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:

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 in operation:

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

The dynamics of shitstorms create incentives against those principles. One must work hard to preserve them.

Pursue clarity

The shitstorm process sows confusion. Resist this. Everything one says every time one engages must work toward making things more clear. Clarity about what actually happened — what people said and did — is paramount. Any comment which does not contribute to clarity is irresponsible.

Support the newbies

The shitstorm process gets harder to understand the longer it proceeds. Resist this. Anything one says may become someoneʼs first introduction to the issue.

This is in tension with the need to respect the time & energy of people caught in the shitstorm: demanding that any particular individual catch one up on what is happening is irresponsible. And also, faulting people for asking for help understanding the shitstorm is bad gatekeeping, bad for the community.

When catching people up, commentators must necessarily summarize complex issues & events, which is tricky; we must respect the difficulty of that work. And also we must take care in creating clarifying summaries. It is very common for people to summarize events in ways which are technically correct but imply something different from what happened, out of malice or mere clumsiness; laziness about working to avoid this tendency is irresponsible.

Expect bad early responses

Involvement in a shitstorm is disorienting and emotionally destabilizing; being the subject of one brings out the worst in anyone. This means that initial responses always have significant failings. Allowing the subject of a shitstorm some slack is helpful; extending that to dismiss all criticisms of how the subject of a shitstorm has responded to it as “nitpicking” is irresponsible. Articulating criticisms of responses to the shitstorm is helpful; saying that clumsiness entirely discredits commentators — or the subject of the shitstorm — is irresponsible.

Dawdle to judgment

The shitstorm process punishes people who are late to the party. Resist this. People who were attentive to the issue early and talked about it publicly before the shitstorm deserve attention and respect, but endeavoring to be the person who needed the least evidence to draw a conclusion is not a virtue, it is a vice.

Saying that one has been watching the subject for a long time and explaining why is helpful. Bragging about having “called it” early without having shared what happened and how one knew is irresponsible. Pointing to where people were talking about the issue before the shitstorm is helpful; criticizing people for not already knowing about those sources is irresponsible. Counseling patience and thoroughness is helpful; asserting that some facts or conclusions are “obvious” is irresponsible.

In the heat of a shitstorm, you will misread people. Expect this, and apologize readily. In turn, people will misread you. Correct misreadings clearly and patiently, and forgive people when they admit the error.

When a shitstorm gets thick, some people trying to act responsibly will inevitably share accusations which turn out to be misleading or simply false. Documenting these errors is helpful. And since these errors are inevitable, claiming that a single disproven accusation exonerates the subject is irresponsible. Similarly, laying out the failings of specific criticisms of the subject of a shitstorm is helpful. Suggesting that the failings of particular criticisms discredits all criticisms is irresponsible. And registering the ideological biases of commentators is helpful, while dismissing all commentators on one side simply for their ideology is irresponsible.

Be kind

The shitstorm process encourages ruthlessness. Resist this. There is plenty of time for consequences for bad actors in the wake of the shitstorm, with their wrongdoing revealed. Being on what turns out to be the right side does not exonerate people who misrepresented events. Sticking to the principles of generosity, honesty, transparency, and skepticism when one suspects a bad actor is helpful; claiming that a bad enough subject justifies every move against them is irresponsible. Commentary which points to what facts are known, what are not, and what sources ground that knowledge is helpful; refusing a demand for particulars & sources as an “insult” is irresponsible.

The shitstorm process is inherently traumatizing. It hurts the subject of the shitstorm whether they are guilty or innocent. Shitstorms hurt every participant. No matter how necessary the confrontation with the issue may be, accepting that trauma as justified is irresponsible. Engaging in a shitstorm as a necessary evil may be helpful; embracing shitstorms as a positive good is irresponsible.