Tag Archives: Scott Alexander

Guided by the ‘correctness’ of our opinions

Scott’s article GUIDED BY THE BEAUTY OF OUR WEAPONS is going viral.

He writes:

Yet I have the opposite impression. Somehow a sharply polarized country went through a historically divisive election with essentially no debate taking place.

As shown below, going as far back as 100 years, with the exception of FDR (everyone was united in support of the war effort) and Reagan (an exceptionally talented and inspiring candidate who beat some exceptionally uninspiring opponents), the electorate has pretty much always been evenly divided, give or take 10%:

Anyone in the 90′s who listened to Rush Limbaugh or Fox News knows that politics was as divided then as it is now. In 1993 it was ‘Hillarycare’; now it’s ‘Trumpcare’. It only seems more divisive now because social media puts a megaphone to everything.

What about debate and facts? There is probably a deeper philosophical implication in his post, but it doesn’t matter. People will believe what they want to believe. Some, probably only the minority, are motivated by facts and logic [1]; most are motivated by emotion, signaling, beliefs (idealism and rationalism) and tribalism. People vote red/blue because that’s what they are accustomed to doing, habituated and instilled by parents and peers. We rationalize why the other side is ‘bad’ and why our side is ‘good’. To quote Scott Adams, we create ‘mental movies’ where we’re the star and the script is a recitation of our preexisting beliefs. Not to sound too holier than thou, that’s fine, if you truly believe your opinion is the ‘correct one’, and preferably if you have some empirical evidence and reason to support it.

But with the exception of the hard sciences, it’s nearly impossible to have a ‘correct’ opinion, or even a ‘correct’ fact. This is especially problematic in the social sciences, such as economics, as well as climate science and measuring the efficacy of gun control laws. For example, I can have an opinion that raising the minimum wage hurts economic growth and raises unemployment, backed by studies, but someone else can counter that my opinion is wrong, citing his own studies, but also that the studies that I cite, which I take for granted as ‘facts’, are wrong due to methodological errors. And this goes back and forth, with each side citing their own facts and countering the other’s, and no one is any closer to understanding or resolution.

Does that mean we give up on opinions? No, because some opinions are truly ‘better’ than others (Newton’s opinion on gravity being a particularly ‘good’ one, backed by a multitude of empirical evidence). But in many instances, there is no resolution and engaging in debate is unproductive, regardless of how ‘correct’ your opinion is or may be (as Newton probably realized when he tried to explain the concept of an ‘inverse square law’ to others). That’s why debating politics is mostly a waste of time: even if your opinion is as ‘correct’ as Newtonian gravity, your opponent is unlikely to yield, and even so, is it worth the effort.

This part also stood out, in which Scott praises the civility and courteousness of Trump supporters who commented on his blog:

This was also the response I got when I tried to make an anti-Trump case on this blog. I don’t think there were any sudden conversions, but here were some of the positive comments I got from Trump supporters:

— “This is a compelling case, but I’m still torn.”

— “This contains the most convincing arguments for a Clinton presidency I have ever seen. But, perhaps also unsurprisingly, while it did manage to shift some of my views, it did not succeed in convincing me to change my bottom line.”

— “This article is perhaps the best argument I have seen yet for Hillary. I found myself nodding along with many of the arguments, after this morning swearing that there was nothing that could make me consider voting for Hillary…the problem in the end was that it wasn’t enough.”

— “The first coherent article I’ve read justifying voting for Clinton. I don’t agree with your analysis of the dollar “value” of a vote, but other than that, something to think about.”

— “Well I don’t like Clinton at all, and I found this essay reasonable enough. The argument from continuity is probably the best one for voting Clinton if you don’t particularly love any of her policies or her as a person. Trump is a wild card, I must admit.”

— As an orthodox Catholic, you would probably classify me as part of your conservative audience…I certainly concur with both the variance arguments and that he’s not conservative by policy, life, or temperament, and I will remain open to hearing what you have to say on the topic through November.

— “I’ve only come around to the ‘hold your nose and vote Trump’ camp the past month or so…I won’t say [you] didn’t make me squirm, but I’m holding fast to my decision.”

and also this part:

Another SSC story. I keep trying to keep “culture war”-style political arguments from overrunning the blog and subreddit, and every time I add restrictions a bunch of people complain that this is the only place they can go for that. Think about this for a second. A heavily polarized country of three hundred million people, split pretty evenly into two sides and obsessed with politics, blessed with the strongest free speech laws in the world, and people are complaining that I can’t change my comment policy because this one small blog is the only place they know where they can debate people from the other side.

The appeal of Slate Star Codex, as I discuss in Intellectual Solvent Part 1, is that it’s an island ‘evolved’ discourse and nuance in a sea of emotive low-information discourse. As the passages above show, the ‘high-IQ right’, although they disagree with Scott on the choice of candidate and policy, find common ground in rejection of low-information discourse (shared narratives). Both the ‘high-IQ left’ and the ‘high-IQ right’ agree that purveyors of ‘low information’ make their respective sides look tribalistic and uninformed. Scott is thinking ‘BLM and SJWs are making Hillary look like a sympathizer of domestic terrorism, radical feminism, and Communism’, and smart Trump supporters are thinking ‘Fox News, Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter are making us look like buffoons’.

