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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 30, 2023

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Link from my blog The media is honest, except when it isn’t in response to Richard Hanania's article about how the media is honest and good.

My main disagreement is that Hanania's argument amounts to a sort of bait and switch: making a generalization that 'the media is honest and good' and then later equivocating that it's only honest in select cases (matters not pertaining to race, ideology, gender, etc.), although even that is questionable such as regarding global warming, which is also highly political despite not being about race or gender. Second, let's assume that the media is honest, but if the reporting is so bad that for all intents and purposes there is no difference between incompetence or deception, then I don't see how this supports Hanania's thesis that the media is also good.

Regarding the NYTs, the NYTs is popular in part because it produces so much content, which is not specifically news-related but includes op-eds, general interest pieces, and such that are of a less topical nature. This is not the same as the NYTs being honest, because it's not news. Reading an article about cooking in the NYTs does not mean I endorse its reporting of foreign affairs.

The financial incentives encourage clickbait. Even bloggers are not immune to this. Clickbait offers very high upside (virality, ad dollars, subscriptions, etc.) and little downside (small reputational loss), the latter which can be mitigated by mixing clickbait with non-clickbait. If people stopped following the media because of getting stories wrong ,even on occasion very big ones, no media company would still be in business. So people trust the media, yes, but this does not necessarily imply it's trustworthy. I think the media cannot be fixed until these incentives change.

This chain was started by Scott's series of posts like Bounded Distrust and The Media Very Rarely Lies, right? Amazing how much yarn was spun out of such a trivial thing. I have to say that, generally,

  1. The «pro-media» guys here are right on almost all counts, and conservatives who get fixated on provocative titles and plug bananas in their ears are being wrong and behave ridiculously.

  2. Nonetheless, conservatives have got the more appropriate gut feeling; liberal media dominance constitutes a terrible state of affairs, for a very simple reason that nobody is mentioning. Media is being honest and good to have you believe it's honest and good when it's actually deceptive and bad – and those few issues are central to its mission.

Hanania says:

I’d still say, however, that on the vast majority of issues, if the choices are between “blindly trust the media” and “blindly hate the media,” it’s clear that the former is preferable.

But also:

The exception here is anything having to do with race, gender, or sexual orientation, where you should understand that establishment journalists are trying their best but can’t be trusted because they’ve lost their minds, or are scared of those that have, and you’d be better off listening to people with cancelable views.


No matter what liberals tells you, opposing various forms of “bigotry” is the center of their moral universe.

Why oh why would somebody not already fanatically committed to socially costly, «heterodox» views on race, gender and sexual orientation (topics which are, as Hanania says, the dead center of liberal moral universe, the screaming empathetic abyss that undergirds all this nice, edifying professional reporting on cougars and Myanmar in MSM) – make that exception? And without that exception – what would MSM lead such a reader to conclude about any civic matter that has impact? From «fake news» and censorship and misleading allegations like Russiagate to vilify the competing party, to the role of government and education policy, it's pretty much all downstream of reasoning that uses cleverly disingenuous or pants-on-head stupid MSM interpretations of identity problems as ground truth.

The MSM keeps showing you that there are massive racial and gender disparities, and they continue to exist no matter how much effort is put towards eliminating them. This is like if Pravda kept showing you the economic data proving that capitalist countries are rich and the Soviet Union can’t produce enough grain to feed itself, but encouraged its readers not to lose faith in socialism.

Small correction: the MSM keeps showing you that there are massive racial and gender disparities, and it explains them with bigotry attributed mainly to white cishet males, with propaganda of redistributionist and affirmative-action policies informed by this culpability. This is like if Pravda kept showing you the economic data proving that capitalist countries are rich and the Soviet Union doesn't have enough grain to feed itself, but encouraged its readers to sniff out kulaks and bougie wreckers who are hoarding the grain for themselves, and suggested coping with the deficit by means of Prodrazverstka. Doesn't sound so innocuous now, does it?

I think a fair observer would have to conclude that, even if this is propaganda, it is of an unusually honest kind.

