## Huck Finn and the gaslighting of America

For the past month, I’ve been reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to my 7-year-old daughter Lily. Is she too young for it? Is there a danger that she’ll slip up and say the n-word in school? I guess so, maybe. But I found it worthwhile just for the understanding that lit up her face when she realized what it meant that Huck would help Jim escape slavery even though Huck really, genuinely believed that he’d burn in hell for it.

Huck Finn has been one of my favorite books since I was just slightly older than Lily. It’s the greatest statement by one of history’s greatest writers about human stupidity and gullibility and evil and greed, but also about the power of seeing what’s right in front of your nose to counteract those forces. (It’s also a go-to source for details of 19th-century river navigation.) It rocks.

The other day, after we finished a chapter, I asked Lily whether she thought that injustice against Black people in America ended with the abolition of slavery. No, she replied. I asked: how much longer did it continue for? She said she didn’t know. So I said: if I told you that once, people in charge of an American election tried to throw away millions of votes that came from places where Black people lived—supposedly because some numbers didn’t exactly add up, except they didn’t care about similar numbers not adding up in places where White people lived—how long ago would she guess that happened? 100 years ago? 50 years? She didn’t know. So I showed her the news from the last hour.

These past few weeks, my comment queue has filled with missives, most of which I’ve declined to publish, about the giant conspiracy involving George Soros and Venezuela and dead people, which fabricated the overwhelmingly Democratic votes from overwhelmingly Democratic cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Detroit (though for some reason, they weren’t quite as overwhelmingly Democratic as in other recent elections), while for some reason declining to help Democrats in downballot races. Always, these commenters confidently insist, I’m the Pravda-reading brainwashed dupe, I’m the unreasonable one, if I don’t accept this.

This is the literal meaning of “gaslighting”: the intentional construction of an alternate reality so insistently as to make the sane doubt their sanity. It occurred to me: Huck Finn could be read as an extended fable about gaslighting. The Grangerfords make their deadly feud with the Shepherdsons seem normal and natural. The fraudulent King and Duke make Huck salute them as royalty. Tom convinces Huck that the former’s harebrained schemes for freeing Jim are just the way it’s done, and Huck is an idiot for preferring the simplistic approach of just freeing him. And of course, the entire culture gaslights Huck that good is evil and evil is good. Huck doesn’t fight the gaslighting as hard as we’d like him to, but he develops as a character to the extent he does.

Today, the Confederacy—which, as we’ve learned the past five years, never died, and is as alive and angry now as it was in Twain’s time—is trying to win by gaslighting what it couldn’t win at Antietam and Gettysburg and Vicksburg. It’s betting that if it just insists, adamantly enough, that someone who lost an election by hundreds of thousands of votes spread across multiple states actually won the election, then it can bend the universe to its will.

Glued to the news, listening to Giuliani and McEnany and so on, reading the Trump campaign’s legal briefs, I keep asking myself one question: do they actually believe this shit? Some of the only insight I got about that question came from a long piece by Curtis Yarvin a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug, who’s been called one of the leading thinkers of neoreaction and who sometimes responds to this blog. Esoterically, Yarvin says that he actually prefers a Biden victory, but only because Trump has proven himself unworthy by submitting himself to nerdy electoral rules rather than simply seizing power. (If that’s not quite what Yarvin meant—well, I’m about as competent to render his irony-soaked meanings in plain language as I’d be to render Heidegger or Judith Butler!)

As for whether the election was “fraudulent,” here’s Yarvin’s key passage:

The fundamental purpose of a democratic election is to test the strength of the sides in a civil conflict, without anyone actually getting hurt. The majority wins because the strongest side would win … But this guess is much better if it actually measures humans who are both willing and able to walk down the street and show up. Anyone who cannot show up at the booth is unlikely to show up for the civil war. This is one of many reasons that an in-person election is a more accurate election. (If voters could be qualified by physique, it would be even more accurate) … My sense is that in many urban communities, voting by proxy in some sense is the norm. The people whose names are on the ballots really exist; and almost all of them actually did support China Joe. Or at least, preferred him. The extent to which they perform any tangible political action, including physically going to the booth, is very low; so is their engagement with the political system. They do not watch much CNN. The demand for records of their engagement is very high, because each such datum cancels out some huge, heavily-armed redneck with a bass boat. This is why, in the data, these cities look politics-obsessed, but photos of the polling places look empty. Most votes from these communities are in some sense “organized” … Whether or not such a design constitutes “fraud” is the judge’s de gustibus.

Did you catch that? Somehow, Yarvin manages to insinuate that votes for Biden are plausibly fraudulent and plausibly shouldn’t count—at least if they were cast by mail, in “many urban communities” (which ones?), during a pandemic—even as Yarvin glaincingly acknowledges that the votes in question actually exist and are actually associated with Biden-preferring legal voters. This is gaslighting in pure, abstract form, unalloyed with the laughable claims about Hugo Chávez or Dominion Voting Systems.

What I find terrifying about gaslighting is that it’s so effective. In response to this post, I’ll again get long, erudite comments making the case that up is down, turkeys are mammals, and Trump won in a landslide. And simply to read and understand those comments, some part of me will need to entertain the idea that they might be right. Much like with Bigfoot theories, this will be purely a function of the effort the writers put in, not of any merit to the thesis.

And there’s a second thing I find terrifying about gaslighting. Namely: it turns me into an ally of the SneerClubbers. Like them, I feel barely any space left for rational discussion or argument. Like them, I find it difficult to think of an appropriate response to Trumpian conspiracy theorists except to ridicule them, shame them as racists, and try to mute their influence. Notably, public shaming (“[t]he Trump stain, the stain of racism that you, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, have covered yourself in, is going to follow you throughout history”) seems to have actually worked last week to get the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to back down and certify the votes from Detroit. So why not try more of it?

Of course, even if I agree with the wokeists that there’s a line beyond which rational discussion can’t reach, I radically disagree with them about the line’s whereabouts. Here, for example, I try to draw mine generously enough to include any Republicans willing to stand up, however feebly, against the Trump cult, whereas the wokeists draw their line so narrowly as to exclude most Democrats (!).

There’s a more fundamental difference as well: the wokeists define their worldview in opposition to the patriarchy, the white male power structure, or whatever else is preventing utopia. I, taking inspiration from Huck, define my moral worldview in opposition to gaslighting itself, whatever its source, and in favor of acknowledging obvious realities (especially realities about any harm we might be causing others). Thus, it’s not just that I see no tension between opposing the excesses of the woke and opposing Trump’s attempted putsch—rather, it’s that my opposition to both comes from exactly the same source. It’s a source that, at least in me, often runs dry of courage, but I’ve found Huck Finn to be helpful in replenishing it, and for that I’m grateful.

Endnote: There are, of course, many actual security problems with the way we vote in the US, and there are computer scientists who’ve studied those problems for decades, rather than suddenly getting selectively interested in November 2020. If you’re interested, see this letter (“Scientists say no credible evidence of computer fraud in the 2020 election outcome, but policymakers must work with experts to improve confidence”), which was signed by 59 of the leading figures in computer security, including Ron Rivest, Bruce Schneier, Hovav Shacham, Dan Wallach, Ed Felten, David Dill, and my childhood best friend Alex Halderman.

Update: I just noticed this Twitter thread by friend-of-the-blog Sean Carroll, which says a lot of what I was trying to say here.

### 160 Responses to “Huck Finn and the gaslighting of America”

1. Jon Awbrey Says:

It is necessary to understand the group psychology and the psychopathology of cults. What does the cult leader give his followers, his ultimate victims, that they will give up everything else in exchange?

This is a question I was once much occupied with, and it appears to have come round again. I remember the most helpful sources were Max Weber, John Dewey, Karen Horney, and William S. Burroughs.

2. Randall K McRee Says:

Recent events are incredibly concerning. The latest gaslighting that gets my goat is the canard that since Democrats never accepted Trump’s victory in 2016 that everything he is doing is somehow morally justified in 2020. Really?! What?! I’m pretty sure I was alive in 2016, pretty sure I’m alive now but cannot grasp what reality such a speaker with that opinion could possibly be living in. Yes, we did find substantial efforts on the part of Russia and Trump to *influence* that election–unfortunately the outcome was never disputed, however. That’s my recollection.

Now, insofar as I can tell, perhaps my imagination is somewhat feeble, is that if both sides do not agree to abide by the election outcome civil war is the only recourse. Obviously, if Biden does get some power and Republicans claim victory in 2024 it would be stupid to let them take over since again, obviously, we would never live in the land of the free and home of the brave ever afterwards. Perhaps many Republicans are projecting and think that is the case right now, for this election?

3. pku31 Says:

The comment about race-based disenfranchisement seems unfair – the disenfranchisement attempts seem entirely partisan (I’m sure they’d have complained just as much about Portland if Oregon had georgia’s voting patterns).

I think this does matter – there’s an argument that goes “what does it matter what their intentions are, tlin practice they’re disenfranchising black people and they’re probably racist anyway, which we know from other things like birtherism”, but I think this is badly dishonest.

4. Scott Says:

Incidentally, I liked this sentence from Jennifer Rubin:

Differences over taxes, regulation, foreign policy and even abortion pale in comparison to the most bedrock issues: Do you believe in democracy or not? Do you believe in operating truthfully in the real world or not?
5. Michael Says:

I don’t think that gaslighting is an appropriate term for this kind of behavior. As this article details, gaslighting is a very real, very serious form of abuse:
https://alfredmacdonald.com/2012/11/07/gaslighting-what-it-isnt/
It’s not just lying- and it’s not done by a stranger.

6. Scott Says:

pku31 #3: Hopefully, the history of this blog testifies that I’m not a big believer in reading racism or sexism into every disagreement. Nevertheless, given the context here—namely, a president for whom dogwhistling white nationalism is pretty much his entire platform and brand—I’m comfortable saying that selectively disenfranchising black voters because they overwhelmingly voted against that president counts as “racist,” just as surely as it would be to selectively disenfranchise black voters because they’re black.

7. Scott Says:

Michael #5: This seems similar to the flak Richard Dawkins got for titling his book “The God Delusion,” even though no practicing psychiatrist (even one who agreed with Dawkins about religion) would treat garden-variety religious faith as clinically delusional. I dunno—as someone who tries to focus more on what people mean than which words they use, I find it hard to get hung up about such things.

8. Jay L Gischer Says:

Jennifer Rubin has it right. We don’t need to “engage” at length with Yarvin. We just need to say that “you don’t want to count votes, and that crosses a very basic line”. Of course, we’ve always known that about Yarvin.

By the way, Yarvin’s argument is very similar to one made by Jefferson Davis before the Civil War broke out. Basically it was “those Yankees are wimps, we’ll beat them easily”. Which is Yarvin’s argument here. We all know how that last one turned out.

9. NJO Says:

Esoterically, Yarvin says that he actually prefers a Biden victory, but only because Trump has proven himself unworthy by submitting himself to nerdy electoral rules rather than simply seizing power.

I think his reason is more that he sees Trump as a figurehead:

Ultimately, I am glad Trump lost, because Trump was more than just a liar—he was a lie. As soon as he accepted the fraud that he was actually in charge of the government, he became complicit in a fraud against his own supporters. They could never understand why he didn’t “do something” about this, that, or the other thing.

Although, I wonder how much of Trump’s difficulty in setting policy is self-inflicted. If you elect someone without political or military experience, won’t they have a lot of trouble getting anything done?

But I agree with you about the layers of irony – it’s hard to figure out what Yarvin really thinks.

10. Boaz Barak Says:

There is a certain mindset that I think is shared between people who think the election was stolen, Bell inequality deniers, intelligent design believers, P=NP provers, climate deniers, COVID deniers, etc..

Part of it is lack of trust in experts. Some people place very little weight on the fact that all experts in some subject matter say X. In fact, it seems that for some people, this makes them *less likely* to believe X. (I am not saying that all experts are always right all of the time, but if you don’t start with the strong bias that people that have studied X know better than you about it, you are not likely to get to the truth.)

Related to it is a belief in “self certifying assertions”. That’s why these people keep pushing at you a Tweet, comment, or arxiv paper, that they claim to “completely overturn conventional wisdom”. This is the belief that there is a simple argument that proves “not X” that somehow they see and all the experts missed. Naively, you would hope that the truth of assertions can be demonstrated by a sequence of steps, each logically following from the other, checkable by any intelligent layperson. This is almost never the case in any question that matters. Not even in P vs NP, and certainly not in any of the other questions. You can only have self-contained arguments within the context of a body of knowledge that often takes years to acquire, and if you haven’t acquired it then you’ll have to trust the people that did.

The third thing is that many people don’t really care about the truth – they care about what’s convenient for them. You see that in Yarvin’s text, in which in one part he admits that Biden did actually win more votes of live eligible voters, but then still refers to it as “stealing the election”. (Presumably because of some weird theory that elections are supposed to represent your strength in a civil war, and that somehow means that a mail-in vote in Detroit counts less than an in-person vote, but still millions of votes in California count for nothing. Another way to say it is that while Biden won the votes under the current constitution and laws of the U.S., if Yarvin were to tabulate the votes and assign to each person the amount by which their voice would count then Trump would be the winner. This is indeed a true statement.)

11. Domotor Palvolgyi Says:

I don’t think that republican politicians are claiming fraud because they want to win this election, but more because they want to fire people, so they have a better chance in 2024. (This analysis is not for Trump, whose mind is beyond my imagination.)

ps. Whether turkeys are mammals seems to have come up before:

12. Deepa Says:

This simple model of cults is beautiful, I think. The fight on now within the cult, is to inherit Trump’s base for 2024.

http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/simple-model-of-cults-of-personality.html?m=1

13. Psy-Kosh Says:

Re the passage you excerpted: Is… is his thesis that the only purpose of democracy is to determine who would have been the winner of a violent conflict without having the violent conflict? Is is position that democracy is simply for determining who’s the mightiest for the purposes of a might-makes-right ethic?

I don’t even know what to call that. Not just gaslighting, but… well, regardless of what to call it, I feel I am lacking in sufficient palms and sufficient face to adequately facepalm at that passage.

14. Edan Maor Says:

Randall K McRee #2:

> The latest gaslighting that gets my goat is the canard that since Democrats never accepted Trump’s victory in 2016 that everything he is doing is somehow morally justified in 2020. Really?! What?! I’m pretty sure I was alive in 2016, pretty sure I’m alive now but cannot grasp what reality such a speaker with that opinion could possibly be living in.

I agree 100%. And this is the exact kind of statement that makes me think the people arguing about this do *not* actually believe this to be true.

For what it’s worth, this is a long time conservative talking point – that the left is the one who is always undermining elections (claiming for years that Bush v. Gore should’ve gone to Gore, claiming Russian interference on Trump, claiming Stacey Abrams actually won her race, etc). So this is not coming from nowhere.

Still, it is so clearly a different situation that I just don’t believe most people are making this argument with anything resembling good faith.

15. Matt Says:

We all draw that line somewhere, though, Scott (#7). For example, I think you’d agree that using the word ‘rape’ in a loose metaphorical sense can be quite inappropriate. While ‘gaslighting’ doesn’t have the same resonance for me, I can understand why some people would be genuinely upset to see it used loosely, and perhaps denuded of meaning.

On the main topic, I’ve been wondering for a while now how the relatively sincere faction of the maybe-Democrats-stole-the-election crowd have avoided taking the obvious next step after deciding that the election system is hopelessly insecure: realising and acknowledging that some Republicans would have exploited these vulnerabilities for all they are worth.

I don’t expect better from the true cultists, but I am genuinely a bit confused about the attitude of the supposedly sensible, just-asking-questions ‘sceptics’. I can go with them halfway — it seems basically certain that technically *some* fraud has occurred, as it presumably always does; and it seems at least prima facie plausible that more serious, large-scale fraud might be possible — but how on earth is it supposed to be an overwhelmingly Democratic phenomenon? Even a staunch partisan would surely be unable to say with a straight face that the Trump Republican party is too honourable to cheat. And they appear to have the relevant kinds of power in many electorally important parts of the country.

Anyway, my probably-too-optimistic hope is that in the medium term, maybe this could lead to a bipartisan effort to improve election security. For once our biases could actually be helpful: if each side sincerely believes that the other side is the one most likely to cheat, we can all believe that secure elections are in our own partisan interest.

16. Matthew Green Says:

I’ve always viewed a portion of the Sneer Club people as ex-“rationalists” who learned that you can’t argue with people who prioritize their political leanings over any sort of rationality and will gladly pretend to debate in bad faith. These people mark outa kind of penicillin ring around ideas like “eugenics is good” or “obviously Biden’s win is because black people don’t really vote and it’s all fraud” and when they find that rational discussion is unable to contain the community consensus within these quite-reasonable lines, they leave in protest. It seems you’ve just found your own penicillin ring in this case.

17. Scott Says:

Randall K McRee #2 and Edan Maor #14: Yeah, the differences do seem pretty obvious! In 2016, Clinton conceded as soon as the result was clear and attended the inauguration of the man who’d threatened to lock her up (and not respect the outcome if he lost)—courtesies that no one believes Trump will return to Biden. In 2000, it came down to 538 votes in a single state, it’s extremely plausible that a recount would’ve changed the outcome, and yet Gore conceded as soon as the Supreme Court halted the recount.

