think. He is immersed in late 20-teens culture. He immediately recognizes the tropes of modern story telling and modern gaming. He uses the fact that he’s in a video game, and he knows it, to manipulate the world to good effect. He’s sarcastic, enthusiastic, jaded, and funny, in exactly the right proportions.

Wales himself, of course, continues to be a master of storytelling, making it impossible to stop turning pages.

But the thing that really draws me in, the thing that cements this as a book I’ll never forget, and which has prompted me to create a 100+ hour podcast about it, is that this story is extremely meta. Joon was a DM for his friends’ RPG group back on Earth. He knows a lot about storytelling, and the conventions of storytelling. When he realizes he’s within a video game, that comes with the knowledge that RPGs are story-driven video games. Worth The Candle is a story about a storyteller trapped inside someone else’s story, who knows that this is what’s happening. Between all the killing of zombies and daring escapes through sewers and rescuing of princesses, there is also a continuous commentary on the nature of story telling. What it means to be inside a story, and how this can be used to your advantage if you are the main character. What the purpose of a story is, and how that is reflected in the monsters/challenges he is being faced with.

And of course hanging over all this is the knowledge that we ourselves are reading a novel, and all such commentary reflects on the text we are reading as well. It’s not just exhilarating and funny, it’s also intellectual and meta as hell. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: Turns out, not everyone can relate to being an emotionally damaged teenage male nerd. I had assumed that the shared nerd culture of all the SF/F geeks in our book club would be enough, and that the intense meta-commentary aspects of the work would win over any stragglers. This was not the case. The protagonist can be rather unlikable at first. He has issues, and he’s not the outgoing, charismatic hero type. He’s the depressed, anxious teen that’s isolated himself by lashing out type. That, combined with the fact that Lit-RPG is actually still looked at with some prejudice, meant that half our book club didn’t like this at all, and didn’t stick it out through all 613 pages.

I think this is a shame, but it did serve as a check on my hubris. Just because I think something is great, doesn’t mean even half the SF-reading world will agree. So, a caveat with this one. If your book club has a bunch of people into internet pop culture, that are well-versed with gaming conventions and tropes, and doesn’t mind a broody teenager getting super-powers by Authorial Fait because that sounds cool, Definitely Recommended! But the online culture and gaming culture are strong requirements to enjoyment — if your group doesn’t have a decent chunk of that, Not Recommended.

Apr 212022
 

This is a story about a much younger Eneasz. One who was very naïve, had a lot of unexamined assumptions, and who has beliefs that are significantly different from my own. I won’t bother apologizing for him, because he’s long gone. I don’t know if the world is better or worse for that.

I grew up political. My family watched the nightly news together. We watched one-hour news programs as family events from at least my tween years.

I had very different views from my parents. They raised me in a conservative Christian religion, and held to its tenants. Atheism was evil. So were gays. When I came out as an atheist at fifteen, my mother didn’t speak to me for three days.

Once I was out of the house, I was mildly politically active. I was poor, with a menial office job paying not much over minimum wage, so I didn’t have a lot of time and energy for activism. But I did what I could. I argued with people, I fought in the online spaces (easier to access them during work hours at my office job), I occasionally went to marches. I felt camaraderie with my fellow atheists and social justice warriors. We were making the world a better place.

Proposition 8 was a bill that went to the public for a general vote in California in 2008, which banned gay marriage. It was called Proposition Hate by everyone on the left. It was plainly evil. Fortunately it was going to a popular vote in California, at the same time that Obama was swooping in for his landmark election win. There is no way it would pass.

Not only did it pass, but it passed with 70-75% of the Black vote in California (reported at the time).

I was devastated by this. I saw it as a stark betrayal. All these years, I had thought that all us minorities were in this together. My community of queers and liberals had canvassed, marched, and protested, for all of our allies. We marched for women. We canvassed for black and hispanic residents. We protested for gay rights. I had put more personal time into this election than any prior. Most of our objectives were reached. Obama had been elected president. And then, the black voters of California stabbed us queers in the back.

