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On this day five years ago, Scott made a list of graded predictions for how the next five years would pan out. How did he do?

He correctly predicted that Democrats would win the presidency in 2020. He correctly predicted that the UK would leave the EU and that no other country would vote to leave. He seemed under the impression that Ted Cruz would rise up to take Trump's mantle, but to my mind the only person in the Republican party who has a meaningful chance of opposing Trump is DeSantis. I think a lot of the technological predictions were too optimistic (specifically the bits about space travel and self-driving vehicles) but I don't work in tech and amn't really qualified to comment.

Near the end of the article, in a self-deprecating moment, he predicts with 80% confidence that "Whatever the most important trend of the next five years is, I totally miss it". To my mind, the most significant "trend" (or "event") of the last five years was Covid, and I think he actually did okay on this front: the second-last section of the article is a section on global existential risks:

Global existential risks will hopefully not be a big part of the 2018-2023 period. If they are, it will be because somebody did something incredibly stupid or awful with infectious diseases. Even a small scare with this will provoke a massive response, which will be implemented in a panic and with all the finesse of post-9/11 America determining airport security.

  1. Bioengineering project kills at least five people: 20%
  1. …at least five thousand people: 5%

Whether you think those two predictions cames to pass naturally depends where you sit on the lab leak hypothesis.


It’s been pointed out recently that the topics discussed in the Culture War thread have gotten a bit repetitive. While I do think the Motte has a good spread on intellectual discussion, I’m always pushing for a wider range (dare I say diversity?) of viewpoints and topics in the CW thread.

I was a lurker for years, and I know that the barrier between having a thought and writing a top level comment in the CW thread can loom large indeed. Luckily I’m fresh out of inspiration, and would love to hear thoughts from folks about effortposts they want to write but haven’t gotten around to.

This of course applies to regulars who post frequently as well - share any and all topics you wish were discussed in the CW thread!


As the academic system is slowly imploding, my career followed suit and I recently found myself licking my wounds in a cushy industry job (read: adult daycare) and dreaming of startups. This was one of my brainstorms, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out a way that it could ever be profitable, so I’m releasing it into the wild.

You’ve probably heard of the hygiene hypothesis; in a nutshell, our immune systems ‘evolved’ to deal with lives that were, immunologically speaking, nasty, brutish and short. Consequently, the dial on the thermostat got turned up a bit too high for our fully [immunologically] automated gay space communism with pesky luxuries like vaccines, soap and plumbing. The incidences of immune conditions like asthma, allergies, MS, Crohn’s, T1D have gone up three to four fold in the last 70 odd years in developed nations which is too rapid for dysgenics as an explanation. Some interesting pieces of evidence hinting at a deeper truth;

  1. Adult immigrants from developing nations to the first world are by and large unaffected, but their children do have increases. This suggests an environmental rather than genetic etiology, and furthermore, that the environmental influences have to happen while the immune system is developing (though the evidence for this latter point is not particularly strong in my opinion). 1 2 3 4 5

  2. Abiotic mice (no bacteria or fungi in their gut, skin, esophagus, etc) have very defective immune systems. Whole compartments of the immune system fail to develop properly, suggesting that interplay between pathogens, benign commensals and the immune system is required.

  3. A number of studies have shown that even within developed nations, individuals raised on farms or exposed to animals at very young ages have lower incidences of atopy and autoimmunity.

  4. Your immune system develops in ‘waves’ and is ‘educated’ throughout your development (and almost certainly beyond!). Furthermore, there is substantial variation in our immune systems due to infectious history/environment. (Note that some competing papers took similar approaches with significantly different conclusions). These all point towards significant environmental influences* on these complex immunological diseases.

You’ve probably also heard of Alex Jones claiming that the US government is turning the frogs gay. With this audience, you probably also know that, uh, ‘turning the frogs gay’ isn’t a very honest description, but it is a real problem. Indeed, the process for dumping a new chemical into the environment is labyrinthine, but it probably isn’t particularly effective at screening substances that might influence the immune system. They seem largely focused on chemicals that mimic hormones (see: declining sperm counts and the aforementioned gay frogs).

The crux of this post: Why isn’t more effort expended towards identifying environmental factors, preferably added in the last 70 odd years in the developed world, that modify the immune system?

The hypothesis: Increased exposure to certain chemicals in our environment (food, makeup, air pollution, water contamination), when intersecting with susceptible genotypes, has led to an increase in allergy and autoimmune disease in the developed world.

So, to test it, you’d want to screen large numbers of chemicals in some kind of high-throughput immune assays. Good news: The dataset exists, and you can download it yourself! Bad news: It’s crap! Half-good-half-bad news: Nobody (as far as I know) talks about it or uses it for anything.

About 10 years ago the EPA decided to modernize environmental toxicology and generate The Dataset to end all datasets. They spent (wasted?) tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars building the data architecture, contracting an army of adult daycare inmates like myself to carry out the assays all to generate a half-dozen low-impact publications nobody has ever read (don’t trust their publications page, it’s padded with anyone who uses the data for any purpose) and this monstrous dataset. Here’s a 728 page pdf some poor soul generated to describe the in vitro assays.

I fiddled around with the data about a year ago at this point, and generated this list of compounds if anyone is interested. I mostly focused on assays relevant to T cells (due to personal biases - B cells are Boring, T cells are Terrific) that came up with a Ka < 10uM, although keep in mind that the majority of these things will be false positives*. Tldr; pesticides are really, really bad and you shouldn’t eat them; they light up every assay like a roman candle. Triclosan was an interesting hit as it’s been (weakly) shown to influence autoimmunity in some mouse models as well as an association with allergy development. Here it came up as a potentiator of lck activity, which is one of the major stimulatory proteins in T cells.

So…who cares? I suppose one might imagine mining some of these molecules as precursors to new drugs after the medicinal chemists have their way with them, although that kind of ‘pharma 1.0’ thinking never really appealed to me. Then again, everyone tells me to just try to make something work, and then your second company can be your vanity project/moonshot. Alternatively, I’ve got to assume that such a large database is amenable to machine learning, maybe along the lines of this paper? I think the largest problem is that the majority of the data here is without a doubt crap. Less relevant to the startup perspective is what the EPA actually wants to do, which is regulate some of these compounds. This would probably be prosocial, but then, if you wanted me to do prosocial stuff you should have given me my academic lab, ja?

*Note that, as complex traits, there are obviously genetic influences on the development of atopy and autoimmunity. The intersection of susceptible genetics and environment leads to disease.

**Cons: - Tons of false positives as many of these compounds won’t be bioavailable or aren’t present in quantities large enough to be relevant

Dataset sucks and others have claimed it to be unreliable

Unclear that people suddenly started being exposed to these things in the last 70 years

Assays poorly optimized and either cell-free (very prone to false positives) or done artificial overexpression systems


I've been wrong, again, pooh-poohing another Eurasian autocracy. Or so it seems.

On 29 August 2023, to great jubilation of Chinese netizens («the light boat has passed through a thousand mountains!», they cry), Huawei has announced Mate 60 and 60 Pro; the formal launch is scheduled for September 25th, commemorating the second anniversary of return of Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of Huawei's founder, from her detainment in Canada. Those are nice phones of course but, specs-wise, unimpressive, as far as flagships in late 2023 go (on benchmarks, score like 50-60% of the latest iPhone while burning peak 13W so 200% of power). Now they're joined by Mate X5.

The point, however, is that they utilize Huawei's own SoC, Hisilicon Kirin 9000S, not only designed but produced in the Mainland; it even uses custom cores that inherit simultaneous multithreading from their server line (I recommend this excellent video review, also this benchmarking). Their provenance is not advertised, in fact it's not admitted at all, but now all reasonable people are in agreement that it's SMIC-Shanghai made, using their N+2 (7nm) process, with actual minimum metal pitch around 42 nm, energy efficiency at low frequencies close to Samsung's 4nm and far worse at high (overall capability in the Snapdragon 888 range, so 2020), transistor density on par with first-gen TSMC N7, maybe N7P (I'm not sure though, might well be 10% higher)… so on the border of what has been achieved with DUV (deep ultraviolet) and early EUV runs (EUV technology having been denied to China. As a side note, Huawei is also accused of building its own secret fabs).

It's also worse on net than Kirin 9000, their all-time peak achievement taped out across the strait in 2020, but it's… competitive. They apparently use self-aligned quad patterning, a DUV variant that's as finicky as it sounds, an absurd attempt to cheat optics and etch features many times smaller than the etching photons' wavelength (certain madmen went as high as 6x patterning; that said, even basic single-patterning EUV is insane and finicky, «physics experiment, not a production process»; companies on the level of Nikon exited the market in exasperation rather than pursue it; and it'll get worse). This trick was pioneered by Intel (which has failed at adopting EUV, afaik it's a fascinating corporate mismanagement story with as much strategic error as simple asshole behavior of individual executives) and is still responsible for their latest chips, though will be made obsolete in the next generations (the current node used to be called Intel's 10 nm Enhanced SuperFin, and was recently rebranded to Intel 7; note, however, that Kirin 9000S is a low-power part and requirements there are a bit more lax than in desktop/server processors). Long story short: it's 1.5-2 generations, 3-4 years behind the frontier of available devices, 5-6 years behind frontier production runs, 7-8 years after the first machines to make such chips at scale came onto market; but things weren't that much worse back then. We are, after all, in the domain of diminishing returns.