18. Justin Says:

I don’t want to veer into Godwin territory, but also relevant to gaslighting is the concept of the “big lie”[0] in propaganda, which was put to use by the leaders of Nazi Germany. If you make an outrageous claim enough times, eventually people will come to believe it. At first a statement might seem insane, but with enough repetition you’ll get more and more people on your side. And with enough people on your side, you gain more power and influence.

Trump’s a big fan of the big lie, and with his Twitter feed and the pace of Internet news, it seems to be incredibly effective.

19. Scott Says:

Matthew Green #16: Right, the trouble is that SneerClubbers draw the line in an absurd place—putting (e.g.) Steven Pinker, Scott Alexander, Paul Graham, and Julia Galef on the other side of it. These are some of the most thoughtful people I know, they’re all on the side of sanity against the Trump cult, and it just seems blindingly obvious that whenever you disagree with them on some issue, you counterargue and try to change their minds, exactly as they would with you. You don’t shame them or try to shut them down. Indeed, it seems to me that those who do this are engaging in gaslighting of their own: in effect, they carve out a tiny little peephole that excludes even most liberals and Democrats, that would exclude President Obama, and then pretend it’s the Overton Window beyond which are only racist, sexist ogres.

20. Matthew Green Says:

Scott #19: I think there are two things going on, and your post here is the first time I’ve ever seen somebody in the rationalist-adjacent community get so close to nailing it. The first is that many of the people in SC obviously joined the rationalist community because they *admired* people like Scott Alexander et al. Their current disdain is born of disappointment. They saw these reasonable, ethical people gradually become surrounded by a community of irrational, politically-motivated jerks with ethically offensive beliefs — and they waited for polite and rational discourse to change minds, or at least produce a consensus that “believing in a bunch of awful things that hurt people and make society worse” is bad.

Instead, they watched precisely those ideas flourish and the proponents of them gradually dominated the community. But even worse, not only did rational discussion fail in any way to change the consensus: those good, decent community stewards like Scott actually seemed to succumb to social pressure from their community to be even more receptive of (if not actually supportive of) the arguments in favor of intolerance.

Or to put it in your own words: “And simply to read and understand those comments, some part of me will need to entertain the idea that they might be right.”

Perhaps the reaction of SC is exactly what it should be. If rational discussion fails to work against irrational, motivated participants; and you find your entire community devolving into those beliefs; and you’re even *changed by them for the worse* then maybe there is a problem with the entire premise of the project. I have to say, the SCers (modulo the obvious trolls) seem to have identified a problem and found a possible approach to dealing with it. If you want to mock them, you need to actually admit the problem and find a better solution.

21. Doug K Says:

“ridicule them, shame them as racists, and try to mute their influence.”

I’ve come to realize this is a necessary condition for a functioning society. There will always be numbers of vile racists, homophobes, sexists etc. The trick is to shame and ridicule them whenever they pop up, so they can learn that their attitudes are unacceptable. Gleefully egging them on, as the Republican party has been doing for decades now, gives us the Trump presidency.

As JK Galbraith wrote about letting fools know of their foolishness, “Better that he be aware of his reputation, for this would encourage reticence, which goes well with stupidity.”
Goes well with racism etcetera too..

22. pete Says:

Great post, particularly this:

“And simply to read and understand those comments, some part of me will need to entertain the idea that they might be right.”

I have been mulling that truth for a while.

I guess the first round is pretty much over. Next date to worry about is December 15th. Will Trump somehow convince legislatures to subvert the election?

23. S Says:

> “This is the literal meaning of “gaslighting”: the intentional construction of an alternate reality so insistently as to make the sane doubt their sanity.”

Regarding the word (also comment #5 and #7 and the first paragraph of #15) — my understanding is that in the play/movie(s) Gaslight, the husband *intended* to make his sane wife doubt her sanity, and he did not believe that reality himself. That is, the construction of the alternate reality was not only intentional, but also had doubt-sowing as the only goal (not just a side-effect). This is also a very abusive thing to do, so the word “gaslighting” (to me) suggests highly malicious intent and violence (as with the word in #15).

In many of the examples you mention here (the Grangerfords feuding, or people with Bigfoot obsessions), the sane questioning their sanity is only a side-effect IMO. The Grangerfords really care about their feud, and Bigfoot theorists probably really believe in Bigfoot.

So it’s not clear in this post whether you’re primarily saying that (1) people say such crazy things that you question your own sanity, or (2) people are acting maliciously with the primary violent intent of driving you crazy, and not all believing what they say. I think you’re saying (1) and don’t care much either way about (2).

(Anyway thanks for the final paragraph before the endnote: I think that was your main point, and it’s well stated and a good reminder: ideologies that do not include a commitment to acknowledge obvious reality are scary.)

24. Kevin S Van Horn Says:

The more political this blog gets, the less interesting it gets. “Trump is Hitler” rants are a dime a dozen; quality commentary on quantum computing and other CS topics is much harder to find.

25. Richard Horan Says:

Great post, Scott! Gaslighting is combustible, certainly, but remember it is mostly just hot air. The only real skill or perhaps the better word is “energy” that these gaslighters like your yawping Yarvin yutz there has is just that–great reserves of gaseous energy that they need to vent, much to our dismay. But it is just gas, nothing more than that. If we are at all a great country and people, which, like Twain, I don’t believe for a moment that we are, then like you the good father we can learn from these inimical T**** years and teach (and caution) the next generation how NOT to think and act. P.S. The foil to all the gaslighters in Huck Finn is your man Colonel Sherburn. He’s the one who has the pluck, like you, to call out all cowards, weasels and finks and set the record straight (not that it was ever straight to begin with).

26. Scott Says:

Matthew Green #20: The SneerClubbers have expressed the view that, along with Steven Pinker, Scott Alexander, etc., I too am scum who should be boycotted and shunned. Do you agree with that? It’s not trivial for me to engage in discussion with people whose explicit position is that I shouldn’t be welcome to engage in discussion! (Or maybe you and the SCers would suffer me to discuss quantum complexity theory, as long as I stayed away from its more political aspects? 🙂 )

As for SSC, it’s hard for me to understand what the problem was that needed solving. Did Scott himself ever express any view that you not merely disagreed with (as I’ve disagreed with some of his views), but found reprehensible? If so, well … we’re not exactly talking about Don Jr. here! Scott has been about as open to changing his mind when faced with new evidence as anyone on earth with any public presence. Indeed, watching him argue things out with himself, being completely convinced of P by the middle of a post and then of not(P) by the end of it, was one of the central experiences that made his blog so irreplaceable (I miss it just writing this).

Or is the problem not Scott himself, but the community around his blog? Well, curating a comment section is hard—I have a lot of experience with this. But attacking someone via the worst comments of others that you can dig up, in any forum or subreddit that’s somehow associated with them, always struck me as intellectually weak and cowardly. Whenever I wrote about the SneerClubbers attacking me or others who I cared about, they’d say “if it bothers you so much, don’t read it!” They never seemed to notice that the same applied to them and the SSC subreddit or whatever—i.e., to their entire project.

Finally, and let me say this as clearly as possible: when the woke brigade casts even centrist, Obama-supporting liberals (!!) like me or Steven Pinker outside the bounds of discussion, to be sneered at and never reasoned with, it empowers the Mencius Moldbugs and other reactionaries, who gleefully say to us: “you see?? it’s no use. You liberals might as well come over to the Dark Side, because as we’ve been telling you for years, the wokeists will despise you no matter what you do, short perhaps of total capitulation to their ideology.” Granted, most of us are strong enough to resist the Dark Side—like Twain, perhaps, or Bertrand Russell, we’re fine not to be in anyone’s camp—but it always astounds me that the wokeists don’t think harder about whether this is what they want.

27. Michael Says:

Good news. The GSA has FINALLY started the transition process and Trump has approved it:
https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/23/politics/transition-biden-gsa-begin/index.html
I think this is the closest we’ll get to a concession from Trump.

28. Scott Says:

Kevin S Van Horn #24:

The more political this blog gets, the less interesting it gets. “Trump is Hitler” rants are a dime a dozen; quality commentary on quantum computing and other CS topics is much harder to find.

The trouble is, I have to serve not only the people like you who want QC commentary, but also my future grandkids, who will want to know why I’d blog about QC during the turbulent fall of 2020, when (as they’ll learn in history class, or via brain implant) a pandemic was ravaging the earth while the centuries-old democratic machinery of the United States crashed and burned in fiery explosions.

29. Robert Says:

Hi Scott, my political affiliations are very similar to your own, so understand that this comes from an attitude of utmost charity: I was disappointed by this post, and in particular your characterization of the Yarvin quote.

I am not familiar with Yarvin or the context of the quote you posted, so perhaps I am missing something, but I failed to see any claims that the election was fraudulent in the quote you provided in the sense that illegal voting occurred. In fact, the quote concedes the opposite, as you yourself pointed out.

As far as I can tell, the quote makes two claims 1) society would be better off if the franchise were more closely tied to martial prowess and 2) Democratic voters are lacking in the later. You can agree or disagree with these claims, but it is intellectually dishonest to pretend that the passage is making an argument that it does not, especially for the sole purpose of attacking the imagined argument.

I hope you would be better than this.

30. Scott Says:

Robert #29: Since it wouldn’t be sporting to share Yarvin’s personal emails to me, where he makes it abundantly clear that he sees this election as having been in some sense fraudulent, here’s what he says in his public post, about what you or I might call “urban communities voting by mail”:

Whether or not such a design constitutes “fraud” is the judge’s de gustibus.

He then goes on, in the same post, to elaborately to sketch how he apparently wishes Trump would seize power despite having lost the Electoral College (one of the steps is to reject Marbury v. Madison from 1803, placing Trump’s acts beyond the power of the Supreme Court to review).

31. anon85 Says:

Scott #24: I can’t speak for Matthew Green, but here’s my own take.

Many people on sneerclub are indeed what you say they are: they’re bullies, they’re overly woke, not open to changing their minds, etc., real Arthur Chu-like figures.

Sneerclub, however, is not a monolith. Many others are only there because they encountered racists on the comment sections of SSC (or its subreddit), and were banned for calling them racist. I know of several sneerclubbers who specifically *avoid* the threads that mock you (or even Pinker), and only participate to mock the comment section of SSC (and its subreddit). I was one of them, when I still posted there.

Now, I’m with you 100% when you say that the woke should reflect on how they’re helping Moldbug push people to the dark side. I completely agree with you there!

But please, do some self-reflection as well. Or at least, try to get Scott Alexander to self-reflect. When Scott Alexander writes a long post saying Donald Trump isn’t racist, or when he defends his comment section saying, and I quote: “I would like to offer one final, admittedly from-a-position-of-weakness, f**k you at everyone who contributed to this. I think you’re bad people, and you make me really sad.”

…when he does this, it pushes reasonable people towards the dark side – towards sneerclub. The culture war threads on his subreddit were really, really bad. The place they moved to – well, I checked a couple weeks ago, and they were all crying about election fraud, exactly the gaslighting you’re complaining about. Some time before that, they had a thread in which several regulars were talking about taking up arms to fight against the left, to many upvotes (the reddit company removed at least one comment for breaking site-wide rules against advocating violence).

So this is where I come from: I agree that sneerclub is bad, that the woke is pushing much (much) too far. Scott Alexander’s comment section is equally bad. His sin is not in having a bad comment section – it’s *defending* the comment section, and saying “f**k you” to me when I criticize it.

“Scott has been about as open to changing his mind when faced with new evidence as anyone with anyone on earth with any public presence.”

Yes… except for this one specific issue. There, he says (literally) “f**k you”. What am I to do, then, but sneer?

32. Matty Wacksen Says:

On one hand: sure, Trump is crazy, unprincipled, etc… (as are some of his supporters).

On the other hand, putting out a statement with it’s own headline as the title “Scientists say no credible evidence of computer fraud in the 2020 election outcome” seems almost … childish? It is well-known that scientists lean Democrat/left, so I don’t see what getting a bunch of them to say they haven’t seen “credible evidence” of fraud is supposed to accomplish. In what scenario *would* they have seen “credible evidence” of fraud anyways? As much as I respect the work of the signers, their expertise doesn’t seem to really be relevant, and their statement appears to be designed to beat Trump supporters over the head with as opposed to having any content – since when is absence of evidence evidence of absence? Since when are “scientists” experts outside of their (often very narrow) field of expertise?

Once again, Trump has taken an issue that is clearly a problem in the US – the fact that your voting system makes fraud much easier than it should be – and overplayed it to his supporters. The predictable response from his opponents has been to downplay his concerns over the issue to the point of the absurd, which has led to Trump supporters (predictably) thinking the clearly problematic issue isn’t being taken seriously on the other side.

33. Carmen de Macedo Says:

Scott, you say that “the Confederacy . . . never died, and is as alive and angry now as it was in Twain’s time.” Isn’t this obviously false?

34. S Says:

Supporting / related to #26 (and I guess #31 as well that I see just now):

> curating a comment section is hard—I have a lot of experience with this. But attacking someone via the worst comments of others that you can dig up, in any forum or subreddit that’s somehow associated with them, always struck me as intellectually weak and cowardly.

— there’s this SSC post about precisely that, especially the dozen or so paragraphs starting at “The fact is, it’s very easy to moderate comment sections”. The whole post of course is related to what you were saying. (It also has a followup post.)

The short version is, contrary to the claim above about “a community of irrational, politically-motivated jerks with ethically offensive beliefs”, all available data suggests only some fraction of the commenters have offensive beliefs. The critics are just angry that among the comments there isn’t a consensus against those offensive beliefs. But the very first post on SSC from nearly a decade ago says the blog has an ethos: something like being charitable to considering arguments of everyone. That’s precisely what it continues to get attacked for, so…

Also, replying to #31, though I should probably stop arguing about another blog on this blog: if it’s the same long post I’m thinking of, the point of that post wasn’t “Donald Trump isn’t racist”; it was something like: we should reserve the phrase ‘openly racist’ for someone who, you know, openly says one race is better than another, not for someone who attempts (fooling nobody) to say things like “I love Mexicans”. It was more about the word “openly” than the word “racist”, the point more about precise language and precise estimation of the dangers than about Trump’s moral characteristics, and the post even ended with a sequence of predictions that can be read as what SSC would consider the bar for “openly” racist. Of course, pointing out that someone’s racism is (in some ways: at least one of the predicitions has failed) lower than that bar is not the same as saying that they’re not racist.

35. Scott Says:

Matty Wacksen #32: You’re missing the irony that it’s the Republicans, under McConnell, who stonewalled every effort to secure US elections (e.g. via federal funding for machines with auditable paper trails). Then, to support their baseless fraud claim, they suddenly, hypocritically turn around and start touting academic research on election vulnerabilities (eg, Trump tweeted a video of Andrew Appel hacking a voting machine). This put the security researchers in a bind, and necessitated a statement like the one you see.

I can tell you that at least the people I know in the election security world pull out all the stops to be professional and non-partisan. (Alex, for example, has preferred preppy attire for as long as I’ve known him, often name-drops the DC Republicans he hangs out with, and has lately been commenting on these issues for Fox News. Believe me that he’s not exactly a Marxist guerilla. 😀 ) More importantly, this is not just ideology and opinion: name a state, and Alex can walk you through the systems in use in that state and the people in charge of them in mind-boggling detail, and can tell you which attacks worry him more or less (e.g., “dead people voting” is verifiably not a concern, since it can be shown to be insignificant by sampling the public voter rolls).

36. Scott Says:

Carmen de Macedo #33: The modern Confederacy—the Trump/QAnon Confederacy—strikes me as about as angry and about as popular as the original, just (thankfully) a hell of a lot less disciplined and organized, and with a lot more ground to make up.

37. Scott Says:

anon85 #31: Alright, I’ll engage Scott Alexander in conversation about these things the next time I talk to him (which might be post-covid), if you’ll do the same for the more militant sneerers. Deal? 😀

38. Leon Says:

Scott, without exaggeration you’re one of the only people in the world who can write a post like your first one on the continuum hypothesis. Posts like that enrich my life in a way that even the most interesting political commentary doesn’t. Of course you’re under no obligation to enrich my life, but I would like to encourage you in whatever way I can!

39. anon85 Says:

Scott #37: Heh. The more militant sneerclubbers will ban/block me in an instant and never engage in conversation. The more militant sneerclubbers are really bad, and are beyond my reach (maybe if I knew them in person, something could be done). I’m not accusing Scott Alexander of being equivalent to them — but I hope you agree that the standards should be set somewhat higher.

There are also non-militant sneerclubbers, though. Not sure how to talk to them (sneerclub itself would ban and delete any left-directed criticism in an instant, due to the militant mods). In any case, I do plan to try, to the best of my ability, to nudge people away from their overly woke tendencies; I’m just somewhat limited by fear for my career if I go too far (especially if the pushback is in at work). But — well, I will never cede the point that the culture war threads were really bad, and were/are a valid target of sneering. I encourage you (and the rationalists) not to define the Liberalism vs. Sneering fight in a way that puts us on opposite sides; I might even prefer Arthur Chu to some of the characters on the culture war threads, even knowing he might get me fired if he could.