I felt so… used.

This was very stupid of me, of course. No individual voter in California owes me a damn thing. The “black population” of California certainly doesn’t “owe” the queer population anything! It was racist to even think that they did. There had never been any sort of alliance, all of it had been pure projections on my part. Just my delusion that we were together because I viewed us all as “the minorities” that were fighting back against “the patriarchy.” It was quasi-racist to have that feeling of entitlement to someone else’s votes.

I posted about my hurt on the activist forums I was part of back then, and I was comforted by them. I was reassured that we fought for the rights of all minorities not because we expected anything in return from other minorities, but simply because it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t even a betrayal. It was the smallest of misalignments, and yes it sucked and it hurt, but I’d been too naive and silly in my expectations. The fight is long, and it is fought because it must be fought.

And yet, it was my first hint that the language used to unite us wasn’t truthful. We are not “allies” in any real sense. We are only co-combatants currently on the same side by happenstance. I wasn’t about to leave my community over what voters on the other side of the nation did. There were millions of them, and they had nothing to do with me. They didn’t even know I existed for chrissake! I fought on.

I guess I wasn’t that surprised when, almost a decade later, they came for me when I refused to repeat some of the insane slogans that were demanded of me to prove my purity. It still hurt, when the final rejection came. But I had been prepared by that first, smallest, disillusionment. I never had allies in the movement. I only had utility to others, and eventually that ran out.

There is no loyalty within cultural movements. There is only the conviction that you need to keep doing what is right. So don’t ever despoil your principles to buy loyalty from people that you don’t have personal relationships with outside of the movement. The loyalty doesn’t exist, you’ll be degrading your integrity for nothing.

Apr 182022
 

I — Background.

Last month (I think?) Walter and James suspended their podcast. Their podcast, Rationality: From AI to Zombies Podcast was a project to make the entirety of the book by the same name available as an audio podcast for free. (The book R:FAtZ is a curated collection of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog posts from 2006-2009.) These posts, commonly called “The Sequences” by fans, formed the payload that initially launched the Rationalist movement/memeplex/community.

Walter and James’s podcast was valued by many people who were either already part of the rationalist movement, or interested in it, but who hadn’t been exposed to The Sequences as the time they were originally written.

When they quit producing the podcast, they posted this statement:

Dear Rationalists!
As some of you will already have guessed, we have decided to end this podcast project.

There has been a trend in the community we have been observing with increasing worry, and it has reached a tipping point.
We realised from the beginming that the politics of the rationality-sphere leaned heavily American libertarian. But back when we started, we felt that the community was genuinely interested in better outcomes for everyone and that if we would just sit down together, we could surely come to a sensible agreement.

But recently, the disdain and the antagonism against movements such as feminism and BLM and communities such as transgender and nonbinary people has taken over. Even with people we once looked up to and collaborated with. This has reached a degree that makes us feel not just deeply uncomfortable but also unwelcome.

We have friends and family in these and adjacent movements and communities that we love dearly.
We ourselves are part of these movements and communities. There is no us without them.

So we strongly oppose the recasting of them as authoritarian religions and some sort of reverse oppressors, a perspective so antithetical to what we thought the idea of ‘rationality’ represented that we can no longer watch in silence. We expected more from a community that we joined under the impression that it centered honest thought and compassion for all.

Our own interactions with listeners have been nothing but kind and mutually respectful. For that, we thank you.
But we cannot, in good conscience, remain a part of a pipeline towards the rationality-sphere if that is the place it has become.

Do better!

Walter & James

The word “recasting” is linked to my blog post from Feb 23, 2022: I Am A New Atheist, And I Repent. They have stated on more than one occasion that this post was not a primary driver of their decision, nor was it strongly influential. It was merely “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The last item that finally pushed the scales over in a long, long list of worries and concerns.

However, it was the one linked in their final signing-off post, which sorta highlights it, and gives it some symbolic significance. So, after some musing, I have considerations of my own on the topic.

