What is this place?
This website is a place for people who want to move past shady thinking and test their ideas in a
court of people who don't all share the same biases. Our goal is to
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The weekly Culture War threads host the most controversial topics and are the most visible aspect of The Motte. However, many other topics are appropriate here. We encourage people to post anything related to science, politics, or philosophy; if in doubt, post!
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Why are you called The Motte?
A motte is a stone keep on a raised earthwork common in early medieval fortifications. More pertinently,
it's an element in a rhetorical move called a "Motte-and-Bailey",
originally identified by
philosopher Nicholas Shackel. It describes the tendency in discourse for people to move from a controversial
but high value claim to a defensible but less exciting one upon any resistance to the former. He likens
this to the medieval fortification, where a desirable land (the bailey) is abandoned when in danger for
the more easily defended motte. In Shackel's words, "The Motte represents the defensible but undesired
propositions to which one retreats when hard pressed."
On The Motte, always attempt to remain inside your defensible territory, even if you are not being pressed.
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I posted this on /r/SSC, but I wanted to repost here because I feel like it's a good summary of my commenting approach:
I also still enjoy themotte. I might, in some ways, be one of the crazed right-wingers that many don't like, but I at least hope I'm not -- when I write to describe my (admittedly right-wing) viewpoints on things, my goal isn't to wage the culture war or to be a dick, it's to ensure that a high-quality version of what I understand to be true is out there, especially in response to criticisms that I feel misrepresent my views. My goal isn't to convince, but to clarify, and indeed to help others and myself come to an understanding regarding where and why we disagree. I think that's the most important goal in discussion of any kind, and I had some very personal and enlightening conversations with philosophy professors in college who helped me come to that understanding of the value of intellectual debate.
One of the best things about culture war thread -- and I admit it was more common when it was on this sub than it is now -- are people steelmanning and going to bat for underrepresented views or views they themselves don't hold. I try to do that as often as I'm able.
There are definitely low-effort sneers and very silly comments full of uncharitable takes and extreme nonsense. I try to ignore those, but sometimes they do suck me in and I end up arguing for 3 hours over whether 6,000,000 +- 1,500,000 people dying in gas chambers and hard labor camps is still a genocide. It is.
However, I will also go on record saying that I do, regrettably or not, enjoy the ideological bent of the site in a way that more left-wing posters may not. I have been rather desperate for a place where, whether there are witches there or not, something close to the best and brightest of the American right are able to discuss their views without getting shouted down. I'm open to left-wing viewpoints (I am a dissident from the right on some issues, like healthcare) and I would rather the motte not be a total echo chamber, but the lean of the place, well, it's given me something I have wanted for a long time. I think (in Jonathan Haidt terms) the American right has something crucial to offer society, which is often drowned out by the nonsense that spews from its more populist talking heads (and I'm talking about some of who you might be thinking of, and some who you might not). So, I'm glad there's somewhere on the internet that at least tries to give right-wingers who can type in complete paragraphs a place to discuss their views with anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.
I would highlight @FiveHourMarathon (I don't recall his reddit username) as a great representative of themotte's ability to attract intelligent right-wingers. We've had some strong disagreements, but I always appreciate his input. There are certainly ways he deviates from the conservative mainstream, but in most ways I think he's representative of who
In that sense, I rather resent the Fox News comparison; I don't think we're dealing with the normie conservatives but with rather smart ones. Even the witches are rather bright, as witchy and as vile as I may find them. While I do find some of their antics offensive, I try not to feed the trolls too much.
I would also add that, ultimately, if we ban Holocaust discussions I don't know if we can avoid the long and nebulous descent into banning other things, too. I have my own hobby-horses that I like to comment on which are unpopular, and I'd like to still be able to offer my opinion on them. I see tolerating the Holocaust discussions, which I think are more boring than anything, as the price to pay for a generally free discussion space.
Additionally, I'd argue that the motte has become less appealing to many because the culture was has heated up.
Several of the comments on the linked post went along the lines of, "well, I used to like commenting on the culture war thread, but now Republicans are Opposing Trans Rights and so I don't want to talk with conservatives." I think this shows, in a way that wasn't true back in 2014 when Scott wrote his CW masterpieces or later on when the CW thread was on SSC, that the right has woken (heh) up to the culture war being a big deal and is now actually trying to wage it. The left, in response, has amped up its culture war waging too, and people are being forced to take sides. "Free debate amongst dissenting people" became right-coded, and hence the motte did too.
I recall, once upon a time, when I felt like no side in the political sphere really represented me, because nobody wanted to go to bat for culture war issues I cared about. Who was talking about feminism's impact on young men or the obfuscation of language in social justice in 2014, other than Scott? So his blog made unlikely allies out of more traditional liberals who disliked some aspects of the social justice movement, and conservatives who felt like there was no one else offering good criticisms of their enemies. ("It's just a few kids on tumblr.")
Now, though, the mainstream right has adopted lots of CW aspects into its platform, especially in Florida. The culture war isn't just a discussion about what's going on on Tumblr or what's going on on college campuses; it's a real war, being fought by actual politicians, now. So blue tribers are retreating to their enclaves, and red tribers to theirs, while the grey folks (I love you, boo kiss) are rather being forced to pick a side. Scott Alexander, for all his criticisms of the left's approach to the culture war, is a polyamorous atheist living in the Bay Area; of course his allegiance is to the blue tribe, even if by their standards he's a heretic.
A few more liberal folks like Haidt are holding their ground in favor of free discussion with the opposition, but increasingly I feel like I myself have become more partisan, more ideological, less inclined to compromise than I was in, say, 2018, in part because I feel like my opposition has gotten more extreme, but also because I increasingly feel my own side is invested with Glorious Purpose. I'm not saying that's definitely true or anything, that's just how it feels. I think the same has probably happened to a lot of more left-wing people.
This is what lends the critique of The Motte it's validity, I don't really enter the culture war roundup thread here, just check what the self posts have to say, because whenever I enter the culture war thread I get bogged down by someone who ardently holds a very controversial opinion, and lacks the eloquence or intelligence to properly defend that argument.
The smartest red tribe enclave on the internet still has a reason to exist, as someone on reddit said: "I would still go there just to see what the intelligent right-wing position on this issue is." The current Motte fails to live up to that standard.
You might be right that it doesn't live up to that standard, but the example you quoted does not provide an argument for that. Just because a place allows some people to dabble in revisionism or denialism, doesn't mean you don't otherwise get good arguments from a particular side there.
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