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Culture War Roundup for the week of December 19, 2022

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With all the stuff at Twitter, many people are now talking about Mastodon. I have no interest in discussing any of the drama and the posturing around all this on any of the meta levels because I find it boring and nauseating. What I want to discuss is the nature of social media and online personas, prompted by a post I found on HN.

so why isn't Mastododon a good social network?

imagine if the only online profile where you could express yourself was through your old "Ancient Greek Literature Forum" account. that would be quite limiting, wouldn't it? you'd have to follow the forum rules, which are quite strict and perfectly adequate to regulate discourse about ancient literature, yet completely limiting when wanting to discuss about general topics. you created that account because you wanted to take part on those specific conversations, not because you wanted it to represent your whole online persona.

what if I feel strongly about some geopolitical topic yet those kind of conversations are banned on my "LEGOholics" instance? where will I voice my opinion? on another server? with another account? what's the point then?

(I have jumbled but strong thoughts about this, which is the only good reason for writing a comment here anyways.)

Know that feel when you are a school kid and randomly see your teacher at the grocery store? It feels weird: it's just a normal person doing normal person things instead of teacher things.

Do I really care what some expert in a particular field thinks about every topic in existence? No!

Sometimes its okay. Scientists are supposed to be intellectuals and have broad knowledge. I respect when an intellectual is able to put in serious effort into broad topics, a polymath, a learned scholar. Say, Chomsky.

But no I seriously do not care about every random scientist's opinion (in my area of interest) on Trump, abortion, racism, Ukraine, covid etc. especially if these opinions are shallow as they always are.

More generally, I don't want to know full blown personas online. Or if I do, only a few. Getting to know someone all around is an intimate matter, not a triviality. In the natural ways, such knowledge reveals itself gradually, as we gain each other's trust, through shared experiences, shared contexts, discussions etc.

It's great to put a fence around our image of most people. My boss is my boss, we interact in that context. The cleaning lady is a cleaning lady and the cashier is a cashier. The astrophysicist is an astrophysicist. I don't want to see his takes on every matter in the world. It's better for us not to know. I imagine him as this abstract entity, a role, inside a pigeonhole.

If I like a software blogger and want to follow him for software insight, I don't give a damn about his takes on what car to buy or whatever.

Association with a purpose is great and that is helped by shutting up about other stuff. I have many well functioning social groups that we could nuke if we decided to delve deep into CW topics. We don't need to agree in all those things to support each other, learn from each other in specific areas, contexts and topics. It is healthy to have the silent gentleman's agreement not to dump our political opinions on each other. I don't care what all my football buddies think about the current thing. (It doesn't mean I can never care about their opinions or that I would think it must be forbidden generally, but such a discussion will only make sense if we already like each other and care about each other's opinions).

This also means that I'm against mandatorily pretending to be friends at work. It should be fine to limit one's interactions with a colleague to the level necessary for the work. We aren't automatically buddies.

But it doesn't mean that friendships or romance should be forbidden. If it grows naturally, it's fine.

So it's fine to have topical groups instead of general platforms where everyone talks about everything. But bubbles are also bad. Subreddits can be shit,although they are topical.

At first I thought this stands in contradiction to my earlier points but actually no. If you live your life by associating with others based on specific things instead of insisting on knowing at once all their opinions, you will over time, as you get to more intimately know some of these people, be exposed to more foreign ideas. And since you know these people somewhat already, you have the chance to expand your horizon and learn something new, and see that hey actually someone who think political thing X can also be a good person overall. It is precisely the generic posting and the attitude of "we should know every loose acquaintance's opinions on all the things" that leads to quick judgment and pidgeonholing and purity filtering.

So whatever problems Mastodon may have otherwise, the fact that it resembles the topical focusedness of the old world of phpbb forums is not one of them.

Everyone curating their online persona and the pressure to build your politically correct personal brand online is a bad thing. It's already a problem with Facebook and Insta as well. I don't want to see your vacation photos. I don't care what you ate for dinner. I'm vaguely interested perhaps to know in general where my old classmates ended up in life, so perhaps our paths may cross once more, it's generally okay to know that this guy became a lawyer, that other guy is a security guard or whatever. I add someone from some course and now I should peer I to how they live their life? No I don't care. It just also makes everyone posture harder.

Although it's true - nowadays people are terrible at sticking to the topic. Everything is an opportunity to fight their pet battles. This is how climate orgs become also trans advocacy orgs and open source projects devolve into bickering about the code of conduct, or someone drops a political link into the Slack of that book club and the air freezes or worse.

I won't go as far that the whole internet was a mistake but we have no idea how all these online interactions should be structured. We have no intuitions, no ancient wisdom about this sort of thing. We are bouncing around in the dark.

ETA: It's quite a narcissistic thing to believe that you actually are such a well rounded person to have yourself on display as a "full person", the spotlight shining on you from every angle. In reality it hard enough to be good at those handful of roles and "projections" that we perform regularly. Most likely you don't have much to say about most things. When I was younger I looked up to the people who always had some confident opinion on every issue. Instead knowing to limit yourself to a few things shows maturity of thought. This doesn't mean people shouldn't read broadly, but believing that all your general thoughts should be of interest in general (as opposed to topical thoughts to specific topical groups) is rarely well founded (rare doesn't mean never, though).

Do I care what a famous

Think you dropped something here?

If you live your life by associating with others based on specific things instead of insisting on knowing at once all their opinions, you will over time, as you get to more intimately know some of these people, be exposed to more foreign ideas. And since you know these people somewhat already, you have the chance to expand your horizon and learn something new, and see that hey actually someone who think political thing X can also be a good person overall.

I think most people do a mix. We use broad heuristics to narrow down someone we are likely to have enough in common with to make it worth knowing them more intimately. The only way to be exposed to foreign ideas we will likely accept is if the other person is similar enough to us, and we respect them enough, to actually listen and be persuaded.

Put another way - let's say I lined up a random selection of people in front of you. You have an 80 year old chain smoking racist, a young hothead convict, a relatively well off and intellectual techie, a single mother desperately trying to raise a family of four, tons of poor people from Africa, India, and China barely making ends meet, etc. There would probably only be one or two people in there that you could relate to enough to have your mind changed from a conversation with them.

Most people don't value truth as their highest value, or at least one of their top priorities, like folks on the Motte tend to. (At least more than the general public.) The majority of educated, well off Western women for instance have the right to abortion as one of, if not the, highest priority values in their life. It really doesn't make sense for them to spend time talking to someone who doesn't believe in abortion because there is no way to convince them. As far as they are concerned, if they all the sudden started rejecting abortion and respected people who did the same, they would effectively be a different person.

I never talked about random sampling, but interest focused groups. If the 80 year old chain smoker or the single mom comes to our emacs user group meeting and we can interface well on that topic, it will be interesting over time to gradually learn something about other things they experience or think in life (maybe! only if we vibe enough to want to get to know each other better) . For most people, it enough to see them as the cashier, the bus driver, the waiter, or just that guy sitting across me on the subway.

My point is that this graduality is broken by having the insistence that to associate with someone in the slightest, you have to know about all facets of them.

the insistence that to associate with someone in the slightest, you have to know about all facets of them.

This seems like hyperbole to me. Most people don't need to know all facets, they just need to know general political alignment.

That's a terrible sign for a society. I shouldn't need to know how my sport buddies vote.

Eh, I think it would be better if you knew how they voted but didn't discriminate and actually debated them. That seems to be the optimal strategy to me.