II — My Thoughts

What I’m most struck by is the idea that rationalism is a political movement with an ideology that must be opposed. What my focus keeps returning to is the idea that Walter and James feel they cannot “remain a part of a pipeline towards the rationality-sphere.” My interpretation is that this is due to their opposition to that ideology. That this ideology includes “disdain and antagonism against movements such as feminism and BLM and communities such as transgender and nonbinary people.”

I have a very different experience. The rationalists I know personally vary from mildly conservative to mildly leftist. The ones I know well online (in the TBC Discord server) range from pretty conservative (believing nationalism is a strength, minors shouldn’t be given hormones, society is too decadent) to strongly leftist (capitalism must be overthrown, billionaires should be punished and have their wealth seized, any parents that aren’t left-leaning enough are guilty of literal child abuse). Of the rationalists that I am aware of online, they range from reactionaries that want to reinstate absolute monarchy, to classically liberal sex-workers, to very woke social justice crusaders.

I don’t have any experience of rationalism as a movement that has any sort of consensus position on the feminism, BLM, transgender, or nonbinary movements. The majority of rationalists I know are neutral or in support of all of these.

This is why I have the view that rationalism is about attempting to improve reasoning, and not about political ideology. The people I meet in rationalist spheres can (usually) speak with each other in productive ways even when they have extremely different viewpoints about the world. I find that very helpful in truth-seeking. I’m glad I can speak with people who view things very differently from me without fearing that I will be berated. I’m glad that I can be confident the conversations will generally be productive and interesting, even when the person I’m speaking to has ridiculous(?) fringe beliefs. They can rationally discuss their reasoning, rather than posturing and signaling.

Personally, I do think that wokism is net-bad for civilization. As per my linked post, I think one of its strengths is that it taps into unfulfilled religious needs that many people have, and that a movement I was a part of helped to deprive people of having those needs fulfilled. I regret that I didn’t see that this might happen when I was younger.

If I’m wrong about that, I don’t understand how abandoning the tools of rational thought will help anything. The problem, in my opinion, would be with my wrong beliefs, rather than with Rationality. I may have failed at using the tools of rationality, due to a perverse environment (which perhaps I nurtured!) or due to my own failure to use those tools correctly. But I haven’t been able to find fault in the tools of rationality themselves.

If I am using those tools incorrectly, I would like to know.

If the tools themselves are faulty, I would like to know.

If neither of these are the case, I don’t see how abandoning the tools is helpful. I would also be interested in learning how/why that is the case?

III — Behind The Scenes

I am (kinda) engaged in a private conversation with Walter and/or James, from which these thoughts have been curated and posted. I don’t intend to make that conversation public, it is our own affair. But many of the thoughts and realizations I’ve come to during that discussion are represented here. I was sorta singled out in a public disavowal, and these are my considered thoughts on the consequences of my words.

Apr 102022
 

Compulsory schooling is net-harmful. Here’s my reasons why, starting with my three major objections, which apply to mid-teen and late-teen public schooling (called “high school” in the USA). These are followed with several more commonly heard points, which apply more to early schooling for pre-teen children.

I – High School Steals Life-Years During Crucial Psychological Transition States, Causing Immense Mental Anguish

By their mid-teens most humans are at a developmental stages where they have a drive to begin their lives. There is a strong desire to contribute something of value to their community or family, or to begin accumulating worth for themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean material wealth — reputation, respect, and advancement are extremely valuable. In the pre-modern era, by this age most people would have duties and responsibilities that matter. Their peers or family would be counting on them in some way.

Teens in school, on the other hand, are acutely aware that nothing they do matters. They are given endless hours of busy work, which is thrown away after it’s done. They are prohibited from doing anything of value, locked in a holding pattern of meaningless stasis for years. Not only are these years subjectively far longer than the years that older adults experience, they are also some of the most energetic and healthy years of most people’s lives. They are burned for nothing.