Here are the highlights from the first serious investigation, here are some leaks from it, here's the nice Asianometry overview (esp 3:50+), and the exhilarating, if breathlessly hawkish perspective of Dylan Patel, complete with detailed restrictions-tightening advice. Summarizing:

  1. This is possible because sanctions against China have tons of loopholes, and because ASML and other suppliers are not interested in sacrificing their business to American ambition. *
  2. Yes, it qualifies for 7nm in terms of critical dimensions. Yes, it's not Potemkin tulou, they likely have passable yields, both catastrophic and parametric (maybe upwards of 50% for this SoC, because low variance in stress-testing means they didn't feel the need to approve barely-functional chips, meaning there weren't too many defects) and so it's economically sustainable (might be better in that sense than e.g. Samsung's "5nm" or "4nm", because Samsung rots alive due to systemic management fraud) [I admit I doubt this point, and Dylan is known to be a hawk with motivated reasoning]. Based on known capex, they will soon be able to produce 30K wafers per month, which means 10s of millions of such chips soon (corroborated by shipment targets; concretely it's like 300 Kirins *29700 wafers so 8.9M/month, but the cycle is>1 month). And yes, they will scale it up further, and indeed they will keep polishing this tech tree and plausibly get to commercially viable "5nm" next - «the total process cost would only be ≈20% higher versus a 5nm that utilizes EUV» (probably 50%+ though).
  3. But more importantly: «Even with 50% yields, 30,000 WPM could support over 10 million Nvidia H100 GPU ASIC dies a year […] Remember GPT-4 was trained on ≈24,000 A100’s and Open AI will still have less than 1 million advanced GPUs even by the end of next year». Of course, Huawei already had been producing competitive DL accelerators back when they had access to EUV 7nm; even now I stumble upon ML papers that mention using those.
  4. As if all that were not enough, China simply keeps splurging billions on pretty good ML-optimized hardware, like Nvidia A/H800s, which abide with the current (toothless, as Patel argues) restrictions.
  5. But once again: on a bright (for Westerners) side, this means it's not so much Chinese ingenuity and industriousness (for example, they still haven't delivered a single ≤28nm lithography machine, though it's not clear if the one they're working on won't be rapidly upgraded for 20, 14, 10 and ultimately 7nm processes – after all, SMIC is currently procuring tools for «28nm», complying with sanctions, yet here we are), as it's the unpicked low-hanging fruit of trade restrictions. In fact, some Chinese doomers argue it's a specific allowance by the US Department of Commerce and overall a nothingburger, ie doesn't suggest willingness to produce more consequential things than gadgets for patriotic consumers. The usual suspects (Zeihan and his flock) take another view and smugly claim that China has once again shot itself in the foot while showing off, paper tiger, wolf warriors, only steals and copies etc.; and, the stated objective of the USG being «as large of a lead as possible», new crippling sanctions are inevitable (maybe from Patel's list). There exists a body of scholarship on semiconductor supply chain chokepoints which confirms these folks are not delusional – something as «simple» as high-end photoresist is currently beyond Chinese grasp, so the US can make use of a hefty stick.

All that being said, China does advance in on-shoring the supply chain: EDA, 28nm scanners, wafers etc.

* Note: Patel plays fast and loose with how many lithography machines exactly, and of what capacity, are delivered/serviced/ordered/shipping/planned/allowed, and it's the murkiest part in the whole narrative; for example he describes ASML's race-traitorous plans stretching to 2025-2030, but the Dutch and also the Japanese seem to already have began limiting sales of tools he lists as unwisely left unbanned, and so the August surge or imports may have been the last, and certainly most 2024+ sales are off the table I think.

All of this is a retreading of a discussion from over a year ago, when a less mature version of SMIC N7 process was used - also surreptitiously – for a Bitcoin mining ASIC, a simple, obscenely high-margin part 19.3mm² in size, which presumably would have been profitable to make even at pathetic yields, like 10%; the process back then was near-idential to TSMC N7 circa 2018-2019. 9000S is 107 mm² and lower-margin. Nvidia GH100, the new workhorse of cutting edge ML, made with 4nm TSMC node, is 814 mm²; as GPU chips are a strategic resource, it'd be sensible to subsidize their production (as it happens, H100 with its 98 MTr/mm² must be equally or a bit less dense than 9000S; A100, a perfectly adequate 7nm downgrade option, is at 65 MTr/mm² so we can be sure they'll be capable of making those, eg resurrecting Biren BR100 GPUs or things like Ascend 910). Citing Patel again, «Just like Apple is the guinea pig for TSMC process nodes and helps them ramp and achieve high yield, Huawei will likewise help SMIC in the same way […] In two years, SMIC will likely be able to produce large monolithic dies for AI and networking applications.» (In an aside, Patel laments the relative lack of gusto in strangling Chinese radio/sensor capabilities, which are more formidable and immediately scary than all that compute. However, this makes sense if we look at the ongoing chip trade war through the historical lens, with the reasonable objective being Chinese obsolescence a la what happened to the Soviet Union and its microelectronics, and arguably even Japan in the 80s, which is why ASML/Samsung/TSMC are on the map at all; Choyna military threat per se, except to Taiwan, being a distant second thought, if not a total pretext. This r/LessCredibleDefense discussion may be of interest).

So. I have also pooh-poohed the Chinese result back then, assuming that tiny crypto ASICs are as good as they will get within the bounds assigned to them, «swan song of Chinese industry», and won't achieve meaningful yields. Just as gwern de facto did in October 2022, predicting the slow death of Chinese industry in view of «Export Controls on Advanced Computing and Semiconductor Manufacturing Items to the PRC» (even mentioning the yellow bear meme). Just as I did again 4 months ago, saying to @RandomRanger «China will maybe have 7nm in 2030 or something». I maintain that it's plausible they won't have a fully indigenized supply chain for any 7nm process until 2030 (and/or will likewise fail with securing chains for necessary components other than processors: HBM, interposers etc), they may well fall below the capacity they have right now (reminder that not only do scanners break down and need consumables, but they can be remotely disabled), especially if restrictions keep ramping up and they'll keep making stupid errors, e.g. actually starting and failing an attempt at annexing Taiwan, or going for Cultural Revolution Round II: Zero Covid Boogaloo, or provoking an insurgency by force-feeding all primary school students gutter oil breakfasts… with absolute power, the possibilities are endless! My dissmissal was informed not by prejudice but years upon years of promises by Chinese industry and academia representatives to get to 7nm in 2 more weeks, and consistent failure and high-profile fraud (and in fact I found persuasive this dude's argument that by some non-absurd measures the gap has widened since the Mao's era; and there was all the graphene/quantum computing "leapfrogging" nonsense, and so on). Their actors haven't become appreciably better now.

But I won't pooh-pooh any more, because their chips have become better. I also have said: «AGI can be completed with already available hardware, and the US-led bloc has like 95% of it, and total control over means of production». This is still technically true but apparently not in a decisive way. History is still likely to repeat – that is, like the Qing China during the Industrial Revolution, like the Soviet Union in the transistor era, the nation playing catch-up will once again run into trade restrictions, fail at the domestic fundamental innovation and miss out on the new technological stage; but it is not set in stone. Hell, they may even get to EUV through that asinine 160m synchrotron-based electron beam thing – I mean, they are trying, though it still looks like ever more academic grift… but…

I have underestimated China and overestimated the West. Mea culpa. Alphanumericsprawl and others were making good points.

Where does this leave us?

It leaves us in the uncomfortable situation where China as a rival superpower will plausibly have to be defeated for real, rather then just sanctioned away or allowed to bog itself down in imperialist adventurism and incompetence. They'll have enough suitable chips, they have passable software, enough talent for 1-3 frontier companies, reams of data and their characteristically awkward ruthlessness applied to refining it (and as we've learned recently, high-quality data can compensate for a great disparity in compute). They are already running a few serious almost-OpenAI-level projects – Baidu's ERNIE, Alibaba's Tongyi Qianwen (maybe I've mentioned it already, but their Qwen-7B/VL are really good; seems like all groups in the race were obligated to release a small model for testing purposes), maybe also Tsinghua's ChatGLM, SenseTime etc.'s InternLM and smaller ones. They – well, those groups, not the red boomer Xi – are well aware of their weaknesses and optimize around them (and borrowing from the open academic culture helps, as can be often seen in the training methods section – thanks to MIT&Meta, Microsoft, Princeton et al). They are preparing for the era of machine labor, which for now is sold as means to take care of the aging population and so on (I particularly like the Fourier Intelligence's trajectory, a near-perfect inversion of Iron Man's plot – start with the medical exoskeleton, proceed to make a full humanoid; but there are other humanoids developed in parallel, eg Unitree H1, and they seem competitive with their American equivalents like Tesla Optimus, X1 Neo and so on); in general, they are not being maximally stupid with their chances.

And this, in turn, means that the culture of the next years will be – as I've predicted in Viewpoint Focus 3 years ago – likely dominated by the standoff, leading up to much more bitter economic decoupling and kinetic war; promoting bipartisan jingoism and leaving less space for «culture war» as understood here; on the upside, it'll diminish the salience of progressive campaigns that demoralize the more traditionally minded population.

It'll also presumably mean less focus on «regulation of AI risks» than some would hope for, denying this topic the uncontested succession to the Current Thing №1.

That's about all from me, thoughts?

[The full post is ~5300 words and way way too long for the Motte's 20k character limit but I'm posting as much as I can fit.]

If you've ever been curious about the etymology of cis and trans as prefixes, just know they're Latin for "the same side of" and "the other side of", respectively. These prefixes are widely used in organic chemistry to distinguish between molecules that have the exact same atoms with a different spatial arrangement. Notice, for example, how in the cis isomer below on the left, chlorine atoms are oriented toward the "same side" as each other, but on the "other side" of each other in the trans isomer.

[chlorine on hydrogen action too hot for the motte]

The dashed line is just me simplifying the geometric comparison plane (the E-Z convention is much more precise in this respect), but regardless, this is meant only to illustrate how talk of cis or trans is necessarily one of *relative positioning. *A single solitary point floating in space cannot be described as the same or other "side" of anything when there is nothing else to contrast it against.

