26 September 2022

Sam Harris

I do not pay attention to Sam Harris but hazily thought of him as a relatively-less-terrible exemplar of the Legion Of Famous Bonehead White Guy Intellectuals With Bad Priors. (Understand that I use the term “intellectual” here as descriptive of a position in the social process and a psychological type rather than as validation of his insight. Joe Rogan, f’rinstance, is a true intellectual in the sense that he loves ideas and really does think for himself … while being such an asshole and knucklehead that he is attracted to terrible ideas.) I took Harris as discernibly smarter than someone like Rogan, though hung up on a distinct Stubborn Asshole Atheism which made him a sucker for Islamophobia. But that praise through less-vigorous damnation comes to a close, because I just learned that a few years back, he said this:

As bad luck would have it, but as you’d absolutely predict on the basis of just sheer biology, different populations of people, different racial groups, different ethnicities, different groups of people who have been historically isolated from one another geographically, test differently in terms of their average on this measure of cognitive function. So if you’re gonna give the Japanese and the Ashkenazi Jews, and African Americans, and Hawaiians … you’re gonna take populations who differ genetically — and we know they differed genetically, that’s not debatable — and you give them IQ tests, it would be a miracle if every single population had the same mean IQ. And African Americans come out about a standard deviation lower than white Americans. A standard deviation for IQ is about 15 points. So, if it’s normed to the general population, predominantly white population for an average of 100, the average in the African American community has been around 85.

I recognize that song; it is thoroughly debunked bad faith racist far right The Bell Curve horseshit. Once again I should have recognized that these guys are all swimming in the same Intellectual Dim Web stew of bigotry.

20 September 2022

Social media shitstorms

Drawing on a Twitter thread of mine about the need for an ethos for social media shitstorms (significantly refined in Jan 2024):

I believe in the liberal-as-in-liberal-democracy approach to the Paradox Of Tolerance, which says that we need all six of these principles working together.

  1. Honesty — always speak in good faith, telling the truth as well as one knows it, especially about oneʼs own ideas and intentions
  2. Generosity — start from a presumption that everyone speaks & acts in good faith
  3. Vigilance — always watch carefully for bad actors
  4. Skepticism — demand strong evidence before accepting that someone is a bad actor
  5. Transparency — publicly document evidence of bad actors
  6. Safety — ruthlessly exclude demonstrated bad actors

Shitstorms create incentives against those principles. One must work hard to preserve them.

Pursue clarity

Shitstorms sow confusion. Resist this. Everything one says every time one engages must pursue clarity — especially about what actually happened. Return as much as possible to the known specifics of what people said and did. Push back against the telephone game effect.

Every comment will necessarily summarize complex issues and events. Respect how tricky this is. Respect the effort it involves.

Remember how summaries can easily imply something different from what happened, even when technically accurate, out of clumsiness or malice. Understate your case and steelman positions you disagree with, to counter your own biases.

Expect honest mistakes

Never assert that facts or conclusions are “obvious”. Counsel patience and thoroughness, even when you feel confident that you know the truth.

When a shitstorm gets thick, some people acting in good faith will still share misleading or simply false commentaries. Document the errors as specifically as you can, tell anyone you see sharing those errors, and spread warnings about misinformation afoot. Since such errors are inevitable, do not take them as discrediting all criticisms; even reprehensible actors will face false accusations, so do not exonerate the subject of a shitstorm based on a single disproven accusation.

Register the ideological biases of commentators but do not dismiss all commentators on one side for their ideology, even if most of them share an ideology you oppose.

Respect & support newbies

Shitstorms get harder to understand the longer they proceed. Remember that anything you say may become someoneʼs introduction to the issue.

Recognize the tension between this need for diligence and the need the need to respect the time & energy of people caught in the shitstorm. Neither demand that that any particular individual catch you up nor fault people for asking for an explanation of the shitstorm.

Expect bad early responses

Shitstorms are disorienting and upsetting. They bring out the worst in anyone. Never indict the subject of a shitstorm based on their initial response; those will always have failings.

That does not mean to refrain from criticism. Share thoughtful criticism. Help people think. Clearly name the problems you see in commentaries. Resist the temptation to dismiss commentaries as “nitpicking”. Resist the temptation to dismiss something or someone over one clumsy point.

Dawdle to judgment

Respect and praise people who were attentive to the issue early, who talked about it publicly before the shitstorm. But do not covet that position. Do not try to be right early. Do not take pride in drawing a conclusion with less evidence than others.

If you were among those watching the subject for a long time, explain why, describe your conclusions, and share information about what happened and how you knew. Point to where people talked about the issue before the shitstorm.

Never brag about having “called it” early. Never fault people who did not already know about those sources. A shitstorm demonstrates that information you thought was “everywhere” was not.

Be kind

Shitstorms inspire ruthlessness. Counter that.

In the heat of a shitstorm, you will misread people. Check your understanding. Expect to make mistakes anyway. Apologize readily.

In the heat of a shitstorm, people will misread you. Assume good faith. Correct misreadings clearly but patiently. Forgive readily when people admit an error.

In the heat of a shitstorm, be generous, honest, transparent, and skeptical, even if you fear that bad actors will benefit. You can undo being too gentle but not being too harsh. Turnign out to be right in the end does justifies neither cruetly nor misrepresentations. Kindness extended to even the worst actors during a shitstorm benefits the entire community.

In the heat of a shitstorm, return again and again to what facts are known, what are not, and what sources ground that knowledge. You may not have the capacity to respond to every request for particulars & sources, but never take those requests as insults.

Hate the shitstorm dynamic

Shitstorms are inherently traumatizing.

They hurt every participant. They often hurt innocents the most. All too often, they even hurt the guilty more than they deserve.

Never say the trauma was “justified”, however necessary it was to confront the issue. At best a shitstorm is a necessary evil, when other remedies have failed. They are never a positive good.