S #34: Sounds like a motte-bailey fallacy, unless you can point me to a place where Scott Alexander says Trump is racist. If he went “Trump is, of course, racist, just not *openly* racist”, that would be OK. Instead he goes “Trump is not openly racist! You are crying wolf!” and his commenters continue the argument for him to say that Trump is not racist at all, and Scott says nothing. Then later Scott posts “against murderism”, which appears to be an attempt to define racism out of existence.

40. Matty Wacksen Says:

@Scott #35: Yes I’m sure there is some irony I’m missing, though at this point I no longer accept accusations about anything in US politics without a source, preferably to something that isn’t a news article but a primary source like a direct quote (though in this case that might be difficult). Note that I’m not saying that this isn’t (also) the Republicans fault, but given the fact that Republicans seem to ‘care’ about election security – I’m thinking of things like asking for voter-id – this goes against my priors.

If academic research exists that shows voting machines are easily hackable, then Trump (and anyone else) should be free to cite it. If Appel finds hacking a voting machine easy, then Appel has found that hacking a voting machine is easy, there is nothing wrong with Trump re-tweeting this. I really wish you Americans would not politicize science like this, it makes life annoying for the rest of us. I’m not saying that the members are (knowingly) biased, I’m saying there is certainly the appearance of bias. Saying “scientists find X about voting machines” sounds to me a bit like “catholic priest finds that turkeys are kosher”.

I’m not worried about “dead people voting” flipping your election. Though I’d feel like I’m missing an important point if I didn’t say that the bar for “things to worry about in an election” is incredibly low given the whole Russia brouhaha.

41. Matthew Green Says:

Scott: this thread has devolved into a discussion about SneerClub, when what I was trying to get at was *what causes SneerClub*. I think what causes SneerClub is watching decent people become surrounded by genuine awfulness, fail to beat it back with polite rational discussion (because it’s completely immune to that), and ultimately to be changed for the worst by it. I look at SneerClub itself as a mixture of trolls and trauma survivors. No, they’re not nice — but some of them have gained a key insight that the rationalist community hasn’t yet. Your post here is the first time I’ve ever seen you get close. Maybe there is a way to harness that insight to build a better system that doesn’t have these failure modes.

42. Maurice Says:

Scott: I agree that voter fraud allegations are absolutely ludicrous and Trump should immediately concede. Just a genuine question though, do you not think Russiagate was equally ludicrous? Even the Mueller report came up with nothing substantial after two years and millions of dollars down the drain. Many of those lambasting Trump for baselessly alleging voter fraud — especially Democrats and big media — were more than happy to peddle nonsense Russiagate conspiracies for four years, in primetime after primetime, news segment after news segment, late show after late show, till they were blue in their faces. I find it incredibly hypocritical to treat Trump and Biden so differently, despite conspiracy theories surrounding their wins being equally baseless. One almost wonders whether that’s intended.

43. Scott Says:

Matthew Green #41: Could we agree to the following?

There are forms of attack that make rational discussion impossible; by definition, then, rational discussion alone can’t defend against those attacks. (Obvious example is barging into the seminar room with an AR-15, but we’re more interested here in trolling, “intellectual DoS attacks,” and the like.) There are some rationalists who lack sufficient antibodies against these attacks, and who’d benefit from being vaccinated. SneerClub, on the other hand, is like a hyperactive immune system that devours healthy cells.

44. G Says:

Maurice #42

I always thought Russiagate was silly. Though, the main charge I remember was that they were brainwashing people with troll farms? It sounds a little silly, but also clearly isn’t something that could get an election thrown out: those people are really voting that way!

Would you concede that there is a huge difference between conceding an election while grumbling that there may have been foreign influence and voter suppression at play, and refusing to concede for weeks, claiming baselessly that you won, and never, ever hinting that you intend to act in any way counter to that outcome?

Trump isn’t being held to a higher standard than Hillary; he’s being correctly compared unfavorably to her.

45. X Says:

I’ve just been reading Tom Sawyer to my 8-year-old, and we had long discussions about why Tom and Huck use the N-word to describe the black people in their community. We noted that every time the pair discuss black people, even though they use hateful language, their actual description of those people is strongly positive and often contrasts their virtue against the shortcomings of their white neighbors. Actually, due to the Trump administration, we’ve had so many talks about racism that they were much more shocked by the depiction of violence against children as a form of discipline. Especially interesting is how Aunt Polly castigates herself for failing to beat Tom enough to be socially acceptable. The social norms of hitting children have shifted so fast that it’s just a few generations from routine to unthinkable. Hopefully, racism will follow beating children to the refuse pile of history.

@Maurice: Russian (and Chinese) psyops are now well studied and understood. They were hugely important in tilting the 2016 election and remain important today. When people talk about “election fraud”, they mean literally changing the votes, not poisoning the entire information-distribution system with a paid army of trolls. There is no evidence of the former and very much evidence of the latter.

46. ultimaniacy Says:

S #34:

“Also, replying to #31, though I should probably stop arguing about another blog on this blog: if it’s the same long post I’m thinking of, the point of that post wasn’t “Donald Trump isn’t racist”; it was something like: we should reserve the phrase ‘openly racist’ for someone who, you know, openly says one race is better than another, not for someone who attempts (fooling nobody) to say things like “I love Mexicans”.”

Trump accused Gonzalo Curiel of being unqualified as a judge for the sole and explicit reason of his being Mexican. That’s a clear example of open racism.

Maurice #42:

“Even the Mueller report came up with nothing substantial after two years and millions of dollars down the drain”

Actually, the Mueller report found that there was substantial illegal Russian interference in the election, they just didn’t find any evidence that Trump was personally responsible for it.

47. Eurytides Says:

The Culture war thread, and by extension the Motte, are a place where people who might otherwise stab each other to death and speak more-or-less peacefully. They’re as wonderful as their optics are bad.

If the ‘awfulness’ you see there is too much, that’s a pity, and the unecessary loss of participants due to their disgust at their fellows is a failure mode that future iterations should experiment on. The threads continue to serve their purpose, though.

48. M Says:

*sigh* It’s discouraging that already, at this blog, the decision seems to have been made that we can throw conservatives under the bus; the only *really* outrageous thing is also throwing the liberals! Talk about principle of charity.

Of course, the liberals will inevitably get thrown. If even Scott is already here, it seems hard to resist the argument that liberalism is unstable and always ends up with leftists arguing about who gets sent to the re-education camps. (But I’m still trying to resist it!)

49. Jelmer Renema Says:

@scott 43: The big complicating factor in all of this is that the Confederacy has long ago figured out how to get to their authoritarian ends in such a way that they outwardly conform to liberal norms. You see this in the political sphere (e.g. the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Poland and Hungary) but also in the sphere of public discourse (e.g. the concerted efforts to seed FUD regarding global warming, voter fraud, etc etc). In these cases, liberal norms are preserved in form but not in substance.

In some sense, Trump and Yarvin are the easy cases in this problem, because they are openly authoritarian and therefore you quickly get to the point where you realize that they are not worth engaging with.

The question is what to do about the smart members of the Confederacy (of whom your ‘intellectual DoS-ers’ are a subset).

All of this is to say that:

a) the Sneerclubbers are right to point out that the net should be cast wider than just the open authoritarians when considering who to shun: there are plenty of bad faith actors who would slip outside the net otherwise. I realize there is a massive risk of a slippery slope here, but I think the point stands: liberal democracy is simply too hackable otherwise.

b) this entire discussion is further evidence why thoughtfulness and willingness to engage in a polite conversation are terrible heuristics for choosing who to engage with politically. A second-hand car salesman has the incentive to take on the characteristics that’d lead you to trust him; and you’d be a fool to do so.

50. Scott Says:

M #48: Of course liberalism is unstable! It’s like a moving bicycle, or an error-corrected quantum computer: always moments away from devastating failure. But all the alternatives that have ever been tried, on left and right, are so godawful that the only thing to do is to embrace the instability, to keep pedaling the wobbly bike forward for as long as we possibly can.

51. S Says:

Matthew Green #41: I’m sincerely trying to understand your “what causes SneerClub” explanation (which I think is valuable to understand), but I’m not sure I get it yet.

Whenever you have open rational discourse, then some fraction of it will be from people with abhorrent ideas, and for most of that fraction, you will not be able to persuade them out of their positions, and some of their ideas may even persuade you. This is… obvious, and simply the price one pays for having open discourse. I don’t see what’s surprising or disappointing here. (The same point made in the Scott Alexander post, starting at “once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all”.)

I can imagine that, if one approached the project out of a mindset of “I know I am right and I believe that with rational argumentation I can convince others”—that is, if one viewed rational discourse only instrumentally, for making the world better or whatever—then one would indeed be disappointed to discover that it is not a very effective tool at that. But… isn’t this obvious? Is this what you’re describing as the big eye-opening insight that SneerClub people had, and which they think people who participate in SSC comments don’t understand? And more importantly, do you think if those groups had a big disclaimer / welcome message, warning new users something like “look, we’re trying out open conversation here, so there will be some people with awful ideas here (and you’re less likely to convince them than they are likely to convince you): watch out”—then there would be fewer SneerClubbers (as those sort of people might choose not to enter in the first place, instead of later getting disappointed)?

To take my own example: as background, I’ve read many SSC posts multiple times and find them entertaining and mostly relatable, but I very rarely read the SSC comments or associated threads; I’m not part of the “rationalist community”. At the other end, the only exposure I’ve had to the ideas of Yarvin are via quotes on this blog! For example, reading the “key passage” quoted above, exposed me to two ideas that would never have occurred to me otherwise: (1) viewing elections as a proxy for violent civil war, and (2) the sophistry of, at a time when everyone including the Trump campaign is using “fraud” to mean fraud under the established laws and constitution, Yarvin instead declaring the very constitution / the design of elections (namely, that everybody’s vote counts, whether or not they have the stomach and “physique” for civil war) as arguably “fraud”. Now, having been “infected” by these two ideas, I am in a slightly better position to engage with a Yarvin-supporter — and I think this is actually good. At the same time I consider these two ideas absurd and they have no emotional appeal for me whatsoever, but this fortunate outcome is because of my values, not out of “rationalism”.

Change happens in the world through things like emotional persuasion, people-organizing, sometimes sheer force of numbers or even underhanded tactics…. Rational discourse can be a tool under certain limited circumstances or with certain limited people, an activity you do in your spare time because you value it for its own sake or because you might make your ideas stronger by subjecting them to scrutiny, but obviously it can backfire. This seems expected, though (it’s still worth doing), and from all that I can tell from his writings, Scott Alexander knows this too (though maybe not all of the commenters/“rationalist community” does?).

52. M Says:

Fair enough, Scott #50. In that case, take this as a small attempt to pedal: the line you speak of does not fall between left and right.

Don’t fall for a false dichotomy. You can be drinking kool-aid (and, with respect, I think there are some signs of that sometimes on this blog) and other people can also be drinking different kool-aid. We all need to keep talking to each other and not try to cut half the country off, even if it’s exhausting and you feel like you’re falling into the crazy pit sometimes. (I’m not *seriously* concerned that you’re going to become a 9/11 truther or an election conspiracy theorist, but if you did, well — all roads in life come with risk.) Sure, there are people not worth talking to, and I think you’re well aware that they fall on all segments of the political sphere. But they’re not easily identifiable by the contents of their beliefs. I’ve had extremely productive discussions even with Trump election conspiracy people or postmodern critical theorists.

Don’t give up!

53. Scott Says:

Jelmer Renema #49: I wouldn’t describe the quasi-authoritarians in Poland and Hungary as “outwardly conforming to liberal norms,” any more than I’d describe Trump that way! I also think that, short of the ability to peer into people’s souls, “outward conformity with liberal norms” is an excellent start and a baseline that we should strive to reestablish.

54. Scott Says:

Maurice #42:

I agree that voter fraud allegations are absolutely ludicrous and Trump should immediately concede. Just a genuine question though, do you not think Russiagate was equally ludicrous?

No, I don’t think that. To remind you of the undisputed facts: Trump’s children and campaign leaders met with Russian agents in Trump Tower. Trump publicly—publicly!—invited Russia to help his campaign by hacking and selectively releasing Hillary’s emails, which Russia did, and which did indeed probably swing the 2016 election. As president, Trump was obeisant to Putin even to the point of refusing to raise the issue of Russia placing bounties on American soldiers (!!).

As far as I can see, if Trump is not guilty of treason against the US—a capital offense—then the only reason is that the Framers, in formulating the concept of “treason,” couldn’t conceive the possibility that a president could openly do all this stuff and still win an Electoral College majority. Or they might’ve figured that if so, the country would be completely fucked anyway.

55. Matthew Green Says:

Scott #50: I think what your understanding leaves out is that we are, as Brad Delong likes to say, just jumped-up plains apes. We are not sophisticated computers that can base our positions on rational discourse; we are extremely vulnerable to social pressure. And that social pressure can cause us to change our opinions, even our fundamental moral beliefs.

As an example of how powerful social cues can be, think about Sneer Club. Right now, close your eyes and think of all the terrible things some people said about you. Your blood is obviously boiling, isn’t it. You despise them. You can’t think about them rationally as a complicated group of different individuals comprising some awful trolls, some overly-woke people, and some harmless ex-rationalists, can you? They’re the outgroup! And they’re *mean* and you don’t like them. You want to be with people who respect you.

But the same effect happens in more subtle “positive” ways too. Let’s say Scott says something you disagree with on his blog, and you comment on it. Then five hyper-active posters brigade you and shut you down, tell you you’re wrong. Scott doesn’t disagree with them, because they’re not violating rules. So you start to think “maybe I was wrong.” But let’s say the thing you commented on was something very important, like “humans should take climate change seriously” or “humans should treat immigrants decently” and this happens in Scott’s community and he seems to endorse it. You’re sure you’re not going to change your opinion just a little to fit in? You’re sure *Scott* isn’t going to withhold from adjudicating every such disagreement, to avoid blowback from his friends in the comments section? I’m not.

But here’s my real fear, as a parent of a 13 y/o boy. Let’s say you’re a young teenager and you wander into a community like the SSC comment section because you think Scott is smart and funny. You have an ethical worldview but you’re green and inexperienced. These smart adults think some weird things about politics but it’s not *overtly* awful. Then maybe you wander into the old SSC Reddit and discover the culture war threads, and find that they’re actively calling for eugenics and objectively fascist immigration policies. These are smart people in Scott’s community, and he’s not stopping them. In fact, Scott doesn’t stop them — he’s only moved to jettison them when he’s *threatened* by outsiders. And he cheers on the new community, as do other smart people like Scott Aaronson.

Maybe the new community becomes even more fascist and starts accusing the Democrats of rigging the election. Maybe they argue black people are genetically inferior. These assertions go unchallenged because the people who disagree have long since left, and to be socially reasonable you’ve actually found a way to co-exist with these commenters by refusing to challenge them (not worth getting brigaded, and you’re lonely and they’re your friends as long as you’re pleasant). Maybe you even agree with some of what they say. And the adults in the room aren’t stepping in, they’ve cheered on the “free speech” and stopped paying attention.

Anyway, this is what I see and it horrifies me. I’m sorry it’s not what you see, but you should see it. You should look harder.

56. anon Says:

ultimaniacy #46

I don’t think Trump’s attack on Gonzalo Curiel is obviously racist. It just seems like the elementary-school tactics he always uses against people who dislike or confront him. Trump is a dufus and a narcissistic: it seems very on-brand for him to use the algorithm of confrontation -> attack -> throw out wild accusations against the opposition. I imagine if Solomon Lefschetz were the judge ruling against Trump’s bogus school, Trump would say that it was only because Lefschetz was envious of his giant hands.

I think that was the point of Scott Alexander’s post. To curtail the knee-jerk reaction of “racist!” when Trump’s behavior could be also explained by him being an asshole with a mental health issues. This doesn’t mean Trump isn’t a racist. It just means that sometimes there are other explanations, which arguably fit better.

57. Stella Biderman Says:

M: Can you point out which comment(s) indicate “the decision seems to have been made that we can throw conservatives under the bus” (emphasis added)? I can’t seem to figure out what you are referring to.

It seems most probable that you’re talking about Scott’s comments about allying with the SneerClub and where to draw the line, but I don’t see any comments labeling “conservatives” are beyond the pale unless your conception of the typical conservative is someone who thinks that Dominion voting machines were built in Venezuela to rig elections for Chavez. I haven’t been outside much recently, but I know a lot of people who I respect who voted for Trump in 2016. I don’t know that they disagree with the Trump Campaign’s apparent position on Dominion, but I very much hope that they do.

I assume you must see this differently than I, but I’m not sure how. Do you think that the things being discussed here as horrible are in fact mainstream Conservative positions? Or do you think that comments here indicate a willingness to “throw under the bus” (also, what bus? I mean that seriously, not frivolously. What bus are people being thrown under? SneerClub? Being ostracized?) people who do not subscribe to extremist views?

Maurice: There’s a good summary here outlining all the results of Mueller’s investigation. The big hits are that two close associates of Trump’s were sent to jail for conspiracy against the US, 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations were indicted for trying to interfere with the 2016 election, and 12 Russian GRU operatives were identified and indicted for cyber crimes against the DNC, and the deputy finance chairman for the RNC plead guilty to (among other things) criminal violations of campaign finance law.

Yes, a bunch of people went to jail for conspiring or for lying to the FBI when it’s seems like nothing bad would have happened to them if they had just cooperated. But the rule of law is important, and things like witness intimidation and lying to federal officers or to congress are bad even if you don’t have anything to cover up.