Now this is just organic chemistry, not real life, but the cis/trans convention is applied consistently elsewhere. In the context relevant to this post, "sex" and "gender" are the two anchor points --- the two chlorine atoms in the dichloroethene molecule of life --- and their relative resonance/dissonance relative to each other is the very definition of cis/trans gender identity. To avoid any ambiguity, I use sex to refer to one's biological role in reproduction (strictly binary), while gender is the fuzzy spectrum of sex-based societal expectations about how one is supposed to act. If your sex and gender identity "align", then you are considered cis; if they don't, then you are trans. Same side versus other side.

But what does it mean for sex and gender identity to "align"? There is an obvious answer to this question, but it is peculiarly difficult to encounter it transparently out in the wild. For reasons outlined below, I will argue that the elusiveness is completely intentional.

More than two years ago I wrote a post that got me put on a watch list, called Do Trans People Exist?. The question mark was barely a hedge and the theory I outlined remains straightforward:

I'm starting to think that trans people do not exist. What I mean by this is that I'm finding myself drawn towards an alternative theory that when someone identifies as trans, they've fallen prey to a gender conformity system that is too rigid.

Two years on and I maintain my assertion remains trivially true. One change I would make is avoiding the "fallen prey" language because I have no idea whether the rigidity is nascent to and incubated by the trans community (for whatever reasons), or if it's just an enduring consequence of society's extant gender conformity system (no matter how much liberal society tells itself otherwise). If you disagree with my assertion, it's actually super-duper easy to refute it; all anyone needs to do is offer up a coherent description of either cis or trans gender identity void of any reference to gender stereotypes. But I'd be asking for the impossible here, because the essence of these concepts is to describe the resonance or dissonance that exists between one's biological reality (sex) and the accordant societal expectations imposed (gender). Unless you internalize or assimilate society's gender expectations, unless you accede to them and capitulate that they're worth respecting and paying attention to as a guiding lodestar, concepts like "gender dysphoria" are fundamentally moot. A single point cannot resonate or clash with itself, as these dynamics necessitate interaction between distinct elements.

The position I'm arguing is nothing new. The Oxford philosopher Rebecca Reilly-Cooper had already established the incoherencies inherent within this framework conclusively and with impeccable clarity in this lecture she gave way back in 2016 (website form). It's wild how her arguments remain perfectly relevant today, and if anyone has attempted a refutation I have not encountered it. And yet this remains a controversial position to stake, but not because it's wrong. Rather, I believe, it's because of how insulting it is to be accused of reifying any system of stereotypes nowadays.

In case it needs to be said, stereotypes can occasionally offer useful shortcuts, but their inherent overgeneralization risks flattening reality into inaccuracy. The major risk relevant to this discussion is when stereotypes crystallize into concrete expectations, suffocating individual expression with either forced conformity due to perceived group membership, or feelings of alienation due to perceived incongruence. The indignation to my position is also understandable given how the foundational ethos of the queer liberation movement was a rejection of gender normativity's constraints.

You're not obligated to take my word for this, but I do tend to feel an immense discomfort whenever I hold a position that is purportedly controversial, and yet I'm unable to steelman any plausible refutations --- a sense of "I must be missing something, it can't be this obvious" type deal. I did try to bridge the chasm of inscrutability when I wrote What Boston Can Teach Us About What a Woman Is. My plea to everyone was to jettison the ambiguous semantic topography within this topic and replace it with concrete specifics:

To the extent that woman is a cluster of traits, I struggle to contemplate a scenario where communicating the cluster is a more efficient or more thoughtful method of communication than just communicating the specific pertinent trait. Just tell me what you want me to know directly. Use other words if need be.

Because right now it's a complete fucking riddle to me if someone discloses that they "identify as a woman" or whatever. What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this new information? Suggesting that stereotypes are the referent is met with umbrage and steadfast denials, but if not that, then what? Over the years I've tried earnestly to learn by asking questions and seeking out resources, and what I've repeatedly experienced is a marked reluctance to offer up anything more than the vaguest of details.

The ambiguity I'm referring to isn't absolute, however, and there are two notable exceptions worth briefly addressing: body modifications and preferred pronouns.

Sex does not only determine whether an individual produces large or small gametes --- an entire armory of secondary characteristics comes along for the ride, whether you like it or not. If a female happens to be distressed by their breasts and wants them removed, you could describe this scenario in two very different ways. One is that this person "identifies as a man" and their (very obviously female) breasts serve as a distressing monument that something is "off". The other way is that this person is simply distressed by their breasts, full stop, without any of the gender-related accoutrements. [These two options are not necessarily exhaustive, and I'm open to other potential interpretations.]

Is there any difference between these two approaches? The first framework adds a multitude of vexing, unanswerable questions (Does comfort with one's secondary sex characteristics require some sort of "affirmation gene" that trans people unfortunately lack? Is the problem some sort of mind/body misalignment? If so, why address one side of that equation only? Etc.) within an already overcomplicated framework. The other concern here is if the gender identity becomes prescriptive, where an individual pursues a body modification not for whatever inherent qualities it may have, but rather because of some felt obligation to "complete the set" for what their particular identity is supposed to look like.

The second framework (the one eschewing the gender identity component) would not dismiss the individual's concerns and would be part of a panoply of well-established phenomena of individuals inconsolably distressed with their body, such as body integrity dysphoria (BID), anorexia, or muscle dysphoria. The general remedies here tend to be a combination of counseling and medication to deal with the distress directly, and only in rare circumstances is permanent alteration even considered. I imagine there is some consternation that I've compared gender dysphoria with BID, but I see no reason to believe they are qualitatively different and welcome anyone to demonstrate otherwise. Regardless, I subscribe to maximum individual autonomy on these matters, and so it's not any of my business what people choose to do with their bodies. The point here is that preferences about one's body (either aesthetic or functional) exist without a reliance on paradigm shifts of one's "internal sense of self". If someone wants to, for example, bulk up and build muscle, they can just do it; it's nonsensical to say they first need to "identify" as their chosen aspiration before any changes can occur.

The other exception to the ambiguity around what gender identity* means* is pronoun preference. Chalk it up to [whatever]-privilege, but I concede I do not understand the fixation on pronouns. The closest parallel I can think of are nickname preferences, but unlike nicknames, pronouns almost never come up in two-party conversations, so it's difficult to see why they would be any more consequential. I personally accommodate pronoun preferences out of politeness (and I suspect almost everyone else does as well), the exact same way I would accommodate nicknames out of politeness. If I happen to refer to my friend using frog/frogs pronouns, it's not because I believe they're actually a frog; I'm just trying to be nice and avoid getting yelled at. Regardless of the intent behind them, pronoun preferences are a facile and woefully incomplete account for what we're warned are suicidal levels of distress around one's incongruent gender identity, so this can't be the whole story.

So on one extreme you have potentially invasive body modifications that are at least commensurate with the seriousness of the distress expressed, and on the other side you have the equivalent of a nickname preference that is relatively facile to accommodate. In between these two pillars, however, is a conspicuous vacuum of silence. My conclusion is that this missing middle is really just gendered stereotypes, but nobody wants to admit something so laughably antiquated out loud.

Well, almost nobody.

I've had this post sitting in my drafts for months largely because of an ever-present concern that I was unfairly shining a spotlight on the craziest examples from the trans-affirming community. My perennial goal with any subject is to avoid weakmanning, but with this issue I have no idea how to draw the contours and discern what arguments are representative and thus fair game to critique.

The lack of contours means I can't prove this next part conclusively, but I noticed a shift over time regarding which talking points were most common. The perennial challenge for this camp remains the logical impossibility of harmonizing the twin snakes of "trans people don't owe you passing" and "trans people will literally kill themselves if they don't pass". At least as late as 2018, there was more of an apparent comfort with leaning more toward openly reifying gendered roles and expectations. For example, in this Aeon magazine dialogue between trans philosopher Sophie Grace Chappell and gender-critical feminist Holly Lawford-Smith, Chappell uses the word script in her responses a whopping forty-one times.

But by far the most jaw-dropping example of this comfort comes from a lecture by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, currently the head psychologist for the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals' gender clinic. When a parent asked how to know if a baby is trans, Dr. Ehrensaft literally said that a baby throwing out a barrette is a "gender signal" the baby might not really be a girl, the same way another baby opening their onesie is a signal they might be a girl. Seriously, watch this shit.

This is such a blatantly asinine thing to say that it depresses me to no end that the auditorium didn't erupt in raucous laughter at her answer. I don't even know how to respond to it. Maybe it bears repeating that babies are dumb. At any given moment, the entirety of a baby's cognitive load is already stressed over having to decide between shitting and vomiting. Dr. Ehrensaft conjures up this tale about how dumb babies are able to divinate the eternal message that "dresses are for women" out of thin air (or maybe directly from Allah), and that same dumb baby also has the ingenuity to cleverly repurpose their onesie into a jury-rigged "dress". I'm not claiming that it's impossible for young children to notice and even mirror societal expectations, including gender-related ones. Indeed, research indicates wisps of this awareness can start manifesting very early on, with children reaching "peak rigidity in their gender stereotypes at age 5 to 6" followed by a dramatic and continuing increase in flexibility. But it remains a jaw-dropping level of projection and tea leaf--reading on display here by Dr. Ehrensaft; the simple explanation that a baby might open their onesie because they're a dumb baby is apparently not worth consideration.