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on people, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be jettisoning everything you believe and entering a state of pure Cartesian doubt, where you try to rederive everything from cogito ergo sum.

This part was confusing. As a side note, cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) means that if one can conceive thoughts, they exist, which is related to Cartesian dualism and the mind-body problem of ontology. It’s not really applicable to politics and debate, which is related to epistemology. What Scott is probably referring to is the tendency of some to rationalize certain beliefs as being true, regardless of opposing empirical evidence. For example, someone can insist that Obamacare is a success, and I can show empirical evidence (such as rising premiums and cancellations) that it’s not, but if someone wants to rationalize (in their mind) that Obamacare works, no amount of empirical evidence will matter.

[1] appeals to ‘facts and logic’ are often synonyms for materialism and empiricism, in contrast to idealism and rationalism. Not all materialism is ‘bad’–HBD, for example, is a materialistic concept.

The Intellectual Solvent, Part 2

In Solvent, I posit that intellectual similarities are more important than ideological ones. A democrat and republican of equal IQ are more compatible than a conservative of a high IQ and another conservative of a low IQ. Unfortunately, I have no case studies to go by, so it’s mostly a hunch based on some empirical evidence.

Doesn’t the rise of Trump contradict the rise of centrism, a major theme of solvent? No, because centrism also includes the shift of some of the far-left to the middle, as part of the post-2013 SJW backlash.

For example, going through the medium article Trump Supporters Aren’t Stupid, I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of intellectuals on the ‘left’ that are repudiating the immature generalizations and groupthink pandering, even by their ideological cohorts, against Trump. Its intellectually lazy to dismiss your opponents as ‘stupid’, without looking at the big picture. I discuss the rise of Trump, as well as these repudiations, in more detail in In Search of Reset. It pretty much boils down to the fact the people are tired of ‘politics as usual’, and Trump and Sanders, who are opposite sides of the political spectrum, are answering to a shared frustration. And then throw in some populist issues such as immigration and the plight of the ‘working class’.

Notice the phrase ‘shared frustrations’. Free Northerner’s article The High-IQ Homo Economicus about how the ‘cognitive elite’ have created a rigged system against the ‘working poor’, and how ‘high’ and ‘low’ IQ people have different value systems, went viral not just on the ‘alt right’ but was also featured on Slate Star Codex, with commenters who are presumably on the ‘left’ agreeing or empathizing. This is similar to Scott’s How Bad Are Things article going viral and being shared on ‘alt right’ sites and forums. It’s a symbiosis powered by shared narratives. But it’s more than politics: it’s also intellectualism. ‘Free Northerner’ is perceived, rightfully, as being smart, and that allows him to be ingratiated by the opposite ‘tribe’, that also values intellect. The same is also observed with Moldbug, who is has also been ‘ingratiated’ by the ‘rational left’ despite not being a leftist. The common threads are intellect, in rejection of ‘low information’. As an addendum, Moldbug’s Reddit AMA went very well, with all his answers generating a lot of up-votes. People respect Moldbug not because they agree with him, but because he exudes intellectual honesty and authenticity, bridging ideological disagreement.

Rationalism is more empirical or theoretical than ideological, the latter which tends sometimes to be ‘low information’ and emotive. Paul Krugman, despite being a liberal, may be seen as being too beholden to ideology to appeal to the ‘rational left’. This is similar to how the ‘rational right’ tends to reject the ‘low information’ of mainstream conservatism. The ‘rational right’ and the ‘rational left’ agree in rejecting ‘low information’.

‘Low information’ can include things like preaching to the choir, excessive logical fallacies, failure to anticipate the views of your opponent, gross factual inaccuracies, emotiveness, excessive use of anecdotal evidence instead of literature, wishful thinking, pandering, inauthenticity, politically correct and or oversimplified/superficial explanations for complicated problems (reductionism), regurgitation of talking points, pablum, etc. That’s a lot and we’re probably all guilty of it at some point.

Scott, Utilitarians, The Rational Middle, Scientism, and Liberals

But he has no enemies to the left, and no friends to the right, which means that all his friends are his enemies, and all his enemies are his friends.

It would seem like there’s a mutual respect and camaraderie between Scott Alexander (and also Scott Adams), who represents the ‘rational middle’ or ‘rational left‘, and those on the ‘rational right’, which includes elements of NRx an the ‘alt right’. The ‘mainstream right’, on the other hand, probably doesn’t know who he is.

Scott does an adequate job entertaining opposing views, or at least more so than most or all ‘mainstream’ leftists. He at least discusses topics that we (HBD-enthusiasts,alt-righters, etc) may find interesting, and even though we may disagree with the conclusions he arrives at, many leftists wont even consider these topics, pretending they don’t exist and completely shutting-out debate.

In Solvent, the rise of centrism and the likes of Scott is about a ‘return’ of the pendulum to the middle after swinging too far to the left in 2012, now with the post-2013 SWJ backlash and gamergate, moving to the middle again, online at least. The ‘rational left’, unlike the welfare left, is generally opposed to Communism, collectivism and other elements of the ‘welfare left‘.