Does this change your opinion about the Mueller Report? Why or why not?

58. Scott Says:

Matthew Green #55: As a jumped-up plains ape, I confess that one of the main things that makes my fur stand on end is when one of my fellow plains apes makes condescending pronouncements like “Your blood is boiling, isn’t it?” and “Look harder,” as though he himself weren’t also an emotionally driven ape. 🙂 Consistent with this blog’s stated comment policy, please avoid that in the future.

You’re right that SneerClubbers, like Trump supporters, are not a monolith. That’s why you might have noticed that, here on this blog, I’m excited to talk to any SneerClubbers or Trumpers I meet who seem to dissent from major parts of their stated ideology. Finally, I think (rightly or not), there’s a toehold for a civilized discussion; some actual progress is conceivable!

On SneerClub, though, there’s an enthusiastic apologist (“MarxBro”) for Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, who’s happily tolerated and often upvoted by the others there, rather than banned like … err, someone who defended me might be. Should I worry about my 7-year-old daughter seeing that, or seeing the woman who very nearly won the mayorship of Portland campaigning in a Mao skirt, seeing that important cryptographers on Twitter like Matthew Green never condemn any of it, and deciding that the murder of 100+ million people by Communists in the last century either must not have happened or must’ve been for the greater good of the working masses?

If not, then let’s stop playing six-degrees-of-toleration, and hold individuals mainly responsible for what they do, say, and believe as individuals.

59. Matty Wacksen Says:

@Scott #54:

>No, I don’t think that. To remind you of the undisputed facts: Trump’s children and campaign leaders met with Russian agents in Trump Tower. Trump publicly—publicly!—invited Russia to help his campaign by hacking and selectively releasing Hillary’s emails, which Russia did, and which did indeed probably swing the 2016 election. As president, Trump was obeisant to Putin even to the point of refusing to raise the issue of Russia placing bounties on American soldiers

First of all, I don’t think it is undisputed that Trump’s children met with “Russian agents” in Trump Tower. As much as I hate linking to longer pieces of text, there is nice blog-post (that I am completely unaffiliated with) here https://necpluribusimpar.net/trumps-collusion-russia-add-nothing-nothing-get-still-nothing/ that discusses some of the ‘evidence’ from a more minimalist set of assumptions. The “refusing to raise the issue of Russia placing bounties on American soldiers” is based on rumors, so I will ignore it in what follows.

But even if all you wrote were true – so what? The US has a disproportionate amount of influence in the world, with only US citizens being able to vote on its leaders. This is an arbitrary distinction, why shouldn’t Russia try to influence the results of the US election? After all, the US tries to influence the results of all other elections. Sure, it’s impolite – but I would hardly call it a scandal.

@Stella #57: Those results are not particulary “big”. The charge of “lying to the FBI” is sufficiently wide that it can catch almost everybody, see also this article by popehat’s Ken White who is a legal expert: https://www.popehat.com/2017/12/04/everybody-lies-fbi-edition/. The “indictments” against some random GRU members are hardly worth the paper they are written on, given that (a) nobody impartial has ruled on them and (b) the GRU would have to be idiots to leave evidence behind when hacking something like the DNC. Given that you seem to be trying to change people’s minds, you may be open to reading some literature. Search for “Russia” on https://necpluribusimpar.net/top-posts/ (I have no affiliation to that blog, it’s just very good :D) for a comprehensive look at some of the evidence *without* the sensationalist spin.

60. M Says:

Stella Biderman #57:

“Throwing under the bus,” in this context, means refusing to interact with rationally, and just marshaling pure social power against, as Scott endorsed doing with the Detroit canvassing board, e.g. Of course, as he points out, *it works.* And once one gets a taste of that heady fact, it can be hard to motivate much in the way of resistance to using it.

I agree with you that Scott didn’t explicitly include all conservatives. In fact, he said the following:

” I radically disagree with them about the line’s whereabouts. Here, for example, I try to draw mine generously enough to include any Republicans willing to stand up, however feebly, against the Trump cult, whereas the wokeists draw their line so narrowly as to exclude most Democrats (!)”

Notice that only Republicans “willing to stand up … against the Trump cult” get the nod. Well, of course, the vast majority of Republicans / conservatives voted for Trump, and while most (you’re quite right) are not peddling conspiracy theories about Dominion machines, I think it’s a short trip to writing off those who supported him to that extent. (Even the Detroit canvassers were not peddling conspiracy theories about Dominion machines, so far as I’m aware!).

See also Scott’s list in comment (I think) 19 where he lists the people *clearly* on the sane side of the line: Steven Pinker, Scott Alexander, Paul Graham, and Julia Galef. I agree all those people are worth interacting with, but notably they’re all liberals. And we have the “most Democrats (!)” From where I sit, most Democrats aren’t any more reasonable than most Republicans. There are different sets of conspiracy theories and delusions on both sides; Scott himself is quite vulnerable to those on the left.

But in any event, I think we should continue to dialog — where our own mental health and sanity permit! — with those on both sides, even those who may be too sympathetic to conspiracy theories.

61. G Says:

Scott #58, Matthew Green #55

I would like to submit a “second” on the decision to ban “talking your debate partner through their mental reactions to your words”.

I’ve been considering writing something about this, ever since I tried reading Yarvin at one point, and though I was in strong disagreement with his writings (to put it mildly), another huge takeaway for me was how annoying his writing style was, and it was in part because of the use of this technique.

The truth is: it doesn’t add anything to the correctness of ones argument. It just hints at there being a connection between someone’s predictable emotional reactions and the wrongness of his/her beliefs, when really one can be wrong or right either way (Made-up example: “I bet your blood REALLY boils when you think about someone punching your sister. Don’t you feel that? Maybe your emotions are clouding your judgment on the issue”).

And meanwhile, it is objectively an annoying thing to read, on about the same emotional level as if your opponent had written “Fuck you!”.

I think this deserves its own fallacy name. Maybe someone will come up with one.

62. Matthew Green Says:

Scott #58: If I felt that creeping Marxism (or Maoism, or Leninism) represented an imminent threat to our free and democratic society I would absolutely condemn people who espoused those views. But I don’t feel that way. I feel like right now the probability that America decides to adopt Marxist/Leninist/Maoist (Maoist!) ideology is about the same as the probability that housepets are going to spontaneously launch America’s nuclear arsenal by stepping on TV remote controls. If my perspective on these odds changes, I will obviously update my approach to dealing with it.

On the other hand, there is a very real and powerful movement in this country that believes democracy is fraudulent, that conspiracies are real, that violence is the answer, that certain groups are inferior, and that movement is supported by a non-trivial fraction of our political institutions. Many of us know decent people who have been colonized by some form of these beliefs. And I stress that the spread of these beliefs is not because they’re good, rational ideas, but because social pressure is powerful and online communities and social networks are an excellent way to leverage this (apparent) social pressure against people who don’t have strong defenses against it.

Insofar as the rational community has failed to defend against this onslaught, and has so far actually aided and abetted it (in small scale, of course) I think there are important lessons to be learned. I hope you won’t find that statement to be a violation of the rules.

63. gordianus Says:

S #51:
I agree with you on the value of rational discourse, both to convince others of your true beliefs and to learn about other people’s true or interesting ideas. The Moldbug essay Scott quoted is a good example. I disagree with Moldbug’s assumption that rightist policies lead to order and left-wing ones to chaos. I think his idea of elections as proxies for civil wars is inapplicable to an established democracy like the United States, although it may be relevant to an emerging democracy, in the sense that part of the value of democracy is that it enables regular transitions of power connected to what people want without the violence and disruption of a civil war, and if a powerful faction in a weak democracy thought it had a much better chance of winning a civil war than an election it would be more likely to just start a civil war. However, Moldbug makes the additional (and, in my opinion, mostly correct) point that if the Republicans were as unhesitatingly dedicated to the implementation of a coherent policy platform as some liberals seem to think, they could easily stay in power through legal means (have states with Republican governments set their electoral votes directly, have the president exert more control over the executive bureaucracy, send the National Guard to enforce federal policies if state or local governments refuse to; I’m less sure that trying to overturn Marbury v. Madison would have any useful effect), and that the fact that they haven’t done so indicates that they aren’t strongly united and are still strongly committed to some political norms despite Trump’s best efforts (although unlike Moldbug I think this is a good thing). I probably would not have realized this without hearing it from someone with very different ideas from mine.

On the other hand, around half of Republicans, i.e. at least 15% of American citizens (since this poll indicates that 31% of Americans are registered Republicans), believe that the election results are fraudulent and that Trump would have won if the votes had been counted fairly. This idea is clearly false, and certainly, those numbers include a certain number of trolls and ruthless party or candidate loyalists, like those who have been arguing for Trump in his post-election lawsuits. However, it seems implausible that half of American Republicans are willing to subvert the democratic process just to keep their candidate in office for four more years after he lost an election. It is, in my opinion, more likely that many of these people were led to expect a Trump victory by conservative media sources they trusted and by applying the availability heuristic to Americans’ support for Trump (in the same way that Democrats like me expected a landslide for Biden), and that after seeing that official election results contradicted those expectations and that a lot of conservative politicians and media figures either supported the idea of fraud or at least didn’t oppose it, they thought that the idea that the election was fraudulent was actually plausible. It is quite reasonable to not want to waste your time debating someone who’s trying to gaslight you into believing what they know is a lie, but if many Republicans actually believe that the election was stolen, trying to persuade them otherwise through good-faith debate may be successful and will probably make some progress toward restoring the agreement to respect the results of an election that is essential to democracy.

Matthew Green #55:
This seems like a reasonable concern with a fairly obvious solution: don’t assume that any particular community’s Overton Window corresponds to the full range of plausible ethical or political ideas, and to prevent the availability heuristic from putting this assumption in your mind, read about and discuss politics in several different communities that don’t all share the same limited background assumptions.

64. Boaz Barak Says:

Carroll’s pin-pointing of the issue as “valorizing puzzle-solving intelligence” hits the nail on the head. i tried to summarize my thoughts about people that claim they are “Galileos” that using pure logic can uncover conspiracies or refute expert opinion here:

https://windowsontheory.org/2020/11/24/on-galileo-galilei-and-denialism-from-elections-to-climate-to-covid/

65. Koray Says:

Scott,

I’m with the others that think this is not gaslighting, merely just good old BS. They do know that they don’t have the credibility to make you start doubting whether Obama really forged his birth certificate. As Stephen Colbert put it a long time ago, it’s just truthiness. They may look like they’re making statements to the general public, but they’re not talking to you. They know that you won’t be convinced (because you keep asking for stuff like “verifiable facts” while you lack what really matters: conviction). They’re talking only to their staunchest supporters who need a shot in the arm to keep going (anybody who’s not “passionate” on either side will not even bother to see the interview or press conference, or they’ll assume it’s just the usual type of lie that all politicians tell, so it’s a waste of time to focus on this particular one.)

66. Scott Says:

Matthew Green #62: As this blog’s motto suggests, I feel like the far right is doing vastly more to harm the country and the world, while the woke left has done vastly more to harm me personally, while also inadvertently serving as the ultimate recruiter for the far right! Exactly the same Enlightenment liberalism leads me to oppose both, so that my opposition to one reinforces rather than detracts from my opposition to the other.

More to the point (and if this has no effect on you then I’m out of ammo, so let’s agree to disagree and end this exchange now):

After Scott Alexander endorsed “anyone other than Trump” in the 2016 election, I saw several commenters writing to say that they were going to vote Trump, but Scott persuaded them otherwise. That’s more success than I ever had deprogramming Trumpers. Is it also more success than you had?

If so, then clearly a crucial factor in other Scott’s relative success was the “Lincoln Project effect”—i.e., the (correct) perception that Scott takes libertarian and conservative ideas seriously, that he isn’t tribally against Republicans, etc., that this was really specifically about the unique threat of Trump.

I’m not saying we all need to be that way—I don’t think I could be that way myself; my exasperation with Republicans would show after ~10 nanoseconds! But to my mind, it’s a consideration at least as material as the slippery-slope arguments that worry you so much.

Scott #54: “Trump publicly—publicly!—invited Russia to help his campaign by hacking and selectively releasing Hillary’s emails, which Russia did, and which did indeed probably swing the 2016 election.”

Scott, this is rather sad. Although you obviously feel that this matter is of the utmost importance, you have nevertheless failed to get even basic facts correct.

What actually happened: Trump made a joke about asking Russia to provide the FBI with the emails that Hillary Clinton had deleted from her illicit email server, which might well have revealed that she had mishandled classified information. It was obviously a joke, because there’s no reason to think that Russia was going to do anything just because of Trump’s comment. Even if you think it was not a joke, it was obviously not a request for Russia to hack the server, because at the time of Trump’s comment, the server had been decommissioned and was in the possession of the FBI. The basis of the joke was the assumption (by many people, not just Trump) that while Clinton’s email server was operating, Russia and every other intelligence agency in the world had hacked into it and therefore had the emails that she later deleted. So Trump was (jokingly) asking the Russians to give the FBI copies of the emails that Russia already had. How is asking some third party to deliver to the FBI evidence they may have of criminal activity in any way reprehensible?

Anyway, as far as is publicly known, the Russians did not send Clinton’s emails to the FBI. You seem to have confused this matter with the hack of emails from the Democratic party administration, that revealed that the Democratic establishment had helped Clinton win the primaries over Sanders. That may well have influenced the election by reducing support for Clinton. It’s widely thought that the Russians were responsible for that hack, though the primary evidence for this was never provided to the FBI. But I’m unaware of any evidence that Trump had anything to do with that.

68. Michael Nielsen Says:

Radford Neal – Here’s video of the incident: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQb2S4DIcNc He doubles down upon being asked, multiple times, if he’s serious. If that’s intended purely as a joke, it’s exceptionally unclear.

69. ultimaniacy Says:

Scott #66:

But Other Scott *is* tribally against Republicans. The right-wing groups he “takes seriously” are fringe movements that aren’t aligned with any major political party (neoreactionaries, anarcho-capitalists, GK Chesterton-style Catholic traditionalists). When has he ever seriously engaged with the ideas of mainstream conservatives?

I don’t mean this as a criticism of Other Scott; I fully admit I’m tribally against Republicans too and I make no apologies for it. But let’s not claim to be doing something we’re not.

Michael #68: The commentary on the video of July 27, 2016 you link to is misleading, referring to “hacking” and “espionage” multiple times. But Trump couldn’t have been encouraging hacking, since Clinton’s server had been turned over to the FBI almost a year earlier – see “Clinton relents, gives up possession of private email server, KEN DILANIAN, August 11, 2015”, at
https://apnews.com/article/40f1d5d9d6cc411a83e8466253e6ef3e

71. Scott Says:

ultimaniacy #69: Your criticism seems isomorphic to, “It’s true that X, though an atheist, constantly goes out of his way to engage respectfully with the ideas of serious intellectual theologians. But I notice that all of those theologians are highly idiosyncratic; none of them actually represent the ideas of the common religious folk—ideas like begging God for your football team to crush the other team, or like finding the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast.”

What can one say? Maximum respect for an opposing position sometimes requires ignoring the most common advocates for that position! 😀

72. Scott Says:

Radford Neal #67: Trump’s “joke” encouraging Russian hacking reminds me of Pompeo’s “joke” about a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. Most of what the bullies did to me, growing up, was likewise “jokes.” Personally, I find joking about terrorism and hijacking to the TSA to be much more appropriate and tasteful.

73. ultimaniacy Says:

Scott #71:

First of all, like I said before, my point is not a criticism.

Second, the right-wingers Other Scott engages with aren’t “highly idiosyncratic” Republicans; they’re all actively and openly opposed to the ideology of the Republican Party, such as it is. A better analogy would be if “X” were willing to engage with Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Jewish theologians, but never showed any interest in similar engagement with Christian thinkers, and you claimed he couldn’t be tribally opposed to Christianity because he spent so much time respectfully debating with Zoroastrians.

74. Fnord Says:

While I don’t think I politically align with you, Scott, I have felt increasingly over the past years as if reality literally went surreal. Of course, that virus adds to that feeling a lot. Part of that is for personal reasons that I’m not going to discuss here.

But the election of Donald Trump was absolutely a part of that, as are the events that are now happening. Not just in the USA (I’m in Germany). Brexit-Johnson, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Putin, Orban, China’s surveillance state and related politics, Netanjahu (sorry to have to include him here), Duterte, the list is endless, and many have the support of millions of people. Billions combined. And I’m not even including India, most of Africa, other parts of Asia and South America and, in fact, all of the world in this list since I don’t know enough details about all of them. But if I had to estimate, I’d say a world wide majority basically votes for, if they can, and otherwise supports insanity.

In essence, to get to my point, the last couple years make me wonder why we call homo sapiens sapiens “sapiens” at all.

When the heck did the world stop to consider absolutely basic ethical considerations (and their justification)? What is the cause of that?

Is it really just basic survival instincts kicking in in so many different facets of interpretation due to the ever increasing wealth and consequently power of a few compared to “the masses”? That seems too simple, yet I don’t know another answer.

