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5

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

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

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

4

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.

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

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

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

63

We have somehow survived another move.

I feel like a broken record here, but, seriously, good job everyone, and thanks. While the moderators of a community are important, the community simply doesn't exist without its members. Y'all came over here and kept on posting, and that's exactly what we needed.

With luck, this is going to be the last move we ever need to make; we have our own domain and servers, we're no longer really existing with any specific other person's permission.

We are, however, not out of the woods.

I mentioned during some of the original Reddit-exodus posts that I had a serious medium-term worry about userbase. We've cut ourselves off from the Reddit pipeline and that means we're in danger of slowly eroding away; people will always leave the community and right now we don't have a good way of getting new users. We wouldn't be the first community to do so! Every community needs an influx of people, and now we need to figure out the right way to manage that.

So I now have a few requests, ordered roughly by how comfortable I am asking it.

First: Send links to people that you think will be interested. If you know someone looking for political discussion, send them a link to the site as a whole; if there's a specific post you think they'll be interested in, link that. Remember that we have The Vault, which has unfortunately gone a bit neglected while I worked on this changeover. Please don't spam anyone - I don't want anyone just posting links to our front page on a hundred subreddits - but if you have a good opportunity, either regarding friends or communities that you're an established member of, take it.

Second: Propose places that might be willing to do a link trade. I'm planning to reach out to a bunch of subreddits shortly and see if they're willing to crosslink, especially places that are serious-political-discussion-adjacent in the hopes that we can draw off that section of their population and both be better off for it. If you have personal connections you can bring it up to them yourself, otherwise just let me know and I'll see what I can do. I expect a low success rate but even a low success rate might be pretty dang valuable.

(And don't limit this to subreddits! There's a number of good communities out there that aren't on the big social sites.)

Third: If you have time, help out. We have a dev server that you can join if you want to work on a huge number of pending issues, and it's thanks to the people on this server that we've had such a constant flow of updates, fixes, and tweaks. If you're less programmery but more editorial, we do have a lot of Vault-related editing that we'd like to get done; this goes faster than you might think. If there's some other skill you have that you think might be valuable, hop on the dev server and send me a message.

And finally, fourth, which is the one that I really hate to ask, but I'm doin' it anyway.

I've set up a Patreon to take donations. If you have spare cash and think this is a worthy destination for it, please chip in.

I'm not sure what this whole "money" thing is going to end up looking like. At the very least this will pay for server costs; any income above that will go into making the site better, in whatever way seems most valuable. I've been thinking about taking out ads in an attempt to pull more users here, for example, and that isn't cheap.

This is going to be very experimental and will probably involve false starts. I'd love to hear suggestions on good ways to spend money on the site - if you have any, let me know - but note that in order to hire programmers we would need a lot of money.

For those who are more crypto-minded, I'm also taking donations via Ethereum (0xa97e126DCEcC7Ea3AF05d252B49c03ae35547dD9) and Bitcoin (bc1qnj0mvg90dfawjq3kxq4wdvcq0ejksgyf2m0xnq). All of these links are on the new (and very primitive) Support page.

I know there's going to be people who think that we left Reddit just so I could cash out. I frankly suspect that even if I just pile all of the results into a giant sack with a dollar sign on it and walk off while cackling evilly, I still won't be making minimum wage, so this would be a terrible plan :V No, I do actually like this community a ton, and want it to keep going, but I can't fund an indefinite amount of stuff on my own. And part of this push is to figure out just how useful this site is to all of you, in order to see what can be justified and what can't be justified.

So there's the ask! If you have connections, use them; if you have time, contribute it; if you have money and want to put it towards this, please provide financial support so I can figure out how to keep the new-user pipeline going.

If you don't, that's cool! Keep on posting and I hope you enjoy your time here.


Finally, this is the new Bugs/Suggestions/Small Comments thread. If you have feedback, post it here! A lot of the stuff in that Pending Issues link up above was submitted by users, and we're getting through it slowly.

54

I'm not a regular poster on /r/TheMotte. I've done a bit of work getting this website up and running and I plan to stick around and try to help a little more, but I don't know that I will contribute much to the discussion. I just wanted to say that I appreciate that there exists a place where people can discuss the sorts of things that get you banned everywhere else, while setting aside their partisan, political, religious motivations (for the most part) and demanding effort and evidence. That's valuable to me, even if I'm not participating. It's important that someone, somewhere, can do that.

So I appreciate everything you guys do. Thanks for being here.

42

I think anyone who's been watching this switchover has noted it hasn't been the smoothest. I'm still kinda decompressing from that and I figured I'd write up why, just so you could all marvel at the ridiculous chain of catastrophes.

So.

We get the site up. People register their accounts. People start almost immediately reporting 429 errors when registering.

429 Too Many Requests is an error that means a user has done too much stuff lately, commonly known as "rate limiting". A lot of the site is rate limited, but it should be rate limited well above what an actual human will do. For example, the account creation is rate-limited at 10 per day per person; if you need more than ten accounts every day then uh maybe you're not behaving quite like we want.

Of course, people weren't making ten accounts per person; rate limiting was broken.

We looked into the rate limiting code. Rdrama runs on a service called Cloudflare, which relays connections and does a bunch of fancy caching and performance optimization and also doesn't provide service if you're farming kiwis. An annoying thing about this kind of a service is that it makes it a little trickier to figure out "who" someone is; Cloudflare includes that information on requests, but it's not in the normal place. The rate limiting code was using the Cloudflare-specific IP info. Problem: We're not on Cloudflare. So that info was just wrong. I took out the Cloudflare-specific stuff and the problem did not get fixed in any way.