As an example of how the ‘rational middle’ differs from the ‘welfare left’ , consider the recent leftist, pro-Sanders outrage over Hillary not tipping at a visit to Chipotle. To the Sanders’ supporter, what immediately comes to mind (just by the headline, without actually reading the story) is, ‘what a stingy, mean person!’ The rationalist, however, considers the possibility that maybe Hillary paid with a credit card, making it impossible to leave a tip in a jar, or that Hillary didn’t have any spare change, or that she was in a hurry and tipping didn’t come to mind, or that Hillary doesn’t carry pocket change with her, or that someone else paid for it. The point is, there are other, more plausible explanations for why she didn’t tip besides being her being a bad person. As it turns out, Hillary paid $21 for a $20 meal and didn’t dip. So what. It’s not a big deal, but the radical left is looking for any excuse to portray Hillary in a negative light, understandably. Rationalism isn’t about excusing reprobate behavior, but rather considering the most plausible or likely explanation for something.

Also, the post-2013 SJW backlash has to do with a disillusionment among millennial Obama voters over the failure of liberalism. From 2008 to 2012, there was much optimism by the left over Obama, which soon faded. OWS, for example, went nowhere. And student loan debt is still higher than ever, and the job market still sucks for many millennials despite record high profits & earnings. Millennials realize that leftism isn’t working – it hasn’t lived up to its expectations.

As part of the post-2013 wealth and intellectualism synthesis, millennials want to be rich instead of being poor, and that means not attacking the rich, as leftists do, but going with the ‘flow’ and trying understand how wealth is created, learning financial independence and literacy, being rational, and understanding economics, finance, and the link between socioeconomic outcomes and biology. In light of the failure of OWS and the disappointment of Obama, many millennials realize that it’s more productive to emulate the rich and successful than waging class warfare and holding class envy. High-IQ people are also getting rich in web 2.0, while other smart people are making headlines with physics discoveries, and many millennials aspire to be like these tech and science luminaries, not poor, disgruntled, low-IQ losers who pound sand. People get rich and successful by creating value and producing merit, and despite the social and economic problems that still persist, the meritocracy is largely intact. With the left losing the economics war, now millennials realize, as part of the post-2013 centrism ‘boom’, that maybe the system, for it’s flaws, isn’t so bad, and that making money and being self-sufficient is better than fighting a futile war against the tide of civilization and progress.

‘Theory’, whether it’s economics theory or a theory in math or physics, have become the new ‘sacraments’ of post-2008 America. Empiricism is also important, too. The idea is that math and physics (theory) can fill the gaps of knowledge and explain the world. This is like Scientism 2.0, but I don’t mean this pejoratively. Science is preferable to low-information social justice and pandering. People aren’t falling behind because of institutional racism or greed, but rather because some people aren’t smart enough to be competitive in our hyper-competitive ‘results-orientated’ economy.

Pragmatism and utilitarianism need not be the exclusive domain of the left. Right-wing versions of pragmatism and utilitarianism can also exist – programs like eugenics, more funding for gifted education, high-tech funding, lower taxes, the occasional financial bailout, high-IQ basic income, etc. Euthanasia and rationed healthcare (by IQ, for example) are ways to maximize resources and reduce entitlement spending, in the spirit of utilitarianism but with a right-wing bias.

But I don’t think Scott is your typical SJW-leftist.

Exactly so. Scott will furtively acknowledge differences in IQ, but refuses to even conceive of differences in agency.

That’s better than being oblivious. Scott has a lot at stake. His blog is very popular and he’s trying to branch into fiction. Being too closely associated with the ‘alt right’ may detrimental to the ‘good will’ he has built over the years as a liberal. The ‘rational middle’ seems to be the ‘sweetspot’. It’s a formula that seems to have worked very well for him as well as Scott Adams and other bloggers. The ‘rational middle’ will criticize both sides, whereas mainstream liberals will only criticize the ‘right’. Criticizing both sides and not being beholden to either the red or blue ‘tribe’ helps build your intellectual credibility, even it makes some of people mad, as Scott showed in his ‘hate mail’ post. Detractors tend to be very visible and vocal in their feedback, which belies the popularity of centrism and the ‘rational middle’, or at least as shown by traffic figures. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are other examples of ‘rational’ leftists who have have received more criticism from the left for going against the grain in criticizing feminism and Islam than they have ever received from the right, yet Dawkins’ star keeps rising as his credibility grows by criticizing the the more irrational elements of his ‘tribe’.

Scott takes centrism seriously, to a fault. I remember posting on his blog awhile ago and he got annoyed that I used labels like ‘left’ and liberals’ on one of my comments, and I had rack my mind to find a way to re-word the comment without those terms. As a part of the ‘rational right’, I believe in realism and rationalism should be a guiding principle, but I don’t hesitate to use labels.

Trying to ‘convert’ Scott, or having him see the error of his ways, is futile, nor should we want to. He will do his thing; we will do ours. Through his anti-reactionary FAQ and other posts, he has brought more attention to NRx than most bloggers, as his blog is immensely popular.