Dr. Ehrensaft is illustrative of the intellectual rigor that is apparently expected from the lead mental health professional in charge of the well-being of an entire clinic's worth of young patients. Matt Osborne wrote a devastating piece about her very long history of dangerous quackery. My mind was blown when I found out that Dr. Ehrensaft happened to be at the scene in 1992 desperately trying to whitewash the Daycare Satanic Panic and the unconscionable misery the "recovered memory" movement caused. In response to some highly suggestive interviews by therapists, preschool children alleged bizarre and horrific sexual abuse by staff involving drills, flying witches, underground tunnels, and hot-air balloons. The notorious McMartin case resulted in no convictions, with all charges finally dropped in 1990 after seven years of prosecutions. Two years later in an aftermath report of the similar Presidio case, Dr. Ehrensaft notes how the children's abuse narratives often contained fantasy elements, such as devilish pranks and hidden skeletons. This should normally be grounds for skepticism, but Dr. Ehrensaft stridently refuses to question the veracity of the accounts, and explains away the outlandish aspects as simply the result of trauma management --- the kids were using imaginative fears as a protective barrier for their (according to Dr. Ehrensaft) unquestionably real trauma. Given her general credulity, it's no surprise why her writing on the topic of gender identity is a murky soup of pseudo-religious nonsense about "gender ghosts" and "gender angels".

What exactly is the explanation for trans-affirming professionals like Chappell and Ehrensaft explicitly encouraging the necessity of adhering to gender scripts? Were they misled? Did they get the wrong bulletin? How? Why aren't their professional peers correcting them on such an elementary and foundational error? So many questions.

You can't keep drawing from the well of gender stereotypes so blatantly without anyone noticing. My general impression of the field is people realized how idiotic they sounded when their talking points were solidly anchored upon the veneration of (purportedly antiquated) gender roles and gender scripts. The response to this inescapable criticism has largely been to subtly pivot into the realm of empty rhetoric. But because of the necessity to cling onto strands of the initial assertions (for reasons I'll explain further), the result is a strenuous ballet of either constantly leaping between the two positions, or uncomfortably trying to straddle both.

Dr. Ehrensaft gives us an example of the vacuous. Her onesie/barrette poem of an answer above is from a video uploaded in 2018, but here's how her website explains gender nowadays, except with one particular word switched out:

This core aspect of one's identity comes from within each of us. Flibberdibber identity is an inherent aspect of a person's make-up. Individuals do not choose their flibberdibber, nor can they be made to change it. However, the words someone uses to communicate their flibberdibber identity may change over time; naming one's flibberdibber can be a complex and evolving matter. Because we are provided with limited language for flibberdibber, it may take a person quite some time to discover, or create, the language that best communicates their internal experience. Likewise, as language evolves, a person's name for their flibberdibber may also evolve. This does not mean their flibberdibber has changed, but rather that the words for it are shifting.

Can anyone reading this tell me what flibberdibber is beyond that it's something inexplicably very important?

It's probably too much to expect philosophy to throw us a lifeline here, but even with those low standards, the response from the trans-inclusionary philosophers has been a complete fucking mess and followed a similarly strenuous pivot. For example, in the 2018 paper Real Talk on the Metaphysics of Gender, Yale philosopher Robin Dembroff argues for a more "inclusive" understanding of gender. But in doing so, Dembroff explicitly acknowledges the glaring contradiction between decrying a category as oppressively exclusionary while simultaneously petitioning to be included within it. The apparent solution on page 44 to this conundrum is rather. . . something:

continued in full post


spoilers, y’all

This movie is a story for sale to the general public, in which the protagonist hunts for a story to sell to the general public. He learns the deep and abiding value of stories, and then loses all faith in stories sold to the general public. It’s a bit like The Last Psychiatrist listened to Shit Town while swiping on Tinder, then roasted everyone responsible through the medium of film. One reviewer called it “egotistical and grandiose” and accused the filmmaker of “undersell[ing] his characters, and belittl[ing] his audience.”

Y’all might enjoy it as much as I did.

Aspiring podcaster Ben Manalowitz yearns to be “a voice,” an intoner of wise observations on modern America. He is not a man with an idea desperate for a microphone. He is a man with a microphone desperate for an idea. In a casual chat with his friend who runs a podcasting network, he pitches his grand social theory about - I don’t remember.

She says no one cares about your theories. Tell them a story.

Unfortunately, Ben is barren ground for stories, because he is the kind of person who has friendships like this:

Ben Manalowitz: Do you ever wonder, if you did find something deeper with somebody, if that would somehow be more meaningful?

John: I do, sometimes. Like right now, I'm casually dating, like, six or seven different women. But I do wonder, deep down, what it would be like to seriously date two or three.

One night, mid-hookup, Ben gets a phone call from a stranger with a Southern accent who tearfully breaks the news that, “Abby is dead.”

Abby who? Ben roots through his contacts and finds an “Abby Texas,” a fling whom he barely remembers.

The stranger, Abby’s brother Ty, is under the impression that Ben is Abby’s devastated boyfriend. “She talked about you all the time.” He pressures Ben into flying to Abilene, Texas for the funeral.

There, Ben discovers Abby's death has been ruled an accidental overdose, but Ty is convinced it was foul play, possibly involving local drug dealers. Ty wants Ben’s help avenging her, because, “We were the men in her life.”

Suddenly, Ben has a story. It’s about dumb hicks living in denial of their own dysfunction, inventing conspiracies to make themselves feel better. He sets out to make his breakout hit podcast. He plans to call it “Dead White Girl.”

From there, the movie plays out kind of like a thread here on The Motte. It serves up hot takes which are doused by cooler ones, only for another to flare up. Conflicting evidence makes a mess everywhere. A highly educated, heterodox man strolls in and out, communicating solely through hypnotically eloquent insight porn.

The movie makes an effort not to idealize or demonize either its pretentious East Coast elites or its rubes in flyover country. It presents both as having their little shibboleths. In one scene, Mr. Insight Porn admits he went to school “in New Haven.” Ben admits that he went to school “in Boston.” This little exchange nicely mirrors the recurring “Bless your hearts.” (It would have been better if the movie hadn’t explicitly translated the latter.)

The movie does rely on predictable fish out of water comedy, but its funniest moments play with stereotypes. In one scene, Abby’s teen sisters tell Ben that, “We’re not really a gun family.” They only have… a long list of rifles, shotguns, and handguns, including the kids’ personal sidearms. The girls are baffled by the suggestion that this might be cause for concern.

Literary fellow that he is, Ben explains, “There’s this playwright, Anton Chekhov, and he says that if there’s a gun in Act One of a play - “

“There’s no guns in any one of his plays I can think of,” says the overweight sister in the leopard print pants. “Cherry Orchard, no. Uncle Vanya, no - ”

“I’m not actually that familiar with his plays,” Ben says impatiently, before steering back to his point.

Of all the guns introduced in Act One of the film, none is fired by the Texans.

Vengeance is, fundamentally, a murder mystery, and I honestly loved that this storyline was ultimately played straight. Ben makes a hilariously milquetoast vow to Abby’s family that he will identify her killer and achieve justice through podcasting: “I will find this person or this generalized societal force, and I will define it. I'll define it.” But he truly does investigate. He truly does find the killer. In the end, her death is exactly what he believed it was, but it is also exactly what her brother wanted to believe. After all the irony and ego-puncturing, we get the traditional, unironic satisfaction of rough justice.

The movie wants to be about so many things: the yawning social emptiness of endless freedom, choice, and atomization; our various self-medications for the resulting tedium and emotional starvation; the meaning achieved through narrative; the immortality achieved through leaving a record of one’s existence; the empathy but also the dehumanization of seeing other people as characters; our acute vulnerability when we become characters to the general public. It’s a lot to pack into a fish out of water murder mystery comedy. Many viewers will find it pretentious, unfocused, and shallow. Probably it is. The denouement strains the suspension cables of disbelief, and for some they’ll snap.

But I like this egotistical and grandiose movie. And I laughed really hard at this:

Ty Shaw: [Abilene, Texas] is the most, uh, wretched, godforsaken stretch of land on the face of the earth. And I'd never leave.

Ben Manalowitz: Yeah. That's how I feel about Twitter.


I think that UN manipulating it's own index is not culture wars even if the index is related to gender. Let me know if I am wrong.

Human development

The Gender Development Index (GDI), along with its more famous sibling Human Development Index (HDI) is a an index published annually by UN's agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Whether an index is manipulated or not can be judged only against a precise definition of what the index claims to be measuring. So how do you measure human development? Whatever you do, you will never capture all nuances of the real world - you will have to simplify. The UNDP puts it this way:

The Human Development Index (HDI) was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.

So the UNDP defines the Human Development Index as a geometric mean of three dimensions represented by four indices:

Dimension Index
Long and healthy life Life expectancy at birth (years)
Knowledge Expected years of schooling (years)
Mean years of schooling (years)
Decent standard of living Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2017 PPP$)


Gender Development

So far so good. Next, on it's website the Gender Development Index (GDI) is defined like this:

GDI measures gender inequalities in achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: health, measured by female and male life expectancy at birth; education, measured by female and male expected years of schooling for children and female and male mean years of schooling for adults ages 25 years and older; and command over economic resources, measured by female and male estimated earned income.


While in the actual report HDI it is simply defined as a ratio of female to male HDI values:

Definitions - Gender Development Index: Ratio of female to male HDI values.


Let's look, for instance, at the Gender Development Index of United Kingdom. The value 0.987 means that despite longer life and more education, in UK, females are less developed than males.

Dimension Index Female value Male value
Long and healthy life Life expectancy at birth (years) 82.2 78.7
Knowledge Expected years of schooling (years) 17.8 16.8
Mean years of schooling (years) 13.4 13.4
Decent standard of living Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (2017 PPP$) 37,374 53,265


Wait, what?? What does it mean that females in UK have command over economic resources of post Soviet Estonia (GNI Estonia=38,048) while males in UK have command over economic resources of EU leader Germany (GNI Germany=54,534)?

