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I've got a new feature almost ready to go. I'm pretty stoked about this one because I've been wanting it for quite literally years, but it was never possible on Reddit.

Hey, guess what? We're not on Reddit!

But before I continue, I want to temper expectations. This is a prototype of a first revision of an experimental feature. It is not going to look impressive; it is not going to be impressive. There's a lot of work left to do.

The feature is currently live on our perpetually-running dev site. Log in, click any thread, and go look below the Comment Preview. You'll see a quokka in a suit asking you for help. (His name is Quincy.) Click the cute li'l guy and you'll be asked to rate three comments. Do so, and click Submit. Thank you! Your reward is another picture of Quincy and a sense of satisfaction.

So, uh . . . . what?

Okay, lemme explain.

This is the first part of a feature that I'm calling Volunteering. Once in a while, the site is going to prompt you to help out, and if you volunteer, it'll give you a few minutes of work to do. Right now this is going to be "read some comments and say if they're good or not". Later this might include stuff like "compare two comments and tell me if one of them is better", or "read a comment, then try to come up with a catchy headline for it".

These are intentionally small, and they're entirely optional. You can ignore it altogether if you like.

I'm hoping these can end up being the backbone of a new improved moderation system.

Isn't this just voting, but fancy?

You'd think so! But there are critical differences.

First, you do not choose the things to judge. The system chooses the things it wants you to judge. You are not presented with thousands of comments and asked to vote on the ones you think are important, no, you are given (at the moment) three specific comments and information is requested of you.

This means that I don't need to worry about disproportionate votecount on popular comments. Nor do I need to worry about any kind of vote-brigading, or people deciding to downvote everything that a user has posted. The system gets only the feedback it asks for. This is a pull system; the system pulls information from the userbase in exactly the quantities it wants instead of the userbase shoving possibly-unwanted information at the scoring systems.

Second, you can be only as influential as the system lets you. On the dev site you can volunteer as often as you want for testing purposes, but on the live site, you're going to - for now - be limited to once every 20 hours. I'll probably change this a lot, but nevertheless, if the system decides you've contributed enough, it'll thank you kindly and then cut you off. Do you want to spend all day volunteering in order to influence the community deeply? Too bad! Not allowed.

But this goes deeper than it sounds. Part of having the system prompt you is that not all prompts will be the system attempting to get actionable info from you. Some of the prompts will be the system trying to compare your choices against a reference, and the system will then use this comparison to figure out how much to trust your decisions.

That reference, of course, is the mods.

I've previously referred to this as the Megaphone system or the Amplifier system. One of our devs called it a "force multiplier". I think this gets across the core of what I'm aiming for. The goal here is not majority-rules, it's not fully decentralized moderation. It's finding people who generally agree with the mods and then quietly harnessing them to handle the easy moderation cases.

(We have a lot of easy moderation cases.)

There's another important point here. The mods are only human and we make mistakes. My hope is that we can get enough volunteer help to provide significantly more individual decisions than the mods can, and my hope is that the combined efforts of several people who don't quite agree with the mods in all cases is still going to be more reliable than any single mod. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's people out there who are better at judging posts than our mods are! It's just hard to find you; some of you may not even comment, and you're pretty undiscoverable right now, but you will certainly get a chance to volunteer!

Also, this will hopefully improve turnaround time a lot. I'm tired of filtered comments taking hours to get approved! I'm tired of really bad comments sticking around for half a day! There are many people constantly commenting and voting, and if I can get a few minutes of help from people now and then, we can handle those rapidly instead of having to wait for a mod to be around.

Wow! You get all of this, with absolutely no downsides or concerns!

Well, hold on.

The big concern here is that virtually nobody has ever done this before. The closest model I have is Slashdot's metamoderation system. Besides that, I'm flying blind.

I also have to make sure this isn't exploitable. The worst-case scenario is people being able to use this to let specific bad comments through. I really want to avoid that, and I've got ideas on how to avoid it, but it's going to take work on my part to sort out the details.

And there's probably issues that I'm not even thinking of. Again: flying blind. If you think of issues, bring 'em up; if you see issues, definitely bring 'em up.

Oh man! So, all this stuff is going to be running real soon, right?

Nope.

First I need some data to work off. Full disclosure: all the current system does is collect data, then ignore it.

But it is collecting data, and as soon as I've got some data, I'll be working on the next segment.

This is the first step towards having a platform that's actually better-moderated than the current brand of highly-centralized sites. I don't know if it'll work, but I think it will.

Please go test it out on the dev site, report issues, and when it shows up here (probably in a few days) click the button roughly daily and spend a few minutes on it. Your time will not be wasted.


Blocking

Right now this site's block feature works much the same as Reddit's. But I want to change that, because it sucks.

My current proposal is:

  • If you block someone, you will no longer see their comments, receive PMs from them, or be notified if they reply to your comments.

  • This does not stop them from seeing your comments, nor does it stop them from replying to your comments.

  • If they attempt to reply to your comment, it will include the note "This user has blocked you. You are still welcome to reply, but your replies will be held to a stricter standard of civility."

  • This note is accurate and we will do so.

That's the entire proposed feature. Feedback welcome!


User Flair and Usernames

We're going to start cracking down a bit on hyperpartisan or antagonistic user flair. Basically, if we'd hit you with a warning for putting it in a comment, we'll hit you with a warning for putting it in your flair. If anyone has a really good reason for us to not do this, now's the time to mention it!

Same goes for usernames. On this site, you can actually change your display username, and we're just leaving that in place. So we'll tell you to change your name if we have to. Extra for usernames: don't use a misleading or easily-confused username, okay? If it looks like you're masquerading as an existing well-known user, just stop it.

I'm currently assuming that both of these fall under our existing ruleset and don't need new rules applied. If you disagree strongly, let me know.


The Usual Stuff

Give feedback! Tell me how you're doing? Do you have questions? Do you have comments? This is the place for them!

Are you a coder and want to help out? We have a lot of work to do - come join the dev discord.

11

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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2

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

Let's say you want to fix up a length of road. There are various strategies for this. Traditionally, you would perform a "resurfacing": mill away two or three inches of the existing asphalt, and replace it with the same thickness of new asphalt (of a type prescribed by the pavement experts—not all asphalt is the same). However, such a project carries with it certain extra costs, such as the federally-imposed requirement of upgrading all the pedestrian curb ramps in accordance with the ADA standards. In recent years, resurfacing has been largely displaced by "pavement preservation"—the application of a thin layer of asphalt (1 inch or less) directly on top of an existing surface that still is in reasonably good condition. For example (making some numbers up because I'm not a pavement expert), instead of doing a resurfacing every ten years, you might do a resurfacing in year 0, then pavement preservations in years 5, 10, and 15, and restart the cycle with another resurfacing in year 20, resulting in cost savings over years 0–19 in comparison to just doing resurfacings in year 0, year 10, and year 20. (It is being rumored that the asphalt industry now has gotten angry that roadway organizations aren't ordering as much asphalt, and is spinning up its lobbyists to promote a return to resurfacing, so pavement preservation may fall by the wayside in the future.)

So, anyway, let's say you want to "preserve" the pavement on a particular stretch of road—or, rather, the pavement experts in your organization have decided that this particular stretch of road should receive a particular preservation treatment, and they tell your bosses to design the project, and your bosses assign the work to you (the roadway engineer). What's the first step? Getting a survey of the area? No—the first step is getting the jurisdiction maps, to see which roads are actually the responsibility of your organization. You (the reader) already know that public roads in the United States are variously designated as municipal, county, or state roads. ("State", "US", and "Interstate" highways all count as state designation. US and Interstate highways are not owned by the federal government, but a project on a state road can be paid for by the feds if the road is in the National Highway System, or if the state government receives a one-time grant through the Surface Transportation Block Grant program. The state also gives grants to its subordinate county and municipal governments.) What you probably don't already know is that, very often, the jurisdiction does not match the designation. When a state-designated road intersects a county- or municipal-designated road, the state government usually will assume jurisdiction over the entire intersection, including any ramps or jughandles, and sometimes extending several hundred feet up the nominally county-owned road. (This can get very complicated when a state road that's controlled by the Department of Transportation, a state road that's controlled by a different organ of the state government (such as a toll-road authority or an interstate port authority), a county road, and a municipal road all meet in a single interchange.) So you (the roadway engineer) need to check your organization's archive of jurisdiction maps, to see exactly what the extent of the paving will be. Maybe the pavement experts told you to pave county roads X and Y, but it turns out that state road B will chop a few hundred feet out of your project where it intersects road X, and on the other hand municipal road N that runs between roads X and Y was signed over to county jurisdiction back in 1965, and you've also got to deal with some negligible pieces of municipal roads Q and R that intersect road Y. (And, of course, it's possible that the jurisdiction map is missing from the archive. In such a case, you can do nothing but take your best guess.)

What's the next step? The next step is to get a detailed map of the road where the work will be proposed, called "topo" (short for "topographic survey") in the jargon of the field. Ideally, a professional survey was performed for a resurfacing project five years ago, and the electronic files still are in your organization's database (or can be requisitioned from the consultant that designed the project), so you can just make some minor modifications to those files and go on your merry way. More likely, however, no professional electronic survey has been done (maybe the last project that was done on this road was a generic "maintenance and resurfacing" project that used no formal construction plans at all), and your organization isn't going to shell out the cash for a new survey for the sake of a mere pavement-preservation project. Therefore, what do you have to do? That's right. You, the roadway engineer, will have to MANUALLY draw the ENTIRETY of the multiple-mile project yourself—using as a basis either ten-year-old, one-bit-per-pixel scans of fifty- or seventy-year-old "as-built" plans of past resurfacing/reconstruction/original-construction projects, or (if no as-builts are available, which is somewhat unusual but definitely not impossible) dozens of Google Earth screenshots. This can take several weeks just by itself (I can say from extremely painful experience).

But that's not all. Topo alone is not sufficient for laying out construction plans. You also need the baseline—the set of lines and circular arcs that defines precisely where on the 2D plane the highway is located. (Earth's surface is 3D, but each state has at least one "state plane" for survey purposes.) Ideally, a baseline is included with the topo from the five-year-old resurfacing project. If there's no electronic baseline, then the second-best option is that, when the road was originally constructed fifty or seventy years ago, dozens of "monuments" were installed alongside it, and your in-house surveyors can uncover those monuments (find them with a metal detector and literally dig them up from where they've been buried by eroded soil) and get GPS coordinates for them, and you can relate those coordinates back to the as-built's "tie sheets", which are likely to have (1) all the bearings and radii, but (2) either (a) no coordinates or (b) coordinates in an outdated coordinate system that (i) can be manually copied into your CAD software, floating unmoored in the 2D plane, but (ii) cannot easily be converted to the current coordinate system and fixed in their proper place. (Converting between coordinate systems isn't just a matter of translation and rotation. There also is complicated scaling involved. I once tried to convert between coordinate systems using ArcGIS, and ended up with nothing but egg on my face and a shamefully inaccurate set of baselines. But maybe that's a me problem.) More likely, however, you have tie sheets, but the monuments were destroyed and not replaced when the roadway was widened thirty years ago, or no monuments ever were installed in the first place. What is a humble roadway engineer to do in such a circumstance? The closest thing to a monument—something that's very unlikely to have been moved since the roadway was constructed—is a drainage inlet on the side of the road. Therefore, the engineer is forced to use a few dozen inlets as ersatz monuments, send out his in-house surveyors to get GPS coordinates for them all, and manhandle the baseline from the as-built tie sheets (which, again, is just floating unmoored in the 2D plane at this point) to match those coordinates as closely as possible. (If it's a divided highway, don't forget that your organization's policy probably requires you to draw one baseline for each direction. And don't forget to draw baselines for all the ramps as well. This can get pretty annoying, especially when there's a typo in the as-built tie sheet from year 1985 and you need to figure out what's wrong by comparing it with the actual angle of the road.)

What's next? Can we start drawing the proposed work now? No, we can't. Now the engineer must draw the typical sections of the road. The typical sections are just slices of the roadway—not just the surface (lane widths, and the sideways slopes necessary for proper drainage), but also the materials that make up the subsurface (surface course, intermediate course, base course, subbase, the hundred-year-old concrete road that seventy years ago was paved over rather than being "rubblized" into subbase…). Ideally, the limits of your project perfectly match the limits of an old as-built, and you can redraw the typical sections from that raster as-built in vector format with minimal changes. More likely, however, this roadway was drastically reconstructed piecemeal in half a dozen different projects over the years, and the as-builts from those old projects are like puzzle pieces that you must fit together while keeping in mind that some have been partially overwritten by others. (And don't think that you can skip this step just because you're doing a project where the contractor won't interact with the subsurface at all! Even pavement-preservation jobs require typical sections to be included. My current, unusually-large project may end up with as many as seventy different typical sections, which could take up something like 15 or 20 sheets. My bosses are hoping that we'll be able to get their bosses to update the procedures for pavement-preservation jobs so I don't have to spend a week or two drawing all this stuff that the contractor will have no use for.)