75. Maurice Says:

Scott: A lot what you say are undisputed facts are, in fact, disputed. Trump was extremely hawkish on Russia during his term, including funnelling aid to Ukraine, escalating in Syria, and pulling out of an arms control agreement with Russia. These are not policies of his that I necessarily support, as I believe it is absolutely ridiculous to have a feud between the two most heavily nuclear-armed nations in the world, but that’s how it is: the American foreign policy consensus is too entrenched for any one President to change it and there was no indication Trump was willing to change it anyway. The bounty on US troops story was thoroughly discredited and denied by the intelligence agencies: ie, that’s not a fact either.

Trump’s acolytes did meet with Russians in the Trump tower, but there is no evidence that they exchanged any information that might have helped the Trump campaign against Clinton. Do I like that the meeting even took place? No! But if we are talking about looking for dirt on your political opponent by speaking to foreign powers, Clinton herself will be in trouble, as there were allegations that her campaign colluded with Ukraine (with more evidence than your bounty on the US troops story).

There is little evidence to suggest that the email dump resulted in a last-minute change of voters’ minds and swung the election to Trump, just as dead voters voting (of which there were a few) did not swing the election this time for Biden. Also, I find it very interesting how everyone talks about the mail dumps themselves, but no one talks about the content of the dumps, which revealed how corrupt the Clinton campaign was, right from the primaries, which the mails revealed were rigged against Bernie.

Regarding the mail dumps themselves, Assange has regularly maintained that it was an inside job by a DNC operative, but even if I grant you that (there is evidence to suggest the contrary, just as there is evidence to suggest Assange was right), there is no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded or coordinated with Russia in timing the leaks. There is also little evidence to suggest that the Russian government was involved and it wasn’t lone wolf hackers, if it were Russians at all in the first place that is. It was incredibly stupid of Trump to ask Russia to hack into the DNC servers but that’s not treason.

If I apply the same standard that you applied for Trump (and you were absolutely right to do so, what is transpiring with election fraud is indeed gaslighting), Russiagate was one big attempt at gaslighting by disgruntled Washington insiders who were incensed that their mighty invincible chosen one lost to a bumbling fool (which Trump is).

76. Maurice Says:

#42: If Trump indeed does not concede after states have certified their results or the court cases are all thrown out (whichever comes first), I will most certainly condemn his actions.

Regarding the troll farm allegations, I forget the contents of the Mueller report, but it was what, less than ten Russian trolls making very few Facebook posts, most of which seemed very harmless (garden variety posts supporting Bernie, saying Hillary is corrupt etc)? If you look at the actual content of the posts by digging up the Mueller report, it seems laughable to suggest those changed voters’ minds and influenced the election.

77. Steven E Landsburg Says:

I am pretty close to 100% sure that the “people in charge of an American election who tried to throw away millions of votes” did so selectively, and just about equally sure that the selection criterion was “how do we think these people probably voted?”, not “what was the color of their skin?”.

78. Space Ghost Says:

I think you misunderstand Moldbug’s argument. He’s not saying that the votes are fraudulent, in the sense of being illegal. He’s saying that the system *explicitly allows* things that seem, to an uninformed observer, to be “fraudulent”. If your conception of voting is “you go stand in line at a polling station and vote”, then anything which isn’t that, which in some sense takes less effort – ballot harvesting, absentee ballots, mail-in ballots in general, etc – isn’t “real” voting. Again, not in the sense of being illegal or illegitimate, but rather “less good at determining the voting preferences of people who are at least minimally engaged with the political process”.

The basketball analogy of Moldbug’s argument would be “Yeah, your team scored more points than we did but we had more 3-pointers, and those are harder to make, so if you REALLY think about it, we actually won”.

79. Edan Maor Says:

Fnord #74:

> When the heck did the world stop to consider absolutely basic ethical considerations (and their justification)? What is the cause of that?

Not that I disagree with you about the surreal feeling of the world, but here’s one thing I think we have to ponder: we are not *so* far removed from WW2, the events of the Holocaust, segregation in the States, etc. Not to mention that, Trump and COVID aside, similar tragedies were continuing to happen pretty much up until the present.

It is a surprise, but it shouldn’t be, that humanity can act in this way. I think one of the core disagreements I have with most “leftist” politics is that they seem to think the pre-Trump, pre-COVID “normal modern liberal democracy” world is the default, and all we need to do is do more to make it even better. Whereas I take quite seriously the idea of the world going “backwards”, morally, technologically, etc. And I think the events of the last few years are at least somewhat convincing to many people that that’s true – things really can get *worse*, not just better, so we should spend time fighting against that.

(And fyi in that kind of fight, I’m happy to have people like Scott and Scott Alexander.)

80. Rollo Burgess Says:

That is my first introduction to Curtis Yarvin; that’s an intellectual rabbit-hole down which it is low on my list of priorities to jump! It reads rather like it was written by some anti-democratic German theorist in the Weimar era.

I think to part of your point, and to that of Sean Carroll in the posts to which you link, that there is something very dangerous about the superficial reasonableness of saying ‘well I don’t for sure if there was [electoral fraud, 911 conspiracy or whatever], we should keep an open mind and examine the evidence’. Tucker Carlsons’s recent statement in which he condemns Sidney Powell while legitimizing her type of pernicious nonsense is an example of this genre. This needs to be robustly resisted; it strikes me as much more impactful and worrying than the ‘Carl Schmitt for dummies’ musings of Yarvin.

81. marxbro Says:

What’s your citation on the “100 million dead” statistic Scott Aaronson? I’ve always been very patient and willing to discuss things with people who have differing political opinions to me, I hope you feel the same way about this discussion and are willing to find citations for these assertions.

82. Idan Says:

You might call it gaslighting, but don’t you have a funny feeling something is corrupt and wrong?

That Bernie should’ve won the 2016 primaries, but they were rigged, like the mails suggested?
That of all the candidates in the primaries, somehow the old uncharismatic Joe Biden won, after completely terrible start?
Trust somehow, it seems like corrupt politicians keep on winning even tho their corruption is obvious to everyone?

That now when you see Biden picks, they are all swamp creatures? That there’s invisible wall of corruption and money and interests that’s keeping honest politicians away from power?

That somehow, despite the fact it is against the interests of every single citizen, the us has free trade with abusive China and that literal slaves in concentration camps in China are competing with us for jobs, and yet politicians encouraged it all this time?

Trump might not be perfect, but he isn’t that kind of corruption, and he fought that corruption. And I don’t find it impossible that this same corruption would cheat in elections, especially given how they rigged Bernie in the primaries

83. sneerclubber Says:

Gee, there sure is a lot of discussion about a niche subreddit whose main focus is to take the piss at pretentious people who (among other things) talk way too much about the IQ of black people. Now who is worse and more intellectually bankrupt, people who believe racism is correct and want to overturn an election to establish a fascist dictatorship, or people who sometimes yell at your bad opinions on the internet mostly out of boredom? Tough choice!

84. atreat Says:

Scott, I think your discussion with Matthew Greene on this thread is fascinating and needs to be thought about and analyzed a great more in the future. You two have struck on a really key discussion/debate.

FWIW, I think Greene has the more profound and subtle point here. I say this as a friend and someone deeply angry of what the SC has said about you in the past. There is a real point to Greene here that goes beyond SC entirely. It has to do with where you demarcate the line where rational discussion not only fails… but can actually be detrimental on an individual and personal level.

I think study of this topic of demarcation where rational discussion is actively harmful is something the rational community needs to confront and think deeply about.

85. atreat Says:

Sorry, that should read, “… actually detrimental not only on an individual level, but on a COLLECTIVE level as well.”

I’ll say one more thing. This idea that rational discussion can be disastrous was the animating idea behind Antifa and it was born in Europe as a response to lessons learned by trying to fight the rise of fascist movements.

If the thesis that rational discussion really does *aid* the rise of fascism I can think of no more urgent reason to study and think about how to counteract. Frankly, I am leaning towards believing the thesis true given recent history.

86. JimV Says:

“Actually, the Mueller report found that there was substantial illegal Russian interference in the election, they just didn’t find any evidence that Trump was personally responsible for it.”

That is much closer to my recollection than the comment that inspired it, but I thought Mueller made it clear that, under ground rules made by the Justice Department, a sitting President cannot be charged with any federal crime so there was no point in investigating his involvement; I also, though less strongly, got the impression that without that ground rule he felt he could have indicted Trump along with all the others he indicted, some of whom are still in prison. As “Special Prosecutions” go, I thought his was probably the most substantial of all time and well worth the cost.

As usual, I only feel inspired to add to the noise when there is something I can at least mildly disagree with, but my overwhelming reaction was and is: great post, and many good comments! (I wrote an essay on “Huck Finn” for my freshman English class in college which made some of the same points, so sometimes my mind and great minds think alike. So I got that going for me, which is nice.) Keep up the good work.

87. G Says:

sneerclubber #83

Wow. You’ve really opened my eyes. Sneerclub really isn’t as bad as fascist dictators and white supremacists!

I’ll have a trophy prepared at once!

88. Scott Says:

atreat #84: So, grant that there are situations where rational discussion is impossible. How are we to figure out which situations they are? Could rational discussion of that question turn out to be impossible too? Of course, the philosophers of the Enlightenment were all over this stuff long before you and I were born.

Personally, if you forced me to draw a boundary for rational discussion itself, I’d find it odd if the boundary were arrived at rationally, so let me propose an emotional criterion. I think we should always want to rationally discuss things. We should be genuinely miserable if one or both sides are so marinated in conspiracy theories, magical thinking, or (of course) a propensity to violence and abuse as to make rational discussion impossible.

This criterion lets me state my problem with SneerClub in the crispest possible way: it’s not merely that they make the (true, even banal) observation that there are situations where rational discussion has to be abandoned. Rather it’s that, as their name suggests, they’re gleeful about it.

89. Scott Says:

Idan #82: The fundamental reason why Bernie didn’t win the 2016 primary is that not enough people voted for him (even after you remove the superdelegates). He had another chance in 2020, and again not enough voted for him—especially not enough Black voters. I don’t know if he would’ve done better than Hillary in 2016, but that’s certainly far from obvious; he might have done even worse. This time around, while I liked various qualities of Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and others, my support shifted to Biden at about the time when Trump corrupted US foreign policy, and got himself impeached, in a failed attempt to bring Biden down. That was about the strongest Biden endorsement I could imagine, from a man who’s more attuned than any of us are to the collective psyche of the ignorant and uninformed.

90. Jo Says:

What’s also interesting is to see in the comments what themes are people ready to spend time writing back-and forth “essays” for.
I’m surprised to see so much energy spent trying to minimize the (stale until we have new facts and revelations) 2016 Russian interference/collusion. I feel it would be quite useless to try to persuade anyone, when all the same sources of info and expert analysis are available to anyone of us.
What I really, genuinely would like to know what motivates Maurice or Radford Neal (among others) to spend so much energy trying to refute the Russiona interference/collusion (his)story? Why choose this battle?

91. Douglas Knight Says:

On the term “gaslighting”:

When you say that X is gaslighting Y, this mixes up something about X and something about Y. Is this mixture a useful concept? It seems to me that this is only a useful term if it is describing something very personal. Rudy isn’t gaslighting you because he hasn’t heard of you.

The original use of the term was extremely specific, X trying to make Y feel crazy, not just by contradiction, but by engineered hoaxes. The character didn’t just say “no, the gas lights aren’t fading,” but in fact dimmed them himself. Some people (eg, Michael #5) insist that this is the one true meaning, but it seems to me that very few people use it this way.

It seems to me that most people use the term to refer to blatant lies told in person. The personal aspect seems important to how I see people use it. It’s about how X brushes off what Y says.

Whereas blatant lies told by a large group are just blatant lies. They may be infuriating, but that’s something about you. Is it useful to give them a new label because of their effect on you?

I don’t know, maybe the comments you don’t publish are personalized to you, but it doesn’t sound like it.

92. atreat Says:

Scott #88,

“How are we to figure out which situations they are?” <– That is the exact question isn't it. Before getting into that, I want to highlight two things though:

1) It is not about drawing the boundary where rational discussion is *impossible*, but rather drawing it where rational discussion is *actively harmful.* It is a huge step for most rationalists to even conceive that rational discussion is not an unalloyed good. It is a far greater step to conceive that it might actually be harmful in some circumstances! Nonetheless, I think that is a necessary step to consider.

2) I don't think that the step above is itself impervious to rational discussion. I hope Godel's use of logic to arrive at the limits of logic is illustrative 🙂 Also, I'd note that the question can and should be the subject of empirical inquiry just as it was in Europe with restrictions to speech of fascist movements.

Now, I think your jumping off point is a good one. You said, "(I) define my moral worldview in opposition to gaslighting itself" which I interpret as saying that you think the demarcation line being a certain respect for and adherence to truth. In my mind, this is both fundamental and in my paraphrase basically drawing the line at both sides abiding by faithfulness to truth and rules of logic. However, this is a very poorly defined (and subjective) line and we should acknowledge it as such.

Honestly, I think we the use of empiricism and history needs to be studied. The history behind and development of the ANTIFA philosophy I think is really important here and not subject of enough inquiry. It claimed the only response that was sufficiently *effective* to arresting the rise of proto-fascistic movements was fairly subdued be very real physical violence! It claimed that everyone publically pushing proto-fascistic ideas needed to be punched in the face and that this was the only solution shown empirically to work. What if that truly is *the only* way for society of stopping another holocaust?

93. Idan Says:

Scott #89: That’s the thing I understand the least. Biden is shown to be corrupt and sketchy, and whether you believed that at the time or not, how out of all the candidates with seemingly clean slate, did the most dirty and corrupt win?

I don’t get it. And honestly those corruption allegations look increasingly bad with the biden laptop dump, and you really can’t say nobody saw that coming.

How is it that the democratic candidates chance to succeed are positively correlated with corruption scandals and known shady history? It almost suggests that the corruption is advantageous enough that it overcomes the bad publicity…

I mean you think Biden won the primaries because he had more voters, but I wouldn’t be surprised that if any of these alleged shenanigans by Trump also happened in the primaries. Elizabeth warren was concerned by those voting machines as well before the primaries.

94. Scott Says:

Idan #93: I honestly fail to see how Biden is more corrupt than anyone else who’s been in public life for half a century … whereas Trump is insanely, ostentatiously, astronomically more corrupt.

When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, many Native American tribes eagerly allied with them, hoping to gain an advantage over their rival tribes. Many now-forgotten factions in Weimar Germany thought about Hitler mostly in terms of how he could help them against other now-forgotten Weimar factions. I like imagine some Triceratops watching the K-T asteroid, thrilled that the T-Rexes will finally get what’s coming to them.

Anyway, that’s the sort of place my mind goes, whenever people go on about Trump saving us from the rampant corruption of Hillary’s home email server and Hunter Biden’s laptop.

95. Scott Says:

atreat #92:

[Antifa] claimed the only response that was sufficiently *effective* to arresting the rise of proto-fascistic movements was fairly subdued [but] very real physical violence! It claimed that everyone publically pushing proto-fascistic ideas needed to be punched in the face and that this was the only solution shown empirically to work. What if that truly is *the only* way for society of stopping another holocaust?

I’m profoundly skeptical, not only that violence is the “only” way to stop fascism in its larval stage, but even that it’s a good or effective one. Look, Weimar Germany was noted for street brawls between Nazis and what we’d now call “antifa”—and the Nazis thrived in the chaos of that environment. This year, riots, vandalism, and calls to “defund the police” almost certainly increased the Republican vote share.

More fundamentally, the problem with violence is not merely ethical—it’s that nerdy intellectuals like us are unlikely to prevail, unless and until we have an organized army on our side. Why would left-wing activists choose to shift the arena of conflict to one that the heavily-armed far right has been preparing for and fantasizing about for decades?

96. Sandro Says:

I honestly fail to see how Biden is more corrupt than anyone else who’s been in public life for half a century … whereas Trump is insanely, ostentatiously, astronomically more corrupt.

As a Canadian liberal, I’ve gotta say that I just don’t see it. Trump is certainly corrupt in novel ways that are shocking to people used to the status quo, but not meaningfully more corrupt than the status quo from what I’ve seen.

But I agree with you that Biden is no more corrupt than the status quo, which per above is not an endorsement.

97. Sandro Says:

Matthew Green #62:

On the other hand, there is a very real and powerful movement in this country that believes democracy is fraudulent, that conspiracies are real, that violence is the answer, that certain groups are inferior, and that movement is supported by a non-trivial fraction of our political institutions.

Firstly, conspiracies are real. History is littered with them, even very recent history. Obviously most conspiracy theories you’ll read about are bunk, but let’s not pretend that conspiracies don’t happen.

Secondly, I think you are dramatically overstating the current state of affairs. There is no single group with any real political power that asserts all of your claims simultaneously, so this threat you speak of is a mirage. I could just as as easily summarize the opposing side in an equally deceptive and threatening way:

There is a very real and powerful movement in this country that believes that meritocracy is fraudulent, that all property is inherently evil, that white people are inherently evil and oppressive and are behind a white supremacist conspiracy to oppress all other races and preserve their own power, that believe that there are no evolved population-level differences between geographically isolated populations and oppress and villify any who claim otherwise despite the evidence, and that movement is supported by a non-trivial fraction of our political institutions.

As with your summary, no single group with any real political power asserts all of these simultaneously.

