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
optimize for light, not heat; this is a group effort, and all commentators are asked to do their part.
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!
Check out The Vault for an archive of old quality posts. You are encouraged to crosspost these elsewhere.
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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Whenever I see posts like this, I fully admit that I get a bit self-conscious and morose. I can’t help but recognize that my worldview (specifically when it comes to race - my views on a variety of other topics are far less scandalizing), and my willingness to express it in this space, make me one of the posters to whom these people are referring when they talk about the factors that repel them from participating here.
On the one hand, I don’t feel like the ways that I express that worldview are particularly egregious; to the best of my recollection I have never received a ban, and the handful of mod warnings I’ve received have been a result of me intentionally poking at the boundaries to see what’s permissible, rather than a result of me flaming out or trolling or whatever the usual banned accounts are accused of. I endeavor to be careful about the things I say, to engage only sparingly with certain users whose posts or beliefs I find “triggering”, and to always acknowledge when my interlocutors have made good points effectively countered one of my arguments.
However, I also can’t help but acknowledge that, for certain people visiting this community to see if it’s worth sticking around, there’s no amount of polish and civility that are going to make my posts palatable. And I want to offer a guarded defense of those people. If you’re, say, a black person, and you are genuinely concerned about the rise of white supremacy and convinced that smart, normal-seeming white people around you actually harbor deep antipathy towards you, which they conceal on a day-to-day basis only because they’re biding their time until they can go mask-off, it is probably very disconcerting - even viscerally scary - to see posters like me, and to see my arguments treated seriously and not dogpiled. To watch evil be expressed openly and with genteel calm, and to see people who claim to be good-hearted and to value justice not respond to every one of my (and, to be clear, other posters of a similar bent) posts with full-throated outrage.
I have personally experienced a similar feeling of alienation and shock - that sense of “wait, are you all hearing what this person is saying - and you’re just going to sit here and take it, and *act like this is normal?!*” - during my days as a minor progressive activist in college and shortly thereafter. Hearing the vicious, seething contempt expressed for white people, and watching white individuals - and individuals “of color” from whom I would have naïvely expected some support - just nod along as if that was a normal thing for people to say - was one of the defining catalysts leading to my lurching away from the left. It really is different when someone is directly targeting you and your identity group, and when you’re silently praying that someone else - someone with clout in that community, whose voice others might take seriously - will come to your defense, and you get nothing. You feel hung out to dry, and even if you can recognize that the discourse norms were not designed to harm you, and that perhaps those norms produce overall salutary effects in the overall balance of things, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to sit there and take it. And being the lone voice pushing against it is never going to be enough, because of the inevitable social dynamics of any human space.
Now, obviously none of this should be taken as an endorsement of changing anything about the norms of this space. If anything, I’ve lobbied for looser enforcement of certain rules than what our current status quo permits. I just want to offer some pushback against what I anticipate will be the overwhelming community response to this post, which is “Leftists are just bad at arguments and don’t like losing. Sour grapes!” Yeah, that’s absolutely a thing. But I want to try and at least have the self-awareness of the ways in which I’ve contributed to the process by which these progressives have come to find this place intolerable. It probably won’t change anything about my behavior, but it will at least help me build a better model of the intellectual landscape and the dynamics at play within it.
But the entire point is that there is no argument being made (because even having a debate would be a concession of the nature of the topic as up for questioning.) The overall cultural milleu of the present day means that many leftists try and bludgeon their political opponents through authority, not argumentation. If a evangelical Christian showed up to a university and cited the King James Bible as an authoritative we'd all laugh at him but that happens all the time in spaces like these.
When left-wingers make grandiose claims of moral and cultural authority, they get greatly offended when I tell them that I don't accept their expertise. They don't want to get down in the weeds and fight it out because that would give the right a platform and validity, as if our positions were equal to theirs. Their counterparts on the right have to fight for every inch of ground to even be heard and they don't even want to step out of their ivory-tower citadels to engage with opinions they don't aesthetically like!
So I don't care what they think, to be perfectly honest. They can wring their hands and whinge behind my back on how mean we are all they'd like. Chekists deserve only contempt.
What are Chekists?
Hereditary ideological enforcer.
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