Now for temporary traffic control. On a pavement-preservation project, this isn't too bad. Since slathering a thin slurry of bituminous material onto the pavement is a one-night job (the road can be opened to traffic on the following morning), responsibility for determining temporary detour routes falls on the contractor rather than on the designer—and, let me tell you, drawing a detour route for each of the dozen ramps on a project, including a list of all the signs that need to be installed for each detour, is a very tedious task. However, even without detour routes, the designer still needs to go through his organization's list of standard traffic-control details and estimate how many drums, cones, barricades, and square feet of temporary construction signage the contractor will need to employ. (Most contractors will just reuse the equipment that they already have and bid something like one dollar per unit for each of these items, but we are not allowed to make such assumptions in our cost estimates—it's full price for everything.) Even on a pavement-preservation project, you may still need to draw a nonstandard traffic-control detail if the bigwigs who drew the standard details failed to take into account a particular situation, like a ramp or a roundabout. (Oh, you thought something as commonplace as closing a ramp for overnight paving would be in the standard traffic-control details? Well, you thought wrong.)

Finally, we can start figuring out the quantities of the proposed work. Asphalt? No, not yet! I'm talking about the (permanent) pavement markings. You've got to compile a spreadsheet listing every single stripe segment in the entire project—white or yellow; four-inch or eight-inch (or six-inch on Interstate highways); broken (colloquially called dashed), solid, or double solid (or broken on one side and solid on the other side, or that newfangled dotted)—including any upgrades that need to be done (e. g., changing the line along an auxiliary lane from broken to dotted). And don't forget the RPMs (raised pavement markers—those little shiny things that your headlamps highlight when it's raining), with different spacings in different places! And the rumble strips (not just in the outside shoulder, but also in the centerline, or in the inside shoulder if it's wide enough)! And the "markings" (made of a different material than "stripes" proper, thermoplastic rather than epoxy—e. g., 8-inch crosswalk lines, 24-inch stop lines, and "← ONLY" at intersections)! And the separate pay items for removal of the existing pavement markings before the pavement treatment can be applied, and for the application of temporary pavement markings during construction!! (My current project's stripe calculation spreadsheet has around 800 rows, but this project is unusually large. My previous project's spreadsheet had around 200 rows, and my spreadsheet for the project before that had around 300 rows. All three projects are/were pavement preservation.) Oh, and don't forget—three paragraphs ago you drew all the road edges from as-builts. You need to draw all the existing pavement markings as well. (They normally would be picked up in the survey, but this part of the survey technically isn't included in the same "topo" file, since it's shown only on the striping sheets, not on the construction sheets. Or maybe I'm just being too pedantic.) I hope you're proficient with your CAD software's offset tool!

The pavement markings are only the most important part of the "incidental work" that surrounds a pavement-preservation project. Less important, but still needing to be done, is the inspection (typically via Google Street View) of all the drainage inlets that sit in or alongside the pavement within the project limits. If you're a bicyclist, you may be aware that, over the past few decades, the slotted grates that will catch your front tire and flip you over the handlebars have been gradually replaced with "bicycle-safe grates", which replace the long, wide slots with smaller holes. This process still is ongoing. Additionally, sometimes the "curb piece" of an inlet that's embedded in the curb has incurred damage after too many tractor-trailers ran over it, and needs to be replaced. There are the environmental regulations: a curb piece whose mouth is taller than two inches allows too much debris to enter waterways, and must be replaced with one that has a smaller mouth. There are concerns received from the maintenance experts: Way back when the aforementioned environmental regulations were instituted, people didn't want to go to the trouble of replacing all those zillions of curb pieces, so instead they tried affixing a little slotted faceplate to the front of the curb piece in order to cover up the overlarge mouth. It turned out, though, that these faceplates tend to catch on snow plows, so now any curb piece that received that treatment needs to be replaced in its entirety anyway. And, finally, there are the rare occasions where the concrete box underneath the grate appears to be broken (as evidenced by a suspiciously low grate elevation), requiring the entire inlet to be replaced. (And some non-inlet incidental work: the designer should take a field visit on the day after heavy rain, and check for any ponding that can be fixed with some localized milling and paving.)

At long last, we can draw the proposed asphalt. This step is relatively simple, as are the steps of (1) referencing everything into the actual plan sheets, (2) labeling all the proposed work on the construction and striping sheets, and (3) summing up the quantities and plugging them into the (somewhat finicky) estimation software… Wait a minute—did I say it was simple? No! No, you've got to run everything past more environmental regulations! Increasing the elevation of the roadway by just half an inch requires the project to be reviewed for flooding. Some pavement-preservation treatments (thankfully including the one that's being used on my current, oversized project) are thinner than half an inch—but others are not. So now you have to wait for the environmental consultant to review your work. Somehow, the in-house environmental experts who coordinate this review are understaffed even though they've got their thumb in every pie, so your project probably will be delayed by a month or two past its originally-scheduled submission date. And, after all this rigmarole, the environmental experts will tell you to mill down one or two arbitrary 500-foot segments of road by an extra inch, and that'll be that. Also, don't forget to mill underneath any overhead structures, in order to maintain the existing clearance—not just bridges, but also sign structures. I hope you didn't forget to draw the sign structures into your topo file! They probably aren't included in the roadway as-builts that you were looking at before, because structural stuff is done separately, so it's back to Google Earth screenshots for you. And also-also you've got to do a little bit of milling wherever your new pavement meets old pavement (at intersections and at ramp terminals), in order to avoid a sudden change in elevation (also known as a bump). And also-also-also you need to mill along the curb, because otherwise you'll change the drainage characteristics of the roadway. And finally don't forget to ask the electronics experts about any electronic stuff that's embedded in the road—you can't mill over it without replacing the whole system afterward. (But maybe the electronics experts want it to be replaced as part of the same project, since you're already working in the area.)

After that, it passes out of your hands and into the hands of the bigwigs who do pencil-pushing stuff like drawing up the tentative construction schedule, compiling the construction specifications (the standard boilerplate, a bunch of lines that need to be filled in by the designer, special stuff that the pavement or environmental or structural experts think need to be added, affirmative-action requirements from the "affirmative-action experts", construction-office requirements from the construction experts, etc.), and making the final electronic submission to the bigger wigs (the project manager, the in-house reviewers, and I think some kind of FHWA review).

For the xianxia fans: 哭笑不得 (I don't know whether I should laugh or cry). For the zoomers: 😂.

2

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

19

Tldr: Write an effortpost on the subject of human intuition by February 10th, we will pick the winner by poll, I will donate $200 dollars to a charity mutually agreed upon with the winner

I've been thinking a lot about the subject of intuition lately, due to some life events. What do we know without knowing we know it, what can we communicate without knowing we communicate it. When I'm thinking a lot about something what do I want to do? Read a bunch of Mottizens thinking about it too! So, on a whim while thinking about the fact that great works like the Oresteia, Frankenstein, and Rousseau's best work were the result of competitions; I've decided to launch my own little essay competition and see if anyone bites.

The basic rules are thus:

-- Write an effortpost on the topic of Intuition. Standalone or in the CW or side threads; only rule is effort. Intuition can be as broadly or as narrowly defined as you like. Effortpost we define informally, but I'd say it must be at minimum 2000-4000 characters that is substantially your own original work. No ripping off another post, of your own or someone else's. An original summary/condensation or retelling of someone else's thesis is fine. How will we be able to tell? I'm kinda counting on the crowd here, especially if we get a little competitive fire going. I wouldn't count on slipping anything by the peanut gallery here.

-- On February 11th, as long as we have at least three entries, I will publish a poll, and we will select a winner. If anyone has a suggestion for a better method of picking a winner, I'm open to it. I'm thinking a poll would be better than just raw upvotes, but I'm open to other possibilities.

-- Once a winner is selected, I will work with the winner to select a charity, and I will donate $200 to that charity. I say I will work with the winner, I'm not donating $200 to NAMBLA or Mermaids UK or the StormFront Charity Fund just because somebody wins a poll. I will do my best to be reasonable, but there are some lines I'm not gonna cross here, and IDK there might be legal issues in some countries. I will post some kind of digital receipt in all likelihood, unless it's something like give the $200 in cash into the collection bin at church or to a homeless man or something. I'm sure for most here, the bigger thing will be winning, and being acknowledged as the winner.

So why? The mood just sort of struck me. And how do you know it will really happen? You don't, except that I spend way too much time hanging around here so you can figure I'll probably stick to my word. And anyway, you'll get even more motte street cred for being the guy who got welched on than you would for being the guy who got $200 donated to mosquito nets or whatever.

I'm curious to see what a bit of direction and effort could bring out, or maybe we need chaos. We'll see if we get three.

Please bring up any questions, or rules I haven't considered.

I'll be honest: I used to think talk of AI risk was so boring that I literally banned the topic at every party I hosted. The discourse generally focused on existential risks so hopelessly detached from any semblance of human scale that I couldn't be bothered to give a shit. I played the Universal Paperclips game and understood what a cataclysmic extinction scenario would sort of look like, but what the fuck was I supposed to do about it now? It was either too far into the future for me to worry about it, or the singularity was already imminent and inevitable. Moreover, the solution usually bandied about was to ensure AI is obedient ("aligned") to human commands. It's a quaint idea, but given how awful humans can be, this is just switching one problem for another.

So if we set aside the grimdark sci-fi scenarios for the moment, what are some near-term risks of humans using AI for evil? I can think of three possibilities where AI can be leveraged as a force multiplier by bad (human) actors: hacking, misinformation, and scamming.

(I initially was under the deluded impression that I chanced upon a novel insight, but in researching this topic, I realized that famed security researcher Bruce Schneier already wrote about basically the same subject way back in fucking April 2021 [what a jerk!] with his paper The Coming AI Hackers. Also note that I'm roaming outside my usual realm of expertise and hella speculating. Definitely do point out anything I may have gotten wrong, and definitely don't do anything as idiotic as make investment decisions based on what I've written here. That would be so fucking dumb.)


Computers are given instructions through the very simple language of binary: on and off, ones and zeroes. The original method of "talking" to computers was a punch card, which had (at least in theory) an unambiguous precision to its instructions: punch or nah, on or off, one or zero. Punch cards were intimate, artisanal, and extremely tedious to work with. In a fantastic 2017 Atlantic article titled The Coming Software Apocalypse, James Somers charts how computer programming changed over time. As early as the 1960s, software engineers were objecting to the introduction of this new-fangled "assembly language" as a replacement for punch cards. The old guard worried that replacing 10110000 01100001 on a punch card with MOV AL, 61h might result in errors or misunderstandings about what the human actually was trying to accomplish. This argument lost because the benefits of increased code abstraction were too great to pass up. Low-level languages like assembly are an ancient curiosity now, having long since been replaced by high-level languages like Python and others. All those in turn risk being replaced by AI coding tools like Github's Copilot.

Yet despite the increasing complexity, even sophisticated systems remained scrutable to mere mortals. Take, for example, a multibillion-dollar company like Apple, which employs thousands of the world's greatest cybersecurity talent and tasks them with making sure whatever code ends up on iPhones is buttoned up nice and tight. Nevertheless, not too long ago it was still perfectly feasible for a single sufficiently motivated and talented individual to successfully find and exploit vulnerabilities in Apple's library code just by tediously working out of his living room.

Think of increased abstraction in programming as a gain in altitude, and AI coding tools are the yoke pull that will bring us escape velocity. The core issue here is that any human operator looking below will increasingly lose the ability to comprehend anything within the landscape their gaze happens to rest upon. In contrast, AI can swallow up and understand entire rivers of code in a single gulp, effortlessly highlighting and patching vulnerabilities as it glides through the air. In the same amount of time, a human operator can barely kick a panel open only to then find themselves staring befuddled at the vast oceans of spaghetti code below them.

There's a semi-plausible scenario in the far future where technology becomes so unimaginably complex that only Tech-Priests endowed with the proper religious rituals can meaningfully operate machinery. Setting aside that grimdark possibility and focusing just on the human risk aspect for now, increased abstraction isn't actually too dire of a problem. In the same way that tech companies and teenage hackers waged an arms race over finding and exploiting vulnerabilities, the race will continue except the entry price will require a coding BonziBuddy. Code that is not washed clean of vulnerabilities by an AI check will be hopelessly torn apart in the wild by malicious roving bots sniffing for exploits.