The manipulation

The UNDP calculates separate command over economic resources for females and males, as a product of the actual Gross National Income (GNI) and two indices: female and male shares of the economically active population (the non-adjusted employment gap) and the ratio of the female to male wage in all sectors (the non-adjusted wage gap).

The UNDP provides this simple example about Mauritania:

Gross National Income per capita of Mauritania (2017 PPP $) = 5,075

Indicator Female value Male value
Wage ratio (female/male) 0.8 0.8
Share of economically active population 0.307 0.693
Share of population 0.51016 0.48984
Gross national income per capita (2017 PPP $) 2,604 7,650

According to this index, males in Mauritania enjoy the command over economic resources of Viet Nam (GNI Viet Nam=7,867) while females in Mauritania suffer the command over economic resources of Haiti (GNI Haiti=2,847).

Let's be honest here: this is total bullshit. There are two reasons why you cannot use raw employment gap and raw wage gap for calculating the command over economic resources:

Argument 1

Bread winners share income with their families. This is a no brainer. All over the world, men are expected to fulfil their gender role as a bread winer. This does not mean that they keep the pay check for themselves while their wives and children starve to death. Imagine this scenario: a poor father from India travels to Qatar where he labours in deadly conditions, so that his family can live a slightly better life. According to UNDP, he just became more developed, while the standard of living his wife is exactly zero.

Argument 2

Governments redistribute wealth. This is a no brainer too. One's command over economic resources and standard of living is not equal to ones pay check. There are social programs, pensions, public infrastructure. Even if you have never earned a pay check yourself, you can take a public transport on a public road to the next public hospital. Judging by the Tax Freedom Day, states around the world redistribute 30% to 50% of all income. And while men pay most of the taxis (obviously, they have higher wages) women receive most of the subsidies (obviously, they have lover wages). But according the UNDP, women in India (female GNI 2,277) suffer in schools and hospitals of the war-torn Rwanda, while men in India (male GNI 10,633) enjoy the infrastructure and social security of the 5-times more prosperous Turkey.

Don't get me wrong, the employment gap and pay gap are not irrelevant for the standard of living and command over economic resources. Pensions and social security schemes mostly do not respect the shared family income and as a result the partner doing less paid work - usually a women - gets lower pension, unemployment benefit etc. What's worse, the non-working partner is severely disadvantaged in case of divorce or break up. But while this has an impact on each gender's standard of living it certainly does not define 100% of that value.

Argument 3

You may argue that the command over economic resources measured by estimated earned income is some kind of proxy for all other disadvantages women face in society. But do you remember what I said in the beginning?

Whether an index is manipulated or not can be judged only against a precise definition of what the index claims to be measuring.

The HDI measures "people and their capabilities" and the GDI is a ratio of these capabilities measured separately for men and women. The economic dimension of the GDI is supposed to be standard of living or command over economic resources - neither of which can be represented by earned income alone.

The taboo

Wikipedia says: "For most countries, the earned-income gap accounts for more than 90% of the gender penalty." (I have not verified this.) This is important, because when we look at the other two dimensions it becomes clear that while men have shorter and less health lives they also increasingly fall behind in mean and expected years of schooling. Without the misrepresentation of the command over economic resources value, the index would show something very uncomfortable: that according to UN's own definition of Human Development men are the less developed gender.

PS: Is there a way to give those tables some borders and padding?

I think I found this more interesting than the original biography review by Scott. There is a lot of distilled wisdom in these posts.

However, there is one area that always rubs me the wrong way. It is smart people who don't know dumb people talking about intelligence.

Where I am now in life I interact almost exclusively with smart people. Not just high IQ wiz kids with no experience. But people that have both the raw brain power, and the life experience to be sharp and wicked smaht. I'm in a rich neighborhood, and wealth has a noticeable correlation with IQ. I currently work for an institution that employs academics who must explain their work to the media (so they can't just sit in an ivory tower and write illegible crap). I use to work at a tech company that for quite a few years basically gave people an IQ test before they could join, and they were willing to fire people who didn't work out (the selection effects weren't perfect but they were certainly noticeable). My college friends were mostly from an "honors" section that got scholarships and accolades for academic achievements.

This was not always the case.

I went to highschool in a nice-ish area. The highschool was pretty decent for where I lived, but it still had noticeable rates of teenage pregnancy, drunk driving fatalities, minor gang fights (no more than temporary hospitalizations), about a fifth of the school below the poverty line, and a racial mix that actually came pretty close to matching America's general racial mix.

This highschool had dumb-dumbs. Probably something close to an average amount of dumb-dumbs. But at the time it was painful how many of them there were. I am smart for the general population, but a bit of a dumb-dumb when I get into smart people circles. 95th percentile on SATs. 1 in 20 seems only ok, but in a random class of ~30 kids I was likely to be the smartest or 2nd smartest. And its not the academic under performance that ever bothered me. I wasn't in any position to judge, I did well on standardized tests, but I was solidly a B student at best. Most of the material seemed dumb and stupid. We were all often doing equally bad at it. It was the everything else that bothered me about interacting with chronically stupid people.

I often heard people brag growing up that they were "street smart" while some academic achiever was "book-smart". This gave me the false impression that there were two kinds of people out there and there was just a trade off between the two. That was badly wrong. Some people are just dumb. They can fail to learn how to read, and fail at not walking into oncoming traffic, and fail at not picking a fight with a group of kids that will kick their ass. There are people that just seem to make repeatedly bad decisions in all areas of their life. I grew to hate these people, because loving and caring about them was too painful. To watch them make terrible decisions again and again, no matter how you advise them, no matter how much you try its like they seem determined to make their own lives a living hell by refusing to understand the world around them.

Bringing this back around to Elon Musk:

Yes he is smart. He is very smart. If he doesn't seem that smart compared to the people around you, then congratulations you live in a smart person bubble. I live in one too, its great! No one is ever making terrible decisions that might casually endanger me. No one is starting physical fights, because words hurt their brain too much. They know all the latest social norms, and when to violate the silly ones to make a joke. I can have deep conversations with them about nearly any topic, they might not know the details, but if I make it interesting they will pick it up and participate. The people around me know how to manage their money, so they aren't ever begging me for handouts, or trying to nickle and dime me on shared expenses.

The phrase "check your privilege" comes to mind, but the tone that people normally use feels very wrong. Just imagine me saying it in the same way a surfer says "kowabunga dude!" while offering a high five.


There's a pretty big set of changes coming down the pipe. These shouldn't have much impact on users - it's all internal bookkeeping - but there's a lot of it, and if there's bugs, it might cause issues. Let me know if anything weird happens! Weird, in this case, is probably "comments you can see that you think you shouldn't be able to", or "comments you can't see that you think you should be able to", or anything else strange that goes on. As an example, at one point in development reply notifications stopped working. So keep your eyes out for that. I'm probably pushing this in a day or two, I just wanted to warn people first.

EDIT: PUSH COMPLETE, let me know if anything goes wrong

Are you a software developer? Do you want to help? We can pretty much always use people who want to get their hands dirty with our ridiculous list of stuff to work on. The codebase is in Python, and while I'm not gonna claim it's the cleanest thing ever, it's also not the worst and we are absolutely up for refactoring and improvements. Hop over to our discord server and join in. (This is also a good place to report issues, especially if part of the issue is "I can't make comments anymore.")

Are you somewhat experienced in Python but have never worked on a big codebase? Come help anyway! We'll point you at some easy stuff.

Are you not experienced in Python whatsoever? We can always use testers, to be honest, and if you want to learn Python, go do a tutorial, once you know the basics, come join us and work on stuff.

(if you're experienced in, like, any other language, you'll have no trouble)

Alt Accounts: Let's talk about 'em. We are consistently having trouble with people making alt accounts to avoid bans, which is against the rules, or making alt accounts to respond to their own stuff, which isn't technically against the rules, and so forth. I'm considering a general note in the rules that alt accounts are strongly discouraged, but if you feel the need for an alt, contact us; we're probably okay with it if there's a good reason. (Example: We've had a few people ask to make effortposts that aren't associated with their main account for various reasons. We're fine with this.) If you want to avoid talking to us about it, it probably isn't a good reason.

Feedback wanted, though! Let me know what you think - this is not set in stone.

Single-Issue Posting: Similarly, we're having trouble with people who want to post about one specific topic. "But wait, Zorba, why is that a problem" well, check out the Foundation:

The purpose of this community is to be a working discussion ground for people who may hold dramatically different beliefs. It is to be a place for people to examine the beliefs of others as well as their own beliefs; it is to be a place where strange or abnormal opinions and ideas can be generated and discussed fairly, with consideration and insight instead of kneejerk responses.

If someone's posting about one subject, repeatedly, over and over, then it isn't really a discussion that's being had, it's prosletyzing. I acknowledge there's some value lost in removing this kind of behavior, but I think there's a lot of value lost in having it; letting the community be dominated by this behavior seems to lead to Bad Outcomes.

Feedback wanted, though! Let me know what you think - this is also not set in stone.

Private Profiles: When we picked up the codebase, it included functionality for private profiles, which prevents users from seeing your profile. I probably would have removed this if I'd had a lot more development time, but I didn't. So it exists.

I'm thinking of removing it anyway, though. I'm not sure if it provides significant benefit; I think there's a good argument that anything posted on the site is, in some sense, fair game to be looked over.

On the other hand . . . removing it certainly does encourage ad hominem arguments, doesn't it? Ad hominems are kind of useless and crappy and poison discourse. We don't want people to be arguing about the other person's previously-stated beliefs all the time, we want people to be responding to recent comments, in general.

