I've considered posting exactly this same "Ask HN", with very similar wording, so thanks for doing it first!
I think you are right that HN is not the right venue. A lot of what has kept it functional for over a decade is the focus on tech. It's not followed to the letter, but an attempt to make HN into SSC would probably destroy it. It's valuable enough as it is, so let's not take the chance.
The bright part is that (so far as I can tell) if one could attract the core community, SSC should be fairly portable. Scott's top posts were sometimes really good, but I don't think they were essential. I'm tempted that the right approach may be just to create a new space, advertise it, and try to attract enough of the core community to jump start it.
I picture it to be like capturing a swarm of bees: put a large cardboard box under the tree limb that they are hanging from, give it a sharp shake, seal up the box, take it to a new location, and install in a new hive. If you managed to capture a viable queen in the transfer, you are done! If not, you need to get the swarm to accept a new queen, with a process that involves exposure to the new queen's pheremones (and sometimes marshmallows --- I'm a little fuzzy on the details).
If one was to take that approach (metaphorically) where would you begin? And technologically, is there some better tool for the job than a Wordpress blog?
> Exactly this, because tech discussion doesn’t usually split audience 50/50 and audience is usually more scientific.
I'll have you know that vim is best, tabs are better than spaces, Vue is better than React, Microsoft - on balance - made the (tech) world a better place, everything should be full-stack js SPA's with server-side rendering, Prototype.js was better than jQuery, AI is only true AI when it is conscious, CSS-in-JS is an abomination, json needs to allow for comments and trailing commas, static typing is superior, Linus Torvalds should be nicer, microservices are the future, and significant whitespace is a good idea.
If you don't know where they are, it's probably because they don't want you to know where they are.
The fact is that nuanced discussion doesn't scale. It requires a small core of dedicated users that can't get drowned out by dross (e.g. rabid Twitter users that collectively gish gallop). Broadcasting the existence of any of these communities is an almost guaranteed path to destroying the essence of what makes them successful communities in the first place.
I'm curious about the exact mechanism for this. Is it typically a single short-duration event that has lasting effects that destroys the community (e.g. a news article that drives traffic 100x what's normal to the site)? A permanent change in the environment (eternal September)? Or just the steady, accelerating accretion of new members, which at some point overwhelms the ability of the community to incorporate them to existing norms?
Or is it more that once a community gets to a certain size, it's subject to a kind of broadcast storm?
I wonder if a technical solution could mitigate against those risks. You could limit the number of public access tokens that can be issued at any one time, and have strategies in place to allow more long-lived tokens and registration for regular visitors.
I’ve been on HN since it was around 500 active users. Probably earlier than that.
Quality decreased as numbers increased. Pg spent much time worrying about this.
Ultimately bookface is where the interesting discussions are now, I would imagine. Not that HN isn’t interesting — it is — but it’s different than it was. I think few people would argue the opposite (partly because there are few people left from those early days).
It’s no coincidence that you have to be a founder to access bookface. One YC founder commented with surprise when he saw me on HN, saying it looked exactly like bookface. Presumably he spends his time there and not here.
There's something ironic about a forum closing down because the author's pseudonymity was threatened, endangering his IRL business dealings; and as an alternative people talking about a forum you can only get into with specific IRL business dealings, and without pseudonymity...
-> people with no prior experience with X join (X is cool now and they want to learn)
-> people who care more about the community than about X join
The problem is that the lowest common denominator keeps getting lower as you increase the size of the community. If you want a tight knit community then you need some kind of entrance criteria or at least ensure that new users are moderated (basically impossible with open registration).
I've heard this hypothesis that groups tend to go down in quality for this reason --
1. Group has an average quality.
2. People who have a much higher quality tend to avoid the group (e.g. that discussion is fallacious)
3. People who have lower quality are incentivized to join the group.
4. Eventually, the best performers of the group have less incentive to stay in that community
This seems like a fair point, and it makes me sad. I guess to the second part of my question: How would you build a community (or set of communities and identity systems) at scale that doesn't suffer from this? Such that you could point someone to it without destroying it.
I think you'd want a comment ranking system that rewarded people for voting according to the thought that went into a comment rather than whether you happen to agree with the comment.
Maybe a two dimensional voting system, one for "quality" and one for "agreement" (literally a 2D voting arrow widget? up-right means "high quality and I agree", down-right means "low quality but I agree", etc).
It would then be pretty simple to see who's "quality" and "agreement" votes don't strongly correlate, as well as who writes quality comments, and weight their votes more heavily.
If you only had 1 dimension voting like everywhere else, then I'm not sure how to do it, but maybe it's possible.
I've always thought Slashdot's old moderation system was pretty well designed. It's been years since I've been there, but as I recall, there were several categories of upvote -- Interesting, Informative, and Funny come to mind. There was a meta-moderation system to calibrate the moderators. The site was better than HN at showing only upvoted comments by default, in case you just wanted to see the highlights. (Oh, and I think it would send email for belated replies, making it better for ongoing discussion -- something I've definitely missed here at HN.)
Although the site is pretty dead now -- it doesn't have HN's advantage of a wealthy benefactor keeping it ad-free -- its original incarnation had some good ideas.
There are users who don't care about the voting system the same way the designer of the voting system intended. The only way to enforce this would be by appointing a team of moderators that read every comment and rate it themselves. Obviously this is problematic because users might perceive the moderators to be authoritarian and the potential for abuse is pretty high. However, this could definitively increase the maximum size of a high quality community to something like 10000 users but it's still far away from 1 million or more users.
I think that can be solved if a majority of early users use the voting system in the way it was intended. Say there's a cluster of 75% "good" initial users who vote similarly on quality. Any new users that vote similarly to them on quality would also be classified as "good" and be given more weight.
Even if the majority of new users don't use the voting system correctly the system could be weighted more heavily to the group of existing and new users who agree on what quality is, even if it ends up being a minority of users.
Actually, I think even if a majority of users don't vote in the way that was intended from the beginning you might still be able to handle it because you can throw away users whose "quality" and "agreement" votes are most correlated, which I think is the most likely way users would deviate from the intended voting system.
Now, if you had a majority of users who all voted the same but were not correlated with "agreement" (e.x. "vote according to the day of the week" or something), or if only very few users were voting correctly, then it might be difficult to distinguish, but that seems unlikely.
Moderation and a moat. Metafilter has survived for a very long time with (a) a $5 charge to create an account and (b) a 24-hour cooling off period, so you couldn't make an account to do a driveby comment on a thread.
It turns out that you really can't have both community and scale. The attempts end up aging differently, but inevitably, to something that the core membership doesn't want to be a part of and thus the predicates that enabled its existence stop. Its A people move on and the B people move in. This is true of every human group, subculture, or social phenomena really.
I strongly recommend reading Clay Shirky's commentary on the nascent phenomena of "social software" back in 2003:
The Decline, the formation of cliques and factions, incidents of abuse, of intellectual violence and namecalling. The software becomes encrusted with patches and extensions, the unwritten rules are flouted regularly and the meta-rules all but forgotten. It is a time of either shrinking membership, or overwhelming growth.