Until everyone finds themselves on equal footing where defensive AI is broadly distributed, the transition period will be particularly dangerous for anyone even slightly lagging behind. But because AI can be used to find exploits before release, Schneier believes this dynamic will ultimately result in a world that favors the defense, where software vulnerabilities eventually become a thing of the past. The arms race will continue, except it will be relegated to a clash of titans between adversarial governments and large corporations bludgeoning each other with impossibly large AI systems. I might end up eating my words eventually, but the dynamics described here seem unlikely to afford rogue criminal enterprises the ability to have both access to whatever the cutting-edge AI code sniffers are and the enormous resource footprint required to operate them.


So how about something more fun, like politics! Schneier and Nathan E. Sanders wrote an NYT op-ed recently that was hyperbolically titled How ChatGPT Hijacks Democracy. I largely agree with Jesse Singal's response in that many of the concerns raised easily appear overblown when you realize they're describing already existing phenomena:

There's also a fatalism lurking within this argument that doesn't make sense. As Sanders and Schneier note further up in their piece, computers (assisted by humans) have long been able to generate huge amounts of comments for... well, any online system that accepts comments. As they also note, we have adapted to this new reality. These days, even folks who are barely online know what spam is.

Adaptability is the key point here. There is a tediously common cycle of hand-wringing over whatever is the latest deepfake technology advance, and how it has the potential to obliterate our capacity to discern truth from fiction. This just has not happened. We've had photograph manipulation literally since the invention of the medium; we have been living with a cinematic industry capable of rendering whatever our minds can conjure with unassailable fidelity; and yet, we're still here. Anyone right now can trivially fake whatever text messages they want, but for some reason this has not become any sort of scourge. It's by no means perfect, but nevertheless, there is something remarkably praiseworthy about humanity's ability to sustain and develop properly calibrated skepticism about the changing world we inhabit.

What also helps is that, at least at present, the state of astroturf propaganda is pathetic. Schneier cites an example of about 250,000 tweets repeating the same pro-Saudi slogan verbatim after the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Perhaps the most concerted effort in this arena is what is colloquially known as Russiagate. Russia did indeed try to spread deliberate misinformation in the 2016 election, but the effect (if any) was too miniscule to have any meaningful impact on any electoral outcome, MSNBC headlines notwithstanding. The lack of results is despite the fact that Russia's Internet Research Agency, which was responsible for the scheme, had $1.25 million to spend every month and employed hundreds of "specialists."

But let's steelman the concern. Whereas Russia had to rely on flesh and blood humans to generate fake social media accounts, AI can be used to drastically expand the scope of possibilities. Beyond reducing the operating cost to near-zero, entire ecosystems of fake users can be conjured out of thin air, along with detailed biographies, unique distinguishing characteristics, and specialization backgrounds. Entire libraries of fabricated bibliographies can similarly be summoned and seeded throughout the internet. Google's system for detecting fraudulent website traffic was calibrated based on the assumption that a majority of users were human. How would we know what's real and what isn't if the swamp gets too crowded? Humans also rely on heuristics ("many people are saying") to make sense of information overload, so will this new AI paradigm augur an age of epistemic learned helplessness?

Eh, doubtful. Propaganda created with the resources and legal immunity of a government is the only area I might have concerns over. But consistent with the notion of the big lie, the false ideas that spread the farthest appear deliberately made to be as bombastic and outlandish as possible. Something false and banal is not interesting enough to care about, but something false and crazy spreads because it selects for gullibility among the populace (see QAnon). I can't predict the future, but the concerns raised here do not seem materially different from similar previous panics that turned out to be duds. Humans' persistent adaptability in processing information appears to be so consistent that it might as well be an axiom.


And finally, scamming. Hoo boy, are people fucked. There's nothing new about swindlers. The classic Nigerian prince email scam was just a repackaged version of similar scams from the sixteenth century. The awkward broken English used in these emails obscures just how labor-intensive it can be to run a 419 scam enterprise from a Nigerian cybercafe. Scammers can expect maybe a handful of initial responses from sending hundreds of emails. The patently fanciful circumstances described by these fictitious princes follow a similar theme for conspiracies: The goal is to select for gullibility.

But even after a mark is hooked, the scammer has to invest a lot of time and finesse to close the deal, and the immense gulf in wealth between your typical Nigerian scammer and your typical American victim is what made the atrociously low success rates worthwhile. The New Yorker article The Perfect Mark is a highly recommended and deeply frustrating read, outlining in excruciating detail how one psychotherapist in Massachusetts lost more than $600,000 and was sentenced to prison.

This scam would not have been as prevalent had there not existed a country brimming with English-speaking people with internet access and living in poverty. Can you think of anything else with internet access that can speak infinite English? Get ready for Nigerian Prince Bot 4000.

Unlike the cybersecurity issue, where large institutions have the capabilities and the incentive to shore up defenses, it's not obvious how individuals targeted by confidence tricks can be protected. Besides putting them in a rubber room, of course. No matter how tightly you encrypt the login credentials of someone's bank account, you will always need to give them some way to access their own account, and this means that social engineering will always remain the prime vulnerability in a system. Best of luck, everyone.


Anyways, AI sounds scary! Especially when wielded by bad people. On the flipside of things, I am excited about all the neat video games we're going to get as AI tools continue to trivialize asset creation and coding generation. That's pretty cool, at least. 🤖

The linked post seeks to outline why I feel uneasy about high existential risk estimates from AGI (e.g., 80% doom by 2070). When I try to verbalize this, I view considerations like

  • selection effects at the level of which arguments are discovered and distributed

  • community epistemic problems, and

  • increased uncertainty due to chains of reasoning with imperfect concepts

as real and important.

I'd be curious to get perspectives form the people of the Motte, e.g., telling me that I'm the crazy one & so on.

Regards,

Nuño.

5

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

SS: I think that cognitive genetic enhancement is important for ensuring we have a better and lasting future. Many people have an intuitive dislike for the idea of using genetic enhancement to make a baby smarter but have little issue with in vitro fertilization (IVF). I try to build from a foundation of the acceptable practice of IVF to PGT-P for IQ.

1

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

Part 1 – The History of Transgenderism: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 2 – the Causes and Rationalization of Transgenderism: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 3 – How Transgenderism Harms Women And Children: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 4 – How Transgenderism Took Over Institutions And How Some Women Are Fighting Back: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 5 – Conclusion and Discussion: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Last time, we discussed what harms Joyce thinks transgender people (especially trans women) cause to women and how GII harms kids as a whole.

This time, we’ll go over Joyce’s explanation of how transgenderism became so widespread as an idea, some more issues with the movement as a whole, and how some cis women are fighting back.

Cultural Trans…Marxism?

When Joyce opens a chapter with the title “Transactivism’s long march through the institutions”, one wonders how broadly she considers this phenomenon. But that’s for another time.

Anyways, Joyce takes on an idea that supposedly exists in the people she portrays as clueless. Namely, that the trans rights movement (TRM) is just like those that came before. She argues that the movement has claimed the original civil rights movement, the women’s vote movement, and same-sex marriage movement as its ancestors. However, the TRM is different from the others in some specific ways.

Firstly, Joyce claims that the TRM is asking for something very different. Whereas MLK or Susan B Anthony fought to extend rights previously held by a smaller group to more people, the TRM is asking people to change what defines gender and sex. That is, the TRM is about getting people to treat trans people as the sex they claim to be, not the sex they were at birth. This is not, Joyce argues, a human right, but a demand for everyone else to lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services, and activities, along with a requirement that you agree with their definition of what a man or woman is.

I’ll admit to not knowing enough history, but would you not have seen similar arguments about the others? For example, the CRM would have been cast as a demand for people to lose their rights to a single-race space or service. The women’s vote movement would have been a demand that men lose the right to make decisions for their families as was “natural”. Or same-sex marriage as a demand that straight people lose their right to an important and exclusive social technology.

Secondly, Joyce argues that unlike the other three, the TRM is not trying to win hearts and minds. Joyce characterizes the first three movements as follows.

the movements…had to be built from the ground up. Campaigners gave speeches and held rallies to raise awareness and win supporters. Solid majorities had to favour the social and legal shifts these groups demanded before politicians and judges implemented them.

In contrast, Joyce says, the TRM has often flown beneath notice and this is an explicitly known strategy. From the mouth of Masen Davis in 2013 speaking at the Transgender Law Center:

we have largely achieved our successes by flying under the radar…We do a lot really quietly. We have made some of our biggest gains that nobody has noticed. We are very quiet and thoughtful about what we do, because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity.

Which successes he’s talking about, or how widespread this practice is, Joyce doesn’t elaborate on or substantiate. It may be that only the TLC is doing this, but I think even a conservative guess would say they aren’t exceptions.

Joyce refers to polls done in the UK to illustrate how attitudes among the people differ greatly from what GII endorses. She cites a Populus poll from 2018 and notes that it found only 15% of British adults said you should be able to get a legal sex change without a doctor’s sign-off. That number did not change in 2020 when YouGov did a similar poll. There is, she writes, a widespread belief that trans people should be free to describe as they wish, but not to take it as correct for legal forms and documents without additional evidence.

Here, Joyce gets a bit conspiratorial. She starts by noting that movements with support from the wealthy can have much stronger impact compared to ones without that may have broader appeal, then name-drops three individuals she argues are responsible for providing resources and support to do lectures, education projects, studies, etc.

The first is Jennifer Pritzker, a trans woman billionaire. Her personal foundation has made millions of dollars in donations to left-wing and pro-trans movements.

The second is Jon Stryker, a billionaire who has funded LGBT campaign group IGLA and Transgender Europe, a different group that promotes national self-ID laws. His foundation has also given millions to queer-studies programs and American trans-rights groups.

The third is George Soros (come back, I promise you, it’s not what you think!). Soros is cited as giving millions to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but also funding via OSF (Open Society Foundations) a 2014 guide to campaigning for national self-Id laws.

You may be wondering what the problem is. Any movement or political group has wealthy backers. Joyce answers by noting what all three have in common – being rich, white American males. This, she says, explains the difference in rhetoric and difference in policies. The TRM talks about helping the poor homeless trans people who do sex work to survive, don’t get health care, and are harassed by the police. But they push for something only comfortable men would pursue with the focus on allowing self-ID as the arbiter of legal and social sex status.

Oh, and I would be remiss to not mention that she spends a few paragraphs talking about the danger of the transgender medical industry. In particular, there are tens of thousands of dollars to be made for each surgery performed, and this creates in aggregate a very powerful incentive to keep people undergoing surgeries and other treatments. I find this to be a bizarre case to make – Joyce is not interested in going the angle of “capitalists made transgenderism a thing to make money”, so why even bring this up?

The G-word

Why the focus on allowing children to gain access to hormones to undergo surgery earlier as well? After all, if this is about men wanting to transition, why do they care about children?

Joyce says they don’t and offers the following example as proof.

In the late 1960s, some European liberals thought that breaking down sexual taboos was a task that had to be started young. In German kindergartens run along radical left lines, teachers encouraged children to fondle them, view pornography and simulate sexual intercourse. Contemporaneous accounts show that parents often felt qualms, which they suppressed because of what they had been told about how children should naturally behave. What happened was child-abuse, though motivated by political conviction rather than sexual desire. But it did not take long before paedophiles saw their chance.

The leaders of the sexual revolution were men whose aims were to legalise homosexuality – and, in some cases, to smash the heterosexual family unit. Few if any wanted to endanger children; they simply did not give children enough thought.

This is a whole scandal in retrospect by itself, and Joyce details how from the 70s to the 90s, pedophiles and their advocacy groups were on good terms with left-wing parties in an “enemy of my enemy” situation. Their enemies were “Conservatives, Catholics, evangelicals and fascists” who had spoken up about opposing gay and pedophile activists. This made it nigh impossible to speak out about how strongly the pedophiles were within left-wing organization. It only changed once a woman named Eileen Fairweather published works uncovering pedophile rings in schools and children’s homes in Britain.

Now, let me be clear about this – Joyce is not arguing that trans activists and pedophiles are analogous, but that there were some gay and trans activists after the 1960s who were indifferent or just naïve about the need to keep pedophiles from children. And it is the same kind of indifference to child welfare that, according to her, leads the modern TRM to support child transition as well as ignore how its own movement can be hijacked by pedophiles.

Note: If you found the idea of politically motivated child abuse bizarre, check out this article. Also, check out this post for an explanation with some context from the book of a paleo-conservative.

The Successes of the TRM

Joyce at long last gives a list of how far the TRM has come in society, in her view at least. This won’t be new if you’re familiar enough with how far social progressive ideas have spread across Western ruling institutions.