But on the gripping hand . . .

. . . well, I just went to get a list of the ten most prolific users with hidden profiles. One of them has a few quality contributions! (Thanks!) Two of them are neutral. And seven of them have repeated antagonism, with many of those getting banned or permabanned.

If there's a tool mostly used by people who are fucking with the community, maybe that's a good argument for removing the tool.

On the, uh, other gripping hand, keep in mind that private profiles don't even work against the admins. We can see right through them (accompanied by a note that says "this profile is private"). So this feature change isn't for the sake of us, it's for the sake of you. Is that worth it? I dunno.

Feedback wanted! Again!

The Volunteer System is actually working and doing useful stuff at this point. It doesn't yet have write access, so to speak, all it's doing is providing info to the mods. But it's providing useful info. Fun fact: some of our absolute most reliable and trustworthy volunteers don't comment. In some cases "much", in some cases "at all". Keep it up, lurkers! This is useful! I seriously encourage everyone to click that banner once a day and spend a few minutes at it. Or even just bookmark the page and mash the bookmark once in a while - I've personally got it on my bookmark bar.

The big refactor mentioned at the top is actually for the sake of improving the volunteer system, this is part of what will let it turn into write access and let us solve stuff like filtered-comments-in-limbo, while taking a lot of load off the mods' backs and maybe even making our moderation more consistent. As a sort of ironic counterpart to this, it also means that the bar might show up less often.

At some point I want to set up better incentives for long-time volunteers, but that takes a lot of code effort. Asking people to volunteer more often doesn't, so that's what I'm doing.

(Feedback wanted on this also.)

I want your feedback on things, as if that wasn't clear. These threads basically behave like a big metadiscussion thread, so . . . what's your thoughts on this whole adventure? How's it going? Want some tweaks? Found a bug? Let me know! I don't promise to agree but I promise to listen.

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Mottizens sometimes use terms with obscure origins that can be confusing to newcomers. This is an attempt to provide a brief explanation of what these terms mean and where they came from to help anyone new to the community.

50 Stalins: A style of commentary which pretends to criticize something while actually praising it, e.g. “critiquing” Stalinist Russia by suggesting that it is not Stalinist enough and it should have even more Stalins. The term was coined by Scott Alexander in Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-sized Nutshell (2013).

Chinese Robber Fallacy: A dishonest argument that uses a generic problem to attack a specific person or group, even when the other groups have the problem just as much, e.g. complaining about the problem of Chinese robbers without providing evidence that Chinese people are more likely to be robbers than other groups. It was first described by blogger Alyssa Vance in 2015.

CultureWarRoundup / CWR: A splinter community of the Motte that lives at the subreddit /r/CultureWarRoundup, founded primarily by users who felt that the Motte's moderation policies were too strict. It has very little moderation.

Effective Altruism / EA : A philosophical and social movement that aims to use evidence and reason to do the most good possible. It has a lot of overlap with the rationalist community and LessWrong and experienced much of its early growth on LessWrong.

Human Biodiversity / HBD: A viewpoint that holds that there are socially relevant differences between groups of people that are genetic in origin. Most controversially, HBD advocates generally maintain that the observed differences between the average intelligence of people of different races originate in genetics.

Ideological Turing Test / ITT: An exercise where you try to pretend to hold an opposing ideology convincingly enough that outside observers can't reliably distinguish you from a true believer. It was first described by economist Bryan Caplan in 2011.

LessWrong: A discussion forum founded by AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky in 2009. The forum focuses on cognitive biases, rationality, artificial intelligence, and other topics. It is the primary nexus for the so-called “rationalist community.” LessWrong could be considered an ancestor forum to the Motte, since Scott Alexander blogged there before founding Slate Star Codex and this community originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex.

Lizardman's Constant: The share of the population (around 4%) who gives absurd responses in opinion polls (such as saying that lizardmen run the world); perhaps a combination of trolls, people who don't understand the question, people who just want to agree with the pollster, and people who are completely apathetic to the poll. It was coined by Scott Alexander in Lizardman's Constant is 4% (2013).

Motte and Bailey fallacy: A dishonest form of argument where one conflates two positions, one easy to defend but with limited implications (the motte) and another hard to defend but with far-reaching implications (the bailey). The fallacy was named after a kind of castle. It was coined by the philosopher Nicholas Shakel in 2005 and popularized by Scott Alexander via Social Justice and Words, Words, Words (2014) and All in All, Another Brick in the Motte (2014). The motte-and-bailey fallacy is the namesake of the Motte; in this community, we would like people to only hold positions that they can defend.

Neoreaction / NRx: A right-wing political philosophy whose signature viewpoint is that monarchy is a better form of government than democracy. Its most famous advocate is the blogger Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug. The neoreactionary movement first grew on LessWrong, although they were always a very small faction there.

Prior: A term from Bayesian Statistics that essentially means one's belief about something before they take new evidence into account. To say that one's prior is X is essentially to say that one's belief is X. To say that one has "adjusted their priors" is essentially to say that one has changed one's mind to some degree about the topic at hand based on the evidence presented; in theory this is done by applying Bayes' theorem.

Quokka: A kind of Australian macropod. They have no natural predators and are therefore not particularly fearful. Some people, beginning with a 2020 Twitter thread by “Zero HP Lovecraft”, who believe rationalists are too trusting or naive compare rationalists to Quokkas.

Rationalist: An online community of people originally formed around the blog Overcoming Bias, founded in 2006 by economist Robin Hanson and AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky; the discussion forum LessWrong, founded in 2009 by Yudkowsky; and the blog Slate Star Codex, founded in 2013 by Scott Alexander. The rationalist community is generally focused on cognitive bias and reason. Because the Motte originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex, it could be considered part of a rationalist “diaspora.”

rDrama: A humorous forum about Internet drama. Originally the subreddit /r/drama, the community now lives at The Motte forked the code they use to run their site when we moved from Reddit to this website in 2022 because it was a proven example of a Reddit community successfully moving offsite and had many of the features we wanted.

Red Tribe / Blue Tribe / Gray Tribe: Terms used to describe different cultural groups in America. The terms were coined by Scott Alexander in I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup (2014). They are sometimes used interchangeably with the concepts of Republicans (Red Tribe) and Democrats (Blue Tribe), but in their original conception, Red Tribe (or Blue Tribe) meant something more precisely stated as “the sorts of people likely to be Republicans (or Democrats), regardless of their actual political views.” For example, a vegan Harvard graduate who lives in Manhattan and loves musical theater is part of the Blue Tribe even if he is actually politically conservative. The Gray Tribe is a sub-tribe of the Blue Tribe characterized by things like working in STEM fields and often having libertarian-ish politics.

Scissor Statement: A highly controversial statement that reliably provokes arguments. Coined by Scott Alexander in Sort By Controversial (2018), a work of fiction in which scissor statements are generated by a machine learning system trained on Reddit comments.

Slate Star Codex / SSC / Astral Codex Ten / Scott Alexander: Scott Alexander is a psychiatrist who lives in the Bay

Area. He blogged from 2013-2020 at Slate Star Codex and since 2021 at Astral Codex Ten. The Motte was created as a subreddit in 2019 as the home for a weekly "culture war roundup" thread that was hosted on the subreddit for SSC until then. The culture war roundup threads were removed from /r/slatestarcodex at Scott Alexander’s request. Scott Alexander’s writings are a major influence on the norms of this community. His blog and the community around it are generally considered part of the rationalist community. Scott Alexander was a popular writer at LessWrong before founding SSC and the community around SSC has a lot of overlap with LessWrong.

SneerClub: A community of people critical of the rationalist community, including the Motte, that lives at the subreddit /r/SneerClub.

Steelman: The strongest possible form of an opposing argument; the opposite of a strawman.

TheSchism: A splinter community of the Motte founded in 2020 that lives at the subreddit /r/TheSchism.

Weakman: A weak argument that someone has actually made (so it’s not a strawman). A poor form of argument is to choose the weakest argument that someone has actually made in favor of a position and argue against that while ignoring stronger arguments for that position.


This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

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Affirmative Action Empire by Terry Martin deals with the Soviet Union’s nationalities policy in the period from 1923 to 1939. I picked it up based on my interest in ethnic politics in colonial and post-colonial states. While it seems well-researched and was very interesting at points, I’d call it a book for specialists rather than one of general interest. It filled in a lot of details, but didn’t have many surprises, and I finished it without gaining any wholly new insights into the broader topic of ethnopolitical competition.

Before I go further, I hear you ask: Wait a minute, was the Soviet Union a colonial state? I contend that for practical purposes, yes. The Soviets didn’t think of themselves that way – Martin says that Lenin was comparable to Woodrow Wilson for anti-Imperialist rhetoric. But the Soviet Union inherited the geopolitical boundaries and governing infrastructure of the old Russian Empire, a vast entity encompassing millions of square miles and numerous ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups. For convenience sake, I’ll be referring to the non-Russian population of the USSR as “subject peoples”. Since the new government didn’t intend to grant any of these subject peoples political or economic independence, they were effectively sitting on the old tsar’s throne.

If I were to summarize the Soviet nationalities policy in a single sentence, it would be: “a f*cking mess.” Throughout the period in question, the Soviets were torn between a) their desire to encourage national self-expression on the part of the subject peoples in the belief that it would enhance Soviet power and b) their intense mistrust of any possible social or political competitor to the central government. Martin differentiates between the “positive line”, associated with the first impulse and the “negative line”, associated with the second. The positive line fostered celebrations of national language, culture, etc, while the negative line brutally suppressed any unsanctioned nationalist activity. Critically, there doesn’t seem to have been a clear line between sanctioned and prohibited forms of national self-expression. Rather, the line was constantly in flux, as a result of intra-party conflicts and the changes in the geopolitical environment. More than once, Martin recounts stories of mid-level figures who were caught on the wrong side of the line by a sudden shift in the prevailing winds. Revolutionary politics being the cutthroat business it was, these figures usually paid a severe price for their miscalculation. At best, they lost their position. At worst, they went to the gulag or the firing squad.