Well, Cloudflare does all this fancy optimization (it's called "reverse proxying", please don't ask why), but actually, so do we. The Motte runs on the same server setup as The Vault, and The Vault is specifically designed to be extremely cacheable. We've got our own little similar frontend server doing something identical, and all connections, including Motte connections, go through it. This means we needed to get the IP from our own reverse proxy, using a different technique, which we did, and which also entirely failed to fix the issue.

At this point I tried to disable the rate limiter entirely. The rate limiter refused to disable. We'll get back to this one.

The reason, I guessed, the reverse-proxy IP didn't work is that our reverse proxy is actually behind another reverse proxy. It's reverse proxies all the way down. You may not like it, but this is what peak web development looks like. Anyway, we were getting one layer further up, but we needed to be another layer further up. The hosting service I use does in fact have a switch for enabling this; it's called Proxy Protocol. I turned Proxy Protocol on and the entire site instantly went down. So I flipped it back and the site came back up. Then I did this a few more times just to be sure it wasn't a coincidence. It wasn't.

It turns out that the reverse proxy run by me requires some very specific configuration settings to be compatible with the Proxy Protocol setting. The problem is that I'm running this proxy in sort of a weird way. Most people using this server architecture have, like, an entire devops team. I don't! It's just me. And I don't really know what I'm doing. So cue half an hour of occasional outages as I try something new. It is worth noting that some of the changes I made also broke the site, but I was suspicious that the two changes had to be made together to work at all, so sometimes I'd break the site, then I'd break the site in another way, then I'd sit there for a minute hoping it worked, and it wouldn't, and then I'd revert both changes.

Finally I figured out the magic incantation! The site worked, we got IPs, the rate limiting was functional. The 429 error was forever vanquished! I looked at the site, and checked the perf charts, and noted that we were capping the CPU on the absolute-bottom-barrel server I'd chosen, so I figured, hey, I tried moving servers before as part of a test, this should be fine, let's just fork over an extra $12/mo and boost the server a bunch, and I did this, and the site broke entirely.

I spent another thirty minutes trying to fix it; if anyone noticed the site being entirely down for a while, well, that was me trying to untangle what was wrong. I tried connecting directly to the site from its own computer; it didn't work. I spent twenty minutes analyzing this and eventually realized I was just doing it wrong. Worked fine once I did it wrong. I eventually decided this was a routing issue and had a deep suspicion.

See, Proxy Protocol was set using a switch on the hosting provider's GUI. But that's sketchy as hell - why is it a manual switch? I went back and checked and sure enough it had gotten turned off. So I turned it back on.

Site back up and running.

As near as I can tell, there is a switch on the GUI. But this switch is also overridden by some settings in my configuration. Importantly, it's overridden irregularly; sometimes you'll do something, and it'll say "oh shucks, gotta go check that switch!" Because I hadn't realized this, it went and checked it and dutifully turned it off again.

I think I've fixed that now.

So, what was the deal with rate limiting not turning off?

If you use Kubernetes to run a process, and you tell it you want the latest version of a Docker image, it will download that latest version every time you restart the process.

If you tell it you want a specific labeled version, then it won't. It'll just use whatever it has, even if the label has changed.

So if you changed from "latest" to "dev" and "main" . . . then things just don't update when you think they will, and this change happens silently unless you're aware of what Kubernetes is about to do.

I think I've fixed that now too.

I bet this new server makes things faster, doesn't it?

Nope.

Turned out the CPU usage wasn't even coming from The Motte. It was an Archive Warrior I was running on that just to soak up some extra bandwidth. Apparently it's just stupidly CPU-hungry?

I think I've fixed that also.

And that was my day, more or less.

How's your day going?

(Extra thanks to the various people who were helping out on Discord, incidentally, especially Snakes who fixed a whole bunch of not-quite-as-critical-but-still-pretty-dang-important stuff while I was fighting with the servers.)

(Edit: I forgot to mention that I also spent a few hours trying to unclog an HVAC drain line so it wouldn't flood the house. That doesn't even feel like the same day anymore.)

40

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

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

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

There comes a time in every discussion forum user's life that they espouse an unpopular opinion. Not something unpopular in a way that they have broken any rules. But unpopular in a way that many other users want to chime in with their disagreement.

Ratioed

On twitter it is called getting "ratioed" where the unpopular tweets have a higher than normal number of comments relative to likes and retweets. It is viewed as a negative thing to happen when you are on twitter, because saying unpopular things on twitter is seen as bad.

Here on themotte saying unpopular things is not bad. We are here to have discussions with people who have different points of view. If you say something unpopular but not against the rules then you are serving the purpose of themotte. Not only have you not done something bad, you have done something good. You have provided everyone else here with content. There might be some tribal instincts in the back of your head screaming warnings at you "oh no! you have said something unpopular. quick! defend yourself, moderate your position, attack your most aggressive detractors!" These instincts are wrong. Instead, by saying something unpopular you have become the bell of the ball. The star athlete that all the recruiters want. Etc etc. We all want to talk to you!