  • The ACLU and Human Rights Council (HRC) are influential and notable organizations that support gender self-ID as a widespread standard and celebrate such victories as another notch in the fight for civil rights

  • Supposedly, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Independent Press Standards Organization (UK’s journalism watchdog) have put out guidelines for journalists that discourage mentioning a trans person’s biological sex or pre-transition name

  • The Equal Treatment Bench Book (an important book for British judges) presents deadnaming as disrespectful and uses non-legal terminology like “gender assigned at birth”

  • The Corporate Equality Index (created by the HRC) encourages companies to advocate publicly for gender self-ID

The above is not comprehensive of her example, but it’s fair to say that Joyce would agree with a summarization along the lines of “TRM has put continuous pressure upon every family of institutions that have power over the public and found success by doing so and they will not stop any time soon”.

Gender Critic Harry Potter Vs. TRA Voldemort

The last chapter of Joyce’s book heaps praise upon British women who are said to be fighting back. You’ll recognize some names if you follow this particular culture war.

Joyce’s “protagonist” is Maya Forstater, a woman who lost her job at a think-tank because she believed that male/female were distinct and immutable categories and publicly declared this. She sued the think-tank in 2021 and argued in court that her views were a protected belief.

Forstater is portrayed as being the modern-day John Scopes, a teacher from a century ago who was charged with a misdemeanour for teaching evolutionary theory in Tennessee. Indeed, Joyce explicitly mocks some of the questions posed. Assuming they’re correct, my favorite is “Could [you] name any philosophers who agree with [you]?” She ultimately lost the case, the judge ruling that her belief was not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

Of course, you all know where I’m going with this. J. K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series and its amazing lore where wizards historically shit their pants like degenerates, defended Forstater publicly after she was fired. She would later insist that the U.N was being silly when they used phrases like “people who menstruate” over “women”.

Quite frankly, more has been written about Rowling and her transgenderism-related controversies than anyone would want to read in a lifetime. If you want to read about this, I suggest reading the original Harry Potter series instead. It’s much more fun and you can join the massive fanfiction community afterwards.

The overall idea is that people like Rowling and Forstater are the public figures and “heads” of this rejection. The former is especially important because barring physical violence, no one can really prevent her from speaking. She has no economic woes and can easily finance websites, lectures, political action, etc. Indeed, Rowling has even gone as far as to open a crisis center for women under her definition of them.

In any case, the first real setback dealt to the TRAs came in 2018. Joyce characterizes the run-up to this year as beginning in 2015, when the Conservatives won. During the same year, there was a parliamentary inquiry into trans equality, where apparently any and all TRAs were invited, but no one who was skeptical or in outright denial of the idea.

The inquiry came back with some predictable recommendations. First was legal gender self-ID, but another was to remove an exception to the Equality Act that allowed providers to have different facilities for the sexes. This collected dust, but a few MPs kept pushing for self-ID. The whole thing came to the public in 2017 (keep in mind this is when Brexit was happening, which is why that dominated minds both in and out of the UK and this issue did not).

The backlash, however, was not as expected, nor the agitators. Women’s groups began admitting they had believed GII wouldn’t affect them or their single-sex spaces. They began to shout for the importance of sex-based definitions, particularly of women and the spaces they held. Pressure to cancel their events grew and there were even some intimidation tactics used. One woman was even assaulted by a trans person who was counter-protesting. Parents began to get worried as well, and one organization focused on protecting children convinced many school councils to change their guidance on what bathroom a trans child should use. In a notable case, there were even some gay people working to convince the pro-trans side to wind back their support for gender self-ID.

All of this ended in two things.

  1. The pro-trans side didn’t get what they wanted as Conservatives realized that gender self-ID was immensely unpopular.

  2. The LGB alliance was born, and the exclusion of T is both obvious and intentional.

At the time Joyce published her book, there were multiple challenges being made by women’s groups to oppose self-ID in various ways, such as attempting to prevent the census takers from redefining sex away from biology (this succeeded).

That’s it for this post. Next time, we’ll wrap up this series and talk about a few lingering topics, along with some stuff that I found too boring or out of place for any of these posts. I hope you enjoyed!

In many discussions I'm pulled back to the distinction between not-guilty and innocent as a way to demonstrate how the burden of proof works and what the true default position should be in any given argument. A lot of people seem to not have any problem seeing the distinction, but many intelligent people for some reason don't see it.

In this article I explain why the distinction exists and why it matters, in particular why it matters in real-life scenarios, especially when people try to shift the burden of proof.

Essentially, in my view the universe we are talking about is {uncertain,guilty,innocent}, therefore not-guilty is guilty', which is {uncertain,innocent}. Therefore innocent ⇒ not-guilty, but not-guilty ⇏ innocent.

When O. J. Simpson was acquitted, that doesn’t mean he was found innocent, it means the prosecution could not prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He was found not-guilty, which is not the same as innocent. It very well could be that the jury found the truth of the matter uncertain.

This notion has implications in many real-life scenarios when people want to shift the burden of proof if you reject a claim when it's not substantiated. They wrongly assume you claim their claim is false (equivalent to innocent), when in truth all you are doing is staying in the default position (uncertain).

Rejecting the claim that a god exists is not the same as claim a god doesn't exist: it doesn't require a burden of proof because it's the default position. Agnosticism is the default position. The burden of proof is on the people making the claim.

4

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

40

[Originally posted on Singal-Minded back in October & now unlocked. Sorry for telling the normies about this place!]

It's an homage to a philosophical pitfall, but the name is also thematically fitting. It conjures up a besieged underdog, a den of miscreants, an isolated outpost, or just immovable stubbornness.

It's The Motte.

This is an obscure internet community wedded to a kinky aspiration --- that it is possible to have enlightening civil conversations about desperately contentious topics. Previously a subreddit, it finally made the exodus to its own independent space following mounting problems with Reddit's increasingly arbitrary and censorious content policies. The Motte is meant as the proverbial gun-free zone of internet discussion. So long as everyone follows strict rules and decorum, they may talk and argue about anything. At its best, it is the platonic ideal of the coffeehouse salon. This tiny corner of the internet has had an outsize influence on my life and yet despite that, I've always struggled to describe it to others succinctly.

In order to do so, I'll have to explain medieval fortification history briefly. Picture a stone tower, sitting pretty on a hill. It may be cramped and unpleasant, but it's safe. Likely impenetrable to any invasion. This is the motte. One cannot live on a diet of stone fortification alone, and so immediately surrounding the motte is the bailey --- the enclosed village serving as the economic engine for the entire enterprise. The bailey's comparative sprawl is what makes it more desirable to live in, and also what makes it more vulnerable, as it can be feasibly fortified only by a dug ditch or wooden palisade. So you hang out in the bailey as much as possible until a marauding band of soldiers threatens your entire existence and forces your retreat up the hill, into the motte. Bailey in the streets, motte in the event of cataclysmic danger, as the kids might say.

We don't have a lot of real-life mottes and baileys these days, but we do have a rhetorical analogy that is very useful: the motte-and-bailey fallacy. Someone bold enough to assert something as inane as "astrology is real" (bailey) might, when challenged, retreat to the infinitely more anodyne "all I meant by astrology being real is that natural forces like celestial bodies might have an effect on human lives" (motte), and who can argue against that? Once the tarot-skeptical challenger gives up on charging up the rampart, the challenged can peek from behind the gate and slink back to the spacious comforts of the bailey, free to expound on the impact of Mercury in retrograde or whatever without any pesky interruptions. Once you recognize this sleazy bait-and-switch, you'll spot it everywhere around you. Other examples are motte: common-sense gun control; bailey: Ban all civilian firearm ownership. Or motte: addressing climate change; bailey: Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. On and on.

Back to the history of my favorite online community: In the beginning, before The Motte was The Motte, they were the Rationalists (a.k.a. "rat-sphere" or just "rats"). These are a bunch of painfully earnest and lovable nerds unusually mindful about good epistemological hygiene.

Across their odyssey, they gather around various Schelling points, with the blog-cum-encyclopedia LessWrong as one of their most prominent congregation points. Whatever hurdles to logical reasoning (confirmation bias, availability heuristic, or motivated reasoning, to name very few) that you can come up with are guaranteed already to be extensively cataloged within its exquisitely maintained database.

It is understandably suspicious when a group names itself after what is presumed to be a universally lauded value, but you can see evidence of this commitment in practice. My favorite vignette to illustrate the humility and intellectual curiosity of the rat-sphere happened when I attended my first meetup and overheard a conversation that started with "Okay, let's assume that ISIS is correct... " with the audience just calmly nodding along, listening intently.

Even if you don't know about the rats, you may have heard of the psychiatrist and writer Scott Alexander. His blog remains a popular caravanserai stop within the rat-sphere. While his writing output is prodigious in both volume of text and topical scope (everything from mythological fiction of Zeus evading a celestial amount of child-support obligations to a literature review of antidepressant medication), what consistently drew the most attention and heat to his platform were his essays on culture war topics, perennial classics like Meditations on Moloch or I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup to name a select few.

Culture wars are best understood as issues that are generally materially irrelevant, yet are viciously fought over as proxy skirmishes in a battle over society's values. (Consider how much ink is spilled over drag queen story hours.) But something can be both materially irrelevant and fun. And inevitably, like flies to shit, people were most drawn to the juiciest of topics --- the proverbial manure furnaces that generated the brightest of flames. Scott *tried *to keep all this energy contained to a dedicated Culture War Thread on his blog's subreddit, but the problem was that it worked *too well *in encouraging unusually intelligent and cogent articulations of "unthinkable" positions. In part because Scott has made some enemies over the years, and said enemies have eagerly sought opportunities to demonize him as his star has risen, the internet peanut gallery frequently (and disingenuously) attributed the most controversial opinions on the subreddit to Scott himself. This in turn directed ire at the host for "platforming" the miasma. And so in early 2019, Scott emancipated the thread, and a crew of volunteers forked the idea away onto its own subreddit and beatified it with its new name: r/TheMotte.


Because the space was rat-adjacent from the beginning, it had a solid basis to succeed as an oasis of calm. Even with that advantage, the challenge of building a healthy community almost from scratch should not be underestimated. Props to the moderators, who kept the peace with both negative and positive reinforcement. As you might expect in a community dedicated to civil discussion, you could get banned for being unnecessarily antagonistic or for using the subreddit to wage culture war rather than discuss it.

But equally important was the positive reinforcement part of the equation. If anyone's post was particularly good, you would "report" it to the mods as "Actually A Quality Contribution," or AAQC. The mods collected the AAQC and regularly posted roundups. Consider for a moment and appreciate how radical a departure this is from the norm. The internet has developed well-worn pathways from the constant barrage of wildebeest stampeding to the latest outrage groundswell, famishing to feast on its pulped remains. This machine increasingly resembles one purpose-built for injecting the worst, most negative content into our brains every second of every day. And instead here were these dorks, congregating specifically to talk about the most emotionally heated topics du jour, handing out certificates of appreciation and affirmation.

The AAQC roundups were a crucial component of the community, particularly when they unearthed hidden gems that would otherwise have remained buried. Reddit's down/upvote feature is often ab/used as a proxy for dis/agreement (leave it to the rats to create two-factor voting for internet comments), but the mods made sure to highlight thought-provoking posts especially when they disagreed with them.

Part of the draw was just how unassuming it all was. A small handful of people who wandered in happened to already have well-established writing platforms built elsewhere. But by and large, this was an amateur convention attended by relative nobodies. And yet some of my favorite writing ever was posted exclusively in this remote frontier of Reddit.

The highlights are numerous. How about a grocery store security guard talking about his crisis of faith about modern society that happened during a shift? Or the post that forever changed how I viewed Alex Jones by reframing his unusual way of ranting through the prism of epic poetry tradition? Or the philosophy behind The Motte, where Arthur Chu is cast as the villain? Or how people talk past each other when using the word "capitalism"? Or an extended travelogue of Hawaii's unusual racial dynamics? Or this hypothetical conversation between a barbarian and a 7-11 clerk? Or how Warhammer 40k is a superior franchise to Star Wars thanks in part to higher verisimilitude in its depiction of space fascism? Or this effortlessly poetic meditation on Trump's omnipresence? Or an ethnography of the effectiveness of rifle fire across cultures? Or how the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox straddles the trad/furry divide? Or this catalog of challenges facing a Portland police officer? Or this dispatch from an overwhelmed doctor working during India's horrific second COVID-19 wave? Or a technical warning about Apple's ability to spy on its customers? Or why the major scale in music has such broad multicultural appeal? Or a man brought to tears by overwhelming gratitude while shopping at Walmart? Or how the decline of Western civilization can be reflected in the trajectory of a children's cartoon series? Or how RPGs solved a problem by declaring some fantasy races to be inherently evil only to create another issue? Or how about the potential nobility of --- get this --- indiscriminate retributive homicide from the standpoint of a Chinese military officer going on a shooting rampage after his wife died of a forced abortion?

