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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 2, 2023

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Rationalism Done Right (and Hipster Eugenecists)

I don't follow the Rationalist sphere very much beyond this community, but I came across the above article with claims that there may be some rightward shifts within the rationalist movement in interesting directions. The author starts by mentioning that:

Richard Hanania said he wanted to start calling himself a “right-wing rationalist.” He thinks he has the same methods of reasoning that rationalists use, but he reaches right-wing conclusions. I spend time with effective altruists, read Scott Alexander, and all that, but I also come to some conclusions that most people would regard as right-wing. I think plenty of people in the community do the same, but they aren’t the majority.

I can't speak to Hanania's views so I would take that with a grain of salt. But the author creates "a list of beliefs for rationalists or effective altruists who lean right", which are the author's conception of "right-wing rationalism." They are described in the article but listed here:

\1. Rejection of the Blank Slate

\2. Cognitive ability, as measured by IQ, has numerous important socioeconomic correlates within countries

\3. Cognitive ability, as measured by IQ, has numerous important socioeconomic correlates between countries

\4. Within developed nations, we cannot substantially permanently change cognitive ability for the better

\5. Inequality of educational outcomes within developed countries is primarily driven by genetic differences

\6. Since genetic differences—especially in genes associated with IQ—play an important causal in socio-economic outcomes, we have to treat genetic changes—dysgenics and eugenics—seriously

\7. Rejection of “the orthodoxy”

\8. Markets are good

\9. We are in an evolutionary mismatch

\10. Suppressing the above information is more harmful than helpful, and we should face reality

The list is weighted too much on IQ differences and socio-economic outcomes. Basically five of these points are restatements of the importance of IQ. But essentially all aspects of our personality, including our religious and political beliefs, are heritable. What makes China and what makes the United States is not only a function of IQ.

Point #6 is interesting because I felt it was the biggest differentiator between rationalist thinking and dissident right-wing thinking- the latter of which is concerned with the problem of ethnogenesis and race formation which, if you care about basically anything: civilization, politics, religion, you have to consciously confront the problem of ethnogenesis. It's interesting to see a higher awareness of that problem in a Rationalist, although again he seems only concerned with IQ drift and is missing the bigger picture of ethnogenesis. That is probably why he ultimately describes himself as "enthusiastic for immigration", still viewing the problem as capturing as many high-IQ genes as possible rather than confronting the harder problem of race formation.

Point #9 is also a step closer to DR-oriented thinking:

On the rationalist right, there is more skepticism around the practicality and utility of polyamory, promiscuity, substance use, and atheism. There is more sympathy for Christianity, having children, and the genders adopting their respective gender roles. The right also seems to like older and more traditional aesthetics in architecture, artwork, clothing, etc.

At the end of his article Parrhesia mentions "the Collin’s pro-natalist conservative faction" and linked to this article: Billionaires like Elon Musk want to save civilization by having tons of genetically superior kids. Inside the movement to take 'control of human evolution'. There's a lot of sneering by the author, a lot of cultish goofiness from the subjects of the article (the Collinses), but ultimately I think there's a lot of substance there.

Like many, I've been highly critical of Effective Altruism's implementation of longtermism, primarily due to the fact that if you are a longtermist then your top priority shouldn't be altruism, it should be race formation. What would a longtermist, civilization-building-focused care about that isn't downstream from the gene pool? The Effective Altruist forum has a thread on this article under the thread name "Pronatalists" may look to co-opt effective altruism or longtermism. The greatest consternation was over this part of the BI article:

She [Collins] also weighed in on the stunning implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried's crypto exchange FTX, which represented one of the largest financial hubs for the effective-altruism movement. The Collinses, who never directly associated with the top Democratic donor Bankman-Fried, spied an opportunity in his demise.

"This means our faction (more conservative, pronatalist, long-termist-civilization-building-focused, likely to self fund) is now 100X more likely to become a real, dominant faction in the EA space," Simone wrote in a text message on November 12.

The Collinses hope that advances in technology will keep pace with their growing family. The reproductive entrepreneurs who spoke with me seemed confident that the science would progress quickly. "I think we are reaching a point in which we are reinventing reproduction," Varsavsky said.

If scientists at companies like Conception succeed in creating viable embryos out of stem cells, they could in theory produce a massive number of them. Combined with enhanced genetic screening, parents could pick the "optimal" baby from a much larger pool. "There's a seductiveness to these ideas, because it's very grand," Torres said. "It's about taking control of human evolution."

I think the vision here is a far better implementation of longtermism than EA.