Death by a thousand cuts

Being the center of attention and wanted by everyone can be stressful, especially when it feels like a form of infamy. There is a common failure mode that we as the mods have to witness happen again and again. The person that is at the center of attention is getting minor attacks that don't rise to the level of moderation. Multiple people might say the equivalent of "I think you are wrong because you aren't smart", or other forms of implied insults. The person at the center of attention will eventually get worn down by all these small cuts and jabs, and they will lash out at someone making the jabs. The lash out often does rise to the level of moderation.

You are the solution

The mods have talked about this phenomenon and we have realized that there isn't a good way to solve this problem through moderation. But! That doesn't mean there is no good solution at all.

These are the strategies I have used when getting ratioed, they've kept me sane, kept me calm, and helped me enjoy my time far more:

  1. Attitude - You are the popular one. Everyone wants to talk with you. Keep these in mind to avoid the tribal anxiety of 'everyone hates me I have to defend myself!'

  2. Match Effort - There are lots of responses flying at you and these responses have varying levels of effort. If someone has a low effort comment I do not respond with a well researched and cited response, I will often try and avoid responding to low effort comments altogether. Remember, you are the bell of the ball, they need to come to you.

  3. Prioritize the Best - Try and respond to your best disagreers first. The ones that bring up the best points, address all the things you said, or are just very polite about how they say it. You should be rewarding their effort, and hopefully signalling to other potential commentors that this is the type of comment you will respond to. This also helps with the next piece of advice:

  4. Refer back to yourself - Don't get frustrated saying the same thing a bunch of times. If you find yourself having the same argument in two different places, then only have it in the place with the better disagreer, and then point the other people to those posts, or just extensively quote yourself. "I addressed your point while talking with [other user], see my comment here(link)".

  5. Limit the back and forth - I will usually only give one response to most users. I will try and match their effort and address their points. I will try and have an extended discussion only with the best disagreers. So many instances of me moderating people happen ten or fifteen comments deep into a conversation, when almost everyone else has stopped reading. Both sides have already said the same thing multiple times, and they just become frustrated at each other "How can you resist the amazing logic and beauty of my arguments! Only a cretin and scum could fail to be convinced!" My suggestion is to just say your point and get out. You should expect to not have the last word when you are getting ratioed, so just embrace that reality up front.

  6. Leave when you are done - Sometimes even with all these strategies you might reach the end of your patience. You just don't want to talk about it anymore. Try and be introspective and recognize when you have reached this point. Once it happens, thank your best disagreer for the good discussion, say you are done with this topic and leave the discussion. Do not feel obligated to respond to additional comments. Your further participation is only likely to get you in trouble. You will likely get more and more frustrated until you lash out.


I also have advice for when you see someone getting ratioed and you want to join in on the dogpile. But that advice is more of a charitable nature, like it would be helpful to the community as a whole, but probably not as much to you personally. If people are interested I'll add it.

36

I'm a latinamerican psychologist, and I've been working for 5 years in this field. Starting in my undergraduate years, I've always been very aware of some fundamental flaws of my profession, and I've gathered some arguments that I'd like to discuss. My point is the following: Psychology is grossly overrated, and this allows all sorts of abuses. I believe that I'm not saying anything new, and I'm certainly not the first one to bring up this issue. However, I've found that psychologists have very little interest in discussing it.

For the most part, all of my arguments stem from a conference given by philosopher Georges Canguilhem at a conference back in 1956. My main thesis is the same as his, but I say it in my own words, and I have adapted it to the recent developments of psychology.

This conference was called: What is psychology? So, what is it?

If we go to the American Psychological Association's webpage, we'll find the following definition:

Psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.

They then go on to detail the different fields on which a psychologist may work. Notice how the emphasis is less on what psychology is, and more in what psychology is useful for. This is because, as Canguilhem says, as psychologists cannot define what they are, they are forced to justify their existence as specialists by means of their efficacy.

Now, this isn't necessarily bad. You can help people without knowing why or how you are helping them. The problem is that psychologists take their efficacy as proof that their theories are right. For instance, let's take one of psychologist's objects of study: Depression. There are literally hundreds of psychological theories about depression, and you'll find the whole range of them: From those that state that it's merely a neurochemical imbalance in the brain; to those that state that it's a lack of positive reinforcement in life; to those that believe it to be an existential and spiritual crisis arising from capitalist conditions. They all have techniques to treat depression, and they all work. But they cannot be all equally correct at the same time. It's the Dodo bird Verdict: "Everyone has won and all must have prizes".

A psychologist may argue that this is in fact something good, since psychology studies a complex problem, and having a diversity of opinions broadens the discussion. And perhaps, there must be some common factors that explain why different, and even opposing theses all seem to work at the same time. This is a good argument, but it's already far from mainstream psychology: Each psychological school is only interested in selling their particular brand, and they explain the other schools' success only because of the parts of their own theory that the other schools implement. And there's a good reason for this: It's simply impossible to integrate all of psychology without a common language. And this common language has never existed (Watson, the founder of behaviorism, complained in the 20's that two psychologists with different formations would define a simple concept like "emotion" in a different way). So the integration path only leads to an eclecticism where everything that is useful is sewed up into one profession in order to give the impression that it's just one seamless discipline, an eclecticism where everything works but nobody knows why, but the fact that it works is taken as the only and definite prove that it is true. As a psychologist called Steven Hayes said: "What is considered true is what works". I'm still still at awe at how a psychologist such as Hayes, who is one of the fathers of contemporary psychology, can blatantly speak about the epistemological bankruptcy of psychology in such outrageous terms, and how can he believe, even for a second, that it's a satisfactory answer to the problem at hand!