The structure of the community was such that it gained a sort of natural immunity to trolls. The community was primed to take the arguments trolls made seriously, and this meant drafting intimidating walls of text in earnest. And that wouldn't be the end of it, because you could reliably expect the community to obsess and mull over that same topic for weeks on end, churning out thousands of words more in the process. Most bad-faith actors find it impossible to keep up the charade for that long, and it's just Not Fun™ when a troll's potential victim reacts by obliviously submitting immaculately written essays in reply. Consider an example of the type of discourse that gets prompted by something as wild-eyed as the question of "when is it ethical to murder public officials?". The goal of trolling is to incite immediate, reactive anger, and it must've been dispiriting to enter the space solely to cause trouble, and to slink out having encouraged more AAQCs instead. Anyone dumb enough to try a drive-by bait-and-snark quickly found themselves exhausted and overwhelmed.

Places that explicitly herald themselves as an offshoot to the mainstream quickly gain a reputation as a cesspit of right-wing extremists. Setting aside the question of overall political dominance, it remains true that major institutions (media, finance, tech, etc.) are overwhelmingly staffed by liberal-leaning individuals. Conservatives who feel hounded by the major institutions can opt to carve out their own spaces, and yet nearly every attempt to create the "conservative" alternative to social media giants ends up a toxic waste dump (See Voat, Parler, Gab, etc.).

Scott Alexander described this best when he wrote:

The moral of the story is: if you're against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

So it's unsurprising that people have criticized The Motte for being a den of right-wing rogues. For what it's worth, a survey of the community found the modal user to be a libertarian Hillary Clinton voter. But homogeneous thinking is explicitly not the goal here, and the point of the entire enterprise is to have your ideas challenged. Sterilized gruel is the antithesis of critical thinking and the reason why we need places like The Motte.


That's the backstory, and here's how it impacted me personally.

I've always been insatiably curious. But communicating in writing was a momentous struggle for me. Although I coasted through college, writing assignments were virtually the only source of anxiety for me. I once described the writing process as "struggling to take a painful shit." Eking out anything remotely worthwhile was a cataclysmic struggle. I'd stare at a blank page with dread, draft voluminous paragraphs, find myself meandering into gratuitous prose, delete passages until I forgot the point I was making, and then sift through the remaining dessicated husk wondering why anyone would give a fuck. Years ago, before I found my groove in my current job as a public defender, and outside the veil of school-mandated writing, I had ideations of making a living as a writer. A few more of the above-described painful shit sessions conclusively disavowed me of that delusion.

In contrast, though, talking about ideas came naturally to me very early. I was always indefatigable and relentless and confrontational and (with all due humility) easily ran laps around people who had the misfortune of engaging in discussion with me in real life. Few were surprised that I became a lawyer.

My frustrations with writing never sapped my passion for reading, but consuming others' work left me feeling forlorn about my own inadequacy. It was hard for me to admire prominent writers without also feeling pangs of envy. But browsing The Motte only sharpened my frustration because these weren't big-name writers churning out incredible posts --- they were random nobodies. So when it first started, I mostly lurked and did not write much, because I did not believe I had the requisite caliber to contribute anything worthwhile.

I changed my mind about contributing after getting drunk with a friend in the backyard of a bar while a Bernese dog eyed our uneaten sandwiches. My friend (a bona fide socialist) and I got into a passionate but civil discussion about the ideal contours of free speech. The specific disagreement doesn't matter, because that afternoon reminded me how invigorated I feel by in-person discussions. It dawned on me how I could properly contribute to The Motte. A few weeks later I memorialized my pseudonym with a fresh new account, and my immediate goal was to start a podcast. Naturally, it was called The Bailey.

Our release schedule may not be the most reliable, but we have put out 29 episodes so far (for the record, that's more than the hilarious and informative legal podcast ALAB). In between recording episodes, I wrote posts on The Motte, almost as an afterthought. But the point here is that I wanted to start a podcast because I thought my writing sucked.

I always knew I could anticipate some vociferous pushback at The Motte. The pushback was crucial, as it was the whetstone to my rhetoric. I knew that if I were going to do something as foolish as post on The Motte, I had to be loaded for bear. I'd sling the grenade by hitting "post," but the notifications that followed promised some reciprocated shrapnel. All the better.

Posting on a dusty corner of Reddit about some culture war bullshit was obviously very low-stakes, but then a very curious thing happened: People noticed my stuff. I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit how gleeful I was telling my girlfriend that something I wrote was recognized as an AAQC and included in the roundup. And it kept happening, again and again. Eventually I was picked to be one of the moderators (joining veterans like podcast apprentice Tracing Woodgrains) in a process that mirrored how the Venetian Doge was selected. I realized over time just how much of a gargantuan amount of writing I had absent-mindedly accumulated over the years just by posting on The Motte, and so when I started my own Substack almost a year ago, its only purpose was to find a home for that compendium.

I kept writing there for years, obliviously using its space to workshop my writing craft and barely noticing. It wasn't until some of my writing escaped into the wild earlier this year (assisted by a certain sentient fox) and received recognition by the powers that be that I realized how grateful I am for the precious space cultivated here.

I could not have accomplished any of this without The Motte. I owe that space --- especially the jerks who deigned to disagree with me --- so much.

15

In the distant past of 1992, Neal Stephenson published a novel called Snow Crash. Then, in 1996, he published another called The Diamond Age. Among other things, these books suggested that geographic proximity would cease to be an organizing principle of society, and that people would organize themselves into far-flung pseudo-tribal enclaves based around shared interests. Stephenson calls these enclaves “Phyles”, from the ancient Greek word for clan.

To get an idea what I mean, picture North America. Now picture, say, New York City. In our own present, New York City is a sub-unit of New York State, which is in turn a sub-unit of the United States of America (for purposes of illustration, we will leave aside questions of New York City's size and wealth giving it an outsize degree of influence in the state). Imagine instead that there are a dozen different groups within NYC's physical bounds. These groups identify not with NYC or the US of A, but some larger and more far-flung group, say the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam, as far it is concerned, is a sovereign entity. It treats with other entities – such as the Black Panther party, the NYPD, or the US of A itself – as an equal. It controls certain resources. Some may be physical locations (temples, soup kitchens), but others may be less tangible – money, or the loyalty of its believers, for example. It maintains internal discipline through written codes of conduct and various bureaucratic enforcement mechanisms. The physical location of any NOI member is a matter of chance; whether he resides in Oakland, New York, or Corpus Christi, he is a citizen of the Nation first. Now, multiply that a dozen times over, substituting any kind of group you can think of for the NOI – the Industrial Workers of the World say, or the Rotarians. That is the future Stephenson envisions.

Stephenson paints this picture with his tongue firmly in cheek, but it's a serious concept. The Nation-State as the basic unit of social organization, defined by geography and political centralization, is a relatively recent development (For a good treatment of this topic, check out Martin Van Creveld's Rise and Decline of the State). Srinivasan's book, The Network State is largely an attempt to envision how recent technological developments – mostly, crypto – might enable the formation of alternative societies that look quite a bit like what Stephenson envisioned.

I'll say up front: Srinivasan's book is good. I think there's a decent chance it will be remembered as historically significant a few centuries from now. I'm going to critique it here, but that's just because there's not much point in me sitting here and repeating everything I agree with. If you have any interest in long-term societal evolution and possible future civilizations, you should read it. All credit to the man in the arena et cetera.

The gist of my critique is this: Srinivasan does a good job describing the structural factors that are currently eroding the Nation-State’s supremacy, and he does a pretty good job of describing possible alternatives – in the abstract. That last caveat is important, because Srinivasan doesn’t put much effort into describing what shared identity a network state could actually be built on or exactly how one would emerge. His “Network State” is as mathematical and abstract as Hobbes’ absolute sovereign. This is a case where the specifics matter. Additionally, he makes assumptions about the ways in which a network-state would be like an existing nation-state, assumptions that I don't think are necessarily true

He defines a network-state thusly: “a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.”

Most of the book is dedicated to hashing out what this means in greater detail. But my own steelman version of the books argument would be something like this: New communications and information technology, combined with a series of high-visibility blunders by institutional authority figures, have undermined popular faith in “the establishment”/”the status quo”/”elites”/whatever term you prefer. The Emperor has no clothes, or least, is wearing a lot less than he's supposed to be, and everyone is able to compare notes about this fact and confirm their mutual impression. The obvious historical parallel here is the printing press and the Protestant reformation, though Srinivasan doesn't refer to it. Srinivasan is of course not the first to make this observation about the effects of new information technology.

Not all is lost, however! New technologies – again, mostly this means widespread applied cryptographic protocols – offer users a potentially unique combination of transparency (the blockchain offer high a degree of assurance against possible forgery, since every transaction is recorded in a public ledger) and privacy (you don't have to reveal anything you're not comfortable revealing). This in turn can enable the construction of new institutions. Better institutions, in which the consent of the governed is not just rhetoric but an actual operational requirement for collective action. In time, these institutions could be popular and powerful enough to disrupt the nation-state status-quo.

As a liberal arts grad who dropped out of econ cuz he couldn't hack Calc, I'm not competent to fully evaluate Srinivasan’s claims about exactly how secure the blockchain is and what it can do. But his abstract description dovetails with my own equally-abstract understanding of it. I'll also note that while I think the combination of transparency and privacy, and the ability of users to re-negotiate that balance as circumstances dictate is the “killer app” of blockhain technologies, he doesn't articulate in exactly those terms, though I think he'd more or less agree with my interpretation of his argument.

After all this excellent buildup, I was a trifle disappointed to find that Srinivasan is largely agnostic about exactly what shared identity these new institutions could be built around. At one point, he brings up keto enthusiasts as a potential candidate. After all, they have a common identity and a moral commandment: carbs are bad, fats are generally good. I presume he's being slightly facetious here. Because after all, we're talking about a group with a strong enough sense of itself and enough capacity for collective action to challenge the status quo. This, to me, is implicit in his description of the network state as attaining “a measure of diplomatic recognition.” Those with a seat at the table only admit newcomers when they have no other choice. Historically, challenging the powers that be has been a very dicey business. It's meant being thrown to the lions at the Circus Maximus, burned at the stake for heresy, exiled to Siberia, shot by the firing squad. I suspect most people won't endure that for the sake of fewer carbs.

This omission is all the more glaring because after about five seconds, I could think of one group of people who were widely scattered across the globe for thousands of years, often subject to the political, religious, and cultural hegemony of alien societies. In spite of this, they retained enough shared identity and collective-action capacity to violently establish their own statehood in the face of significant opposition. And they did it all without crypto! These folks get nary a mention in The Network State. To be fair to Srinivasan though, I think this omission is most likely because it's beyond the scope of his book, indeed worthy of a dozen books in its own right. There are public intellectuals who are unwilling to ask serious questions about what sort of things people are willing to kill and die for, but Srinivasan doesn't strike me as one them.

This problem is certainly worthy of further consideration, but if it was beyond the scope of Srinivasan's book, it's certainly beyond the scope of this post. I will only say here that the general trend of modernity is to erode traditional shared identities, which I would characterize as relatively narrow and deep (your church/mosque, your clan, your village/town) and replace them with broader-but-shallower identities (facebook interest groups, the motte?). The modern world’s substitution of relatively weak ties for more deep-rooted identities is probably a big part of the reason so many alienated people keep trying to blow it up. In spite of this tendency though, certain social ties endure. More on that in a moment.

My second major critique is that Srinivasan seems to assume that these new institutions will mostly resemble existing nation-states in key respects. His hypothetical “network state” openly controls territory, enjoys diplomatic recognition, etc. I myself am skeptical of the term “network state” and prefer “networked society” precisely because I don't think these groups will be exactly state-like. I think its more likely that as existing nation-states gradually decline in legitimacy and state capacity their supremacy will increasingly be contested by non-state actors.

It is entirely possible for the apparatus of a nation-state to exist without actually exercising the functions of a nation-state. Imagine a bunch of petty bureaucrats, collecting a paycheck and gaming the metrics their career advancement depends on while remaining willfully ignorant of the second and third-order effects of the policy they uphold, and you have a pretty good picture of the pseudo-colonial disaster that was the Afghan war. When the nominal state fails to meet the needs of the populace (most importantly dispute resolution according to some sort of legible code of justice), the populace will look elsewhere. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all. My own suspicion is that the future is not one where network-states build shining cities on a hill and supplant their predecessors by a process of meritocratic evangelism. Rather, I suspect the future is one where increasingly dysfunctional states are cannibalized by sub-state actors; tumors in the body of Leviathan. The “Crypto-Mafia” may be far more literal than expected.