The Fall, an incident, whether social or technical that makes everybody realize that things aren't like they used to be. It usually leads to a revision or addition to the software as this is the easiest thing to fix.
The SSC diaspora is collecting in a number of locations. The two I am most familiar with are Naval Gazing (a blog about naval affairs) and Data Secrets Lox (a new discussion forum).
Data Secrets Lox is set up as a replacement for the SSC open threads, and is run on actual forum software, which means there are topic-specific threads for easier navigation. As membership increases, I expect we'll add subforums, also.
Interesting. The SSC home page itself points to the site's subreddit as the intended place of discussion, but this could work as a "lifeboat" site in case that runs into problems with the new reddit content policy.
I'm a reddit user, and I find that it doesn't encourage ongoing discussion, even in the smaller subreddits - a thread is pretty much frozen in stone after a day or two, even if technically people can post there for six months, so people keep starting new threads on the same topic (often covering a large part of a subreddit's front page with discussion of the same subtopic, preventing other discussion) but without history or interlinking. The problem is that posting to a thread doesn't "bump" it, so if you want people to see what you said the only option is a new thread.
As much as I like Reddit, it isn't a great place for having deep and reasonable conversations about anything nuanced. I largely attributed it to the upvote/downvote system and the pseudonymity, but it's probably as much to do with the moderation and the culture of the site. I do think it's a matter of identity and culture - people aren't there to learn to challenge their beliefs and learn new perspectives and discuss things. It's too easy to go from a post about some white trash pulling a gun on protestors where people are just blindly piling on the issue to a post about whether I should dump my boyfriend because he forgot to pick me up to a post about cute puppies. Compare that to something like SSC or LessWrong (even if it isn't perfect), where everybody knows why they're there and there are significant efforts both from the community and the moderators to uphold that.
I'm one of those people. I'm told the problem is mainly that I can't find the right subreddits to follow; any remotely popular subreddit is a) very easy to find, and b) almost completely worthless. It's really the same problem that this entire HN thread is about!
I've found that single-player games often have shockingly nice communities on Reddit.
r/EnterTheGungeon and r/AceCombat were two great ones. I say "were" only because they (naturally) become sort of semi-dormant because those games haven't seen major releases in a while, so discussion has petered out. r/Xcom is pretty strong!
It's hit or miss, but a lot of "niche" hobbies have really good subreddits. I recently got into watches and subreddits like r/Casio and r/Seiko are fun and supportive. Not exactly deep discussion, because there's only so much you can say about a watch, but they are fun.
There are some decent audio-related subreddits. I'm a mod at r/budgetaudiophile and we try to be as helpful as possible who are dipping their toes into the hobby, though I'm not too active over there these days.
I haven't found any solid tech-related subreddits, ever. Though, I haven't looked too hard I suppose.
I'd seen this once before and then forgotten about it. Thanks for mentioning it here again!
Are you aware of any kind of backlash, where non-parties to a letter exchange harshly criticize one or both participants, or your platform, for engaging in the exchange at all?
One thing that I notice in your platform somehow is a sort of I-Thou dynamic (maybe just because people are addressing each other cordially, or even affectionately, in the second person?) and not an I-It ("look at that losery loser over there with the super-dumb beliefs!"). Surely that militates against tribalism -- and surely some people are mad that some of the conversations are happening at all? ("Why is this person/platform legitimizing this terrible person by having this letter exchange?" or something.)
Are you afraid that you'll be tempted to refuse certain letter exchanges because their topics are too intense or too taboo somehow, or because you're not sure the participants are interacting in good faith? Are you sort of at peace with the prospect of having to make that judgment?
How are people finding the platform and finding each other? Are you reaching out to them based on their prior reputations? Is someone suggesting your site to pairs of people who've been in social media fights, or seemed to be on the verge of them? Are people finding it themselves by word of mouth?
How many of the participants do you think have some kind of celebrity or substantial following outside of your site? Do you think that makes things better or worse in some way?
How do these exchanges compare to, say, a podcast video interview? (I did an SSC adversarial collaboration last year and my collaborator, and now friend, later interviewed me for his podcast, which felt like a pretty nice format too.)
Thanks for your kind words and insightful questions, schoen.
Are you aware of any kind of backlash, where non-parties to a letter exchange harshly criticize one or both participants, or your platform, for engaging in the exchange at all?
Yes, on rare occasions. Helen Pluckrose and Kathleen Stock both experience a backlash on Twitter for participating in their dialogue on trans/gender issues. Interestingly, they both reported that the backlash was predominantly from their own audience/tribe. Neither of them were particularly bothered by it.
A criticism I’ve heard with regards to the platform is that it appears to be aligned or associated with the Intellectual Dark Web. This is true to the extent that we strongly value free speech and good faith dialectic, but we don’t have loyalties to any particular group, and we welcome (and are actively trying to host) conversations with people from all sides of the ideological and political spectrum.
One thing that I notice in your platform somehow is a sort of I-Thou dynamic… Surely that militates against tribalism”
Thanks for noticing. We’ve put a lot of effort into nudging writers to engage in good faith. Little things seem to have a big effect. For example, the default text on the letter writing page is “Dear NAME,”.
surely some people are mad that some of the conversations are happening at all? ("Why is this person/platform legitimizing this terrible person by having this letter exchange?"
This hasn’t been a significant issue, but I’m sure we’ll see more of this as we grow. It’s not something we’re particularly worried about; my co-founders and I are happy to defend the primacy of free speech and the importance of dialogue.
Are you afraid that you'll be tempted to refuse certain letter exchanges because their topics are too intense or too taboo somehow,
...or because you're not sure the participants are interacting in good faith? Are you sort of at peace with the prospect of having to make that judgment?
We fully support writers' freedom of speech, and we do not censor content or ban users unless legally or ethically necessary (child porn, doxxing, fraud, and direct & credible threats of violence). If we’re convinced that a writer is acting in bad faith we’ll flag their account, and their content will only appear on their own profile.
How are people finding the platform and finding each other? Are you reaching out to them based on their prior reputations? Is someone suggesting your site to pairs of people who've been in social media fights, or seemed to be on the verge of them? Are people finding it themselves by word of mouth?
It’s a mix of all of these. When we launched, a little over a year ago, all of the conversations were initiated by me or someone on my team reaching out to writers. Now, the vast majority of our conversations happen organically: writers typically discover Letter via conversations shared to Twitter, and they invite other writers by starting conversations with them. We still do outreach, but limit our attention to high status writers.
How many of the participants do you think have some kind of celebrity or substantial following outside of your site? Do you think that makes things better or worse in some way?
The majority of our most popular writers have a following on Twitter, but our average writer doesn’t. Popular writers help with distribution, and the quality of their writing tends to be higher. As you might guess, there’s a strong correlation between the quality and expertise of a writer, and their popularity.
How do these exchanges compare to, say, a podcast video interview?