In the current state of the matter, the only reason why cristal therapy and angel therapy are not psychological therapies approved by the APA, is because they are lacking evidence of their efficacy. But this lack could easily be fixed if we really wanted to. Under the right circumstances, literally everything works. There's art therapy, massage therapy, cognitive therapy, psychoanalytical therapy, sex therapy... hell, under the right circunstances, even murder may be therapeutic. We can produce thousands of working solutions to a problem, without shedding any light on its nature.

Psychology is, therefore, the science of producing solutions that work for people that need them. Sounds too broad? It is. Psychology knows no limits. Are you depressed? There's some psychological advice for you. Are you having children? There's some for you too. In love? Out of love? Yep, we got it. Are you a political candidate? A psychologist may counsel you. A mathematician? Psychology is the science of cognitive processes. You want revolution? Not without psychology. Are you a failure? Then you need a psychologist, obviously. Are you the most successful man in the world? Psychology will help you manage all that success. Since all problems are human, and since psychology studies human beings, there's no single problem where psychologists don't meddle. This should be cause for caution. We shouldn't hurry to find solutions to problems that we do not yet understand. But psychology goes in the opposite direction, and it goes the whole nine yards, and then some.

But, by what authority? Why do we trust psychologists to speak about politics, family, or work? Because, according to them, they are grounded in science. But we have shown that this science is epistemologically bankrupt: It works, therefore it's true. So we may not argue with psychology's results, but we may question its authority. How do we know that psychology is more than just a systematization of common sense, categorized by the criteria of efficacy, and translated into scientific terms? I believe that this is why psychological theories are oftentimes awfully boring. They are just made to suit a specific audience, to answer a specific question with the terms that are popular at the time when it appears, and made to be discarded, not when better evidence comes up, but when something else becomes popular.

So, does this mean that we should stop teaching psychology, and burn all psychology books? Not at all. Psychology is useful, and it does help. But the fact that you have an effective technique to treat anxiety, does not mean that you get the authority to determine what's rational or what's irrational. You only have that: A technique to treat anxiety. And that's good enough, in my opinion. I believe that psychology's problems may be fixed with a healthy dose of skepticism and humility - two things of which we are in dire need nowadays. Psychology, to me, is a good example of how scientific hubris plants a whole forest in order to hide one leaf. In the current state of affairs, perhaps not all problems can be solved, and there are things that are outside our control. We shouldn't try to hide those problems, we should try to understand them to the best of our ability and live them as the problems they are. Psychology simply has too many solutions, and too few interesting questions.

Here are some references that I quoted on this text, I'm too lazy to cite them all in APA format:

Canguilhem, G. (1958). What is psychology? First published on Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale.

Hayes, S. (2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy, relational frame theory, and the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapies. In S. C. Hayes (Ed.), The act in context: The canonical papers of Steven C. Hayes (pp. 210–238). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-53131-013

Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1926-03227-001

Definition of psychology by the APA: https://www.apa.org/about


It is of note that I didn't even mention the replication crisis in this text, which further complicates psychology's epistemological basis. Here's the wikipedia article about this problem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis#In_psychology

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

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

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

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33

I'm going to talk about what the Boring Company is doing and why I think it is not only not a terrible idea, but actively a good idea!

Preamble:

This is a complicated idea with a lot of moving parts, both metaphorically and literally. You will have totally reasonable questions! Hopefully they will be answered by the time I reach the end, but keep reading until you get to the end; in written format I can only answer questions one at a time, and your specific question might take longer to get to.

In addition, this is describing the system that I think Elon Musk is working on. He hasn't announced that this is what he's working on - it's guesswork and theorycrafting by me - but there is some evidence to it.

A summary: Elon Musk is attempting to redesign urban and suburban transportation on a grand scale, so thoroughly that the majority of commuters choose to use this system because it's better. This is not a thing you accomplish by building a few tunnels under Las Vegas. The Loop is a prototype of a prototype of a prototype; the beginnings can be seen there, but claiming his plans are invalid because of Loop's problems is like criticizing the concept of trains based on Locomotion #1's terrible speed.


Elon Musk has a unique goal: to make a fast inexpensive public transportation system.

Uber and Lyft have a similar goal! They want to make a fast public transportation system, and they have succeeded! They don't care about inexpensive, and in fact they can't accomplish inexpensive, because drivers are expensive. They're working on self-driving vehicles, and this will help, but it won't solve the issue because Uber and Lyft need lots of roads, roads take up land, and land is also expensive. Note that land isn't just financially expensive, it's valuable - we only have so many square meters of sunlight surface on this planet, and it's a shame we're using it on transportation. This is opportunity-cost even if we don't normally count it as a cost of roads; it's kinda factored in right now because we don't have an alternative, but we could have an alternative and we should consider land usage as part of cost.

Car manufacturers also have a similar goal! They want to make a fast inexpensive transportation system, and they have succeeded! They've abandoned "public" by requiring people to buy into the system with a large upfront expenditure (specifically, "buying a car".) This allows them to get rid of that whole "pay for a driver" thing - the passenger is the driver. It's not as inexpensive as it could be, though, because cars need lots of roads, thus land, thus expense.