The Soviet’s initially indulgent attitude towards national self-expression had several drivers. The first was Marxist ideology, which asserted that nationalism was one of the necessary stages on the road to communism. Second was the assumption that a pro-nationalities policy would make the subject peoples feel more invested in the new Soviet state. Lastly was “the Piedmont Principle”, the belief that encouraging nationalism amongst the Soviet Union’s subject peoples would actually help the USSR project influence beyond its borders i.e. the Belarussians within the USSR could be used to influence the Belarussians in Poland, etc. The Soviets would ultimately prove to be badly mistaken in this last assumption, and this realization would trigger a major shift in policy. More on that later.

The ”positive line” of the nationalities policy took several forms. First was linguistic preferencing, i.e. the right of the various subject peoples to be educated and conduct business in their own language. This point, seemingly minor in comparison to other measures like land redistribution, occupies a good chunk of Martin’s book, and also seems to have absorbed a great deal of attention from the highest levels of the Soviet leadership. My guess is that this is because it was a relatively low-cost way for the central government to signal their support for subject peoples. Material support, what we would nowadays call “development aid”, was expensive and the object of fierce competition. Political or economic independence was obviously out of the question. Ergo, linguistic preferencing.

In spite of numerous decrees and directives, linguistic preferencing never got as far as either the Politburo or would-be nationalists would have wished. Martin says this this because the Soviets never backed up these decrees with the USSR’s most effective way of signaling commitment to a policy: the gulag. Local officials naturally spent a good bit of energy on figuring out exactly what would and would not get them sent to Siberia. When they realized that failures to meet various linguistic targets (hire X percent of Y language speakers, publish X documents in indigenous language, etc) rarely led to more than a stern talking to, they de-prioritized accordingly. This tendency was exacerbated by the fact that the “negative line” occasionally did crack down on supposed “bourgeois nationalists” whose support for linguistic preferencing seemed a little too enthusiastic. Naturally, prudent officials chose to play it safe and give lip service to linguistic preferencing while putting little actual weight behind it.

Another component of the “positive line” was land redistribution. This took place mostly in the “Soviet East”, the region you now call Central Asia if you’re being scholarly or “the Stans” if you’re feeling snarky. Then as now, these countries were relatively under-developed and only lightly touched by western influences. A number of efforts were made to redistribute prime agricultural land from Russian settlers to the indigenous population in these regions. This went exactly as well as you’d expect. In my experience, the desire to hold on to what you have is virtually a universal constant of human nature; I can only presume this goes double for Russian peasants living close to starvation for generations. There was much discontent, and occasionally outright bloodshed, mixed in with forced relocation and ethnic cleansing. In the case of Kazahkstan the forced relocation was done with such a heavy hand that the Politburo

actually rebuked the local security services for their handling of the issue.

Martin identifies poverty, land ownership disputes, and a relatively recent date of colonization by Russian settlers as the major factors driving ethnic conflict throughout the USSR. Given that these conditions were so prevalent in the Soviet East, it seems unsurprising that the USSR’s “de-colonization efforts”, to include land redistribution ultimately never got very far. As Martin puts it, the Soviets inherited a segregated society in the region, and while they abolished legal segregation, they soon accepted de facto segregation – in living spaces, in work environments, and even in lines for rations – as the price of doing business. In one example, a Soviet factory inspector noticed that the workers barracks were broken down along ethnic lines. When he asked why, he was told that there were fewer brawls that way.

To me, however, the most interesting aspect of the “positive line” was a campaign of “affirmative action” that corresponds almost precisely to the modern use of the word. The Soviets made a concerted effort to recruit members of the national minorities to jobs within the administrative state – in other words, to bring them into the professional managerial class as we now call it. In effect, it was an attempt to manufacture a new elite, one which was presumably more loyal to the state, system, and party which had given them their position. Martin doesn’t explicitly say this, but I think we can infer it.

To me, this raises all sorts of fascinating questions. Was this new elite actually more loyal to the USSR? (The fact that when the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, someone like Heydar Aliyev could transition seamlessly into an Azerbaijani nationalist after 28 years as KGB officer suggests that they probably weren’t). Did they clash with traditional elites within their own communities, or they mostly recruited from said traditional elites? (Given that elite=landowner in most societies up until very recently, and that the Soviet Union was notoriously not fond of land owners, I suspect the former, but I could be wrong). Et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately, Martin doesn’t share my fascination with intra-elite competition, so he doesn’t explore these questions very much.

There are some insights to be gleaned, however. For example, there is some discussion of the “Red/Expert problem.” In a paranoid state like the USSR, which prioritizes loyalty above all else, how do you deal with the fact that certain highly-technical enterprises can only be run with the assistance of specialists of dubious loyalty? For a striking example of this problem in action, consider Sergei Korolev, who after six years in the gulag, rose to become head of the Soviet Rocketry program, because the USSR could not afford to fall too far behind in the arms race. The Soviets faced an analogous problem when trying to promote individuals of the desired nationality into leadership positions in technical departments.

One answer, apparently, is to have figureheads who hold the title, but leave the actual work to others, nominally lower-ranking. In one example, neither the head nor deputy of an oblast (an administrative unit that seems to correspond roughly to a county, I am happy to be corrected on this because I’m really not sure) agricultural ministry actually had an office or desk. Instead, the ministry was de facto being run by a non-party specialist. Martin draws a parallel with Malaysia’s “Ali Baba businesses”.

This whole thing caused me to reflect on a deficiency in the “simple model” of societal hierarchies. There’s a tendency to think of hierarchies as strictly linear, something like this:


Middle Class

Working Class

Applying this to the USSR, we might construct a model with the central committee at the top and rural non-party members at the bottom. In fact though, an examination of the structure of the USSR would reveal a complex web of different agencies and officials whose authority and responsibility overlapped in complex ways

[I can't post the diagram on the site for some reason. Take my word that's a mess)

I’m oversimplifying the the hideous tangle that was the CPSU, but that only reinforces the point I’m trying to make, which is that hierarchies don’t actually work like this in practice. The reality of power relationships is that they’re always in flux, and that multiple parallel hierarchies can coexist and intersect in surprising ways. A more accurate model might be something like:

[Another diagram I can't post]

I can’t find any information about whether Korolev himself ever became a member of the communist party; for the point I’m trying to make, we’ll assume the answer is no. As a non-red expert, Korolev was in theory subordinate to the party apparatus. But as a key leader in an area of vital strategic importance, Korolev presumably enjoyed access and influence well beyond that of most low-ranking party members. The likely outcome of any conflict between Korolev and a party member would depend on who that party member was, what their connections within the party were relative to Korolev, the nature of dispute, et cetera. Whatever the theoretical great chain of being that bound the Soviet Union together, in practice there would always be room for competition. This room for competition is exacerbated by the fact that the upper echelons of any hierarchy, by their nature, tend to be dominated by fiercely ambitious individuals who are quick to exploit any opening to advance their own agenda. In the words of that great strategic thinker, Jack Sparrow, at the end of the day, the only rules that really matter are what you can do and what you can’t. The true balance of power was thus constantly being re-negotiated.

This isn’t a new idea of course, though I’m not sure how often I’ve seen it formalized. C.S. Lewis wrote of the “Inner Ring”, the self-appointed clique which asserts itself through influence. I’ve heard that Foucalt liked to say that power was multifocal, and maybe this is what he meant. Once you start to look, discrepancies between official hierarchies and non-official ones are everywhere. Stalin himself is a textbook example of someone who rose to wield near-absolute power in spite of being nominally a mere administrator. His title of “Secretary General” literally referred to his position as someone who took notes at the meetings of the politburo. Under certain circumstances, I can imagine that these discrepancies serve a useful purpose – useful for someone, anyway. Deflecting responsibility for unpopular decisions, for one thing. Concealing key nodes/personnel from potential hostile actors for another application.

Where was I? Oh right, talking about the creation of a new elite. Unfortunately for the various nationalist actors, at a certain point, the USSR began to reverse course. Remember the Piedmont Principle? The idea that cultivating nationalism would allow the USSR to project power into ethnic minority groups in neighboring regions? Gradually, Soviet decision makers perceived that the current was in fact running in the opposite direction; cross-border nationalist ties were trumping loyalty to the Soviet Union. By 1932, the USSR was in the midst of the Holomodor, one of the most brutal famines of the twentieth century. Ukrainian cross-border nationalism was blamed, rightly or wrongly, as a major contributor to the situation. Additionally, the resentment of the Russian majority was reaching potentially dangerous levels. So, the USSR reversed course.

By the late 1930s, the “Great Retreat”, as Martin calls it, was in full swing. National institutions were gradually abolished, various symbolic policies such as linguistic preferencing were walked back, and Russian culture and identity were gradually rehabilitated. In the aftermath, the Soviet Union was reinvented as a largely Russo-centric entity. This does not seem to have been a crudely ethnocentric form of Russian chauvinism, but rather cultural nationalism. “The Russian language was the principal path for non-Russians to participate in that culture.” Assimilate and you could, at least in theory, enjoy the full status of any other member of the USSR.