That said, while I have an intrinsic reflex against the very idea that rational discourse should be suppressed, I’m open to considering it. I’m now reading up on “social contagion”, which provides considerable insights into how bad ideas, misinformation and behaviours propagate despite the availability of good information and good behavioural role models.

There is some potential for concluding that some types of discourse might be more harmful than helpful, but I think there should be a high bar to meet this. One good technique from that article is reframing questions like “What makes this person want to do x?”, to “What is it about x that makes people want to do it?”

People typically look for confirmatory evidence for their preconceptions, and so ideas that play into common preconceptions will naturally spread like a contagion. This is no doubt at the root of all the anti-Hillary hate, and Trump derangement syndrome, and so many other bizarre behaviours we’ve seen over the past few years.

However, we have no good tools with which to determine which ideas are or are not susceptible to social contagion, so there should be a pretty high bar to suppress rational discourse.

98. Sandro Says:

Scott #95:

I’m profoundly skeptical, not only that violence is the “only” way to stop fascism in its larval stage, but even that it’s a good or effective one.

You are 100% correct Scott: non-violent resistance is demonstrably more effective in producing change.

99. OhMyGoodness Says:

“The fundamental purpose of a democratic election is to test the strength of the sides in a civil conflict, without anyone actually getting hurt. The majority wins because the strongest side would win”

In this particular instance this assertion is very clearly wrong.

100. atreat Says:

Scott #92, Sandro #98

“I’m profoundly skeptical, not only that violence is the “only” way to stop fascism in its larval stage, but even that it’s a good or effective one. Look, Weimar Germany was noted for street brawls between Nazis and what we’d now call “antifa”—and the Nazis thrived in the chaos of that environment.”

“I’m profoundly skeptical, not only that violence is the “only” way to stop fascism in its larval stage, but even that it’s a good or effective one.”

Let’s not forget that profound deadly violence is what rescued the world from the scourge of fascism in the 20th century. It was also incredible violence that was responsible for emancipating slaves in the American Civil War without which the space for a non-violent struggle later by King and others would not have been possible.

While I too am skeptical that violence is the “only” answer proto-fascistic movements, I’m not nearly so skeptical that it is a necessary if not sufficient method. Remember, Weimar Germany also had quite a few people pleading for rational discussion and spreading moral messages as well and that *also* did not work. In the end, the only methods that did stop the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany were overwhelmingly violent.

Anyway, I’m not trying to argue for violence here. Rather, I’m only bringing up physical violence in juxtaposition with rational discourse. There are other alternative forms of “communication” besides these two.

What I’m really concerned with here is the limits – and potential *active harm* – in engaging in rational discourse with fascistic elements that have ZERO interest or use for good faith discussion. Where is the demarcation line? When should we stop engaging? When is it time to deny people the forum/privilege of good faith discussion? Should people publicly espousing fascist thought and ideas be engaged at all online or shutdown whenever possible?

In 2003, historian Robert Paxton defined fascism this way in The Anatomy of Facism:

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

I cannot honestly think of a more sobering definition given Trump’s MAGA movement and what we are seeing right now. Had the election been closer and Trump actually succeeded in overthrowing the results of a democratic majority I think we might all be waking up to physical violence rife throughout the country.

101. OhMyGoodness Says:

I have growing fear after reading the above comments that those intimately involved in the digital sciences are irretrievably damaging their minds/brains. In their case human consciousness is seemingly being replaced with simple logic gates (on/off, black/white) and external inputs are strictly unexamined. I fear their extended Tribe is evolving toward Saberhagen type Bezerkers hunting down organic minds. During their (de)evolution it will be the other Tribe that largely provides the ultimate protection to them from real fascism and ensures freedom from slavery-ironic.

It is a strange phenomenon that this very well protected Tribe constantly mistakes macro cyclic behavior for unchanging stead state and ongoing evolutionary processes as entering an unvarying end state. This may be a result of a super inflated sense of self as a fundamental feature of their cultural milieu.

102. Scott Says:

OhMyGoodness #101:

I fear their extended Tribe is evolving toward Saberhagen type Bezerkers hunting down organic minds.

Maybe I’d fear that too if I had the slightest idea what it meant! 🙂

103. Jelmer Renema Says:

@ Scott 53:

Yes, of course outward conformity to liberal norms is an excellent start, but the question is, is it enough? The point I was trying to make is regarding electoral process is similar to the one Matthew Green has so convincingly made regarding public debate: it is insufficient to focus on form, it’s outcomes that matter. Just as it’s entirely possible to have a debate that conforms to all the liberal rules but ends up promoting fascism, it’s entirely possible to have elections that conform to all rules of democracy in detail but end up producing a dictatorship.

In some sense you were lucky that the US divided neatly into angry shouty men with guns on the one hand and the rest of the population on the other hand, since in that case it’s easy to recognize your opponents for what they are. It would have been far scarier if the angry shouty men had managed to get some of civil society, the military and the state apparatus on their side, since then the coup might have actually succeeded.

The reason I brought up Hungary and Poland in this is that unlike Trump, they actually have executed the kind of ‘every step is legal but the result is despotism’ coup that Yarvin outlined (through packing courts, gerrymandering, clever use of supermajorities etc etc). And they use this democratic mandate as a very effective cover whenever their actions get challenged (for example by the EU).

This sort of coup is the kind that you should be worried about in the US if another Trump arises, because that is the kind that has a chance of succeeding – if recent experiences elsewhere are anything to go by. And I don’t see how you can argue against it on form only.

104. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #102

Fred Saberhagen wrote the Bezerker series. Massive AI controlled spacecraft from a machine civilization, with limited behaviors, had single minded purpose to hunt down and exterminate organic life. They had no sense of humor and extreme devotion to exterminating humans and never questioned their purpose. Their world was black and white.

105. Jelmer Renema Says:

@ Atreat 100: The equivalence of the Rotfront and the SA in destabilizing Weimar Germany is a just-so story from the Cold War that had the function of blaming the then present-day opponent for past woes. What is often forgotten (but not in Germany nowadays!) is that the nazis had the tacit support of the police, military and state, even before Hitler’s ascension to power. The picture that the state was a neutral actor brought down by these belligerents is wrong, the situation was much more that the state used the nazis as crudgel to break the communists. This pattern goes all the way back to the Spartakist uprising of 1919.

To take for example the famous riot in Altona of the 17rd of July 1932: the police used the opportunity of an SA march that turned violent to commit terror in a largely left-leaning, working-class neighborhood after an SA march turned violent. An investigation in 1992 (!) showed that there was no evidence for violence from the left, and that the dead who could be traced were victims of police brutality. See here https://taz.de/Erinnerung-an-den-Blutsonntag/!5520575/ .

Both-sides-ism is as pernicious in 1932 as it is now.

106. Scott Says:

OhMyGoodness #104: It’s true that I have no sense of humor and a merciless commitment to exterminating organic life … but to whatever extent the world has been emptied of comedy, I blame those who pushed reality beyond the range of parody.

107. OhMyGod Says:

Scott #106

I appreciate your clever humor when you comment on Trump supporters. They seem to serve as your comedic muse. I don’t agree with them as reasonable statements of fact but do appreciate the clever humor that comes from strongly held opinions.

Other comments here regarding Trump supporters tend to the ponderous and the single minded dedication to rooting out and destroying them reminds me of Bezerkers, not there yet of course but on that evolutionary path. The list of perjoratives applied to them is limited only by those imposed by the overall limits of the English language. I believe English is relatively rich in pejoratives relative to other languages so it must be frustrating to some that it is still finite in this respect.

108. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #106

A short story if okay-

I knew a guy from New York that went to college in Alabama. He knew a girl that asked him to attend a Sunday church service with her and family. He went to the service and the man next to him fell on the floor and began speaking nonsense. This guy was alarmed and began providing First Aid for a seizure while yelling for help. The girl calmed him and explained that the man was only speaking in tongues and assistance was not required.

I have a similar reaction reading some of these comments. If I didn’t understand the cultural context and realize there is a kind of group rapture that Progressives enjoy while communicating about Trump supporters then I would believe aid needed to be rendered for a neurological problem. I have to keep in mind that this is the Progressive’s group cohesion equivalent to speaking in tongues and not be alarmed.

109. OhMyGoodness Says:

Happy Thanksgiving by the way. Plymouth Rock wasn’t blasted into gravel by ANTFA yesterday so something additional to be thankful for this year.

110. Sandro Says:

atreat #100:

Let’s not forget that profound deadly violence is what rescued the world from the scourge of fascism in the 20th century.

Because the fascists started a war. You can sometimes answer violence with reasoned discourse that de-escalates, but not always.

It was also incredible violence that was responsible for emancipating slaves in the American Civil War without which the space for a non-violent struggle later by King and others would not have been possible.

Because the Confederates started attacks on Union forts and then tried to secede, once again acts of war for which there was no compromise.

In any case, anecdotes are not data. The link I provided was a data-driven analysis of social change driven by violent and non-violent means. That’s far more meaningful in general than a handful of cherry-picked examples where violence succeeded or was necessary.

In 2003, historian Robert Paxton defined fascism this way in The Anatomy of Facism:

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

I cannot honestly think of a more sobering definition given Trump’s MAGA movement and what we are seeing right now.

It’s ironic, because if you eliminate “nationalist” from that description, you might as well have been describing the far left. I’ve noted this before using Umberto Eco’s properties of fascism.

Trump clearly exhibits the following traits in Eco’s list: cult of action, fear of difference, frustrated middle class, obsession with a plot, disagreement is treason, contempt for the weak, machismo, selective populism, enemies are “at the same time too strong and too weak”.

Far left proponents also exhibit some traits on Eco’s list: rejection of modernism, cult of action, disagreement is treason, obsession with a plot, pacifism is trafficking with the enemy, newspeak, enemies are “at the same time too strong and too weak”.

It lends a little credence to horsehoe theory, where extreme variants of ideologies are closer to each other than to the mainstream.

111. atreat Says:

OhMyGoodness #108,

You don’t need to look at Democrats attacking Trump supporters. They do a good enough job of attacking each other over bogus conspiracy theories. Have a look: https://www.ajc.com/politics/what-counts-for-brad-raffensperger/AALHFQA3SRDONKVR2WEGHWGKDM/

“By Monday, Georgia’s two Republican U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — looking at Jan. 5 runoffs and not wanting to face the wrath of Trump — called for Raffensperger’s resignation for election “failures” that they did not detail.

And that’s when the death threats started.

“The very first one that we got was really a warning,” Tricia Raffensperger said. “Now it’s every sexual connotation. It’s horrific. Who am I for you to do that to? I’m just a regular person just like they are, and their wives and their daughters and their mothers. Would you say that to your mother?”

The latest round were sent from a dummy account meant to look like Raffensperger directly threatening his wife.

“It’s vulgar,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”

Even as he has had to have around-the-clock security and news of the attacks against him have been publicized, the response from the Republicans who aren’t attacking him has been silence.

Multiple requests for comment to Republican lawmakers who have supported him in the past were declined or not returned. “I’ll take a pass,” said one.”

Is this some kind of speaking in tongues too?

112. atreat Says:

Sandro #110,

Yeah, I actually looked at that researchers raw data and it is highly cherry-picked. Just look at the conflicts listed for World War II and see. There was nothing objective in the curation or analysis of that researcher from what I can tell.

“Because the fascists started a war.”

Yes, that is an inexorable consequence of fascism metastasizing.

“Because the Confederates started attacks on Union forts and then tried to secede…”, more cherry-picking. You forge John Brown skirmishes and then Harper’s Ferry?

As for the rest of your drawing false equivalences between the far left and fascism… I guess it speaks for itself. Scott?

113. Sandro Says:

atreat #112:

Yeah, I actually looked at that researchers raw data and it is highly cherry-picked. Just look at the conflicts listed for World War II and see. There was nothing objective in the curation or analysis of that researcher from what I can tell.

Her methodology is clearly spelled out, including the reasons for what conflicts should be included, and the NAVCO data set is actually a consensus of scholars in the field (footnote 35):

The NAVCO data set contains a sample of resistance campaigns based on consensus data of scholars of both violent and nonviolent conflict. Resistance campaigns include campaigns for domestic regime change, against foreign occupations, or for secession or self-determination. […] To gain inclusion into the NAVCO data set, the campaign must have a major and disruptive political objective, such as the ending of a current political regime, a foreign occupation, or secession.

Furthermore, her ongoing analysis is showing that the gap between the success of non-violent compared to violent resistance has increased from 2-fold to 3-fold in recent years.

So frankly, I see no reason to accept your claim. In fact, by her own admission, the author was motivated to prove the contrary but ended up changing her mind given the data.

Yes, that is an inexorable consequence of fascism metastasizing.

Great, we agree that violence is justifed when fascism metastizes, assuming de-escalating tactics would be ineffective, or sometimes even less effective assuming loss of life would be greater with non-violent resistance. Do you still think violence is justified prior to that point?

As for the rest of your drawing false equivalences between the far left and fascism…

A false equivalence should be simple to explain. Which properties I ascribed to the far left from Eco’s list are incorrect?

114. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

To my mind, saying that Trump is aiming at black votes is looking for shock value at least as much as truth. He’d try to throw out any votes against him, and it’s easier to go after concentrations of votes.

It’s atrocious to throw out quantities of votes, regardless of the probable race of the voter. I prefer an immoral behavior first framing so as to keep people’s minds focused on what should be prevented in general rather than a victim first framing– the latter is more likely to miss some bad behavior.

Admittedly, this is entangled with racism– black people mostly think that Trump isn’t on their side, and they have a point, though it’s interesting that Trump attracted a few more black voters this time around. So black people don’t vote for Trump and he wants to throw their votes out.

I’m seeing people who define racism so narrowly they talk as though it hardly exists and people who think everything is racism. I’m pretty sure that identifying racism takes detailed knowledge rather than general abstractions.

115. ultimaniacya Says:

Randall #2:

“The latest gaslighting that gets my goat is the canard that since Democrats never accepted Trump’s victory in 2016 that everything he is doing is somehow morally justified in 2020. Really?! What?! I’m pretty sure I was alive in 2016, pretty sure I’m alive now but cannot grasp what reality such a speaker with that opinion could possibly be living in. Yes, we did find substantial efforts on the part of Russia and Trump to *influence* that election–unfortunately the outcome was never disputed, however. That’s my recollection.”

Yes, exactly.

Eric Hoffer made a very insightful observation in The True Believer that one of the hallmarks of all hateful movements is that they distract from all their own wrongdoings by accusing the outgroup of having done the same first, regardless of whether they actually did or not. Trump and the alt-right have mastered using this tactic against the Democrats.

116. OhMyGoodness Says:

Sandro & atreat

In line with Sando’s horseshoe model let’s consider a typical citizen in a totalitarian state. He knows he may be subject to capricious action by the state or others with the support of the state and he knows that he cannot exercise free speech that the state finds objectionable. He understands that he lives in a system of men and not laws. True believers in his state will justify his plight by appeal to some ideological principle. Some states it may be anti communism and others anti fascism. There will be deep intellectual discussions in the media about the rightness of the state’s fight about whatever and PhD’s will be earned on this same topic. To him this is valueless rhetoric and he just knows he prefers the freedom to talk freely and to live his life without determination of minute details of his life by the state. All the same to him no matter the philosophical justifications by those in power be they on the right or left.

Let’s further consider there are just two groups pro Trump and anti Trump. Which of these groups generally acted in a totalitarian manner over the last few years. It is clear that only the anti Trump group engaged in extra legal actions to further their political interests (see Portland as an example). It is clear to that only the anti Trump group limited free speech to further political objectives. My conclusion is that the widespread actions of the anti Trump group were consistent with totalitarianism while the pro Trump forces were not. The justifications are provided by the true believers.

In the case of Georgia Raffensperger and Kemp supported Trump by their own words and yet have certified the election in defiance of Trump. Are Raffensperger and Kemp fascists in that they supported Trump?

Secretary of State in Georgia seems to be a thankless job in that the voting system is not that secure and so every losing candidate blames the Secretary of State for being corrupt and unethically influencing the election. Abrams made exactly the same charges after she lost the governor’s race.

Totalitarian states are unstable in the long term because too few people have power and too few people are true believers. There is always an immense difference between the rhetoric and the reality. Trump was elected for this very fact that the difference between the political rhetoric had become too great. I expect the gap to widen further under Biden. Ultimately stability requires a certain fairness in policies and when a sufficient percentage of the population feels they are being treated unfairly then instability will reign no matter the rhetoric and philosophical debates.

117. fred Says:

Barak #10

“There is a certain mindset that I think is shared between people who think the election was stolen, Bell inequality deniers, intelligent design believers, P=NP provers, climate deniers, COVID deniers, etc..
Part of it is lack of trust in experts.”

Conspiracy theories that deny plain data are one thing.
But keeping an open mind about mathematics/physics conjectures is quite another.
E.g. Gerard’t Hooft’s superdeterminism against Bell’s independence of choice assumption, Knuth’s intuition that P=NP, or Penrose’s QM collapse theory, … it’s all especially engaging and interesting and noteworthy because they’re experts.

118. Sandro Says:

OhMyGoodness #116:

It is clear that only the anti Trump group engaged in extra legal actions to further their political interests (see Portland as an example).

Trump also broke the law a number of times for political ends. There are plenty of articles detailing the laws he broke; I don’t agree with all of the items on this list, but some definitely count as extra legal action for political ends.