Good question. There are pros and cons to both formats. Audio is great because a lot of meaning is conveyed in tone, inflection, etc, and you often get a better sense of a speakers’ personality. The cons are that the conversation comes at you at the speed of mouth, and there’s a pressure to respond promptly. Podcast guests often feel a performative pressure, and they might misspeak, or convey an idea or argument less eloquently than they might’ve otherwise. Letter conversations, being asynchronous and written, provides writers the time to fully consider and understand their interlocutor’s position before responding, and enables them to present their best possible argument.
I did an SSC adversarial collaboration last year and my collaborator, and now friend, later interviewed me for his podcast, which felt like a pretty nice format too.
We’re currently exploring this format: a Letter conversation followed by a moderated, digital live event, which is live streamed and recorded. Our vision for Letter is to be the best place for conversation in any medium.
Since you are the creator of the site, I just wanted to ask you to reconsider your position on anonymity. There are so many interesting ideas to be had, but bad actors could take quotes out of context and end up wiping out a twitter storm, or people could fear that this happens (or may happen, people have been canceled for things they said years ago) and so not use the site.
Anonymity has a bad rep, so we could just consider it the Chatham house rule online - you could require a real name account but only show letters under pseudonym.
The "gender critical" discussion, for example, contains Helen Pluckrose, one of the originators of the "grievance studies" paper, and Kathleen Stock, who got fired from being a philosophy professor for being anti-trans. Both of them take the anti-trans position.
If you consider Helen Pluckrose to be anti-trans, I worry that means you haven't actually read any of her writing on trans people, and rather only heard her opinions filtered through her very vocal and vitriolic critics from the critical theory swathe of twitter - and I certainly doubt you've seen the vast amount of vitriol thrown at her on a regular basis by gender crits either.
I'm not going to link any of the vitriol because it's mindless and horrible, but she gets called "a traitor to women" and told she wants her daughter to be raped on a fairly regular basis by such people.
To understand Helen's actual position, I recommend people read this:
It's somewhat long and somewhat nuanced, which means most extreme activists at both ends of the argument hate it, but I'd claim that it is, overall, very much more pro-trans than otherwise and the majority of trans people I'm aware of who've read it came away with the same impression.
That's a shockingly ignorant article, particularly when it comes to nonbinary people — it even uses "transtrenders" to try and separate the good, gender-conforming trans people from those icky blue-haired weirdos.
Thank you for confirming that Pluckrose is in fact deeply transphobic. If you think that is "nuanced" you are seriously mistaken. Consider re-evaluating your priors, in SSC speak.
The complete failure to understand enbies is, indeed, unfortunate.
I stand by my estimate that it gets a lot more right than it gets wrong, however.
My priors are based on conversations with a bunch of trans people; a mere assertion of "shocking ignorance" and "transphobia" largely leaves me thinking that you're so certain of your correctness you don't believe arguments need to even be made, which is not a position I can really rebut.
However, I shared the article, unfortunate parts and all, such that people can draw their own conclusions, and I'd continue to invite people to read and decide for themselves.
It is not just "unfortunate", it betrays their actual views, which is that we should be ready to sacrifice people's lives on the altar of patriarchal gender norms.
A lot of the more polite bigots will be comfortable making concessions to the trans people who conform to patriarchal roles (and hey, good on Pluckrose for being slightly less bad than charlatans like Stock) but will have knives out for anyone whose existence challenges them. This is a problem.
The only way to true gender liberation is through abolishing the patriarchy.
The entire idea of "transtrenders" is a made up one designed to perpetuate oppressive gender roles and work against solidarity within the trans community. The fact that she takes it seriously is pretty goddamn founded, as far as evidence goes.
Not precisely true. IIRC it first came about during one of the iterations of the tumblr trans wars to describe people who identified as things like "AFAB demigirl" and kept claiming that people who wanted to medically transition "just wanted to be able to pretend they were cis" and therefore "weren't really trans", which understandably went down about as well as a shart in a spacesuit with the people with severe physical dysphoria.
There was a stupendous amount of circular firing squad style stupidity to go around back in those days.
My point is that it's entirely possible to encounter the term in a context where the people being described by the term were being bogus and oppressive, so it's impossible to know a priori whether somebody using that term is an enemy or merely an imperfect ally.
Successful activism generally requires forming as large a coalition as possible, and insta dismissing somebody as a bigot for not getting everything right first time is not an effective way to do that.
"Rather than coming off as a legitimate attempt to help legitimate problems, then, this form of gender activism appears to many like an unappealing combination of ideologizing and attention-seeking and raises the question of whether everybody who says they are trans is sincere or correct. It seems likely that some people have jumped on the train due to an ideological commitment to gender non-conformity and many trans people themselves have complained of this and coined the term “transtrender” to describe it."
This is pretty clearly "gender-conforming trans good, icky weird attention-seeking trans bad". The thing about "many trans people" is mentioned without any evidence and probably refers to people like Debbie Hayton and Buck Angel.
My demigirl friend microdoses on testosterone for the facial hair and voice deepening effects, though she would rather be read as a woman than a man. I know cis men who take the standard spironolactone and estradiol HRT combination.
Sorry, forming coalitions with people that seek to divide a marginalized community rather than work towards unity and solidarity is not a good idea.
> This is pretty clearly "gender-conforming trans good, icky weird attention-seeking trans bad".
That's a reductive view and doesn't fit with my understanding of their position.
> Sorry, forming coalitions with people that seek to divide a marginalized community rather than work towards unity and solidarity is not a good idea.
I'm the one suggesting unity and solidarity here.
You're the one suggesting dividing people based on your guesses as to their motivations.
But, whatever. I'm going to keep working towards a world where "trans people choosing bathrooms most suitable for the gender they are commonly perceived to be and everybody else accepting that trans people just need to pee" is just an obvious and comfortable thing and nobody gets beaten up for doing that.
You keep doing ... whatever it is you're doing. If you ever decide that trans people not getting the shit kicked out of them matters more to you than ideological purity, we can pick the conversation up again then, I guess.
This comment would appear to be a paradigmatic example of non-nuanced. Neither of those people is anti-trans except according to a narrowly doctrinaire definition. Pluckrose is a left-liberal who writes against critical theory and identity politics from a universalist liberal perspective. She has repeatedly written in defense of trans and gay rights, although she does not believe that "trans women can be accepted straightforwardly as women in every situation". Stock is a feminist philosopher who regards gender self-identity as potentially harmful to the interests of women. Both of these are reasonable and nuanced positions that can't be adequately summarized as "anti-trans" whether or not you agree with them.
> Neither of those people is anti-trans except according to a narrowly doctrinaire definition.
They certainly aren't "pro" trans either, though. The point wasn't whether or not they were extremists, it's whether they were representative speakers for ALL the relevant perspectives. And they clearly aren't.
The question isn't whether or not a representative discussion "could" be held, it's whether it happens or not. Letter was held up as an example of nuanced discussion, the specific example given was one-sided.
No justification of it being one-sided has actually been given, merely assertions of that.