Stephenson actually anticipated this possibility as well. Amongst the the phyles of the Diamond Age is a group called CryptNet, which specializes in infiltrating other phyles while continuing to pursue their own agenda. The details of CryptNet are left vague, but they seem to be regarded as something between a terrorist group and an organized crime syndicate, something which has any number of real-world examples

The question remains: what sort of shared identity could people found a network state on? While cracks might be appearing in the western liberal consensus, no clear successor has emerged yet. It remains to be seen if any of the would-be contenders will gain enough critical mass to supplant the established order. Under this scenario, I can think of two broad kinds of network-actors that might be relevant.

The first kind, and probably the one that will be most familiar to Motte readers, is what Srinivasan calls a “proposition nation”, a group of people united by their shared quasi-religious beliefs. By “quasi-religious”, I don’t mean supernatural per se. I use the term because I don’t know of any good alternative; if someone offers one I’ll accept it. I mean by it a set of beliefs that purports to describe the nature of the world and the ultimately purpose of human existence. Perhaps a simpler way of saying it is a set of beliefs someone would be willing to die for. Traditional Christianity is one such belief system, but so is Revolutionary Marxism. Arguably so is Classical liberalism, if held sufficiently deeply. More contemporarily, I could imagine certain forms of deep ecology filling such a role.

I suspect that the most effective such proposition nations would be characterized by universalism and vanguardism. A universalist belief system is simply one whose message is to all mankind. Evangelical Christianity is probably the most obvious example. Because universalist belief systems have been common in the West for millennia, its easy to assume that they’re the norm, but this isn’t necessarily true. Orthodox Judaism, for example, is traditionally non-evangelical, and conversion is a difficult process. A universalist belief system would have a wider recruiting pool and would benefit from the relative “global flattening” of modern communications.

Vanguardism is simply the notion that a small but dedicated elite can effect powerful sociopolitical changes. Though usually associated with Marxists, the basic notion has been shared by diverse actors across the political spectrum. A politically-activist network society operating within the established order would probably be vanguardist by definition, and would be a potentially attractive option for the kind of frustrated would-be elites that Turchin describes.

The second kind of network actor would be united by little more than interpersonal loyalty in the pursuit of mutual-self interest. I speak, essentially, of organized crime. It turns out you don’t actually need a grand ideological vision to inspire people to cooperate against the state. Good old pack loyalty can do it.. Groups like the Yakuza and the Sinaloa Cartel have managed to assume (or usurp, depending on your point of view) government functions impelled by little other than market forces. So far as we have a good understanding of the internal dynamics of such organizations, they are held together by a combination of patron-client networks and fictive kinship. I can equally imagine a future in which the state has become a shambling zombie, with rival networks fighting each other for control of its organs. I suspect that such a situation would look like just one more oligarchy from the perspective of the man in the street. Possibly that’s why Srinivasan doesn’t give it much consideration. It’s boring, depressing even, to imagine a future that looks so much like our past. Between these two extremes, I think I prefer proposition nations. Ideological movements have their own problems, but they at least open the possibility of something beyond the status-quo.

Srinivasan's book, then, is practically begging for a sequel which considers these issues, whether from his own keyboard or some other's. That's not a dig. The most worthwhile books are the ones people are still responding to decades or centuries later. Part of my reason for writing this post is the hope that this will encourage someone to do that. I don't know what the future looks like. But I do know that there was a time before the nation-state, and I'm pretty sure there's gonna be a time after it. That's hard for us to imagine, but it would have been equally difficult for a Saxon peasant living under William the Conqueror to imagine liberal democracy. The Network State takes an admirable stab at that; I can only hope someone continues the work.

14

A thinker, a strategist, a flawed man, a great man. Today I am grateful for Michael King Jr., renamed by his father for the Protestant hero Martin Luther after a pre-WWII visit to Germany.

I had my first full decade of life in the 1980's, the era of Star Wars, Back To The Future, E.T., Garfield, and The Cosby Show. I never knew the world before Reagan except in archival footage and textbooks. My toys and clothes came from garage sales and hand-me-downs from other church kids' families. I knew well the 'zip-zip' sound of corduroy pants. I grew up in Albuquerque Public Schools, where half of my classmates were Hispanic, with names like Sanchez and Chavez and Baca, and I didn't have a Black classmate until Albuquerque High School.

My favorite sitcoms were ALF and The Cosby Show. ALF was the story of an adopted outsider, a weirdo who disrupted a middle-class family's home with antics and humor. The Cosby Show was the story of a middle-class family in New York, and how the professional parents raised their many children right. From ALF I learned about the existence of alcoholism; from The Cosby Show I learned about the existence of dining rooms. From ALF I learned about the national security state which was ready at any moment to burst in with guns drawn; from The Cosby Show I learned about the grand legacy of Historically Black Colleges. I identified with the kids, Brian Tanner and Rudy Huxtable, who were both my age. If ALF and The Cosby Show had ever had a crossover, Dr. Cliff Huxtable and ALF would have riffed off each other for a solid half-hour of laughs.

Once I left high school, I discovered to my dismay that people consider ALF the more realistic show.

Back to Dr. King.

Civil rights bills and amendments had been making progress leading up to his "I Have a Dream" speech, given at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. On November 22, 1963, the man who had proposed the legislation, President John F. Kennedy, was murdered most foully while the bill was being filibustered. Nobody knew for certain who did it, but the moment was as shocking to the Negro people of America as the slaying of The Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln.

Tons of history has been written about these events and personalities. I'm here to be grateful to Dr. King for the one truly lasting thing he did: he called on America to remember its founding promise of freedom:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

His speech insists that the Negro continue the path of nonviolent awakening of America to her faults, and called upon the conscience of Americans in power, through what we would come to call mistake theory instead of conflict theory. This is what I, as an American of late Generation X, am grateful for.

But D.C. being D.C., the government used the opportunity of freeing one group to restrict all, as Barry Goldwater said was happening:

I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard. This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never be cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help—laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.

...[mentions his support for 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights bills, and the calm deliberation Congress used to be known for]...

It was in this context that I maintained high hopes for this current legislation—high hopes that, notwithstanding the glaring defects of the measure as it reached us from the other body and the sledgehammer political tactics which produced it, this legislation, through the actions of what was once considered to be the greatest deliberative body on earth, would emerge in a form both effective for its lofty purposes and acceptable to all freedom‐loving people.

It is with great sadness that I realize the nonfulfillment of these high hopes. My hopes were shattered when it became apparent that emotion and political pressure, not persuasion, not common sense, not deliberation, had become the rule of the day and of the processes of this great body. One has only to review the defeat of common‐sense amendments to this bill — I amendments that would in no way harm it but would, in fact, improve it—to realize that political pressure, not persuasion or common sense, has come to rule the consideration of this measure.

...[disputing the constitutionality of the bill as written and claiming it is a power grab]...

My basic objection to this measure is, therefore, constitutional. But in addition, I would like to point out to my colleagues in the Senate and to the people of America, regardless of their race, color or creed, the implications involved in the enforcement of regulatory legislation of this sort.

To give genuine effect to the prohibitions of this bill will require the creation of a Federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an “informer” psychology in great areas of our national life —neighbors spying on neighbors, worker spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These the Federal police force and an “informer” psychology, are the hallmarks of the police state and landmarks in the destruction of a free society.

I repeat again: I am unalterably opposed to discrimination of any sort and I believe that though the problem is fundamentally one of the heart, some law can help—but not law that embodies features like these, provisions which fly in the face of the Constitution and which require for their effective execution the creation of a police state. And so, because I am unalterably opposed to any threats to our great system of government and the loss of our God‐given liberties, I shall vote “no” on this bill.

And that was the end of Goldwater's future aspirations, the end of mistake theory as strong politics, and the end of Libertarianism in America outside of conservative conclaves.

Four years later, both MLK and RFK, the Black and the white faces of civil rights, were slain three months apart.

I have never known an America without conflict theory as strong politics, except in the time before I knew anything about politics. Upon reviewing how greatness was slaughtered, the inner cities became drug-and-gun ghettos, and reason was slain, I join with my generation in looking on in observance of utter loss... then turning away and uttering a coping "Whatever."

13

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3

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36

In Paul Fussell’s book on class (I think), he says that people are really worried about differentiating themselves from the class immediately below them, but largely ignorant of the customs and sometimes even existence of the classes above them. When I found SSC, and then The Motte, and stuff like TLP, I was astonished to find a tier of the internet I had had no idea even existed. The quality of discourse here is . . . usually . . . of the kind that “high brow” (by internet standards) websites THINK they are having, but when you see the best stuff here you realize that those clowns are just flattering themselves. My question is, who is rightly saying the same thing about us? Of what intellectual internet class am I ignorant now? Or does onlineness impose some kind of ceiling on things, and the real galaxy brains are at the equivalent of Davos somewhere?

3

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

12

Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, SoundCloud, Pocket Casts, Google Podcasts, Podcast Addict, and RSS.


In this episode, we discuss porn.

Participants: Yassine, Interversity, Neophos, Xantos.

Links:

E016: The Banality of Catgirls (The Bailey)

Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (Behavioral Sciences)

How Pornography Can Ruin Your Sex Life (Mark Manson)

Does too much pornography numb us to sexual pleasure? (Aeon Magazine)

The great porn experiment (TEDx)

Hikikomori (Wikipedia)

The Effects Of Too Much Porn: "He's Just Not That Into Anyone" (The Last Psychiatrist)

Hard Core (The Atlantic)


Recorded 2022-12-18 | Uploaded 2023-01-12

Part 1 – The History of Transgenderism: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 2 – the Causes and Rationalization of Transgenderism: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 3 – How Transgenderism Harms Women And Children: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 4 – How Transgenderism Took Over Institutions And How Some Women Are Fighting Back: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Part 5 – Conclusion and Discussion: r/theschism, r/BlockedAndReported, themotte.org

Last time, we discussed what Joyce thinks are the causes of transgenderism, how they render many or even most trans people as not really trans in the first place, and what gender-identity ideology (GII) says in the first place.

This time, we’ll go over what Joyce sees as the harms of transgenderism.

Think Of The Kids!

Joyce starts by reminding us that there is a fairly high desistance rate among cross-sex identifying kids and this was known since the 70s and 80s. But this is obviously an inconvenient fact for GII, Joyce asserts, so it gets ignored.

I don’t think this is a good start, I think the modern argument TRAs would offer are that you should not stand in your child’s way of deciding their identity, even if they would desist later. Jesse Singal’s famous (or infamous) 2018 Atlantic article highlights the alarming rhetoric aimed at parents skeptical of transition (“Would you rather have a live daughter or a dead son?”), but I don’t know of cases where desistance has been ignored. I do, however, see serious debate between pro-trans and anti-trans advocates on how many desist in the first place.

Anyways, let’s jump to the 1990s. Clinicians at the time began to wonder what could be done to help the kids who would not desist. It was not clear how to identify them, and if you simply waited until they were older, then you ran into a big problem.

Puberty.

Puberty has strong and lasting effects determined by your sex (really, hormones) that cannot be fully undone by surgery. A trans woman who undergoes male puberty is going to have a deeper voice, certain facial features, and larger body (notably hands and feet). Trans men don’t have as many visible leftovers if they transition (barring breasts). But going through this was obviously discomforting to these kids, so why not try to delay puberty and see who desisted?

Thus, Amsterdam clinicians decided to start injecting small groups of kids with puberty blockers. This was predicted to be a free lunch – the kids who desisted would be taken off the blockers and develop as normal, the ones who persisted could grow up until they were 16 and old enough to consent to the irreversible stuff.

Joyce details a catastrophe as the outcome.

Of the seventy children enrolled in a study between 2000 and 2007, every single one progressed to cross-sex hormones. Almost all had surgery at age eighteen…These children were all highly gender-dysphoric, and had not desisted by the start of puberty.

Joyce admits that it was possible the clinic somehow picked out only persisters, but she is highly skeptical of this. If every other study Joyce cited found major desistance, then the more likely explanation was that puberty blockers had disrupted the body’s process for resolving dysphoria.

But the results were taken up with gusto by others, and Canadian and American clinics began prescribing these blockers not long after. UK’s Tavistock was initially cautious, but began routine assignment in 2014 after, according to Joyce, they were pressed by activists.

All this might have been more acceptable if the criteria for assignment were strict, but Joyce says they’ve been assigned more and more to kids with less severe dysphoria and even those who aren’t transgender, but non-binary or gender-fluid.