Then again, I believe nearly every president has enacted unconstitutional orders that have later been struck down, so where you draw that line isn’t cut and dry. Trying hard to expand executive power just seems to be one of those things that presidents do.

119. Scott Says:

fred #117:

E.g. Gerard’t Hooft’s superdeterminism against Bell’s independence of choice assumption, Knuth’s intuition that P=NP, or Penrose’s QM collapse theory, … it’s all especially engaging and interesting and noteworthy because they’re experts.

What’s funny is that, to my mind, all three of those are clear cases of brilliant thinkers who earned the right to indulge in flights of fancy, using what they earned. 🙂 Certainly, there are many examples where an individual went up against a consensus and was later vindicated by events, but none of these three are such!

120. OhMyGoodness Says:

Sandro

I was purposefully careful to specify Trump supporters intending to make a distinction between Trump himself and those members of the electorate that preferred Trump to Biden.

121. Vincent Waters Says:

You missed the point of the Yarvin quote. The argument is that in order to fabricate votes, you need to associate the associate a fraudulent ballot with a real person who didn’t vote. Yarvin’s point is that in most cases, the fabricated Biden ballot is fraudulently associated with a real person who, in say 95% of cases, would say they prefer Biden if you asked them. So, Yarvin argues, 1) The person is real, 2) They really prefer Biden, but 3) They didn’t actually vote.

Do you see what Trump is currently doing? He’s holding out of court ‘hearings’ trying to convince state legislators to decertify the vote. He’s had one in PA and he’s having one in AZ right now. Whether it’s true or not is one question.

But it’s very clear there will be a lot of Trump supporters seeing that and believing truly that this election was rigged, that the US is no longer a democracy and that their vote doesn’t count.

And these people are known to be gun freaks. I think a civil war would be a very real possibility if Trump’s efforts would fail and he would lose. There’s millions of people with guns who believe Joe Biden has illegally won the election and these guys might decide to storm Washington or something like that to reverse it, even if Trump concedes and leave the White House. It’s clear after all these things there’s no way he’d tell his supporters this was free and fair.

123. Scott Says:

Vincent Waters #121: He failed to make it clear that that’s what he meant. If it is what he meant, though, then I’d say he’s flatly wrong, because it would be very easy to find examples if such a thing had happened at any significant scale, and the Trumpists mounted an all-out hunt for examples over the last month, and they came up with bupkis.

124. Vincent Waters Says:

Scott #123: Matt Braynard claims to have done this experiment: https://twitter.com/MattBraynard/status/1329477772822065152
_____________

Infrequent voters in precincts with high turnout. State says they voted early/abs, but told us they did not cast a ballot:

State/Counts/% of Sample

AZ / 21 / 0.94%
GA / 24 / 0.85%
MI / 18 / 2.80%
NV / 25 / 2.22%
PA / 22 / 0.70%
WI / 23 / 0.66%

Note: We have audio recordings of all of these calls. We are following up to get declarations/affidavits signed.
_____________

It is not immediately obvious how to interpret these results. Maybe 1% forgot or are lying? Maybe they were all Trump voters who lied to support the fraud narrative? Maybe there were other problems with the methodology? What’s the base rate for this question in a state they believe did not have fraud, such as Florida?

Nevertheless, it’s basically the experiment you asked for: many examples of people who are marked as having voted yet claimed they did not vote, at a significant scale if extrapolated across the state, perhaps even sufficient to reverse the results. It is not “bupkis.”

125. fred Says:

I guess this is obvious (?), but it’s clear that one huge problem with the electoral college type of election (vs popular vote) is that the people living in non-swing states are very well aware that their vote matters less, and people living in swing states are very well aware that their vote matters more… and this is creating a situation of “phase transition instability” in swing states.

126. atreat Says:

Second example of high profile Trump surrogate calling for lethal violence on those deemed enemies of Trump. This is proto-facism folks: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/fired-cybersecurity-chief-hints-legal-action-after-trump-campaign-lawyer-n1249505

127. atreat Says:

Vincent Waters #124,

Attorney General William Barr who has the full power of the federal investigative apparatus at his disposal says he’s investigated the claims of wide scale voter fraud and found exactly bupkis. You are being played for a fool by Trump.

128. Scott Says:

atreat #127: And not just any attorney general, but 98% Trump’s toady! It’s the remaining 2% that’s contradicted his boss’s fraud claim.

129. Sniffnoy Says:

Sorry, jumping in here without reading the rest of the comments (been on a bit of a commenting break), but I want to echo the others who say that no, the proper term for this is “gaslighting”. I think the aspect of “gaslighting is one person abusing someone who trusts them”, which is not what’s going on here, has already been mentioned.

But there is I think a bigger more important difference: The purpose of the lies you describe is not to get the recipients to doubt their sanity, it is to get them to actually believe those lies. That is to say, the content of the lies is important; this is indeed truly lying, not bullshitting. Any sanity-doubting that may result is purely incidental. By contrast, in gaslighting, the purpose is the sanity-doubting; the actual content of the lies is unimportant.

I think the actual proper term for this would be the technique of the “big lie” — where you rely on audacity (together with confidence and repetition) to make a lie seem believable, because nobody would make up all that, would they?

130. Sniffnoy Says:

Oops! Obviously my comment #129 should say, “the proper term for this is not ‘gaslighting’.”

131. Sniffnoy Says:

Oops, yup, I see now that some previous commenters had indeed made the same point as me, in particular Justin #18 and S #23…

132. Sniffnoy Says:

Quick comments since I’m jumping in late:

Jelmer Renema #49:

You know I’m going to say this, but… the problem is that to make liberal democracy less hackable by authoritarians, you have to fill the holes with, well, something less hackable by authoritarians; whereas shouting-down-of-dissenters-and-etc is far more so!

[OK, OK, the reality is more complicated than that, and obviously you do need a little of it, but I’m not actually up for arguing much right now so I just wanted to note that important reason why you do have to keep it seriously limited. You maybe don’t disagree with this, IDK, I just wanted to note that.]

atreat #100:

I think it’s worth noting here that “nonviolence” just refers to anything that’s not violent, not to a specific thing, and that there are many things that are not violence that one can do. It seems to me that a lot of people somehow think that “nonviolence” is one single thing, and attempt to judge the effectiveness of “nonviolence”, which like… which nonviolent thing are you talking about? There’s any number of them! (And for some of them the nonviolence part may be nonessential, even.)

[…and I think I’ll just stay out of the rest of this…]

133. peak.singularity Says:

@ Scott #95, atreat #100, Jelmer Renema #103, Jelmer Renema #105, Sandro #110, OhMyGoodness #116 :

We have to be careful in comparing today’s USA Antifa with Weimar’s Antifa :
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifaschistische_Aktion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifa_(United_States)#History

Before Weimar’s Antifa was created in 1932, the KPD followed the Stalinist line that the ruling SocialDemocrats were the real fascists (this policy was still followed after 1932, facilitating Hitler’s rise to power). They even united with the Nazis at some points against the ruling SPD.
The Antifa’s creation was a reaction to first the Nazi (& their allies) Harzburg Front (not sure how paramilitary those were taken together ?), recognizing Nazis as a real threat, but especially a reaction to the SPD’s paramilitary Iron Front.

On the contrary, I’m not aware of USA’s proto-Antifas ever allying themselves with white supremacists / Trumpists against liberals during the Obama years.
In fact USA’s Antifa seem to have been specifically created as an anti-white supremacist party ?
Of course, AFAIK in recent decades there were no liberal paramilitary movements in the USA (no, cops don’t count). I guess because in today’s USA the police and the state is overall much stronger than in Weimar Germany? (But for how long? see Moldbug…)
Antifa is also not piloted by a strong Communist foreign state.

But this also shows how “punching Nazis” might become very counter-productive, after all it’s after several German cities had devolved to combat zones between Nazis and disunited Communist paramilitaries that Hitler has convinced the middle class that he would be able to restore order !

Another note : I’m not sure who between NSDAP and SPD was more to the left, but I’d expect that if a similar situation were to happen in the USA : say Antifa/Sanders/AOC splitting from Democrats to form the “Socialist” party, and Trumpists/white supremacists splitting from Republicans to form a “Fascist” party, then I would expect the “Fascists” to be more to the left than the remaining “Liberals”. (For instance, an anti-immigration policy is a typical leftist stance, see the First International as an example…)

134. atreat Says:

Sniffoy #132,

The conversation unfortunately veered into territory I’m not too interested in. The violence/non-violence debate can be left elsewhere for all I care. I only brought it up as a clear contrast with what I’m actually interested in… Namely, the thesis that engaging in rational discourse with proto-fascism is actively harmful rather than just ineffective.

This site being both affiliated with the rational community and also decidedly anti-fascist I thought this a challenging thesis. In my ideal world, only after concluding that the thesis is true would a conversation about what to do about it ensue. FWIW, I am definitely leaning towards believing the thesis true.

135. Scott Says:

atreat #134: Your thesis that it’s actively harmful to engage in rational discourse with “proto-fascism” strikes me as reasonable … until I remember all the people who think that Scott Alexander is a proto-fascist, Steven Pinker is a proto-fascist, I’m a proto-fascist!

This is the fundamental difficulty: what experience has shown to be the near-infinite temptation to expand concepts, until anything anyone disagrees with stands condemned.

Ban “hate speech,” and after 2 seconds someone says “what about Huck Finn, with the n-word on almost every page?” Ban dialogue with “proto-fascists,” and after 3 seconds someone says: “What about proto-proto-proto-fascists? What about Hannah Arendt, who had an affair with and defended the fascist Heidegger?” If we took woke Twitter as our arbiter, most of the people who fought and defeated fascism in WWII would probably count as proto-fascists today.

I don’t claim to have an easy answer to this difficulty. I’ll simply observe this: by demanding that we disregard the clear, rechecked and litigated, result of a democratic election; that we do so in order to maintain in power a strongman whose entire shtick is open contempt for all the norms of liberal democracy; that we throw away millions of votes (coincidentally cast by city-dwellers and racial minorities) on the basis of what’s struck everyone outside their cult as frothy-mouthed conspiracy theories—the Trump cultists have made the “proto-fascist or not?” decision an easy one in this instance!

136. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #135

If you accept that stupid rhetoric as a proxy for some type of proto-sinister then you certainly have a problem with Biden. A contest of Who Says He Says with the fertile statement record provided by Biden is not a fair contest.

If you accept that the adage “Blame them for what you are doing and deny, deny, deny” is a traditional tactic for the far left (no matter the icon on the left receives attribution) then you have to consider that this constant claim of proto fascism from the US left is an indication that the US left is in fact proto fascist.

As follow up to your statements about WW2 I have no doubt that if Israel asked for volunteer individual military assistance an overwhelming majority of volunteers would be from those that voted for Trump. The claim that Trump supporters are proto fascist is absurd unless considered in the cultural context of the current ideologically driven US left.

137. atreat Says:

Scott #135,

Well, whether you can adequately define ‘proto-fascist’ in a practical manner is a separate question from whether rational discourse with them is merely ineffective or rather actively harmful. The former is an interesting conversation in its own right, but first that I’d like to see if we can broaden the thesis of the latter!

What if it were true that engaging in any good faith rational discourse with parties that do not operate in good faith and employ bad faith techniques of knowingly lying, cheating, propaganda, gaslighting, ad hominem, distraction, etc., etc … what if it were true that engaging with such parties not only actively harms the psyche and spirit of the good faith person doing so… but that it also causes active harm in the public sphere to the causes and values they hold dear?

Before this is dismissed this as banal observation… i.e., we’ve known for a long time that one shouldn’t feed trolls on the internet; that the best thing one can do in a toxic gaslighting relationship is to get out; that propagandists should be ignored… I want to emphasize that I want to focus not on the harm done to an individual, but rather the harm done to the collective good. I’d say thinking about the harm done to the collective good makes me wonder whether there is a moral responsibility here that I had not considered. Is there a moral responsibility that flows from an individual interlocutor has choosing to engage in rational discussion with a bad faith actor and the consequences thereof? A moral culpability for the harm that could befall the values/causes the interlocutor holds dear?

Most of us who hold enlightenment values think of rational discussion as an unalloyed good. That the marketplace of ideas should have more or less laissez faire rules. The internet and comment sections are usually treated like the wild west with the moderation rules left up to the proclivities/energy of the site operator and we don’t usually think of moderation rules as having a moral question. Mostly we agree the heavy hand of government is an inappropraite tool to regulate this, but we don’t like to think of ourselves as potentially morally culpable for engaging with trolls or bad faith actors or giving them platforms do we?. We look back to rational discussion as a more or less unalloyed good even though both history and modern day culture are showing how easily this can be exploited to disastrous consequences. We want to believe that at least on balance rational discourse is virtuous and so the more opportunity to engage in it the better, right?

God knows I’ve been lured into tons of unproductive conversations with bad faith actors. I usually look back on these episodes as a complete failure on my part to care for my own psyche and energy levels. To not have seen through their disguises. I used to think that these conversations were utterly useless or ineffective at worst. However, recently I’ve begun to consider that this most probably drastically undersells the deleterious nature of these engagements. And that I might have a moral responsibility not to give them energy.

I often think back to Lubos.

138. Jelmer Renema Says:

@Scott 135: If we took woke Twitter as our arbiter, most of the people who fought and defeated fascism in WWII would probably count as proto-fascists today.

I’m genuinely surprised that this bothers you. Suppose some historian dug up evidence somewhere that the US would ‘count as proto-fascist’ back then, what would it matter? What would change now? Since it’s all interpretation we’re talking about, the answer is: nothing.

And more broadly: isn’t this what, you know, the track record of progress looks like? That better (but not perfect) defeats worse, and that we eventually realize there were things to improve about the better side as well, so that if you go back far enough, everyone just seems different shades of terrible (albeit in this case vastly different shades of terrible)? I mean, the US army did fight WW2 segregated, not to speak of everything that was wrong with the Soviets (who did most of the fighting and defeating fascism anyway).

139. Jelmer Renema Says:

@peak.singularity: you bring up the excellent point that everyone in Weimar Germany had a paramilitary branch, including the conservatives and the liberals.

And again: the tale of violence between far left and far right leading to the rise of hitler is ahistorical and meant for postwar consumption.

The Weimar republic went through three phases: a turbulent phase from 1919-1923, in which there was political violence (from right and left), but in which the nazis were mostly a marginal force.

Then there was a relative period of stability from 1923-1929, ending with the great depression, deflation (not hyperinflation as is commonly believed, that was in the first phase) and an 19% turnout for the nazis in the 1930 election, with most of the votes coming from the more conventional conservative parties.

At that point, Hitler, being the leader of the second largest party in parliament became kingmaker among the various authoritarian factions. As a concession, he was able to get the ban on the SA lifted, and that is when the third period (1930-1933) of political violence between communists and fascists begins (perhaps it would be better to say: between fascists and everyone else).

It is very important that this period of political violence happened after Hitler became an established figure in politics, and after he’d made alliances with the conservative authoritarians. It was these authoritarians (von Papen and Hindenburg) who ended up handing Hitler power (which they could have chosen not to do), after they themselves significantly weakened the democratic framework by ruling by decree. Examining the sequence of events, the street fighting is a consequence and not a cause of the collapse of Weimar.

140. Scott Says:

Jelmer Renema #138:

I’m genuinely surprised that this bothers you. Suppose some historian dug up evidence somewhere that the US would ‘count as proto-fascist’ back then, what would it matter? What would change now? … And more broadly: isn’t this what, you know, the track record of progress looks like?

I think I can put my finger precisely on why it bothers me. If today we need to take down or deface statues, not of Jefferson Davis or of Hitler, but of Lincoln and Churchill, the implication seems to be that there’s no moral hope for the rest of us. Like, do you genuinely believe that, if transplanted to mid-19th-century Illinois, knowing only what people knew then, you would’ve acquitted yourself better in the judgment of history than Abraham Lincoln did? I don’t.

If we can’t look back and say that, for all his flaws, Honest Abe did rather well with what he was given, then certainly no one in the future could ever say that about me. But if I stand condemned by posterity no matter what I do, then why even get up in the morning?

Now, it would be one thing if the claim was that we’re all fallen, we’re all hopeless sinners, none of us could possibly measure up against the truer morality of the 22nd century, just like that morality won’t be able to measure up against the 23rd‘s. But it’s worse than that: by condemning Lincoln and Darwin and Hume and Mill even while they spare themselves and their friends, the woke make the implicit claim that they, and they alone, have risen above the moral judgment of history. That, were Lincoln and Darwin and the others brought back from the dead, they should sit at the feet of some random Twitter activists and learn about moral courage from them, rather than vice versa. That’s what rankles me more than anything else.

141. Jelmer Renema Says:

@ Scott 140: but then my question is: how can you reconcile any of that with a belief in progress? It seems to me that if you say we’d have something to learn from Lincoln, that must imply that society has not advanced much all that time.

Let’s make the comparison with scientific progress. To me, your question “You claim your moral framework is superior to Lincoln’s. Do you think you could out-Lincoln Lincoln in the 1860s?” is entirely isomorphic to the question “You claim to know more physics than Netwon. Well, do you think you could have invented calculus if we transported you back to the 1660s?”