The conversation in question was, in fact, an expansion of an extended disagreement on twitter that got derailed by a bunch of gendercrits deciding to scream at Helen until she had to lock her account.
If you're curious as to the actual conversation, I'd suggest reading it on letter for yourself.
How seriously this crowd takes her says a lot about its own values and methods.
edit: as a parody of the sort of meta-level discussion that is more concerned with intellectually bogus, self-absorbed notions of "truth" and "nuance" than the lives of actual human beings, the response is peerless. Well done!
As a parody of the type of nuance-free ideologically driven commentary under discussion, this is peerless. You managed to efficiently cram accusations of fraud and fascism alongside guilt by association and misrepresentation in very few words. Well done!
Edit: it’s a shame you decided to edit your post after I responded. The new version is not quite as successful.
Wow, I had this exact idea just the other day. Letter writing is such an ideal format for nuanced discussion, particularly as it conveys the personal perspective and human element behind one’s ideas. Congrats on making it real.
I will consider signing up, but I strongly resist using my own image as avatar, despite using my real name. Is there nuance to your policy there?
Lastly, your site is not well mobile optimized (iphone SE). The left menu should be collapsed or wrapped vertically inline.
Scott would be allowed to use a pseudonym - from our FAQs:
Do I have to use my real name?
Yes, please. We also ask that your profile picture is a photo of yourself.
Anonymity tends to spoil the quality of online discourse, and we’re working to prevent that on Letter. Accounts which do not represent a real person may be muted: their letters will appear only on their own profile page. Exceptions are made when anonymity is necessary, eg: political/religious dissidents, whistleblowers, etc.
Your site seems a very useful and constructive contribution to good faith discussion
However I feel that this particular policy is going to discourage some reasonable and informed people from discussing topics which may get them fired or mobbed on social media, etc.
That you have contributors who will take that risk is not the same as opening the opportunity to everybody including those who will not.
Your take on anonymity is opinion but stated as fact; obviously there are negatives of the abusive "keyboard warrior" type, but it also enables people who might have unpopular or "incorrect" opinions to voice them fearlessly and honestly.
In supposedly liberal democracies it is not clear how to claim "political dissident" status - what are the criteria?
The emphasis should be on civility and good faith, not whether or not they are confident to use their real name in a public space.
I've always liked the idea of starting a community that has two rules in its discussion threads: no cynicism/fatalism and no snark. It's just a silly thought exercise and probably wouldn't work, but it's fun to think about. It seems like both of those get in the way of good discussion.
I agree in regards to cynicism/fatalism, but I fear everyone's cynicism is someone else's obvious ill-that-must-be-named.
For example, I consider the relentless attacks on "mainstream journalism" coming from tech people to be repetitive, superficial, ignorant of history (journalism today is leagues ahead of the past), and misguided (phonebook-style "just the facts" neutrality is neither possible nor has it ever been the goal).
The same goes for "every politician is corrupt", etc.
But I can sort-off see that, to someone with the unfortunate flaw to wrongly entertain believes different from mine, my insistence to criticise every new low of the current US administration, might, in a certain light, also subjectively feel like tired, repetitive cynicism.
That's a logical paradox and it has its roots in our discourse no longer being grounded in a shared, objective reality.
> misguided (phonebook-style "just the facts" neutrality is neither possible nor has it ever been the goal)
> That's a logical paradox and it has its roots in our discourse no longer being grounded in a shared, objective reality.
Don't you contradict yourself?
(Nb. I don't know anything about SSC. But I also think some kind of curated discussion is doomed to failure; although it may be interesting to its subscribers, it will never make a dent what is generally read and contributed to. Even if it is moderately successful, those who say "social media discussions are terrible" will continue to say "social media discussions are terrible", since those who want to use Twitter will continue to use Twitter, and that will always be more than those who use Curato. Just for the simple reason that people want to contribute. Probably split agreement/quality moderation is desirable and then crafting individual feeds so that you see quality posts you will probably disagree with more so than low-quality posts that you will probably disagree with. Threaded forums like HN also seem to get better contributions than person-based social media.)
I'm a participant on a political discussion forum that enforces strong civility norms (eg anti-snark), and it very much works. It's very popular these days to say that civility norms are a Trojan horse for enforcing conformity. But the breadth of viewpoints I've seen expressed there is 10x as high as anywhere else, and conversations are consistently polite, insightful, and intellectually honest. It turns out that filtering out stupidity and emotional incontinence leads to adult conversation.
More importantly, the norms make any given person feel safe acting like an adult, even if they'd otherwise be inclined not to. This is a big problem with much Internet discourse: putting thought and nuance into a comment and taking your interlocutor seriously is easily deflated with mockery and disdain for "tryhards" or "effortposting". The natural equilibrium is obviously going to be that even people inclined towards intellectual honesty end up in the mud flinging shit at others. Consistent, high-quality moderation around civility prevents the temperature from rising and allows you to actually learn something from every exchange. (It doesn't hurt that the filter effect of these norms mean that the average commenter ends up pretty intelligent: even when someone is wrong, I tend to learn something)
Tldr: the norms you're describing work very well IME
Reddit is turning into Voat. A lot of centrists and moderates that leaned a little right are leaving, and they're not going to come back this time to view one or two subs. Where Voat is a hard right cesspool of monothink, Reddit is soon going to be a hard left cesspool of monothink.
So leaning right = racist.
A certain candidate won a majority of white women and men voters and while it might be fun to write them all off as “outright” racists there is that little problem of the Electoral College.
So might not be prudent to moderate with blow torches, at least until the new order is electorally established.
It sounds like that's not what the person to whom you're replying is saying. But your general point, shifted slightly, is correct: right wing is racist. I feel like I examine all sides and "lean right" or am moderate, and used to vote for people like Bush and McCain and Romney, but the right wing has become to polluted with racism and outright greed that I voted for Hillary last election and am spending considerable resources fighting the Republican party outright this election.
Personally, I don’t think the right has changed one bit since Reagan went to Philadelphia Mississippi. They’re just simply more comfortable saying what they couldn’t say in public before and they finally have a candidate who is their real deal.
But I would not be closing what channels are left for those who might be confused or naive. There are more important things than purity, and 2000 and 2016 prove that.
There is a regular issue where once a particular forum tips beyond a certain point in either direction, you steadily start to lose people from the 'other side' who are well worth keeping but increasingly feel unwelcome.
The SSC comments section suffered this in terms of tipping to the right, and Scott ended up stepping up enforcement of borderline-against-the-rules right wing posts and stepping down enforcement of borderline-against-the-rules left wing posts to try and avoid the discussion becoming completely one sided.
It seems we aren't going to found out how well that would've worked in the long run, sadly.
Calling the hatred, gleeful love of violence, racism, and misogyny that characterises Voat "hard right" is a disservice to the right. And implying there is an equally awful and opposite thing on the left, and that Reddit will become it, is unrealistic. So their content rules are too strict - that's not an abominable evil.
> And implying there is an equally awful and opposite thing on the left, and that Reddit will become it, is unrealistic.
It isn't an opposite ideology, it's just the same violence and hatred but against the opposite tribe. It's tribalism.