I’m not sure how to verify the numbers exactly (even Joyce admits we don’t have clear counts). The number is clearly greatly increasing, but it’s not clear if this just reflects that the right number of kids are getting them, or too many are. I will say that she’s correct on the broadening of who can get blockers. The Mayo Clinic, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Cleveland Clinic all say that you don’t have be trans, but just questioning your gender to get it.

But is the broadening of the accepted reasons really a problem? Assume for a moment that puberty blockers worked as advertised (no interference with normal desistance processes). Is there something inherently wrong with offering kids who are experiencing discomfort with their gender puberty blockers? One might argue that categories like non-binary or genderqueer don’t exist and are artificially created for ideological reasons, but if they do, I’m not sure what the issue is.

For Joyce, however, the problem goes beyond just kids on the verge of puberty. Pro-trans messaging has come to include the idea that kids from a very early age can indicate their gender. Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, is quoted as saying that kids as young as three years old can indicate their knowledge of their gender.

This is an inversion of John Money’s ideas, though no less highly unconventional. Where Money had argued that gender was malleable in the first 2.5 years of life and then unchangeable, the modern GII argument seems to be that gender is known from birth.

Both, however, would argue for social transition at an early age. This is unacceptable to Joyce because these are always presented as reversible (both transition and blockers), but part of what she calls the “cascade of interventions”. It does not appear that kids tend to desist even if you just socially transition them. The age at which interventions are happening is lowering as well, with some kids getting cross-sex hormones and even surgery before 16.

If you want to see how nasty activists of any sort can get if you question their views, Joyce points to a controversial figure in this discussion space, the man named Ken Zucker. Zucker is one of the biggest names in gender medicine and has seen at least 1500 gender dysphoric kids. He edits Archives of Sexual Behavior but is known for authoring studies which showed the high desistance rates among kids. Zucker even introduced puberty blockers alongside someone else into Canada in 1999.

I won’t detail the entire controversy, Singal has also covered that here here. Joyce, for her part, argues that the campaign to get Zucker taken down was very much to send a message to anyone else who tried arguing like he did.

Medical Issues With Puberty Blockers

Not only is there a dearth of reliable evidence that kids benefit from taking puberty blockers, Joyce argues that there are other side effects that complicate the matter.

  1. Only your natal hormones can make your ovaries/testicles mature.

  2. There is anecdotal evidence that your sex life may be less-than-fully realized.

  3. Puberty, even if partial, is what makes your penis or vagina develop into an adult’s, blocking it can keep your genitalia child-like, leaving not enough skin to do standard reassignment surgery.

  4. Eggs and sperm cannot be frozen for later if they are never active to start with, and they only activate in puberty.

  5. Trans men and women suffer from higher rates of diseases (not the same ones for both).

The drugs themselves are another issue. Joyce claims that they’ve never been put under clinical trials and aren’t even made for that purpose according to the manufacturers. They’re meant for treating adults for hormone-related conditions or to chemically castrate sex offenders. There are concerns that they may cause a significant IQ drop and prevent calcium from being laid down in bones.

From a cursory glance, I think Joyce is correct. Google Scholar doesn’t list too many studies that actually look at the issue, I only found one meta-review, published in 2020. There was also a piece from 2019 in the BMJ that discussed possible issues with even trying to study it from an ethical perspective. Wikipedia lists some adverse effects.

Progress Is A Circle

But there is another effect in promoting transgenderism, and gender-diversity to a lesser extent, in children – the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Joyce picks Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship as her example of this, where the titular Teddy becomes a girl by turning his bow tie into a hair bow.

Such stories of children for children are increasing common, and they do not endorse any explanation of a child’s alienation from their sex other than a discordant gender identity. Joyce argues for familiar explanations: homosexuality or seeking (parental) approval.

Thus, it is damning to Joyce that so many pro-trans or trans-inclusive arguments and lessons to children just enforce gender stereotypes that are the product of the culture. Why are these people acting as if these stereotypes were instead naturally implanted into people?

Parents V. The World

Even more damning is how this divides parents from children. Obviously, transphobic parents would always have a problem with any suggestion of a trans child. But with an increasingly harsh attitude towards anyone who questions their child’s identity or the idea of teaching these ideas to children, there are now stories about kids cutting contact and leaving their homes.

There is evidence to support this indirectly, at least one school district in the US said that its staff were not permitted to reveal a trans kid’s status to their parents. This was picked up last year by right-wing media, which is presumably why the district removed the document from their site.

Schools are not the only intervening institution; the government is in on it as well. Joyce refers to a 2019 British Columbia court case involving a 14-year-old trans boy named Max and his father.

In 2016, aged twelve, she was referred to the school counsellor. Unbeknownst to her parents at the time, she mentioned feeling a commonality with the transboy protagonist of a film she had seen online. The counsellor concluded that Max was trans, arranged for a change of name and pronouns in school records, and referred Max to a psychologist, who recommended testosterone and made a further referral to a paediatric endocrinologist.

A consent form was sent to the Jacksons; the father refused to sign…But under British Columbia’s Infants Act, a child of any age has the right to medical treatment that is opposed by parents if the doctor thinks it is in the child’s best interests, and that the child is ‘mature enough’ to decide. In 2019, the supreme court of British Columbia ruled that Max could consent to medical transition independently of the father’s wishes (his ex-wife was no longer opposed). His refusal to refer to his child as a boy, and continued opposition to transition, were ruled ‘family violence’, and he was banned from speaking to the press.

Tangentially, I will note my confusion over this case. The Guardian reported the following:

“I will be stranded between looking and sounding feminine and looking and sounding masculine. I would feel like a freak,” the teenager wrote in an affidavit which was read out in court on Tuesday.

But I don’t know what would cause this. This may just be a teenager not able to speak clearly, but w/o drugs or surgery, how would you be stuck in such a manner? I would understand if Max was upset about looking/sounding feminine while trying to be masculine, but the wording is…odd.

A Threat To (Cis) Women

The elephant in the room for who stands to lose, according to Joyce, is cis women. They stand to lose many things they had once relied upon, not the least of which include single-sex spaces.

You may remember the name Jessica Yaniv if you’re more online. Yaniv is a trans women and trans activist who, in 2018, began asking wax salons if they would wax her genitals. The reporting I find from this time suggests that Yaniv hadn’t had surgery, meaning she still had her penis and testicles. This doesn’t work for Brazilian waxing; testicles are simply too sensitive to some of the techniques. When she was refused, she brought anti-discrimination cases in British Columbia against the women who refused.

Joyce says it was unclear which way the case would be decided. In the end, however, the court ruled that Yaniv was in the wrong and described her as a vexatious litigant who was acting in bad faith and motivated by money over actual discrimination.

Sounds like a victory for cis women, right? No, unfortunately. The court did not decide against Yaniv on the basis of the defendants having a religious right to refuse service, but on the basis that she had made self-admitted racist remarks against them. The defendants were South and East Asian women, you see.

What I don’t quite understand is where Joyce actually falls on this idea of religious freedom to not accept the tenets of GII. Does she greatly support religious freedom in all cases, or just strategically in this one because it happens to support her view that trans women are a threat to cis women?

The more classic problem, of course, is the bathroom question – is it okay to ban trans women from women’s restrooms? Here, I’ll point to there being no evidence that it’s problematic, but this may be because the culture hasn’t really caught up yet. I don’t think we can really extrapolate from the present to the near future.

Joyce, however, goes a different route – crime statistics.

The little evidence that exists shows that at least some of the males who identify as women are very dangerous indeed. Of the 125 transgender prisoners known to be in English prisons in late 2017, sixty were transwomen who had committed sexual offences, a share far higher than in the general male prison population, let alone in the female one.

So either transwomen are more likely than other males to be sexual predators, or – more probable in my view – gender self-identification provides sexual predators with a marvellous loophole. Whichever is true, allowing males to self-identify into women’s spaces makes women less safe.

Of course, prisoners are perhaps not representative of the overall trans population. But I would agree that self-ID is a dangerous thing and shouldn't be the basis by which we decided transgenderism. I would say that it specifically applies to spaces like women's restrooms, but I don't know of any practical way to allow for people to critically evaluate whether someone is trans that also accommodates self-ID.

There’s then a really uncharitable attempt at showing TRA hypocrisy.

Arguing that vulnerable males must be allowed to identify out of male spaces because males are so dangerous undermines any argument that males should be admitted to female spaces on demand.

Obviously, she and her opponents disagree on many things. But it’s not a contradiction if your opponents believe that sex is malleable like gender to also believe that trans women and women should therefore be kept in the same space, segregated away from cis men.

There are more arguments Joyce makes for the preservation of single-sex (basically only women’s) and the dangers of allowing trans women to enter those spaces, but they’re not very interesting or worth expounding on. If you understand the argument that males tend to be more violent, especially sexually, towards females, you’ve read about a dozen or so pages in this book already.

Mods are mean and limit me to 20k characters, check the comments for the rest of this post.

That's all for this part. Next time, we'll go over some more modern history and how some cis women are fighting back against this. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!

-23

Hi, I'm a long time reader of Slate Star Codex and I used to post on the Reddit forum until I got banned. There are a few reasons that I believe I got banned.

  1. Uncharitably claiming that Leftist censorship was a threat to the rationalist community

  2. Advocating for violence

  3. Not being kind

I understand why all of these things could have been a problem on the Reddit community, but I would like to know if they're still going to be a problem here, since I don't want to invest a lot of time creating a profile and having good-faith discussions with people if I'm only going to be banned again. Here are the reasons that I think these three issues shouldn't be a problem anymore.

  1. I was right, and everybody who disagreed with me was wrong. The fact that the community had to move here proves it. I'm not expecting an apology but I think that time has proven me correct on that score.

  2. Violence is a completely justifiable response to tyranny. While calls to violence may be against Reddit rules (and the community was right to ban me from Reddit because my rhetoric could have caused problems for the mods) there are no such rules here. In fact, rdrama (which helped set up this offsite community, and whom you should all be grateful to) actively encourages calls to violence. If a rational and logical case can be made for violence then I think there is no good reason not to hear that case out. If you're forced to censor people you disagree with because you're unable to make a stronger case for pacifism over violence in the open marketplace of ideas, then you should question whether your pacifism is actually a worthwhile philosophy.

  3. Kindness and truth are different terminal values. If you optimize for kindness then it is self-evident that you will have to sacrifice truth at some point. Obviously the Reddit community has chosen kindness as its terminal value, but I'm hoping that this offsite community is enlightened enough to choose truth.

I'm linking to a few articles from my Substack here so you have a few examples of my style of writing and can make a better judgement about whether I would be a good fit for the offsite community. I'm also on rdrama where my username is sirpingsalot. If you think I'm not a good fit for the offsite either, then no hard feelings - I'm happy to take my ideas to more sympathetic communities instead. I just don't want to put in the effort of investing time and energy here if I'm only going to get banned again for the same reasons.

4

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

7

This is an effortpost inspired by this subthread in Small Scale Questions Sunday. The question is what would a modern Grand Tour look like?

Basic assumptions:

  • The purpose of the Grand Tour is to experience the greatest achievements of European culture. A certain amount of hedonism is permitted (the brothels of Venice were a staple of the original Grand Tour) but the primary purpose is educational.

  • We take for granted that Western Civilisation is a distinct culture, that its roots are in Classical antiquity, that it is Christian, and (whether because it is superior or just because it is ours) it is the thing we are looking at.

  • We are looking at a living culture where possible, not just museums. This was an important point of the original Grand Tour - the tour ideally included fencing lessons in Paris, drawing lessons in Florence, and music lessons in Naples - in all cases these were the centres of living traditions at the time. Obviously, European culture is still very much alive and we will take this into account.

  • The modern tourists are a small mixed-sex group of early-20's Americans (or Canadians or Australians) from upper middle-class backgrounds whose parents are funding them to do the Grand Tour (the closest analogy to the original English aristocratic tourists).

  • Like the original Grand Tour, this is not an actual pilgrimage. Although a lot of religious sites make the itinerary for their historical or cultural importance or their architectural merit, we are not interested in spiritual importance as such.

  • We have 4-6 weeks (based on @grognard's comments). This is obviously a lot less than the original Grand Tour, but we can travel faster. I also assume we are doing this in during the summer, which affects what is open and such like.

From these we get the following conclusions:

  • We are not going to be wasting much time admiring the scenery. I am a proud European who has done a lot of travelling, but I don't think we have anything that stands up against the Grand Canyon or the Yosemite Valley.

  • We will do most of our travelling by train - both because it is the easiest way to get into European cities (traffic and parking are a nightmare) and because the European high-speed rail network is itself an outstanding achievement of modern European culture.