Both are questions that miss the point, because hindsight is an esssential point of progress. We measure scientific progress by the fact that (lucky for us!) you don’t have to have a mind like Newton to understand calculus, just like we measure moral progress by the fact that you don’t have to have a mind like Lincoln to understand that slavery is wrong. I genuinely don’t see what’s objectionable about that, I think it’s something to be celebrated.

So yeah, just like if Newton showed up in my office tomorrow, it’d recommend him to take a freshman physics class, without that recommendation implying that the person teaching that class is a better physicist than Newton, similarly if Lincoln showed up tomorrow I’d recommend him to go talk to some current-day social activists, again without that carrying the implication that those activists were more skilled at making social progress happen than Lincoln was. And just like in the case of Newton, whose skill would imply that he’d be back at the forefront of human knowledge pretty quickly, similarly I’d expect Lincoln to catch up on moral progress pretty quickly too.

As for the statues, obviously (I think we agree on this) those measure relative progress and not the absolute end-point that that individual ended up at. So just as it’d be nonsensical to remove statues of newton because he ‘only’ invented calculus and classical mechanics, which millions of people know, it’d be nonsensical to remove status of lincoln because he ‘only’ got to the realization that slavery was wrong, which is now also shared by millions. That said, it is the job of the current generation to criticize the previous (again, otherwise how does progress happen), so judgements can change, as has been happening with Churchill.

142. Jelmer Renema Says:

@ Sniffnoy #129:

I actually agree with Scott here that the point of these lies is to have the listener doubt their own sanity (whether gaslighting is then the correct term to describe that is another matter). I think this is another example of how authoritarians have refined their methods compared to the 20th century: why bother censoring the press if you can just destroy the idea of journalistic fact-finding in the first place?

143. OhMyGoodness Says:

“ the Soviets (who did most of the fighting and defeating fascism anyway).”

The Non Agression Pact was abrogated in June 1941. Stalin, Krushchev, and Zhukov all specifically acknowledged that without US Lend Lease support they would not have been able to successfully defend against the German offensives deep into Russian territory. It did take a huge toll of Russian lives to survive the offensives before they were able mount their own ending with the massive offensive in 1944.

The US landed at the most murderous of the Normandy beaches and conducted the near suicidal daylight bombing of Germany.

I think US efforts against fascism in North Africa, Italy, and the rest of Europe deserve more than a footnote to Russian efforts.

Not especially pertinent to the above-There are a couple books I have read with eye witness accounts by Germans that were present at Normandy. They wrote that they were terrified when they saw that the US forces were completely mechanised-not a horse to be seen. Later the use of phosphorous bombs against German bunkers left them completely demoralised by the prospect of dying the horrible death that phosphorous munitions provide.

144. Scott Says:

Jelmer Renema #141: I’m thrilled that you and I are finally having a conversation about what I see as the real underlying questions!

To show where my thinking departs from yours, let me take your example and run with it. If Newton showed up in my office, the very first thing I’d want to do is learn from him. I’d need to study the Principia and his other works, and talk to science historians, to come up with an informed list of questions about what he was thinking and how he arrived at his insights. Only then, one by one, I’d want to walk him through electrodynamics, thermodynamics, special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics (“what if I told you that…”), and for that matter CS and chaos theory and every other recent thing I could think of, not to lord it all over him but to find out how he reacts to it. I would not tell Newton to come back to me only after taking a freshman physics class. I expect that Witten, Weinberg, and Susskind would fight for the privilege of giving him private lessons if he wanted them. 🙂

And I’d say precisely analogous things if Plato or Lincoln or Hume walked into a 2020 moral philosophy or political science seminar.

Yes, there’s been progress since their time … and that’s precisely why one wants to know what the greatest minds and greatest leaders who history produced think of the progress! Which aspects of the progress most shock them? Which aspects are more-or-less along the lines they expected, or hoped?

145. atreat Says:

Scott #144,

“I’m thrilled that you and I are finally having a conversation about what I see as the real underlying questions!”

What are those underlying questions? You’d both show immense respect for Newton and Lincoln. You’d both be eager to see what they could bring to bear on current problems. You’d both bring them up to speed on advancements; acknowledging that current state of the art is far beyond what it was then. It seems the only difference you have regard ordering and emphasis.

146. Scott Says:

atreat #145: Unless I missed it, up to this point Jelmer hasn’t acknowledged that Newton or Lincoln might have anything interesting to say about current problems. He did say that he didn’t understand why it should bother anyone if most of the people who confronted and defeated fascism in the 20th century are now denounced as reprehensible “proto-fascists” themselves. To me, that comment reflected a lack of humility about the amount of courage and brilliance needed to drag the human race to where it is … which might lead to the false conclusion that similar courage and brilliance aren’t needed today, but merely agreement with the right slogans on Twitter! He’s welcome to clarify though.

147. atreat Says:

Scott #146,

I think most people would be fascinated to hear what a properly updated Lincoln or Newton would have to say about today’s problems. It’s possible they’d have nothing to add, but I doubt many would bet so. Let’s see if Jelmer Renema disagrees.

“…why it should bother anyone if most of the people who confronted and defeated fascism in the 20th century are now denounced as reprehensible “proto-fascists” themselves.”

The moral universe is big and humans are complex. Tons of people we acclaim for legitimate historical accomplishments nevertheless committed actions or held beliefs that today would put them in prison or we think of as morally reprehensible. Some of them committed war crimes. What should concern us is the actual truth of the matter, not how acknowledging the truth makes us feel.

“Did they do/say/think morally reprehensible things?” rather than, “My goodness, if even these heroes did morally reprehensible things, then I’d rather define away ‘morally reprehensible’ than acknowledge the complexity.”

The people who defeated Nazi Germany were not unreservedly perfect moral people. We are not obliged to regard them as such just because they undertook extreme personal sacrifice to defeat the Nazis. Importantly, the converse is also true. Just because they were immoral in other areas does not mean we are obliged to overlook their very real heroism that collectively saved the world.

148. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #146

No matter how great the contribution anyone who stated, “If I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants” would require substantial re education to be accepted by most post modern university faculties.

149. peak.singularity Says:

It might not be straight on topic, but I’d would like to remark that in the brought up instances where “the good guys won” (is this a tautology?)(Was Stalin a good guy?) it was most likely to come from the good guy’s superior might, morals being only incidental (or a consequence of their opponent’s weakness) :
– in the American Civil War the North won because it more readily adopted the fossil-fuel powered machinery than the slave-owning South (which itself comes from the South having a much more hospitable geography/climate to African slave powered plantations than the North).
– in WW2 Germany (and IIRC Japan?) started the war because they were lacking oil – which they failed to get, and in large part because of this they lost the war.

150. OhMyGoodness Says:

In line with this discussion it is ironic that the current holder of the Lucasian chair has an interest in the rheology of non-Newtonian fluids.

151. Jelmer Renema Says:

@Scott 146: I agree with Atreat that we really don’t think very differently about this hypothetical, and that the things we differ on are either differences in emphasis or differences that are so deep in the hypothetical that they aren’t really illuminating in any way.

And for what it’s worth, I did say that I’d expect Newton to be at the forefront of human knowledge, by which I meant doing useful research, although that might not have been 100% clear. So let me say it unequivocally: yes, of course, if newton walked into my office and after we’d have taught him modern physics (never mind the details of how for the moment) I’d expect him to do quite well at research afterwards. I really don’t understand how you could expect me to say otherwise…

What I don’t understand though is how that has any bearing on the previous discussion about WW2 and Lincoln. In that discussion, you keep conflating the ability to push X forward (where X is morals or science) with living in a society where others have pushed X forward. The former is one individual’s contribution, the latter is the sum of all contributions of everyone who came before.

These two things matter for different questions: when we choose who to celebrate, we generally look at the former; the fact that many advances came afterwards doesn’t diminish one individual’s achievement. We don’t think any less of Newton because physics marched on after him, just like we don’t think less of Lincoln because there was substantial moral progress after him.

It becomes different when we look at society as a whole: then it’s the aggregate progress that matters. And when discussing that, it’s entirely legitimate to look back and find fault, even with people who should be celebrated because of their own contributions. As Atreat pointed out: you can celebrate flawed heroes.

So when you say that i am insufficiently humble about the contribution of the people who fought fascism by pointing out that they themselves had some pretty terrible ideas, my response is that you’re confusing contributions and aggregate. Yes, they helped the moral arc of the universe along (by quite a bit!), but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have further to go. I really don’t understand why this is such an objectionable statement.

Let me phrase it differently:
-> Do I admire Newton? Yes (individual contribution)

-> Would I want to do physics with the tools Newton had? No! (aggregate)

-> Do I admire Lincoln? Yes (individual contribution)

-> Would I want to live in Lincoln’s America? No! (aggregate)

ps: apologies for writing a long post, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one

152. Jelmer Renema Says:

@Peak.singularity 149: this is genuinely a very deep problem. Why does it seem that if we look back, the good guys almost always win?

I believe a guy called Hegel had something to say about that…

153. marxbro Says:

“Your thesis that it’s actively harmful to engage in rational discourse with “proto-fascism” strikes me as reasonable … until I remember all the people who think that Scott Alexander is a proto-fascist, Steven Pinker is a proto-fascist, I’m a proto-fascist!”

Where has anyone called you a “proto-fascist”?

The main criticisms of Scott Alexander seems to be that he writes long pieces about subjects (such as political theory) that he hasn’t really studied in-depth and therefore makes many mistakes. I made one such criticism here:

154. peak.singularity Says:

Well, didn’t Hegel also conclude that his own Prussian Constitutional Monarchy was the “end of history” ?
https://existentialcomics.com/comic/348
(Though I guess one could separate these two claims…)

Honestly, I don’t buy the concept of historical teleology, it smells too much of a bias rooted in our Christian roots, and when Marx used it to make predictions, it didn’t exactly go well…

Of course there’s the theory of the “Self-Organizing Universe” :
http://www.francois-roddier.fr/blog_en/?p=45

But note that this is a theory that works on geological scales, and that it’s also characterized by cycles, rather than an uninterrupted progress.
And from my point of view we’re now in a “downward” point of the cycle, the results of which are likely to come as a shock to people too used to the idea that progress is “automatic” (and that therefore one doesn’t have to struggle too much, since it will happen anyway? – is this the self-defeating prophecy that causes the cycles ?). And I don’t even have to make it as a prediction any more, just look at the 2016 elections…

Also remember that the Roman Empire didn’t directly transition to the Renaissance…

But my biggest fear is that we blew our chance with the stock of fossil fuels that we had – it isn’t going to “grow” back, and we aren’t executing a potential transition to renewables fast enough. (Not to mention that we are also starting to get hit by serious pollution issues – especially climate change.)
Who ever gave us the guarantee that WE, humans, were going to inherit the galaxies, and not some other alien species ? (That Christian teleology again ?)

155. Jelmer Renema Says:

@ peak.singularity 154: My reference to Hegel was a joke, precisely because he was one of the first people to ask the question by which mechanism things generally got better, but also he infamously drew the awful conclusion from that that his present situation must be perfect – precisely what Scott claimed I was doing. It was more or less to say: jeesh, we passed this point the discussion a good 200 years ago!

156. peak.singularity Says:

157. Roger A Grimes Says:

Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing. I see many Trump supporters and conspiracists like a religion…and I think that separates them from us. I don’t mean religion in the traditional sense and I don’t like to cavalierly equate them with a cult. I mean it from a point-of-view from one of science versus religion. I believe and have faith in science…even in things I cannot see (like atoms and quantum mechanics), but not in religion and gods. So, why do I have faith in science and not religion? Well, because science exists to be disproven. If you come up with better, repeatable facts, you can overturn previously held scientific dogma. In fact, it’s literally designed to do that and does it all the time. Religion on the other hand, will not be disproven no matter what additional, better facts, you provide. A large percentage of Trump supporters are the same way. Regardless of the facts you provide, they and their side are right and the rest is fake news and fake facts, even if reported by their own side and supporters. I believe our side would change our mind, even if regrettably and begrudgingly, if better facts emerged. If Trump somehow actually presented good facts that the election was indeed stolen from him…we’d hate it, but the majority of us would believe (if the evidence was good). That’s the difference. That’s why we aren’t gaslighting on our side. We are movable. They aren’t. Science vs. religion.

158. Sniffnoy Says:

Returning a bit late here, but…

I feel like it’s worth noting here that not all bad things are the same bad thing? Not everything bad is proto-fascism; that’s a specific thing. Past people who were not proto-fascists, are not proto-fascists; I don’t think any standards should have changed there. We can judge people from the past harshly in ways other than whether they may have been proto-fascists… e.g., I’m pretty doubtful one can meaningfully call Lincoln a proto-fascist?

(Although, I expect many allied soldiers in WWII may well have been proto-fascists of a sort; it just doesn’t particularly matter, as Jelmer Renema points out!)

atreat #137:

I feel like this whole conversation is a bit ill-defined because like — what exactly do you mean by “rational discussion”? Ideas of what reasonable discussion consists of are so varied that it’s hard to get an idea what you’re talking about. From your final remarks I’m guessing this includes assuming good faith well past the point where it’s warranted (which is the opposite of the mistake most people make)? Although honestly in my experience (as long as you don’t get into arguments with politicians, people on TV, or 4channers and the like) there aren’t a lot of bad-faith arguers on the internet, just a lot of what might roughly be called crazy people. I think people often don’t realize just how bad human thinking can be and conclude that because a person is being inconsistent that they’re arguing in bad faith, rather than that they’re just compartmentalized. Oy, I’ve seen way too many people call arguments “disingenuous” simply because they disagree with them… (I mean, they didn’t put it like that obviously, but “your argument is disingenuous because it doesn’t account for X” is essentially equivalent to that. Just make the damn counterargument, without accusing the other arguer of bad faith!)

I also think people overestimate the difficulty of dealing with bad-faith arguers, because, basically, any bad argument a bad-faith arguer makes as a ploy, someone else will make in earnest! So if you learn how to deal with these mistakes then you can apply them without particularly worrying about whether they’re acting in good faith or not. I think a lot of people just don’t know how to deal with claims that could have multiple possible interpretations that may be conflated or that the arguer might equivocate between. But this can be done! It just requires, you know, pointing out the multiple interpretations, noting that they are in fact distinct, asking which is meant, and then holding the other person to it, calling them out if they use the other interpretation later (implicitly or explicitly).

I guess basically I really just think most people on the internet are really bad at arguing, could be the summary here, I guess. 😛

(Also, tangential, but IMO the best way to deal with neo-Nazis on the street in the US is a good old-fashioned pieing when possible! 🙂 Especially because it’s a tactic that isn’t equally effective against any target, but rather works better against certain types of people…)

159. A. Karhukainen Says:

As what comes to Moldbug’s “theorem” about elections being just a proxy for a civil war, it is not very original idea, as it is an old quip from J. B. S. Haldane. Maybe you can find it in some of his early essays here:
https://jbshaldane.org/

160. ultimaniacy Says:

Randall #2:

“The latest gaslighting that gets my goat is the canard that since Democrats never accepted Trump’s victory in 2016 that everything he is doing is somehow morally justified in 2020. Really?! What?! I’m pretty sure I was alive in 2016, pretty sure I’m alive now but cannot grasp what reality such a speaker with that opinion could possibly be living in. Yes, we did find substantial efforts on the part of Russia and Trump to *influence* that election–unfortunately the outcome was never disputed, however. That’s my recollection.”

You are correct.

Eric Hoffer makes an observation in *The True Believer* that I think is helpful for understanding the so-called “conservative” movement, not only in its Trumpist form but also in its older Reaganist/Bushist form. He notes that whenever the leaders of a hateful movement describes the crimes his enemies are allegedly guilty of, he/she is really describing things he/she either has done, is doing, or intends to do in future. For example, Hitler accused the Jews of plotting global domination, subverting people’s morals in favour of a doctrine where might makes right, taking control of the press and forcing it to print propaganda, etc. while it was actually his own regime that was doing all these things. Likewise, Stalin accused American capitalists of cruelly exploiting workers, creating intolerable levels of social inequality, etc. when these charges were far more applicable to his own government.

We are seeing the same thing now with the Trump movement. Hillary Clinton, and the Democrats more generally, have become a Hated Enemy onto which they can project all the wrongdoings of their own movement. They see Trump make baseless claims of voter fraud, they figure the Democrats MUST have done it first somehow.

Similarly, George W. Bush ran in 2000 as an isolationist who would reject unilateral military engagements and attempts at nation-building. Of course we all know how that turned out. So naturally, when he ran again in 2004, the Republicans decided the way for him to win was by accusing John Kerry of… being too inconsistent in his policy positions. In reality, nearly all of Kerry’s alleged “flip-flops”, at least on foreign policy issues, were actually cases where he had taken a nuanced stance and stuck to it consistently while Bush pretended not to understand him. But even if all of them had been legitimate inconsistencies, the fact that Bush was able to get away with calling anyone else inconsistent after completely, blatantly reversing his entire philosophy of foreign policy shows just how large a role projection and willful ignorance play in the Republican mindset.

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Note added November 11, 2020 / revised November 16, 2020: No longer having time for this, I'll no longer be publishing comments supportive of the ongoing coup d'état against the President-Elect of the United States, except in the unlikely case that they contain an argument I hadn't seen before.