I had a couple of names for the title of this post. I decided to go with the one above because it’s the most succinct and funny. Some other ones I thought of:
The Holocaust of Thought
How To Win All Arguments
Mainly, I went with the current title because I actually say that one all the time in real life just to parody something I’ve started to notice recently. In social situations there usually isn’t enough time to present a detailed logical argument explaining all of your humor/satire, so this post sort of functions as my explanation for why I say the post title all the time.
As most people know, I usually spend the majority of my free time reading about religion: where religion comes from, the history/historicity of religious ideas, why people believe what they believe, religious apologetics, etc. I also read about rationality, cognitive science, and atheism and the wider skeptic/secular community. A few months (a year?) ago, there was this whole snafu in the skeptic community in regards to “elevatorgate” about how some guy cornered a girl in an elevator at 4am to ask her out or something. The skeptic that pointed out that this was a social faux pas received in retaliation for that advice a bunch of sexist/misogynist threats.
If you’re not new to the Internet, a reaction that illogical shouldn’t be a surprise. If you are new to the Internet, I suggest checking out some YouTube comments. You’ll get a pretty quick education (and probably lose a lot of hope for humanity in the process).
Anyway, this brought up the whole Atheism Plus movement in response to the overwhelming amount of misogyny in the atheist/skeptic community. Not that this amount of misogyny should be a surprise since in communities where men vastly outnumber women this sort of stuff is unfortunately common. Look at the tech community. Moreover, low sex ratio in a community may create power imbalance between men and women, leading to greater likelihood of female victimization (Vandello, 2007). So even in IRL situations where men outnumber women, men tend to be more abusive towards their significant others. So this isn’t some isolated Internet thing; it seems to be some sort of natural outcome from the forces of evolution in situations where there are vast gender imbalances. Of course, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s ethically or morally good. Humans are animals, after all. We’re not excluded from animalistic behavior, especially given that people assume we are not animals but instead are inherently rational which would make that bias even less detectable. The fact that the vast majority of humanity believes in god prima facie should put that cached thought of humanity being a rational animal to rest.
So due to the elevatogate thing, I started to read a bit more about feminism. I was always an implicit feminist since that social justice stuff seems to be a no-brainer based on basic empathy. Obviously, there will be overlaps between religion and its seeming enemy social justice, but like I said, I mostly kept up with the religion aspect of it. But the more I read, the more something alarming started to become apparent: Why were the “good guys” (feminists), in their critiques, starting to read like the “bad guys” (religion)? The situation that really brought this to light was the social shaming of so-called “Nice Guys”. Convoluted arguments were made that Nice Guys are actually misogynists because Nice Guys think that they are entitled to sex just for being nice. And then the argument kept getting repeated and recycled uncritically. Again, this makes sense if you start from the premise that humans are first and foremost social animals; we feel first and then come up with arguments to support our feelings. That chain of causation mirroring the evolutionary kludge of our brain. It seems that you have to actually be a bit brain damaged if you functioned otherwise. Sure, so-called Nice Guys are clueless but calling them misogynists just dilutes the word.
A very well written blog post that was linked to at Less Wrong argued it a lot better than I could:
This tendency reaches its most florid manifestation in the “ideological bingo games”. See for example “Skeptical Sexist Bingo”, feminist bingo, libertarian troll bingo, anti-Zionist bingo, pro-Zionist bingo, and so on. If you Google for these you can find thousands, which is too bad because every single person who makes one of these is going to Hell.
Let’s look at the fourth one, “Anti-Zionist Bingo.” Say that you mention something bad Israel is doing, someone else accuses you of being anti-Semitic, and you correct them that no, not all criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic and you’re worried about the increasing tendency to spin it that way.
And they say “Hahahahahhaa he totally did it, he used the ‘all criticism of Israel gets labeled anti-Semitic’ argument, people totally use that as a real argument hahahaha they really are that stupid, I get ‘B1’ on my stupid stereotypical critics of Israel bingo!”
