site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of April 10, 2023

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

How about a pallet cleanser?

In the other thread a few people brought up surrogacy, and maybe I've spent too much time with TERFs, but am I the only one that overwhelmed with the feeling of Lovecraftian horror whenever it's brought up? The feeling is even more uncanny, because it's like I slept through some great societal debate where everybody decided it's actually a lovely thing that should be celebrated. Although maybe it's not all that bad, there's a certain "how it started, how it's going" quality to the NYT headlines. In any case the casual way it's supporters talk about surrogacy freaks me out even more than militant pro-choicers.

Then there's the whole slippery slope thing:

  • Love is love, we have a right to get married just the same as you! - Yes I agree!

  • We also have a right to adopt! - Sure! I mean I have my issues with adoption in practice, but in principle if there are kids without parents, and willing gay couples to adopt them I don't see an issue.

  • We also have a right to biological children! What? Do you expect us to be ok with not having children?

Wait what? Yes I do! I'm all for tolerance, and living and letting live, but you're not going to make me see this as a lovely family moment, and anyway I don't remember signing on to turning a fundamental human experience into an industry when I supported the gay rights movement. Accept the limits of your biology, and move on.

Which brings me to Dase's idea "postrat ┬źdon't mean-spiritedly dunk on a rationalist┬╗ challenge (impossible)". Indeed, I can't help myself, and even though I used to be rat/rat-adjacent, I find myself having growing disdain for the entire philosophy. There's a meme that's slowly gathering momentum, that all the trans stuff, and 72 genders is just a foot in the door for transhumanism, and after I heard the idea for the first time, I can't seem to unsee it. This twisted ideology will drive us to throw away our humanity, turn us into a cross-over between Umgah Blobbies and the Borg, or trick us into committing suicide, because there's a subroutine running on some GPU somewhere, that's somewhat similar to the processes in our brains. Given the utter dominance of the trans ideology, the vindication of the slippery slope argument, and the extrapolated trajectory of these ideas, I believe we have no other choice - Transhumanism must be destroyed!

all the trans stuff, and 72 genders is just a foot in the door for transhumanism

Nah; those are the arm in the door. The foot first slipped a toe into the door a hundred thousand years ago.

I wear artificial skins, because otherwise my own skin wouldn't protect me from dying of exposure or being crippled by sunburn.

I wear artificial soles on my feet, because my own can be worn out by too much running on a nice surface or badly injured by one unlucky step on a rocky surface.

I partially predigest most of my food in artificial fires, because my own teeth are too small and my stomach and immune system too weak to handle everything I eat otherwise. My meat is cut up with artificial claws, because my own fingernails are even more pathetic than my teeth.

I wear artificial lenses over my eyes, because my own don't focus well enough at far distances.

In the next decade or two there's a 50/50 chance I'll only be alive due to artificial thyroid hormone; I'm getting close to the age where my father's and grandmother's own natural production went haywire and had to be replaced by pills.

About a third of my countrymen born today came out through artificial incisions rather than their mothers' own vaginas. Within 6 months, three quarters of them get artificial milk in addition to or instead of their mother's own breast milk. About half of them wouldn't have made it past their own birth and childhood if not for post-industrial medical economics and technologies.

Today most of my work time is spent telling silicon artificial brain extensions how to think better, to solve problems much too big for our previous graphite-and-wood-pulp-based extensions, much less our own brains alone. Right now I'm communicating with a silicon "voice", because even if my own voice could shout a hundred times as loudly as humanly possible you'd still never hear it.

On the one hand, I do totally get the appeal of (small-c) conservatism here! In general the proposition "Let's just all try this new X because it's better and it won't have any side effects and we won't change to become dependent on it and it'll never go away" is a train of thought that derailed from "reasonable" to "wait, shouldn't we at least worry about possibly being wrong?" very very quickly. I think we've been pretty lucky with it so far, but even just being a little wrong with each new change is a sobering thought when applied to an unlimited set of possible changes over unbounded time scales. I've certainly abandoned some traditional values that my ancestors held precious, and although I could fairly point out to them "you did the same to your ancestors, who did the same to theirs, so what did you expect?", I can't say I'm happy with all the implications of the expectation that my descendants will do the same to me. At this point I agree that there's even a serious risk of not even having anything I'd recognize as "my descendants", of having everything I value either quickly destroyed or gradually outcompeted by the results of drastic once-unimaginable changes.

But the catch is, for many lifetimes this fact of constantly changing traditions has been a longstanding tradition. It's no longer even logically possible to avoid major changes, because the ability for society to squelch unprecedented changes would itself be an unprecedented change! Trying to use persuasion alone is laudable but just isn't universally effective. How could world culture be so easily imbued with far more overwhelming agreement and totalizing enforcement? (if you think "potential airstrikes against rogue data centers" is hard to popularize, wait until you try "potential police raids of rogue families") But without some mechanism to ensure overwhelming buy-in, even if we were to Retvrn to whatever year N we somehow all agreed had gotten things right, in roughly 2023-minus-N years we'd find ourselves right back here again, because "evolving into N+1" is one of the things that happens in year N. Is there an alternative? Should we come up with some altered revision of older beliefs and traditions, some Neo-N ideology, which preserves the best things about year N while making every change necessary to make Neo-N a stable rather than a constantly evolving environment, maybe even allowing new changes if and only if we're actually sure that they're really long-term changes for the better? It might be a good idea, and we could certainly try. If we're lucky, this new ideology might be better, might not have any side effects, might not change us, and might never go away. Wait...