Whether reddit becomes it remains to be seen, but censorship has a strong tendency to produce extremism, because it's a ratchet. It shifts the composition of the population, which shifts what's considered extreme enough to be censored, which shifts the composition of the population, and so on.
I hesitate to post this because it's almost a cliche at this point, and because in the original context the method of censorship was obviously different, but it still seems relevant enough to the point.
We are so used to viewing the world in binary that we need to find binary systems even when they don't exist. GP is one example of this - Voat is a cesspool of hate, the users mostly lean right. Therefore there has to be a counterpart on the left.
Second example - Even though non-partisan metrics show that the Republican party have become more extreme with time, the need to be "neutral" makes it impossible to recognise that. Our need for binary means that we have to consider both sides as mirror images of each other even if they might not be. This video explains more - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mICxKmCjF-4
Even though non-partisan metrics show that the
Republican party have become more extreme with time,
the need to be "neutral" makes it impossible to
Yes. Most of us generally have some sort of impulse to build consensus and seek some sort of middle ground. It's just a foundational aspect of social animals in general, I believe.
That breaks down when you throw bad actors -- either because they are intentionally behaving in antisocial ways, or because they are profoundly detached from reality -- into the mix.
For an example of the former, our impulse for consensus-building and compromise doesn't work if your buddy says "let's go murder ten people for no reason." It would not be a sane compromise to murder five people, or perhaps find ten people and beat them precisely halfway to death.
For an example of the latter, there can be no compromise with certain pseudoscience beliefs. We can't compromise with flat-earthers and agree that the earth maybe is sort of an oblong, oval shape halfway between a sphere and a disk.
But we can in fact have a conversation about whether we should murder 10 people for no reason, it might even make an interesting discussion on ethics and moral philosophy.
We can agree to conduct adversarial studies with flat-earthers and examine the evidence together.
All of this is possible as long as everyone is discussing in good faith and open to the possibility that they might be wrong. That should be the only requirement, rather than fixed boundaries for what's acceptable to discuss.
>we can in fact have a conversation about whether we should murder 10 people for no reason
>interesting discussion on ethics and moral philosophy
>as long as everyone is discussing in good faith
The parent didn't mean "as a hypothetical", e.g. in a "would you rather" way. They are referring to somebody who is actually a proponent of the killing, in which case it is impossible, or at least moot, for that person to be arguing "in good faith". This seems obvious to me, so maybe I'm missing something else you're trying to say.
> They are referring to somebody who is actually a proponent of the killing, in which case it is impossible, or at least moot, for that person to be arguing "in good faith". This seems obvious to me, so maybe I'm missing something else you're trying to say.
What you're missing is that that isn't impossible.
The actual premise is impossible, because nobody ever wants to do anything "for no reason" -- there is always some reason. Which is why you need to have the discussion, instead of assuming there is no reason. To figure out what their reason is.
Because it could be a good reason. Maybe you're stranded on a mountain with 30 people but only enough provisions for 20 and if you try to share then everyone will die instead of a third of everyone. And then killing 10 people isn't actually beyond the pale, and even if you decide against it you still need to have the discussion because you need to do something.
Or maybe it's because your friend just really hates short people and wants to kill them, which is a stupid reason that isn't going to convince you, but at least now you know what it is and can dismiss it out of knowledge rather than ignorance.
I interpreted the parent to that assume his hypothetical individual is advocating for the murder of some people for what they believes to be good reasons, since nobody short of the mentally ill will actually ask for random people to be killed for literally no reason.
I can list 10 people that the world would be better without — the likes of Kim Jong-un and Ayman al-Zawahiri. That's not too different from wishing for their death. Plausibly we can discuss whether it's a good idea for them to be assassinated, and whether the power vacuum would just cause another worse despot to replace them.
So it seems quite conceivable to me that a discussion could be had about the reasons, feasibility, ethics or geopolitical implications, or about why they believe that someone does or does not deserve killing.
There could certainly be many scenarios where killing somebody might make ethical sense - self defense, the "Trolley problem", etc.
I meant to describe a situation decidedly not of that nature.
Imagine our friend wants to kill ten people for no remotely defensible reason. Perhaps our hypothetically murderous friend is high on hypothetical PCP and is clearly suffering some kind of psychotic breakdown.
...then it's great that at least they're talking about it on some forum, giving us a chance to persuade them otherwise and to call the police. If we didn't have such a forum, they might already have started their murder spree.
It isn't a particularly reasonable criticism of honest intellectuals on the left.
It's a completely accurate depiction of low-brow populist left-wing extremists, because they disregard the nuance of their own side's positions and just do the thing in the picture, and then use the conclusion to rationalize vicious hostility and censorship.
The mirror image of irrationally hating members of the Blue Tribe isn't rationally hating no one, it's irrationally hating members of the Red Tribe.
I've thought about a related idea, for a forum where only positive posts are allowed. I imagined it as something like a subreddit where a SentimentAnalyzer is a mod, and it deletes any insufficiently positive comments and bans any sufficiently negative users.
Also very interested in this. Other social media platforms seems to be devolving into a negative feedback loop of echo chamber tribalism and outrage. HN is still pretty good, but even here there can be a lot of noise to cut through.
One thing I've been thinking about lately is a discussion forum that is highly curated, featuring only comments from a whitelisted group of approved posters. Essentially a hybrid between journalism and the best of online commenting.
Hey there, I'm working on a new discussion site after I couldn't find one that fit my desire a few years back (sqwok.im). Although I'm not familiar with the Slate Star Codex, my goal is to build a place where people from all walks can have meaningful discussion about any sort of topic. But in particular I'm interested in news, current events, science, tech, politics, history, etc.
One thing I'm doing from the start is removing voting entirely. The site is "conversation-first" meaning I plan to develop it entirely around the conversation, only adding new features if they enhance the conversation in some way.
I'm wondering if a site could be highly curated but not heavily moderated? Maybe a site that's open for anyone to post wouldn't necessarily attract the same crowd as one that was a curated collection from a known source?
Originally I started thinking about this when I worked in news media some years ago and witnessed the state of online commenting back then! Fun stuff.
> One thing I'm doing from the start is removing voting entirely.
What makes you think this is a good approach? I strongly suspect that voting (as it clumsily currently exists) was essential for HN to get to where it is. Are there examples of other communities that have accomplished what you want without voting?
hey, I'll say that I'm not sure if it's viable long-term or a "good" approach, but I wanted to try it. From years of reddit use, I see voting as a way to amplify echo chambers, and with sqwok I'm hoping to at least try to diminish that. Being based on realtime chat vs threaded comments may be a slightly different experience as well.
I know that one change I'd make to HN would be to disallow voting without at least a single-word comment accompanying the vote. Can't be bothered to contribute? Then you can't be bothered to vote, either.
Failing that, I wish comment votes were rendered with 'sparklines' instead of numbers alone. I find it surprisingly interesting to watch my comment scores go up and down over timeframes corresponding to daylight hours in various parts of the world. It would be very cool to see voting trends presented in graphical form. And it should be fairly obvious that posts that oscillate between high and low scores tend to be more thought-provoking than those that shoot to +4 or -4 and stay there.