You say “Uh, look, I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. I recognize that there is real anti-Semitism and I am just as opposed to it as you are but surely when when see the state excusing acts of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank we…”
And they say “Hahahhaha G1, I got G1, he pulled the old ‘I abhor real anti-Semitism’ line this is great, guys come over here and look at what this guy is doing he’s just totally parroting all the old arguments every anti-Semite uses!”
So it may be scary when your opponent is unaware of your arguments, but it is much scarier when your opponent has a sort of vague dreamlike awareness of your arguments, which immediately pattern-match cached thoughts about how horrible a person you would have to be to make them.
Because if your opponent brings out the Bingo card, you can just tell them exactly what I am saying here. You can explain to the pro-Israel person that they are pattern-matching your responses, that you don’t know what strawman anti-Zionist they’re thinking of but that you have legitimate reasons for believing what you do and you request a fair hearing, and that if they do not repent of their knee-slapping pattern-matching Bingo-making ways they are going to Hell.
No, the scariest thing would be if one of those bingo cards had, in the free space in the middle: “You are just pattern-matching my responses. I swear that I have something legitimate to tell you which is not just a rehash of the straw-man arguments you’ve heard before, so please just keep an open mind and hear me out.”
If someone did that, even Origen would have to admit they were beyond any hope of salvation. Any conceivable attempt to explain their error would be met with a “Hahahaha he did the ‘stop-pattern matching I’m not a strawman I’m not an inhuman monster STOP FILLING OUT YOUR DAMN BINGO CARD’ thing again! He’s so hilarious, just like all those other ‘stop-pattern matching I am not a strawman’ people whom we know only say that because they are inhuman monsters!”
…But surely no one could be that far gone, right?
“I’m not racist, but…”
If you are like everyone else on the Internet, your immediate response is “Whoever is saying that is obviously a racisty racist who loves racism! I can’t believe he literally used the ‘I’m not racist, but…’ line in those exact words! The old INRB! I’ve got to get home as fast as I can to write about this on my blog and tell everyone I really met one of those people!”
But why would someone use INRB? It sounds to me like what they are saying is: “Look. I know what I am saying is going to sound racist to you. You’re going to jump to the conclusion that I’m a racist and not hear me out. In fact, maybe you’ve been trained to assume that the only reason anyone could possibly assert it is racism and to pattern-match this position to a racist straw man version. But I actually have a non-racist reason for saying it. Please please please for the love of Truth and Beauty just this one time throw away your prejudgments and your Bingo card and just listen to what I’m going to say with an open mind.”
And so you reply “Hahahaha! He really used the ‘look I know what I’m saying is going to sound racist to you you’re going to jump to the conclusion that I’m a racist and not hear me out in fact maybe you’ve been trained to assume…’ line! What a racist! Point and laugh, everyone! POINT AND LAUGH!”
And of course “sexist” works just as well as “racist” here, even though the latter is more familiar.
This is what I mean by “conceptual superweapon”. This is what it looks like to stare into the barrel of a gigantic lunar-based death ray and abandon all hope. This is why I find feminism and the social justice community in general so scary.
When I Googled for good examples of those bingo games to post above, it was pretty hard to find the Zionism ones and so on. Almost every ideological bingo game out there was feminist. This is not a coincidence.
For those who have absorbed the associated memes, feminism is a fully general conceptual superweapon. It has attempted and probably completed the task of making every possible counterargument so unthinkable that any feminist can refute it just by reciting the appropriate bingo square, then pointing and laughing.
If a man thinks women are less oppressed than she claims, she can say “male privilege!” and point and laugh.
If a man thinks there are some areas where the threshold has moved too far toward women, she can make a grave expression and intone “What About Teh Menz?” (now the name of a major blog, which is actually pretty good) and point and laugh.
If a man thinks parts of the reason why some men are jerks toward women is because women actually are more likely to date jerks than people who are respectful, she can gleefully declare “You’re a Nice Guy (TM) and therefore Worse Than Hitler (TM)!” and point and laugh.
