site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of December 5, 2022

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.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

The problem besides the dystopian control aspect is the destruction of the price signal. We already see a lot of weakness in price function with government putting thumbs on scales, etc. But social credit system goes further.

Social credit system effectively replaces market transaction. In doing so, it replaces effectively allocating scarce resource with allocating scarce resources based on what the government believes is best (which I think is less efficient).

Consider the classic I, Pencil. The argument was no one in the world can fully build a pencil. But via market transactions, a vast swath of people can interact to build a pencil. Moreover, if there are disruptions (eg Forrest fire destroying a lot of trees) prices send signals to change the composition of pencils (eg if I’m a pen manufacturer, then I raise the cost of wood pencils and likely increase the production of say plastic pencils; the public reacts on the margin to buying more plastic pencils thereby rationing the now more scarce wood.)

The brilliance here of course is that consumers don’t need to know why wood pencils cost more; they just need to shift their consumption. In the end reality trumps belief (despite how one might feel that pencils should be wood ultimately there will be a shift — either perm or temporary to plastic pencils because wood pencils relatively become more expensive)

Stated differently the market is of human action if not human design.

But let’s say social credit system replaces money. Let’s say the person in charge decides wood pencils are better and gives bonus points for manufacturing wood pencils and punishes people for raising prices on wood pencils. What happens there? Well, I the pencil manufacturer follow my incentive and keep the cost of the wood pencil the same. But reality is still reality and there is only so much wood. Thus, there is either a shortage of pencils (as consumer patterns don’t change) or there is a shortage of another good that uses wood. And maybe the person in charge of the social credit system institutes a cross subsidy for that other good further distorting the picture.

Prices are an elegant spontaneous order system that clears markets precisely because it doesn’t require human design (just human action). As communist bloc showed, economies are too difficult for human design. Social credit system is again trying to put human design back into the system which will cause the same problems.