As these threads of of Rationalist thinking start to converge with DR thinking, they will have to confront the major problem of coordinating behavior. There's a tounge-in-cheek naivety in the plan of the Collinses:

Along with his 3-year-old brother, Octavian, and his newborn sister, Titan Invictus, Torsten has unwittingly joined an audacious experiment. According to his parents' calculations, as long as each of their descendants can commit to having at least eight children for just 11 generations, the Collins bloodline will eventually outnumber the current human population.

This sounds like a crazy idea (and it is). But a much more attainable solution is to organize the social behavior of similar people by granting social status to reproducing, and incentivizing assortative mate selection with high-quality and like-minded people. Basically the things Religion has done for us until now. This could be accomplished with the revitalization of traditional religious institutions or the creation of a new non-theistic cult that coordinates this behavior. The DR is split between the two approaches, and the Collinses would clearly fit better in with the latter.

Another aspect of the article I found noteworthy was that the Collinses (who are Jewish) laugh-off the predictable comparisons to Nazism which (to be fair, credibly) are going to be associated with any pro-natalist movement by its opponents:

The Collinses themselves have been called "hipster eugenicists" online, something Simone called "amazing" when I brought it to her attention.

Malcolm's "going to want to make business cards that say 'Simone and Malcolm Collins: Hipster Eugenicists," she said with a laugh.

"It's funny that people are so afraid of being accused of Nazism," when they're just improving their own embryos, Simone added, after noting that her Jewish grandmother escaped Nazi-occupied France. "I'm not eliminating people. I mean, I'm eliminating from my own genetic pool, but these are all only Malcolm and me."

Another interesting statement from Simone, which is something you will read verbatim in the DR:

"The person of this subculture really sees the pathway to immortality as being through having children," Simone said.

On the rationalist right, there is more skepticism around the practicality and utility of polyamory, promiscuity, substance use, and atheism. There is more sympathy for Christianity, having children, and the genders adopting their respective gender roles.

In the words of some commenter from I-don't-remember-where: I've retrieved my fedora from storage. Soon it will be time to don it once more.

Atheism and Christianity are not lifestyle choices like the other items on this list. I am an atheist because I am convinced that there are no immaterial mental entities within the causal domain that includes me. And likewise Christians are Christians because they are convinced that Jesus died and was raised (etc.).

I know that not everyone sees it this way. Back in the day I used to get into arguments on /r/atheism whenever someone would post an article about gay marriage or abortion - I would say (perhaps naïvely) "This has nothing to do with atheism" only to be met with dumbfounded replies to the effect of "Wait, why else would you be here?" I just came for the metaphysics; I didn't realize I needed to join your orgies as well!

More recently I've encountered people (like the author of this piece) who endorse Christianity tactically, in a post-modern, Jordan-Petersonian way - "This church seems to share my conservative values, so I'm going to join them and maybe their belief will rub off on me."

For me, conservatism is (and always has been) inseparable from atheism. The way of thinking that led me to agree with the "dissident right" is exactly the same as what led me to seek a naturalistic explanation for things and to see value in the long-term future of the material world. If I were willing to put faith in a loving Sky Father just because it made me feel good, I would also be willing to accept that "all men are created equal" just because it'd be nice if that were true. If all I cared about was being fashionable among my peers, it would've been so much easier to adopt the "woke" position on everything.

Some conservative Christians see atheism and conservatism as antagonistic. I disagree, but I would say, if you forced me to choose, I would choose atheism over conservatism. At least atheists pretend to be receptive to evidence. But Christian conservatives I can only ever see as fair-weather friends - maybe we're allied on this particular political issue, but if your social milieu had gone another way, then we would've been enemies.

At least atheists pretend to be receptive to evidence. But Christian conservatives I can only ever see as fair-weather friends

I mostly agree with your post, but this contrast is comparing the groups using non-exclusive descriptions. An atheist tankie is a fair weather friend to me: they'll support my right to be an atheist, they won't support my right to be a capitalist. A theist conservative is also a fair weather friend to me: they'll support my right right to be a capitalist, but down the line I know that my atheism, especially my right to profess that atheism, is on their list of targets. Both groups tend to be allies only insofar as they are weak. The ideal circumstances for our freedom are where these groups and their respective enemies are all weak enough that they will at least consider mutual tolerance as a solution, and weirdos like us can sneak tolerance of us into the picture.

The same is true for receptivity to evidence. The atheist tankie will I fucking love science when science goes their way and become a Skeptic when it doesn't. The same is true for intelligent Christian conservatives, who will be happy to use the scientific method in, say, extrapolating from the failures of communism and not when extrapolating from the absence of supernatural beings in the systematically observable universe to the non-existence of certain other hypothetical supernatural beings. I sigh, remember that I am myself often just as bad as either group, and try to do better myself.