If a man tries to explain his own perspective to her or provide any alternative theory to men-being-horrible, she can say he’s “mansplaining again!” and point and laugh.
If a man asks not to be immediately pattern-matched to the nearest hostile cliche when he tries to present his opinion, she can say he’s using a variant of the old “I’m not sexist, but…” line. And point. And laugh.
I don’t care how righteous your cause is, you don’t get a superweapon so powerful it can pre-emptively vaporize any possible counterargument including the one asking you to please turn off your superweapon and listen for just a second. No one should be able to do that.
It really is worth reading that whole post to see what bad implications this sort of rhetoric might lead to unpoliced, especially try to digest his Part II which should look familiar to you. But I guess I’ve already alluded to the bad implications with my comparison of feminism with religion. Really, who watches the watchers?
The short of it was that when I read accusations of misogyny/racism/other-ism, they seemed to be completely illogical; the charge seemed to have more of a social function. Basically functioning the same way that “heretic” or “blasphemer” functioned around 1,000 years ago. Some other bloggers have implicitly noticed it and/or have been a victim of it too, like Chris Hallquist and Adam Lee. I predict more social shaming under the guise of logical argumentation the more I read about social justice causes.
Anyway, this makes me go back to my religion focus. Why would these social justice movements have rhetoric whose underlying structure is alarmingly religious in nature? Probably because what’s effective socially isn’t restricted to time and space. It’s not that religious-logic is inherently due to religion itself, but it’s due to how our brains are wired for social cohesion and ostracism. It’s probably no coincidence that the most successful social justice movement in the 20th century was spearheaded by a man who earned his doctorate in theology. Religion, civil rights, feminism, pro/anti-semitism, etc. are all inherently political in nature (the strict demarcation of politics and religion is a product of the Enlightenment for — surprise — social purposes. Of course, Islam had no Enlightenment so they are still one and the same for Muslims) and so religion, civil rights, feminism, pro/anti-semitism, etc. are all mind-killers:
Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy. People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there’s a Blue or Green position on an issue.
Religion, civil rights, feminism, pro/anti-semitism, etc. are all subject to groupthink. I am “mind killing” every time I joke “that’s racist”. When I do that I’m not so subtly dragging your intuition — which is attuned heavily to ingroup/outgroup dynamics — by the nose. I’m pointing out what Chris Hallquist says at the end of his post, that this is “a data point in favor of our brains having evolved for tribal politics rather than logic“.
An informal lesson that all people who’ve gone through any sort of modern school system have gotten is that human beings think in groups first. You might not believe that full-stop, but the literature on cognitive science pretty much concludes that it’s true:
- Human brains are effectively populated by rabbits. Your conscious mind is like a very small person attempting to ride a large herd of rabbits, which aren’t all going the same direction. Your job is to pretend to be in control, and make shit up to explain where the rabbits went, and what you did.
- Humans bunny brains are optimized for social activity, not intellectual activity. If your brain thinks principles first, instead of groups first, it’s broken, and not just a little bit.
- Of course, this means that anyone thinking group first is almost completely full of crap regarding their reasoning process. They’re (99.86% certainty) making shit up that makes the group look good, and the actual rational value of the statement is near zero. The nominal process “A->B->C” is actually C, now let’s backfill with B and A.
- Therefore I’m almost only interested in listening to folks who are group-free. If your brain is broken in the kind of way that prohibits group-attachment…then you’re far far more likely to be thinking independently, and shifting perspectives.
- Aside: FWIW, this is the core (unsolvable?) problem that inhabits rationalist groups. There is a deep and abiding conflict between groupism and thinking. The Randians have encountered this most loudly, but it’s also there in the libertarians, the extropians, the David Deutch-led popperian rationalists, and the LessWrongers.
New discovery, shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was. When looking for folks who are group-avoidant, I seem to have phenomenally good luck finding great people when talking with Gays from non-leftist areas (rural Texas, Tennessee, downstate Illinois). Because they don’t/can’t fit in with their local culture, and often can’t conveniently exit, they become interesting people. It’s a surprisingly good metric.