So what can we learn from this book? Mostly, I think, that there’s a strong tendency on the left to underestimate the power of nationalism. Earlier in the twentieth century, a number of prominent leftists had declared that then-hypothetical Great War was just a clash of capitalist imperialists and that the workers of the world would unite and turn against their masters. This spectacularly failed to happen, and the working classes mostly turned out to be enthusiastic participants in the war effort, at least at first. Given the First World Wars contribution to the ultimate breakdown of the prevailing European class system, perhaps this was the right choice for them. I’m not sure why this tendency exists or how it developed. Both the political left and nationalism in the modern sense are in some sense products of the enlightenment. Revolutionary France certainly demonstrated that the two could be tightly fused. For that matter, so did Zionism. My best guess is that it’s because “left” ideologies tend to be universalist in character. Like, say, Christianity (as opposed to traditional Judaism), left ideologies offer a prescription for all mankind, one which is supposed to transcend the petty divisions of language, culture, or geography. Additionally, these ideologies naturally attract wonkish intellectual types who see themselves as transcending these same barriers, and don’t see why everyone else can’t or won’t.

I suppose we also learned that when position and prestige are at stake, vast amounts of fire and brimstone will be spilled over seemingly minor issues (language, various symbolic policies, etc). But I feel like we already knew that. We also learned that when you sort people into groups based off of any particular set of characteristics, they immediately start competing on the basis of those characteristics. But I’ve always felt like that was pretty intuitively obvious to anyone who bothered to stop and think about it.

Could a similar scenario occur today? I’m not sure. The USSR was, as mentioned before, the heir of a vast multinational empire. Various groups competed on the basis of language, ethnicity, and culture. Affirmative action programs today mostly seem to happen within a nation, along (arbitrarily defined?) sub-national identity categories. When those categories are sufficiently robust, robust enough to lead to significant conflict, sure, I could see a backlash. But I don’t think we’re there yet. My basic model for this is that affirmative action is a form of elite patronage, and that competitive elites engage in it in order to create or mobilize their own base of support. In times of elite overproduction, you naturally see patronage of all sorts materialize from rival elite groups. In order to face a backlash, enough elites would have to decide that affirmative action was causing more trouble than it was worth. I’m not really sure what sort of upheaval it would take for the American ruling class to walk back affirmative action policies or rhetoric. Competitive elites are willing to take risks, after all. That’s what makes them competitive. And as the existence of more or less the entire post-colonial world attests, elites are willing to accept quite a lot of collateral damage before they abandon identity-based mobilization of potential supporters.



This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

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In an Infinite Loops podcast episode with Venkatesh Rao, Art of the Gig, the discussion revolves around the importance of courage and taking risks in order to find meaning in life and business.

They talk about the gig economy, and argue that one of the most important things for meaning in life and business is having the courage and nerve to take risks.

Rao explains how many people start out with naive optimism, then get punched in the face by life and don't know how to regain agency. Agency and using it creates meaning, according to him. He casually dismisses the meaning crisis as a failure of nerve and a lack of courage on the part of young adults. I could probably write a whole piece on extended adolescence.

On the other hand, he does acknowledge that many people are so overburdened by life's traumas that they may not even reach the naive optimism stage. Even if they do, some people get lucky and are never challenged, whereas others get screwed and are thrown out of the economic system. This division looms especially large in the developing world.

These conditions lead to a bifurcated system where, as Rao calls it, the "tragically lucky" go through life with naive optimism, but near the end of their life have a crisis because they never learned to deal with challenges or change themselves to have more agency. This archetype would be the guy who comes from a rich family and "fails upward," just collecting titles and promotions without thinking deeply or having to engage with the darker side of the world. The tragedy here is that they never have a chance to truly grow or develop as people, because they never have a real opportunity.

On the other hand, those who deal with adversity when young, or those who don't have strong models in their life who display courage and a sense of agency, either can't have a positive viewpoint on their lives due to trauma, or enter the workforce/college/wherever, fail badly, then feel cheated and can't work up the nerve to take another risk.

These two life experiences are so distinct that they're almost perfectly mismatched for people to understand each other. I don't think it neatly aligns with different political groups, but I'm sure many are likely to make that comparison.

So the question becomes - how do we set up a society in which people can routinely take small risks or deal with small amounts of adversity, and learn to become more agentic in steps as they grow?

Unfortunately, our modern society seems designed to do the opposite of this training for courage. Children are increasingly coddled, their parents' minds befuddled with safetyism and the precautionary principle. In the Western world especially, people are presented with one track in life. Typically, this track starts with schooling, which goes directly into a career, dovetailing neatly into retirement the moment you turn [insert cultural age of retirement here].

People have a narrative where they either stay on the track their whole lives and are successful, or they fall off at some point and are failures. Risk-taking becomes incredibly difficult because the perceived risk of getting off the beaten path becomes much larger. The standard PMC careerist feels that if they take even small risks, they risk throwing their life into disarray. Learned helplessness and non-courageous behaviors become instilled, in my view, due to early-stage trauma, which makes this process even more weighted against risk.

With these priors, we come to an interesting problem. On the one hand, we need to help kids have less trauma and not learn as many passive or non-agentic behaviors. Reducing trauma is often a stated goal of many safetyist maximizers and those who hold a torch for the precautionary principle.

However, we've also got to figure out how to challenge kids. It seems that the artificial hoops we have them jump through in grade school, then the workforce and/or college, don't have an even enough distribution. A lot of this probably has to do with the narrative associated with school and the one-track life I discussed above.

I'm in favor of having high school include some sort of working apprenticeship, and I'd even support time being split 50/50 with half of the time having kids be in a working environment, the other half in the classroom. This inclusion of work would solve a lot of the problems with hyperactive kids that can't learn in a classroom environment. It would also make more well rounded adults, as they'd have a taste of the 'real world' while still being in a relatively safe environment. The big issue would be getting businesses on board and making sure there aren't any legal issues - parents would be a nightmare here I'm sure.

We could also create a sort of bank of school years, or at least make it more culturally acceptable to go back to school. Have kids graduate at 16 and enter the workforce, with two years of schooling 'banked' in case they fail out. Maybe make it mandatory before 30 so there isn't a sharp social distinction. The extra two years could focus on business skills or help students that can't carve out a place in the economy find their niche.

I've tried to be as charitable as possible in this piece, and I'd ask commenters do the same. I firmly believe that one of the reasons this topic stays muddled is the constant refrains around fragility and people being 'snowflakes' or whatever the term de jour happens to be. I don't see how harsh language and derision will help solve this problem, it seems far more based on structural issues in our schooling or overall narratives, rather than a personal failing of individuals. I'm open to disagreement here as a separate point, of course.


Submission statement for Southkraut: Bret Deveraux discusses everything The Rings of Power creators did wrong other than the culture war stuff. TLDR: they understand neither geography nor economics nor anthropology. Also, they are racist towards the Irish.


So there's a delusional take you see on twitter Etc. All the time. From both sides of almost any issue but especially anything related to Russia, elections, Etc. You see people who respond to normal criticism or an abundance of criticism (usually relatively earned by how bad their takes are) accusing their detractors or those who disagree of being bots or astroturfed Putin or Clinton agents... The implied premise being that only lumps of code or Chinese sweatshop workers employed by bad faith actors could hold views that disagree with the complainer. That only bots or paid shills could oppose Ukraine, or support Clinton over Bernie, or Biden over Trump... Etc.

I used to dismiss these complaints... but now I feel I might owe a general apology.


I've noticed since TheMotte moved to its new Site that the Quality of a lot of Comments are just off. Not that the takes are bad or low quality or have odd opinions But that they're Bizarrely and Unnervingly detached from even the barest context of the discussion itself. Stuff completely out of character for even a bad rulebreaking poster on the motte.

Short comments that don't engage with any arguments presented, or even engage with the context of the discussion... but that Immediately tangent off on some culture war point utterly unrelated to the discussion, and then not engaging wit any replies (often with a single external link)... I've seen weird shit on twitter so I've dug into a few of these accounts... and all of their comments are like this, short snipes that never engage even 1 or 2 comments deep with anyone who replies. but that are slowly wracking up a history on the platform...

And then today I was hit by a smoking gun, this Comment:

“The Ukraine conflict is one of the clearest examples of good vs. evil in the past century"

You said it! Look at how despicable these people are!

Video: Ukraine Soldiers Sing Praises Of WW II Era Nazi:

And now NPR is just casually rehabilitating the Nazis:

Now the links are to real pieces of media, The Jimmy Dore Show and NPR... both respectable enough... and there'd be little to suggest this was a bot trying to manipulate the discussion... except for one thing:

No one had said the quote he was replying too...

Indeed I know where he got the quote. It was from a discussion/long take weeks before in relation to Ukraine, and would not even have fit the discussion in that piece, since it was a meta-discussion about how figures discuss Ukraine relative to other wars. I'd quoted it back then as an example of something we'd think was delusional and completely detached from intellectual rigor if said about Iraq 1991 or WW1...

Indeed another comment making the opposite argument used the same quote and drew other quotes from the same two week old discussion... except arguing the opposite way (pro-Ukraine)... And likewise replied not at all to having it pointed out that nothing they quoted was at all mentioned in the actual thread or discussion that was being had.


This obviously killed the discussion in that thread... when half the thread becomes comments quoting things, points and arugments, that were never said, and the other half must become replies saying in effect WTF!?

Well you can't have a discussion any more. Any organic back and forth between actual mottizens was killed. And obviously none of these either schizos or bots responded to keep discussion going.

Now if this becomes the norm it will kill the space...


But its also really unnerved me with regards to the rest of the internet.

The "Dead Internet Theory" doesn't feel like a theory anymore. The Motte is an obscure space with discussion levels high enough you notice if an actor isn't actually thinking or engaging with what's been said... and 2 out of 15 comments in that thread were Fairly undeniably bots....

On a site that's only been up a few months.

What the hell must it be like on other forums? Newspaper comments? YouTube comments?

Hell 4Chan had to implement Capchas for every comment to avoid the problem.