Public transport systems also have a similar goal! They want to make an inexpensive public transportation system, and they have succeeded! But it's not fast. In fact, it cannot be fast. Group transportation is intrinsically slow; putting more people on a vehicle either requires frequent stops which slows down everyone else on board, or it requires stops at junction nodes which implies transfers which also take a lot of time. Short-to-mid-distance buses, trains, and subways cannot match uncongested cars, and you can test this on Google Maps by going to a city of your choice, picking two positions, and twiddling with the "Start At" option until you find the fastest times for cars and the fastest times for public transportation; in almost all cases, cars are significantly faster, and I've never found a case where cars are more than a minute slower.

(Airplanes have the same problem, but they're fast enough that people put up with it; nevertheless, an airplane trip still involves an hour or two of bureaucracy and waiting on either side, and chances are good you're not landing at the exact time you'd prefer to. Long-distance trains also have the same problem and the same solution, specifically, "we put up with it because the speed makes it worth it". In both cases, avoiding all that added complexity would make them significantly better. If you can think of a way to accomplish that without a drastic price increase you will become extremely rich.)

tl;dr: Transportation has traditionally been "fast, inexpensive, public; pick two", and Elon Musk is trying to pick all three at the same time.


The Basic Idea

If you haven't heard of the Boring company or the Las Vegas Loop, here's the concept:

Elon Musk thinks tunnels can be built for much cheaper than they previously could be. He is building a large underground network under Las Vegas, with something like 45 stops (this number keeps increasing as they add more to the plan). You will walk up to a stop, request a car, and travel to any other stop in the network. You can do this today, although right now they only have 3 stops, but construction continues.

This is literally the basis of the plan; "let's make tunnels and drive cars through them". I acknowledge this sounds dumb, but it may actually be the best way to accomplish Fast, Inexpensive, and Public.


Let's tackle the easy ones first.

Boring Company tunnels are public because you don't need to buy in with a large investment to use them. You can just show up at a stop, pay a fare, and ride a vehicle to wherever you want to go.

Boring Company tunnels are fast . . . sort of . . . because it's point-to-point transportation. The vehicle is ideally already at the stop, or close by, when you request it, and it takes you directly to your destination, as long as your destination is on the system. This "on the system" limitation is a flaw! We'll get back to that, though.

Boring Company cars currently require drivers, which is expensive. They've said multiple times that this is a stopgap until they have self-driving working. I see no reason to doubt them and the rest of this post is going to take on faith that they'll get self-driving working. Again, prototype of a prototype of a prototype. If you're skeptical about self-driving in general, note that as of this writing there are multiple companies running public services in multiple cities; if you're skeptical about Tesla self-driving, well, me too, but they can always license it. I'm going to just accept this part as solved-in-the-next-decade-one-way-or-another.

Boring Company tunnels are inexpensive because oh god this is where the complicated part starts


Price

Tunnels are, traditionally, very expensive.

There's a lot of reasons for this. Cost disease, in general, is one of the big ones, and if Boring Company gets hit by cost disease then this entire thing might be doomed. I think they're more resistant to this because they are not having cities come to them asking for services, they are going to cities to propose services, and if they're expensive, they won't get any contracts. Note that Boring Company has already turned down a contract because the company was going to waste a lot of money on things that weren't the tunnel, and they just didn't want to be a part of that. I'm going to just cross my fingers that this doesn't happen.

Tunnel size is another big one. Tunnels get much more expensive as they get larger. Train tunnels need to be surprisingly large; they need to hold a train that's big enough for people to stand up in and walk around in. They also need to hold some kind of emergency exit system. With trains, this traditionally hasn't been compatible with the train rails themselves; the cross-ties are a tripping hazard. If you have to run a second extra walkway next to your train then that makes your tunnels even larger. Finally, you need a lot of emergency equipment. The reason this is required is that stations are rather far apart; if stations were closer, the safety regulations let you basically say "look, there's an exit right there, just walk to the exit". Far-apart stations cause significant added tunnel expenses.

The biggest issue, surprisingly, is the underground stations. The most common way of making an underground station is as simple as it is costly:

  • Knock down all the buildings above the station

  • Dig a giant rectangular hole

  • Reinforce the top of the hole

  • Fill the top of the hole back in

  • Build new buildings on top

This isn't a lack of foresight on the part of the builders, this is actually how it tends to be done. Underground stations are horribly expensive, and this has consequences for the rest of the system. Remember how I kind of skimmed past "far-apart stations cause significant tunnel expenses"? Well, they do, but this is still cheaper than building more underground stations!

This is how the Boring Company is going to solve tunnel price:

  • Cars are much smaller than trains [citation needed] and don't require as much sheer size.

  • Cars travel on concrete, not rail, and this surface is perfectly suited for passenger exit, meaning that you don't need an extra passenger lane as long as there's enough room to get past the cars. (Note: in the current Loop tunnels, there is, even though it's not obvious in a lot of the videos that have been posted. It's not comfortable, but it's enough for emergency evac.)

  • We can reduce the necessary emergency equipment by having frequent stations. Trust me on this for now! I'll get back to this one very quickly.

All of this put together makes Boring Company tunnels a whole lot cheaper than train tunnels.


Stations

Twice, now, I've glossed past issues with stations. The Las Vegas Loop requires stations at every stop so people can get on and off; our emergency system also requires frequent stations. These can both be solved by having lots of stations.

but wait, I thought stations were expensive Nope! Stations are cheap. Underground stations are expensive. The solution is that you just put your stations above-ground. Any parking lot can become a station terminal, as can underground floors of already-constructed buildings.