> disallow voting without at least a single-word comment accompanying the vote. Can't be bothered to contribute? Then you can't be bothered to vote, either.
That's interesting, and I agree with the idea that there should be _some_ requirement to contribute more than just an opaque vote.
In another comment I mentioned using "activity" as a metric for relevance, but another thing I've thought about is perhaps in the same vein as your thought here, where instead of voting, you could write certain phrases that would match a sentiment. That way the people in the conversation could engage with the message and it would further the discussion. Voting is hidden and doesn't match how conversations happen in real life.
One thing I always liked was the old discussion forums which had subforums for different subjects and then the posts in each subforum were ordered by most recent comment.
The result is similar to voting. Things people are interested in discussing on stay on the front page, things they're not fall off. But then you don't need "gravity" to downrank old posts with many votes, because when people lose interest they stop commenting. Which also means something stays visible as long as people stay interested in it. Whereas "gravity" encourages discussions to be cut short because it's almost impossible for any post to remain visible for more than a day or two, even it was still actively being discussed.
> Things people are interested in discussing on stay on the front page, things they're not fall off.
I like this. So currently on the homepage, and individual user (nest) pages the list of content has two sort options, "hot", and "new". The "hot" sort takes into account the message activity of the post similar to what you described. The effect is that active posts bubble to the top, and even old posts can become current again (anti-gravity) if the activity picks up once more. I think about how humans interact in real-life group discussions, where there is no "voting" on a discussion happening. The "voting" in real-life is in the form of the size of the discussion and how many people it attracts. If you put 100 ppl in a room and gave out a topic, the most interesting discussions would naturally form and people would be attracted to those.
Your site looks interesting, I'm checking it out now.
I agree that reddit-style voting systems are problematic. In particular, I think there needs to be a way to separate votes that mean "I agree/disagree" from votes that mean "this is high/low quality". Old slashdot had something like this.
I'm not sure what you mean by "highly curated but not heavily moderated". I see curation as an extreme form of moderation, essentially operating from a whitelist model as opposed to a blacklist model like most/all sites have now.
Ok yeah that's how I see it as well... I was curious if you meant that you'd like a heavily curated site while accepting heavy moderation..
Full-disclosure I don't have the magic bullet for the best solution to the problem of moderation, but it's something I'm constantly thinking about as I build sqwok. I'm not really a fan of heavy-handed moderation on the current large sites, and the sort of echo-chambers that form around them, but I also realize that there will always be a subset of bad actors/trolls that try to ruin the experience for everyone else.
That said I _do_ like the idea of curated content as a feature for showcasing content.
Thanks for checking it out! (I'm in p/QVK5_vIww8lrGw now if you want to chat)
I've written a blog off and on for many years (http://jakeseliger.com for the curious) and it takes a huge amount of time to do well. The amount of time Alexander put into SSC is enormous. People who haven't done it or tried to do it often don't realize how enormous. It's like software: end users often don't know how tricky it really is to get right.
I like this idea of a platform for curating content. I'm imagining something like Reddit (multiple, unrelated subreddits with independent moderators) but where only hand-selected discussions can be seen?
It's intriguing, because it would still suffer from bias (like any platform) but maybe the diversity of moderators would neutralize that a bit, and maybe you'd see more cross-pollination between groups because of the quality of the discussion.
Given 1) how hard it is to bootstrap a new social media platform and 2) the resurgence of independent blogging, I'm wondering if a prototype could come in the form of a pluggable comment system, but where you hand curate the comments that show up (or could even feature them in a subsequent blog post)? Something as easy to set up as Disqus, but OSS and designed to de-escalate rather than escalate conversations.
I think there are still some good conversations happening on LessWrong. If the bulky front-end bugs you, greaterwrong(https://www.greaterwrong.com/) is a much lighter front-end that connects to the same DB of articles.
I think it's possible that two people can want high-quality discussion and disagree with what high quality discussion is. On the other hand, it seems that insulting generalisations about huge swathes of people with whom you disagree is very cheap and easy, but it's there as the conclusion to a post apparently wanting high-quality discussion. Any place that wanted to focus on high quality discussion should probably try to avoid that or else become the murky waters of insults or groupthink, but then we seem to be stuck in recursion.
(It seems that in a high quality forum, a person on the right should only be able to make generalisations about people on the right, and a person on the left should only be able to make generalisations about people on the left, unless the post has been moderated and approved as high quality. Not that such terms hold much content in any case, and they're far better avoided entirely. It is trivial to be a racist, misogynist, anti-glbt, protectionist, anti-business, anti-monarchist, anti-"their religion" communist.)
> I think it's possible that two people can want high-quality discussion and disagree with what high quality discussion is.
Without comment on any other substantive point, I think the simpler explanation is that people want high-quality discussion but don't necessarily know how to produce it. Even though they know quality discussion when they see it, there's no clear path to achieve that goal. (Hence all of the conflicting comments in this very discussion about the value of moderation policies!)
It's much like the idea of starting a restaurant with "my friends and I know what great food tastes like, so we should have no problem making it!"
> I think it's possible that two people can want high-quality discussion and disagree with what high quality discussion is
I'm setting the bar _very_ low here. There are a lot of people out there firmly ensconced in their bubbles, unable to conceive of anyone with different beliefs as anything but entirely alien (and/or evil). An enormously common approach to conversation, in my experience, is to take someone's claim, extract the buzzwords, map it to something you've already heard, and argue against that strawman. This is, by definition, completely nuance-killing. My definition of "wants high-quality conversation" doesn't consist of much more than the ability to avoid this. The only other requirement I'd add is a bit of emotional continence, which prevents immediately raising the temperature of every conversation, and thus lowering the chance of two people with different beliefs finding common ground.
> On the other hand, it seems that insulting generalisations about huge swathes of people with whom you disagree is very cheap and easy, but it's there as the conclusion to a post apparently wanting high-quality discussion
Presumably this is a reference to the last sentence of my comment? This is a common mistake. I'm describing people who behave a certain way; by definition, those people behave that way. I'm decidedly _not_ claiming that this is a quality of everyone on the left, or most of the left, or anything like that, and I'm personally firmly on the left. It's just an inevitable tendency of the side of the spectrum that gets cultural power: Conservatives in the '50s had roughly the same tendency. There's always a narrow-minded contingent that uses that power to define more and more beliefs as heretical and thus "dangerous", and decides that those beliefs should be hunted down and rooted out of every forum they can, starting with the most legitimate fora and moving on down to the least.
I'm not strawmanning their views either: this tendency is accompanied by openly-expressed beliefs that giving bad thoughts exposure or a platform anywhere is dangerous. Of course, the definition of "bad thoughts" is handed down by fiat from those institutions with said cultural power.
> Not that such terms hold much content in any case, and they're far better avoided entirely. It is trivial to be a racist, misogynist, anti-glbt, protectionist, anti-business, anti-monarchist, anti-"their religion" communist.)