Wew. dril said it better than I can.

the human norm is terrible, and we’re lucky to have institutions that have some degree of respect for the principles of objectivity and truth.

This isn't about respect or principles. The MSM wield truth as a weapon. Even when they do not outright lie, do not mislead with interpretations, do not do anything objectionable at all, they are doing it with the agenda in mind. The NYT is particularly guilty with their top-down «narrative» thing, but the whole blob is this way. They are earning credibility points in the minds of their readers, and a sufficient quantity it turns into suspension-of-disbelief points. What for? Bryan Caplan gets awfully close with his Big Picture framing, but he doesn't make the final step. Neither do you: «A serial killer is indeed a good person the 99.9% of the time he is not killing people». Let me propose a better analogy: Sam Bankman-Fried is a good guy who runs an advanced and feature-rich financial platform 99.9% of the time, lobbying for regulations against his competitors and expanding his control over crypto wallets of Americans. Then he collapses it, wiping his clients' livelihoods, and it turns out they were always but fuel for his Effective Altruist power plays.

This is the problem of Ponzi schemes, exit scams, rug pulls, commodification-of-your complement business relations, «good old law and order» autocrats who turn into rabid dictators, monopolies, startups, Trust Games with rising stakes, and a ton of other scenarios where you benefit maximally from getting the other side to invest enough power in you, then defecting. And you get there by providing value. No shit the NYT publishes a ton of decent high-quality content. So does Netflix. It's bait to make you lower your defenses, and simultaneously a vehicle to deliver the payload – seeing as we're talking vaccines and viruses.

Here's a good rule of thumb: you do not get let people who hate you inject unknown bioactive substances into your veins, even if you're very sure the solvent itself is harmless and indeed good for health.

I think this is what makes conservatives so rigidly untrusting – both of the MSM and of mandatory vaccination. Sometimes they overreact needlessly. But in the case of the MSM, this is the least they can do in response to obvious and systemic bad faith.

Trust games are a fascinating construct. Seems like with the levels of power getting thrown around in modern society especially we need a binding compact more than ever.

Unfortunately the ruling class is more instrumental and sociopathic than ever. Do we need a modern religion to bind us all together in fear of hell or something?

Unfortunately the ruling class is more instrumental and sociopathic than ever. Do we need a modern religion to bind us all together in fear of hell or something?

Attempting to reduce how many people do some behavior by applying social pressure will have two main effects

  1. Reduce the amount that behavior does (as people respond to the social pressure).

  2. Shift the population of people who do the behavior more towards people who care less about that form of social pressure (as the people who are more likely to change their behavior in the face of social pressure end up changing their behavior more when said social pressure is applied).

So the danger in that sort of approach is that, if the behavior you're trying to disincentivize through social pressure is individually helpful but collectively harmful ("burn the commons for personal gain"), trying to reduce that behavior through social pressure will result in specifically people who do not care about social pressure doing the thing, and benefiting thereby. So in the short term it appears to work, but in the long term it provides an advantage to exactly the sort of people you least want to provide an advantage to.

A better long-term approach would be to make it actually costly to burn the commons. How that might be achieved in practice is left as an exercise for the reader (because I personally have no clue, and I suspect that any robust solution also would function as a solution to the principal-agent problem).

In my opinion smart contracts on the blockchain are an interesting answer. I expect them to become more relevant as more and more of our useful work happens in a digital environment.

I'm still not entirely clear on how one makes a smart contract meaningfully reference something in the physical world (outside of a few cases like filecoin where the part of the physical world we're interested in is online storage.).

This may be more of a statement on my knowledge than on the viability of smart contracts in general -- if you have some good sources on how that problem is addressed, I would be interested.

The main answer to this has been with NFTs. The challenge is convincing people that an NFT is tied to a certain physical outcome or object.

If everyone agrees that to have legitimate ownership over a piece of land you need a corresponding NFT, you can incorporate that into a smart contract. The hard part is getting public buy in.