This works for Boring Company cars because car station positioning is far more flexible than train station positioning is. Train stations have to be long because trains are long; cars are short and so car stations can have basically any layout. Trains run on rails, which have extremely low friction - this is good from an efficiency perspective, but means that trains cannot handle significant slopes without expensive equipment like cable cars. If trains can't handle slopes then above-ground stations for underground rails simply aren't possible. Meanwhile, the minimum footprint of a full-fledged aboveground car station connecting to an underground network is the same footprint as a small house; a tunnel up, a tunnel down, and a few parking spaces, done.

Now we have cheap stations! We can toss a station at every casino on the Las Vegas Loop and not think twice about it. Our tunnels become smaller because we don't need as much emergency equipment, and our trips are faster because you can enter and exit from the cars in more places.

This is a reasonable solution. But it's not a great solution. We still have to drop people off at stations and pick people up at stations; what if someone doesn't have a station nearby? What if someone wants a car from their house off in a suburb or true rural area? Do we need to build tunnels to every single neighborhood, and then require that people walk across half their neighborhood to get home? It's 108 degrees out right now, I'm not walking in that weather. Screw that. And worst, we still need significant land dedicated to this system for the parking-lot terminuses, and land, as I've mentioned, is expensive.

We can do better.


Stationless Point-To-Point

This is where I move into speculation territory. But I really do think this is the plan.

We have an underground network of self-driving vehicles. We have cheap entry and exit tunnels. This is all we need to finish the entire system.

We keep our entry and exit tunnels, and we put them everywhere (which also solves our emergency exit requirements.) However, we get rid of the stations. The tunnels are simply a way of transiting from the underground network to the aboveground road network. "The aboveground road network", you ask? Sure; we're going to co-opt the aboveground road network for part of this. We're not using it for long-distance travel, so we can get rid of the giant tangles of freeways and onramps. But we are using it for last-mile travel, because it's there.

When you request a vehicle, one shows up at your doorway. You get inside and it heads to the nearest convenient tunnel entrance. Most of your trip is spent underground, and then it pops back up into the sunlight to bring you straight to your destination.

No stations, low land usage, point-to-point congestionless travel.

That's the actual goal.


Common Objections

Moved to its own comment due to character count limitations.


Conclusion

The goal of the Boring Company is to make the first fast inexpensive public transportation system. Cars are fast and kinda inexpensive, but not public; Uber/Lyft are fast and public, but expensive; trains and buses are inexpensive and public, but not fast. Elon Musk is trying to get all three at once, and the decisions being made are in service to that. The thing being designed really could not exist before self-driving vehicles; it is a truly 21st-century transportation system and hopes to redesign the urban landscape on a level that we haven't seen in a century.

I have no idea if it will succeed.

31

Internet addiction is something that I've struggled with for well over a decade now. Innumerable days, weeks, probably years, lost to aimless scrolling with no goal in particular. My interests are more "intellectual" than the average social media addict who only looks at TikTok and Instagram, so perhaps my habits are more defensible in that regard, but I think it's still had a significant negative impact on my life and has prevented me from spending more time on things that I actually care about.

I wanted to see if anyone struggles with the same issues, and also share some of my recent thoughts on the nature of internet addiction.

  • First, it has to be recognized that the internet can be both a force for great good and a force for great evil. Unlike hard drugs, total abstinence is neither possible nor desirable. The internet made me the person I am today, and gave me so many wonderful, unforgettable experiences. I can't just repudiate it entirely - rather I have to learn to live with it, and take better control of my relationship with it.

  • I don't support the use of strategies like apps that automatically cut off your access during certain times of the day. Nietzsche once said something to the effect of, "only the weak man wants to pluck out his eyes to avoid looking at lustful things". It's a sentiment I agree with. Any solution that "forces" you to reduce browsing time is just putting a band-aid over the problem. The goal is to fundamentally reconfigure your desires and dispositions so they're more naturally aligned with your actual goals.

  • A key factor in understanding internet addiction is understanding the need to accept boredom. Before smartphones, people used to get bored way more often. Sometimes you'd just have to sit there with literally nothing to do, not even anything to think - you won't always want to read a book, or entertain yourself with your own thoughts. Smartphones permanently cured boredom - scrolling the web is infinitely entertaining, and takes zero effort. It's like a liquid that seeps in through the cracks furnished by boredom and gradually fills up all available space, taking over every second of time that you have. I think that one of the biggest keys to reconfiguring my relationship with the internet, for me anyway, is accepting and embracing that there will simply be times where I am bored and I just sit there doing literally, absolutely nothing. But that's not an excuse to resort to web browsing in those cases.

  • I'm currently trying to take an organic approach where I accept that the internet is extremely fun and beneficial, and I will browse it multiple times a day, but I try to consciously remind myself to limit it and make time for other things as well. For example, making short-term plans like "I won't look at my phone until I'm back from my morning walk, at which points I will check websites X Y and Z, and then I won't look at my phone again until after lunch". We'll see how it goes. The unfortunate thing about addiction isn't that any one mitigation strategy is difficult to implement and stick to, but rather that I seem to have little control over exactly what person I'm going to be next week. I always seem to wind up back in a place where, on a meta-level, I simply no longer have a desire to control my web browsing at all and I no longer see it as a problem, so I ditch any prevention strategy and I just go back to unrestricted scrolling. I'd really like to fundamentally reconfigure myself so that doesn't happen anymore. But I don't know how to do that.