I agree, and have found this to be the case in the fora I'm talking about, where these labels tend not to be as useful, since their predictive power is limited beyond broad sweeps of fundamental beliefs. But for the majority of people that I mention above, the labels are predictive because they're _causal_; people swallow their package of beliefs wholesale.
They’re private. The rationalist community had a real problem with targeted online harassment (e.g. sneerclub) and so they went private, even though that means there’s no on-ramp for new people except through in-person meetups...
Rebel Wisdom’s community has been gaining momentum for a couple of years, and particularly the past few months.
Its subject matter is somewhat different to the rationalist theme of SSC, but there is some crossover.
RW explores what they term the “crisis of meaning” in the modern world, the decay of institutions and social cohesion, and the challenges individuals face through trauma, mental illness and alienation.
Their forums on Discord and Google Groups host ongoing discussions about ways of overcoming these issues and finding a path to a better world.
It has a less materialistic and more spiritual ethos than SSC, so it won’t be every SSC exile’s cup of tea, but some may find it appealing.
They’ve done some excellent interviews with a broad range of folks including Gabor Mate, Daniel Schmachtenberger, Jordan Hall, Eric Weinstein, Brett Weinstein, Heather Heying, Douglas Rushkoff, Stanislav Grof, Diana Fleischmann, Ken Wilbur, Iain McGilchrist, John Vervaeke and Charles Einsenstein.
I'll try to respond with more good-faith than your comment contains.
The David Icke content was an investigation into what the hell was going on behind the scenes with that whole fiasco, which turned out to be a largely-fraudulent grab for money and eyeballs by the big-but-failing London Real company, evidently an attempt to save itself by cashing in on the Infowars market. Rebel Wisdom founder David Fuller has a background as an investigative news journalist at BBC and Channel 4, and went deeper on this story than anybody else I've seen. When many others were fuelling the whole thing with hysterical rants about 5G and lizard people conspiracies, Fuller was soberly asking, as he does, "what's really going on here?".
On Eric Weinstein and the IDW, RW/Fuller has been about the only reporter to both treat it with the seriousness that its scale and influence warrants, whilst also subjecting it to scrutiny and criticism. The most recent interview with Eric Weinstein and other recent productions focused very heavily on the IDW's failings and the character flaws of several of its leading identities.
The full list of people they've interviewed who have solid backgrounds either as spirtualists or deep researchers on psychology, psychiatry, consciousness, psychedelics or counter-culture is long, and includes: Peter Levine, Iain McGilchrist, Stan Grof, Tim Lott, Rupert Sheldrake, Gabor Maté, Tim Freke, Douglas Rushkoff, Charles Eisenstein, Richard Tarnas, Ken Wilber, Doshin Roshi, Jamie Wheal, John Vervaeke, Ros Watts, Stephen Porges, Guy Sengstock, Bonnitta Roy, Terry Patten and Rafia Morgan.
Several of these figures have decades of work behind them, and most have nothing to do with the IDW, beyond observing from afar and asking "what's going on here?", often very critically.
Sure, they've also covered some IDW-linked figures - Jordan Peterson early on, and then others like the "Sokal Squared" hoaxers, Douglas Murray, Claire Lehmann and Cassie Jaye, because, like it or not, they've attracted attention that warrants scrutiny. But people from that world make up a decreasing share of the content; they've left most of that stuff behind in the past 12+ months.
As for Jordan Hall and Daniel Schmachtenberger, along with Wheal and Eisenstein; they have appeared more than just about anyone on the channel, they've had no major involvement with the IDW, and are wholly interested in deeply understanding the direction of the world and figuring out workable new forms of government and economics that are equitable and sustainable. From what I've seen in my own social networks, the people who are the most committed to "woke" causes are highly engaged with what these guys are doing.
Personally, one aspect that most appeals to me about this community is that, unlike communities like SSC, Quillette and LessWrong, there is zero discussion about creepy topics like race science and genetic determinism. That, along with the real nuance they bring to the topics they cover, is why I've taken little-to-no interest in those other communities, but an increasing amount of interest in Rebel Wisdom.
It seems that in your attempt to dismiss this platform as lacking nuance, you've made about the most nuance-free assessment imaginable.
An update re. the missing London Real/Icke video: it was taken down in response to a copyright claim by London Real in an attempt to shut down the story.
As RW explains in this video , as an experienced news reporter he took all necessary steps to ensure he adhered to the legal framework for fair use, but YouTube (and evidently Vimeo) pulled it down anyway, which raises important questions about the treatment of traditional investigative journalism and copyright law on the new media platforms.
> which platforms do you go to for nuanced, rational discussions
Outside HN, I talk to people I know personally who I know enjoy nuanced discussions. And that's it.
> And, more broadly, how can we (as technologists) foster that sort of collegiate culture online, given the global scope of the Internet, the permanence of anything we post, and the inherent anonymity of the Internet stack.
I am leaning heavily towards old-school blogging right now (without comments - people wanna comment, they can go write a response post on their own blog), including links to other blogs of interest. Maybe webrings, although I'm not very familiar with the social dynamics there and what the pros/cons are when compared to a more casual linking between blogs. Mastodon is also on my radar but I just don't know anyone personally who's into that.
> be a part of and reinforce existing communities with this ethos
I think this just needs to be done with people you already know. Ask 'em "Hey, wanna start a club?" and then go do so. Trying to make it bigger than that is a threat to getting it started in the first place.
> advocate for technology and culture that could make this the norm.
Not gonna happen, I think. My perception is that people who appreciate nuanced discussion are the minority in the global population. But that doesn't mean we have to roll over and accept Twitter. We can still make our own digital clubs.
I also have a strong desire for a community tolerant of nuanced conversation, but any attempts I've seen to do so (bitchute, gab, parler, voat), seem to almost immediately be taken over by precisely the worst parts of any other community. So then the sane people who would otherwise not mind sharing the community with those fringe factions tend to avoid participating in the communities at all.
It's almost like, ironically, the best way forward would be to create a moderated community that slowly gets a user base of a diverse set of people, and then slowly pull back the moderation over time. Allowing something like subreddits with communities to self-select their own moderation levels is also great, imo. Reddit was perfect until the platform itself stopped being neutral.
I would say to keep the moderation active, and focus it on encouraging reasoned posts, while striking down posts that go too far in a personal direction, ad hominems and so on. Start with warnings, scale up to temporary timeouts, bans and eventually permanent bans. Strike down extremely hard on any kind of doxxing or threats.
Have moderators cover only a few subforums, so they don't get stretched too thin, have the moderators/admins confer internally on cross-forum issues and bans.
It does require a competent moderator team that knows when to let discussions run, when to gently nudge people towards more reasoned debate, and when to swing the ban hammer.
Reddit was absolutely not perfect at any point in time. There were countless cases of power hungry mods in their own little kingdoms, doxxing, inter-subreddit fights and exceedingly virulent hate subreddits that specifically did their best to hurt other people. That's not debate, that's bullying and in many cases criminal.