Most people have a group of 5 bunnies that are rather muscular bunnies that focus on group dynamics, group belonging, etc. Their preferences are aligned enough that they usually pull in the same direction. In practice, this means that in conflicts, this particular group of bunnies gets their way most of the time. There is also another bunny who is usually weak and sickly (or a frog) who checks for ideational consistency. That frog usually moves backwards.
In some rare folks, the frog is unusually muscular. Not a normal frog or even a bullfrog, but a big-ass pixie frog who eats rats. He gets what he wants a little bit. Or he has a buddy: 2 giant pixie frogs. These people would land in what Simon Baron Cohen (autism researcher) talks about as high on the systematizing scale. Now, some other rare folks would have group bunnies that were sick…they had polio as baby bunnies. One of the 5 died. The other 4 are crippled and can’t walk effectively.
If you run into a person who (a) has crippled group bunnies, and (b) has giant pixie-frogs…then you get a different approach to cognition than you see in most.
That doesn’t say it’s better.
FWIW, the book that most informed my thinking on Rabbit-Brains is “Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite” by Robert Kurzban. Fabulous book. Rabbits are my wording.
Of course, the more I read about cognitive science and why people are religious, the less I started to see religion as some sort of backwards tribal vestige of a dark age. But on the other hand, it made me realize that religion isn’t the problem per se but overall human irrationality; people thinking in groups instead of according to logic. Being an atheist in the military 15 years ago made me really angry towards religion, so I guess I was sort of in the same situation above; being in the “outgroup” in a situation that I couldn’t reasonably get out of like gays in non-leftist areas. It made me really group-avoidant, ironically enough. Back to the Nice Guy thing. It wasn’t about logically looking for causes to a problem and offering solutions, it was about social shaming. Period. Drawing a line in the sand about who is in the in-group and who is in the out-group. This probably explains much more than that Nice Guy shaming episode. And now that I think about it, this also might be where critics of the “New Atheism” are getting the idea that this brand of atheism is “religious” in nature.
The irony is that any sort of criticism of, say, feminism would result in a high probability of me being branded a misogynist. Which is probably the most effective demonstration of my entire point. And it wouldn’t be anything new under the sun; critics of Christianity 1,000 years ago — critics who were just as committed to Christianity or loved god as the next person — were also branded heretics/blasphemers. Arguments are soldiers, after all. Though I honestly think the misogyny issue is worse to see through than blaspheming 1,000 years ago since misogyny is premised on getting offended. Of course, racism/misogyny should be offensive, but just because something is offensive doesn’t mean it is racism/misogyny… unfortunately, generally only a level-headed person, one who wasn’t offended, would have a higher probability of having the epistemic sobriety to make that distinction in the first place (and then, just because something is not offensive, doesn’t mean that it’s not racism/misogyny… but that defeats the purpose of social justice, doesn’t it?).
Of course, I think I’m still implicitly a feminist. And I do think that a lot of religious doctrines really are misogynist in that very specific meaning. But I would never get involved in any active feminist or other social justice issues, mainly due to how similar the structure of the rhetoric is to religion. Because it stands to reason that the most effective form of any sort of political activism would resemble religious rhetoric and other means of social “engineering” so to say; it stands to reason that the most effective social activism would be the most irrational; the most efficient social movements would utilize the most of the dark arts; it would be dangerously easy to label someone a racist or a misogynist in a real argument if your only concern is to win, like pressing that conceptual superweapon/nuke button because there’s no one to police its use unlike with real nukes. What it comes down to, is if you want to do the best you can to promote your social justice cause, you would fully utilize the dark arts, exploit cognitive biases, and otherwise trick people by using logical fallacies that no one knows about with reckless abandon. In short, you would have to become the best sophist that you could become, making you look exactly like the majority of religious apologists that have written over the course of human history (see what is the worst teaching of Jesus for an example).
But I’ll never do that because I like maintaining my epistemic sobriety. I really wish that this stuff about cognitive science was taught in high school instead of teaching about how great America is (I hope you see what I did there).