II – High School Is Literally Low-Intensity Physical Torture Via Sleep Deprivation

Most teenagers naturally have later sleep cycles than older adults. They also need more sleep than older adults. Older adults run schools, and they don’t care about the natural cycles of legal minors. In addition, since teens are compelled to waste so much of their waking hours on schooling yet still desire other activities, they will often cram in more activity at the cost of even more sleep. As a result, 3/4ths of teens are chronically sleep deprived. Severe sleep deprivation is a tool of torture. Less severe but chronic sleep deprivation is low-key torturous, and also causes long-term psychological damage.

III – High School Has The Social Dynamics of a Prison

Rates of depression and mental health disturbances by teenagers outstrips that of all other demographics. This was not the case in the pre-modern era. Much like criminal prisons, many in school turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs to claw their way through this time. With no way to measure status via metrics that matter, students form into cliques and form hierarchies based on surface appearances and local popularity. Anyone not in a clique suffers social isolation and sometimes harassment, and it can be difficult to join one. Even within cliques, many people spend much of their time tearing down rival members in zero-sum status games, or abuse of low-ranking or new members.

 

Nearly 100% of our population endures these years of torture, and it’s been deranging us for generations.

The thing is, I had a pretty darn good schooling experience. I was a precocious child. I loved learning. I honesty and thoroughly enjoyed a well-delivered lecture, and scribbling notes as fast as I could. I loved taking tests and scoring well on them. Test taking is a skill all of its own, and it’s fun to be good at something hard. My teachers loved my enthusiasm for learning, and by extension loved me. I sometimes got special privileges. My school was in a progressive middle-class suburb, with minimal social nastiness. And yet…

And yet everyone I know (including myself) feels like we “survived” high school. Yes, almost everyone survives high school, it’s designed to take people to the brink without pushing them over. The fact that the experience is one of having survived an ordeal by so many is a very strong sign that something is wrong. More importantly, the survivors come out scarred and deranged in significant ways, and they make up nearly the entire populations of our country. Despite my relatively “good” experience, I was deeply depressed in high school, especially the later years. I cut myself for some time, and came to the brink of suicide at one point.

I’m in my early 40s now. When I see a school, I still get a powerful frisson of awe and horror. Especially large, institutional buildings, with multiple wings sprawling over a wide campus, with several areas 2-3 stories tall. I am drawn to them, wanting to be inside that alternate reality once more, despite feeling all the old scars throbbing at the sight. It hurts, and it’s sweet, and I think this is what Stockholm Syndrome must feel like.

Is there some social benefit that justifies this mass emotional scarification?

 

Other Harms of Schooling, Which Are Also Not To Be Overlooked:

(many of these are also variations of “destroying years of life for no gain is very bad”)

1. Compelling Those Who Don’t Want Schooling To Be Confined With Those Who Do Is Damaging To Both

Children and teenagers who don’t want schooling are forced to attend anyway. These include both students who won’t learn, and those who already know that which they’ll be instructed on. They are confined in boring rooms with nothing to stimulate them. This style of low-grade sensory deprivation is already damaging. These students will often resort to rebellion and disruption, which makes it impossible for even those who would benefit from the instruction to gain anything from it. The result is fruitless confinement for everyone, wherein no one learns anything, and vast time and resources are wasted.

If the students who didn’t want to be there were not compelled to attend, they would have much better lives, and the students who do want to attend would have a chance to learn something.

2. The Majority of pre-5th Grade Instruction is Wasteful

When humans need to learn something, especially humans under the age of 30, but SUPER ESPECIALLY humans under the age of 20, they will learn it quickly of their own accord. Anyone who’s watched a child master a game they are interested in already knows this. Anyone who’s watched a child teach themselves to read so they can consume another story knows this. Anyone who’s seen a child experiment with tools or physics or bugs already knows this. Anyone who has created a website, or podcast, or renovated their home, or stayed a few months in a foreign country, already knows this.

When you need to know something, you learn it. You learn it quickly, and you know the value this knowledge has to you. There are a lot of things that people need to know to function in our society, such as basic literacy and numeracy. When they aren’t shackled by plodding instruction, imprisoned in an institution that doesn’t let them see how this knowledge is useful to them, and plied with extraneous trivia, children can learn all the basics in just a few hours per week, rather than burning every non-weekend day (before accounting for homework).