I view this as a societal problem, not just an individual problem with me. I saw a family of three at a restaurant the other day, mom and dad and a young boy, and all three of them were glued to their phones, ignoring each other. That made me very sad. I hope that more will be done in the future to raise consciousness of internet addiction, and smartphone addiction in particular.

28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dataset sucks and others have claimed it to be unreliable

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

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

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25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elites

Middle Class

Working Class

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

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

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

[Another diagram I can't post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/images/16652055407168725.webp

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Ukraine Soldiers Sing Praises Of WW II Era Nazi: https://youtube.com/watch?v=4H-yMmNh5Cs

And now NPR is just casually rehabilitating the Nazis: https://www.npr.org/2022/03/03/1084113728/a-closer-look-at-the-volunteers-who-are-signing-up-to-fight-the-russians

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of the explanations makes a lot of sense to me. Either there was a very weird and unlucky combination of things that created an accident or accidents or someone took an action that doesn't make a lot of sense IMO, or someone stepped up and managed to pull something off that would seem beyond their capabilities.

Ships and aircraft of various countries were near the area at times before the explosion but that's pretty meaningless. The Baltic has a lot of civilian and military traffic it isn't some obscure patch of distant Ocean that no one really cares about.

Theories -

1 . Russia did it -

They certainly had the capability. Wouldn't even need to put a ship or sub or aircraft anywhere near where the explosion happened, they could transport explosives through the pipeline. They could of course just turn it off (and in fact had done so for Nord Stream 1 (2 was shutdown on the Germany side). They were not getting any revenue from the pipelines anyway. OTOH that was partially their choice (they shut down #1) and while there prospect fro revenue in the future was dim, it wasn't zero so you would think they would hold up some hope. A 10 percent chance of many billions is worth a lot of money. Why would they do it? Well they might avoid liability for not meeting contractual obligations. Could be a "burn your ships" or "burn your bridges" type of action showing contempt for the west and internally making an internal political signal that there can be no backing down. Could be a threat that other important pipelines and at sea infrastructure are vulnerable. Could be an attempt to make people think the US did it to try to sew division within NATO. Could be an attempt to block the Germans fro musing the part of the pipeline in German waters for an offshore LNG terminal.

2 - Anti-war Russian saboteurs did it -

From a perspective of motivation this perhaps makes the most sense. Perhaps an anarchist anti-war and anti-government group, trying to harm Russia. But they are the least likely to have the capability. I doubt they could pull off getting to the site of the damage with a large explosive. Maybe they had people working in Gazprom and sent explosives through the pipeline? That's possible but it seems unlikely they would have that access.

3 - Germany did it -

All the theories seem unlikely to me (although it did off course happen, so something unlikely happened) but this perhaps the least likely. Like Russia they could destroy it through the pipeline without needing to get close to the area of the explosion. But Germany while they decertified Nord Stream 2, actually wanted to continue to get gas from Nord Stream 1 for a time. Also they might use the parts of Nord Stream 2 in German for an offshore terminal (not sure if the plan was to use 1 or 2, but eventually both could have been used). Why would they do it? The government could have thought that they may face pressure to open up Nord Stream 2 this winter, and didn't want to go back on their decision to close it so they closed off that possibility. But than why also blow up Nord Stream 1. Some faction in the intel services or some saboteurs who worked for Nord Stream AG? Not impossible but it also seems one of the least likely answers.

4 - US did it -

Why would they do it? Well there could have been a thought that Germany would cave on allowing Nord Stream 2 operations and this closes that option. Maybe 1 was hit as well because the Russians could always decide to send gas that way and the Americans didn't want the Germans buying Russian gas? Also the US supplies LNG, while currently the exports are at capacity since the Freeport terminal explosion, there may be the thought that NG prices generally and specifically LNG would go up with an exploded major pipeline, and/or that Germany would be more locked in to buying US LNG in the long run. But it would require an extraordinary amount of willingness to take serious diplomatic risks, for a pretty modest gain.

5 - Ukraine did it -

It would lock out the possibility of Russia receiving funds from selling gas through the pipelines. Also maybe they could hope Russia would be blamed. Still this seems one of the least likely possibilities. Russia wasn't getting any revenue through those pipelines at the moment and it seems unlikely they would ever get revenue through #2. Ukraine would seem to have less ability to pull it off than the other countries listed, they aren't near the pipeline, and their countries resources are going in to the war effort. And the risk would be enormous. There is a good chance it eventually would get out and some chance it would get out quickly, which could devastate support for Ukraine within Germany and harm support elsewhere, and that support is very important to them. The gains would be very small compared to the potential harm.

6 - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Poland did it -

They have easy access to the area and a strong dislike for Russia. But while their downside isn't as large as Ukraine's it still seems too reckless. I can see them taking the risk for an action that would at one stroke mean Russia's defeat (if any such action existed) but not for such modest potential Russian down side. It doesn't really impact Russia's war.

7 - China did it -

Maybe they wanted to make things even crazier for Europe and hoped the US would be blamed? This is another one of the least likely possibilities IMO.

8 - Some other country did it - Who? Why? Can't think of any scenarios that seem to make much sense.

9 - It was an explosion caused by underwater live munitions from previous wars. Apparently there were such munitions near the Nord Stream 2 breach. But what would cause them to shift to where the pipeline is and blow up now? Also it seems a Nord Stream 1 breach was not near any known location of underwater munitions.