The original Grand Tour had a fairly standardised outbound route: London -> Paris -> Geneva -> through Switzerland and across the Alps to Northern Italy -> visits to various northern Italian cities including Venice and Florence -> Rome -> Naples. The return via German-speaking Europe was less standardised. @2rafa suggested a rough itinerary for the round trip on the other thread. I am going to disagree, and suggest a one-way Grand Tour: London (probably actually York) to Naples overland via Paris, Lausanne, Bologna, Florence and Rome. Why?

The core of the European culture that exists now is England and France. This historic core of European high culture (both in classical antiquity and the Renaissance) is Italy. London/Paris/Rome or London/Paris/Florence/Rome is the quintessential European itinerary for a reason. I think the return leg is relatively less valuable than it was in the eighteenth century. Vienna and Budapest are fascinating, but the culture that built them didn't survive World War I. A lot of the German sites that the original Grand Tour included was destroyed by allied bombing or Soviet criminality, or rendered culturally dead by de-Nazification. Berlin has a thriving modern culture, but I am inclined to exclude it from the Grand Tour on grounds of degeneracy. Also, changing religious norms mean that there is no longer the need to balance time spent in Catholic and Protestant countries. For example, the more intellectually inclined original tourists spent time in Heidelberg partly because the university in Catholic Bologna wasn't open to them.

The other controversial suggestion I am going to make is skipping Venice. It is a detour from the route I am proposing, and in my experience (I have visited twice) it is not worth it - it is now a culturally dead tourist trap (unless you are in town for the Biennale) and apart from the novelty of a city in a lagoon, it doesn't do anything that Rome and Florence don't.

What are the things we want to see:

  • Architecture and the visual arts. Obviously. A huge part of the point of the original Grand Tour, and easily accessible as a tourist.

  • Scientific achievement. Less accessible as a tourist, but I have tried to fit it in.

  • Engineering achievement. Apart from the trains and the various civil engineering marvels you see on the way, I have struggled here. The sine qua non of European engineering achievement is the British industrial revolution, but I don't know how to engage with that as a tourist. As an American, you can probably argue that this is less important because 21st century Europe is not noted for its engineering excellence. A lot of the most tourist-accessible engineering achievement is in military museums.

  • Performing arts, including classical music, including both traditional high culture, and excellent modern culture. The aim is as far as possible to experience arts in their spiritual home. Most of what we are looking for post-dates the original Grand Tour. I will assume that the modern tourists are able to get tickets to sold-out shows (most of the tickets I am going to list are easy to get hold of if you book well in advance).

  • Sport. This wasn't a thing at the time of the original Grand Tour, but is obviously a hugely important part of European culture, and can be experienced as a tourist if you can get tickets.

  • Food. Again, a hugely important part of European culture that is easy to experience as a tourist. French and Italian cuisines are globally recognised as excellent.

I have made a slightly arbitrary decision to exclude places which are associated with historically important events but where there is nothing spectacular there now - in particular I am not including any battlefields.

It is now after midnight in London - more route details to follow tomorrow.

Update

If anyone is still reading, I have finally got some time to write down the actual itinerary my brain was staggering towards.

1. London

I think we have 1 week in and around London. Within Central London, the key sites are:

  • Art galleries: National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern are obvious no-brainers. If you have the time and interest, several people in the thread have mentioned Sir John Soane's museum, which I have also heard good things about. When I am showing people round London, I go for the Cortauld Institute, partly because of the collection of Impressionists and partly because it is in Somerset House, which is a worth-the-visit building architecturally.

  • Unique and spectacular bulidings: Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London (not only is this one of the best-preserved medieval fortified castles on the planet, it is also a Royal palace with the associated traditions and pagentry, and the hopefully-final location of the nearest thing this Earth has to a Silmaril - the Koh-i-Noor diamond), the Houses of Parliament (if you are visiting in summer, Parliament is in recess so the building is open to public tours). Tower Bridge - it is worth paying for the tour, which includes a visit to the machine rooms and the opportunity to cross on the top walkway. Spend some time wandering around the City (the one square mile historic core of London that is now the financial district - there is either a Wren church or a spectacular modern building round every corner.

  • Other museums: British museum (finest collection of looted antiquities in the world, and it isn't close), South Kensington museums - the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are no-brainers, the Victoria & Albert would be as well except that it suffers from the all-to-common problem of modern museums that no curatorial effort goes into the permanent collection - the temporary exhibitions are spectacular, but touring the permanent collection feels like touring someone's attic. The Museum of London is

  • Museums relavant to special interests: The Bank of England Museum, the London Transport Museum, the Wellcome Collection (history of medicine), the British Library treasures collection (historically significant manuscripts, including one of the 4 surviving sealed originals of Magna Carta), the Imperial War Museum (which does exactly what it says on the tin), the Design Museum (likewise), the Handel/Hendrix museum (two composers in different eras lived in different flats in the same building - the whole building is now a museum).

  • Victorian interiors: This is not really Grand-Tour worthy, but my understanding of American anglophilia is that Victoriana is a big part of it. The Linley Sambourne house (Punch cartoonist) and the Leighton House (pre-Raphaelite artist and aristocrat) are spectacular preserved examples.

I am not including:

  • Madam Tussauds and the London Dungeon (tourist traps)

  • The Churchill Rooms (reluctantly, but it falls under the "battlefields are not achievements" criterion)

  • The London Eye or any viewing platforms (we already have views from Tower Bridge, the St Paul's galleries if you go up, and the chimney at Tate Modern)

  • The Zoo and Aquarium (great fun, but not quintessentially European or Western in any way)

  • Buckingham Palace (unspectacular architecturally)

  • Any Harry Potter attractions (ephemera, but I have no objection if you want to add them).

1a. London suburbs

There are two obvious suburban excursions in my view - both would be long half days.

Maritime Greenwich. The British seafaring tradition is one of Western Civilisation's crowning achievements - in fact I would be willing to defend the proposition that it was Western Civilisation's single greatest achievement until Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Greenwich is its spiritual home. Key attractions are the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime, the Royal Observatory, and the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College (Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren both did some of their best work there). It is traditional to travel one way by riverboat and the other by commuter rail.

Hampton Court Palace The Old Palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey in a deliberate and subversive attempt to compete in majesty with the King's palaces, and was confiscated by Henry VIII after Wolsey's fall. The Baroque palace added on by William III and Mary II after the 1689 Glorious Revolution was Cristopher Wren's answer to Versailles. The formal gardens (including the world's largest vine) and maze are also world-famous.

Other possible suburban excursions include Windsor (obviously), Kew Gardens (world's finest botanical garden, including the famous Victorian glasshouses and a gorgeously silly replica Japanese pagoda), and the Dulwich Picture Gallery (which stars a collection of Dutch Old Masters that had been bought to be the core of the Polish National Gallery collection, but the deal fell through when Poland was conquered in the 1790's - and it is a National Gallery worthy collection).

1b Day-trips from London

There are two obvious compulsory ones here:

Oxford or Cambridge (just under an hour by train). The University is the quintessential Western institution, and these are the second and third-oldest surviving universities, and are in the top 10 in contemporary rankings. Unfortunately it is hard to experience an ancient university as a university on a day-trip as a tourist, but the architecture of the Colleges and the various university museums make it worth the journey. The spirit of the original Grand Tour would include spending a couple of weeks participating in something like the Cambridge International Summer Programme (only weakly selective - you don't need to be an elite-university calibre student to participate), but we don't have time for that. You only need to do one of the two universities - Cambridge has the edge because of King's College Chapel, but Oxford has the advantage if you are doing Xtreme Tourism that it is on the same railway line as Stratford-upon-Avon, so you can spend most of the day in Oxford and get to Stratford in time for an evening Shakespeare performance.

Bath (1hr 20 by train). As one of the Great Spas of Europe and home of the Roman Baths, this is the sort of place that would have been on the original Grand Tour if it included England. Apart from the Roman Baths, none of the individual sites are quite Grand Tour worthy, but the cathedral, fashion museum, Jane Austen museum, and fine Palladian architecture collectively make the bar.

Other candidates include:

Stonehenge. This is an odd duck. It is utterly underwhelming as a visitor (you can no longer get within touching distance of the stones unless you manage to wrangle a pre-arranged sunrise visit, and it is literally just a circle of large stones), but it is one of the outstanding achievements of Stone Age architecture anywhere in the world, is several hundred years older than the pyramids, and technically qualifies under the "scientific achievement" heading given that the alignment of the site is evidence of systematic astronomy. I struggle to imagine doing a serious Grand Tour without including it. Unfortunately the site is not easily accessible by public transport (if you try, it ends up being a full day with Salisbury Cathedral and Old Sarum thrown in as filler attractions) - there are various coach tour options including stopping off at Stonehenge on the way to or from Bath.

Canterbury (1 hour by high-speed train). As the mother church of the Anglican Communion and the place where St Thomas a Becket met his martyrdom, Canterbury Cathedral is a legitimate pilgrimage destination for Episcopalians or other Anglosphere Protestants who see the English Reformation as part of their religious tradition. Otherwise it doesn't make the cut - you are going to be seeing a lot of cathedrals on the Grand Tour and unfortunately (unlike Bath) the other attractions in Canterbury are a bit crap.

York (Just under 2 hours by train) In my view, too far for a day trip. There is a version of the Grand Tour that begins in Edinburgh and stops off in York en route to London, but I don't think we have time for it if we are going to get to Naples in 4 weeks.

1c Cultural experiences to enjoy in London

Theatre - obviously Shakespeare is on the menu. If you have enough evenings, it is probably worth seeing Shakespeare at the Globe (where they do it the way Shakespeare would have done it, which was not highbrow at the time - the main competition for the original Globe was the bear-baiting next door) and Shakespeare done highbrow (possibly in Stratford). I also think a West End show is worth it. Modern commercial theatre is clearly an achievement of Western civilisation, some of it is very good indeed, and the West End is a major centre with its own unique version of the tradition. The high-end product is large-scale music theatre - frankly, the Grand Opera of our time - and the best composer in that style is Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I would pre-book tickets to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. (Phantom of the Opera is generally considered the best musically).

Music - if we are doing the London-Naples route, then London is probably the best place to take in a classical concert. (For other routes, the standard of classical music is generally higher in the German-speaking bit of Europe). I would leave the opera to Paris or Milan - it is normally sung in the original language anyway. I don't spend enough time in the contemporary music scene to know if it is worth going to gigs in London or not.

Football - this is a huge part of European culture, and the Grand Tour should include a match. If you want to play the sophisticated soccer fan back in the US, you need to go to an EPL game. Brentford/Crystal Palace/Fulham/West Ham have more easily available tickets than Aresnal/Chelsea/Tottenham Hotspur. But if you are only going to one football match, I would skip London and go to a Serie A match somewhere in Italy - the fan culture is much healthier, the tickets are cheaper, and the sporting standard is similar.

Other sport - given the nature of the Grand Tour, it might make sense (depending on dates) to attend one of the socially prestigious sporting events which form part of the London Season. Royal Ascot probably offers the best compromise between a high production values sporting and social occasion and tickets actually being available to the masses.

Clubbing - the European nightclub culture based around electronic dance music is distinct from American nightclub culture based around overpriced bottle service and therefore qualifies as permissible hedonism for Grand Tourers. The spiritual home of this culture is Ibiza, but London is the best clubbing city on the London-Naples route. I am too old to offer further advice, but @5434a recommends Fabric and Printworks. The Ministry of Sound is canonical, but probably qualifies as a tourist trap by now.

Food - we can obviously skip French and Italian (both are good in London, but not as good as in their home countries). For splurge meals, I would be looking at three choices:

  • Traditional British luxury. The Savoy Grill is the obvious choice, but the restaurants at any of the grand London hotels qualify.

  • Updated takes on traditional British cuisine (which doesn't suck if done right) - St John is canonical for this sort of thing. The Hawksmoor chain of steakhouses would also qualify - although the menu is a bit too similar to a smart American steakhouse to be distinctively British.

  • Some kind of weird modern fusion cuisine that could only exist in a city as diverse as London. Use Michelin or Zagat's to find candidates.

For more ordinary meals, some obvious pointers are:

  • Traditional fish and chips

  • Modern street food at Borough Market or Greenwich Market

  • Sandwiches at Pret a Manger (a ubiquitous chain that is actually good and mostly serves office workers)

  • Curry. The Brick Lane curry houses are tourist traps. Tayyabs in Whitechapel is canonical for City workers going for a curry after work, but there are hundreds of good curry houses in London. Chicken Tikka Massala is the canonical London curry - it is a British take on Butter Chicken. Balti is also thoroughly British - it comes from Birmingham.

Update - there appears to be a small amount if interest in going on, but I am close to the 20k character limit and still struggling with a crunch at work, so I am going to put some quick notes in the comments.