3. The Vast Majority of Learning is Wasted

All students are instructed in roughly the same things. This is a gross misuse of time, because students have very different aptitudes. Some excel in math, and should be spending a lot of time honing and exploiting those skills. Some pick up reading very quickly, others languages, or physical systems. When everyone is instructed at the same pace, many are instructed in things they have no aptitude for. They shouldn’t be wasting any time in those areas after they master the basics needed to function as an adult (usually what we call the “fifth grade level,” those most people could achieve that level of mastery long before the traditional fifth-grade age). Continuing to compel students to take instruction on topics they don’t have aptitude for and will not use is a destruction of their life-years.

4. The Vast Majority of post-5th Grade Instruction is Useless

In harmony with point #1, when you don’t need to know something, you forget it quickly. Everything learned after elementary school is knowledge that is only needed in limited domains. Every single student will lose 90% of what they learn by the time they are in their 30s. No matter how smart they are and no matter how demanding of a career they pursue, at most 10% of what they learned will actually be used by that career. Therefore, it will be forgotten. The greatest physicist of our generation won’t remember anything worth remembering from Honors Biology or World History. The few things s/he will remember are things they would have picked up as an adult anyway. Every hour spent on that unused 90% of compelled schooling was pure waste.

In summary, no one should be compelled to go to any school. Compelled schooling is in some ways worse than incarceration, as confined students are guilty of no crime.

If the populace is taxed to provide for general education (which I agree is a public good), the parents of minors (or teenagers who’ve reached majority) should be allowed to direct that money to any school they desire. If they attend no school, but pass tests proving competency, that money should be refunded directly to the parents/student for having done the labor of educating the child/themselves.

The amount of suffering and the vast amount of life-years lost by compelled schooling in the US is unconscionable.

Apr 082022
 

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis:  Two outcast orphans come of age on a small European island, bound to their community and traditions via the mystical, vicious horse-monsters that can exist only here.

Book Review: I was wary at first. A book about orphaned teenagers? Coming of age? With a strong focus on horses? This sounded suspiciously like the sort of 80s preteen lit that had been done absolutely to death. I felt like Fred Savage asking “Is this a kissing book?” But it was for book club, so I did my due diligence.

By the fifth page I was intrigued. By the tenth page I was hooked. After that, it was all over for me. The Scorpio Races is excellent. I had forgotten that a million knock-offs are launched in imitation of an actual great originator. And sometimes, after forty years have passed and only the ancient ones still remember the faded fads of yore, a true devotee of the progenitor genre will spend a decade refining all her dreams into a successor that captures that greatness once again for a new generation.

The Scorpio Races reads like a labor of love. The island state captures life in a small, isolated community with striking fidelity. The closeness to history, the depth of the communities roots and traditions that hold one tight, and the stifling economic realities that drive the young and ambitious away. Even the smallest of supporting characters is many-layered, with complexities that can often only be seen by subtle implication (with the possible exception of Mutt). The plot is straight-forward but not simplistic — our heroes’ problems are easy to identify but difficult to navigate. The horse-monsters are religion made manifest, the sort of deep magic that tap into spiritual traditions rather than high fantasy spell-slinging.

I’m not sure the novel has a Statement that it is Making. It’s not the sort of thing I usually am taken in by. But it has immense amounts of heart. In a more subtle way than I’m used to, it is commenting on the nature of love. A strong, vivid style of love. Not the sappy, lovey-dovey stuff. It’s the loyal love of one’s homeland, the awe and fear of nature’s majesty, and the fierce love of two survivors finding mutual respect and respite. Very different from what I normally read, and I am happy to have read it. Recommended.

Book Club Review: There’s something here for everyone. I don’t think this will spark a lot of fiery debate or provocative takes, it’s not that kind of book. But there’s substance here, enough to give anyone something to reflect and expound upon. Recommended.