10 - Methane Hydrate plugs - See https://thelawdogfiles.com/2022/09/nordstream.html

Such plugs are apparently more likely to form when the gas is sitting in place, like it was in Nord Stream. And they could cause pipeline ruptures. But both pipelines at pretty much the same time? Also unless there was more than the normally very low level of oxygen in the pipelines (which is monitored to avoid corrosion and at higher levels combustion risk) that would allow for combustion I don't see how you would get explosions as large as those that were detected.

11 - Other - Different causes for each pipeline (different countries sabotaged each one, or one was an accident and one was sabotage), eco-terrorism (would they have the ability and would they want to release that much methane), aliens, etc. No real reason to seriously consider any of these without some specific evidence. They are all a bunch of wacky theories, that I'm not taking seriously. Something I haven't even considered? Well of course that's possible but what?

There was a culture war post several years ago where users contributed their favourite books, including many out of print. I have looked for it in vain, can we maintain a Motte book thread?

Naturally prompted by the current Twitter situation, I've come to the point where I just have to write down my thoughts.

I have no doubt that Elon Musk is a genius, both of thought and action. He can formulate visions and execute them. He has two truly epic feats under his belt - starting a viable car company from scratch (the first since the 1930s) and bringing about the next generation of space technology and exploration, after a long, long winter. This is definitely not the work of an "emerald mine heir, just investing his money."

He is however not an infallible genius, which is particularly noticeable in areas outside of his core expertise. And that includes social networks. In some sense, it might be the kind of venture least amiable to an engineering, top-down approach. The product is made of a fickle, unpredictable human mass and there are no good instruments or levers to make it do what you want.

The first thing about the whole Twitter situation which really gave me a pause was the fact that Musk had apparently waived due diligence as a part of the $44B takeover bid. This is completely incomprehensible to me. From an M&A perspective, it's like a story of someone who picks up a skank at a seedy dive bar and proceeds to raw-dog her. Incredibly irresponsible. Are you sure you don't want to use a condom? Things might seem easier in the moment, but the potential for future regret is rather alarming! The rebuke I've heard was that Dorsey had already told him all the important stuff anyway, but that's just not how the process works. For one, the due diligence could have given him a way out of the bid (and boy, wouldn't that turn out to be handy...) It's not guaranteed, but rare indeed is the DD that doesn't uncover some sort of irregularity or dubious representation that could have served as ammo in the lawsuit. Secondly, the DD would have mapped out the exact internal structure, external relations, responsibilities and exposures. Even if (or rather precisely because) the plan was to mow through the ranks, this would have been extremely useful to have. If you're going in with an axe, you should at least have a map of the areas you intend to clear-cut. The whaling system deployed by Musk might have been effective at selecting for a combination of competence, drive and vision alignment (and/or desperation) - but that's not the same as critical institutional knowledge. Twitter is vast and something like 80% of the people who knew what went where and why are gone. The sole irreplaceable value of Twitter is in its existing user network - but this is inextricable from the pulsing, living IT snarl containing the accounts and their connections, which is in turn inextricable from the human apparatus building it and maintaining it. With cars or rockets, as long as you have the tech packages, you can always just bring in new competent engineers to continue the work. But there isn't any objective singular blueprint of Twitter. No single person has the whole picture. It's dubious whether it can even be successfully cold-reset. It's just... why go about it that way? Why not put on the condom?

The second incident was the checkmark fiasco: 1. Blow up the old and opaque verification system 2. Concoct an $8/month pay-to-play scheme 3. Discover why the verification system had been there in the first place 4. Clumsily return to a variant of the old opaque verification system. I'm sure the advertisers were thrilled. How am I not looking at an impulsive, poorly though-out spiteful action here? There are people stuck with GIANT PENIS handles to this day...

The thirds aspect is Musk ostensibly sleeping over at Twitter HQ, wildly coding into the night with the bros. The problem is that either his ethos of "You can't put in less than 80 hours a week and expect a thing to work." is wrong or Tesla and SpaceX are getting the shaft here. And the stock price sure seems to indicate the belief in the latter. More than half of the value gone, YOY, as of the time of this writing. And heaven knows what's happening to Neuralink or the Boring Company. Precisely to the degree that Musk is an irreplaceable genius, the Twitter stunt is coming at the expense of projects he himself considers vital for the survival of human consciousness. What are the priorities here?

The further unmentioned elephant in the room is stimulant abuse and, even worse, the attendant lack of sleep. At this point, it would take a lot to persuade me he isn't up to his gills in some Chinese designer hyper-opti-MegaAdderall regimen, which just appears as both the likeliest cause and result of his recent actions and decisions.

The historical parallel I'm most reminded of is Napoleon. Certainly no rando of middling qualities - but also somebody who, past his initial bout of success and innovation, slumped into the belief in his own brand of unerring radical decisions, with well-known consequences.

So I'm out. Not that it should matter to anyone in any practical terms, but my confidence in Elon Musk's process and vision is gone. At this point, it mostly looks like the driver's seat is occupied by erratic hyperconfidence. I'm not expecting Twitter to disappear any time soon, in fact I still consider it somewhat more likely than not that the company will ultimately stabilize. It's not that any single action had caused irreparable damage - but the series of unforced errors, starting with the bid itself, isn't inspiring any future confidence in me. I will not be getting on that rocket to Mars, thank you very much.