> The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong
Kialo was recently mentioned in the SSC subreddits.
It’s quite interesting, albeit more of an argument mapping site than a forum. I found participation a bit harder, as they have a “no duplicate arguments” rule, which probably makes sense for their setup.
A couple of diagrams that I found quite interesting:
Fwiw, I contributed what I consider pretty heterodox claims to one of the debates and was surprised when the debate creator made me a mod and asked me to work with them. Not sure it’s a blessing though, as now I find myself having to respond to others that personal experience isn’t a good source to back up their claims.
slashdot has gotten a lot better. Still have it's troll, but sometimes they are even upvoted for saying what everyone is thinking but would regardless get you modded down or hellbanned here on HN.
Also the moderation model for slashdot is golden. I strongly suggested anyone interested in online forum design to take a look at the source code. The idea of rating comments based on a few categories, allowing readers to assign different weight to each categories, and forcing voters (moderators) to abstain from commenting when voting, works really well and solve problems that are impossible here or on reddit/facebook/etc.
The moderation system seemed well designed, especially the meta-moderation idea, but I stopped bothering with Slashdot years ago because it didn’t seem to be working. Specifically, too many useless or trivially incorrect comments were modded up to +5, so that the moderation system was almost useless in helping you find worthwhile comments. This was because the moderators were simply too gullible, modding up absurdly wrong and useless comments whose authors had figured out how to mimic an authoritative voice.
EDIT: [because the above might seem vague]. I’m not talking about opinions that I found worthless because I disagreed with them. I’m talking about 500-word essays about how red speaker wires give you better stereo separation because of quantum mechanics, modded up to +5. That kind of thing.
i've seem the same comments here. only difference is that here it would have a source link pointing to a TEDx video.
Slashdot also allows you to mark the few people that make those (and political) comments that are often upvoted as friend or foe. That is the ultimate fix if scrolling past one or another comment bothers you. I personally only Friend people there to bump their comments, as i find scrolling past the bad one easier.
I'm not sure I can phrase this in a sufficiently nuanced manner, but .. how much of this nuance is achieved by having discussions about issues which have real life-or-death impacts on people but without having any of those people inconveniently present? You can have a discussion about racism among white people, a discussion about trans people with no trans people present, a discussion about accessibility with no disabled people involved; and so on. It sounds nuanced but only because it's an academic exercise to those involved, not something with real impact on their lives.
Anyone can assess evidence. Opinions formed after a best-as-you-can assessment of the evidence are better than the alternatives. A group of black people are perfectly capable of empathising with, understanding and having a nuanced opinion of the concerns of disabled people. Swap adjectives around as you like. This is because everybody has the ability to weigh evidence. Opinions formed on things that aren't evidence based are exceptionally bad ideas, so I'm more than happy for them to fall by the wayside.
I'm not talking peer reviewed evidence, but the ordinary stuff where there is reason to believe something is true and it has to passes all or at least most tests of authenticity that are thrown at it.
To have a nuanced discussion of politics, pushing partisans out of the room or at least quietening them down is the first step. "An X needs to be in the room to discuss topics related to X" is fair and necessary for decision making but not at all required for nuanced discussion.
Opinions formed after a best-as-you-can assessment of the evidence
are better than the alternatives.
A group of black people are perfectly capable of empathising
with, understanding and having a nuanced opinion of the
concerns of disabled people. Swap adjectives around as you like
Absolutely not. Nobody will have as much evidence on the experiences of a group as those within the group.
Have you ever worked closely with disabled folks? Been one? Had them in your home? As somebody with minor disabilities myself, it is absolutely humbling when my friend with different disabilities visits, because various things in my home and the surrounding environs affect her in ways that I could not imagine without her help.
Am I discussing anecdota, rather than hard evidence? Certainly, but most of the truly hard decisions in the world are not the sort that lend themselves to purely evidence-based approaches.
There is no conclusive study or collection of studies that can, for example, tell us how to resolve the Israel/Palestine matter, whether allowing women to abort their pregnancies is a good idea, etc. We can not establish proper control groups, etc, to study these issues. Much purported "evidence" is biased. We need to lean on the evidence as much as possible, but there is also no substitute for the voices belonging to those being discussed.
There is a post on SSC about Isolated Demand for Rigor which, well, I can't link you to because it's down. But I think it is relevant to many points made in this conversation. Is it better to have representation when making policy decisions? Pretty much everybody is saying yes. And somehow, this "yes" gets interpreted as "can't have an opinion on any topic as long as I'm not part of a certain group". That's identity politics taken to the extreme.
I'm going to put common sense on the table and say that yes, I can have opinions on various topics. Including, among many others, disabled people.
Are my opinions equally valid, given that I'm not part of that group? And here we start to see how things get confused - because absolutely nobody deigns to give a definition of "valid". Are my opinions correct? good? useful? - that's damn easy to judge, comparatively. But "valid"? Hell, I could have the best damn idea in the whole wide world, and it still wouldn't make it "valid" - in the climate we're moving towards.
Are opinions of people not of that group, on average, equally good as those in the group? That's a completely different question, and now the isolated demand for rigor becomes clear: we move from a statistical bias to being allowed to do something. Being less likely to be right is not a criteria for being allowed in the public discourse. Nor should it be.
To add, personal experience can be useful, but is not the end-all in decision making. It's useful in the ways anecdotes are useful, that is to say, good as an illustrative example but may not be statistically representative.
In general, you do not need to have personally experienced X to have a useful or "valid" opinion on X. As a reductio ad absurdum, nobody would be allowed to have an valid opinion on murder.
> how much of this nuance is achieved by having discussions about issues which have real life-or-death impacts on people but without having any of those people inconveniently present?
Followed by an assertion that
> A group of X people is [not] capable of of empathising with, understanding and having a nuanced opinion of the concerns of !X people
So I think there are people advocating that you should be speaking only if you lived it.
Of course, anecdotes and personal experiences are valuable and including people with personal experience is helpful, but the central claim here is that you can have productive discussions about X without anyone with personal experience with X.
You can have a discussion about X, as long as you recognize that the discussion is going to be flawed without anybody from X there.
Sometimes this is a necessity. In history class we learn about ancient Sumerians without inviting them to the discussion, because they have all been dead for a long time. So we make do.
Certainly, if we had the chance, we'd love to have them there.
(A useful thought experiment: what if a bunch of ancient Sumerians fell out of a time machine and were available for discussion? Would we not think poorly of people who wanted to discuss ancient Sumerians did so without the Sumerians, who were standing like... right outside the room?)
Can a bunch of e.g. men sit around and have a meaningful discussion about women? It... really depends. Certainly a group of male gynecologists could usefully discuss some procedure, although the history of gynecology also certainly suggests that for many years the profession surely suffered from a lack of female perspective. Men can usefully discuss gender relations, because they are a part of the group that experiences gender relations, although again this discussion will be a lot weaker if it involves exclusively male perspectives. A room full of men can probably not very usefully discuss issues highly specific to women, unless they were indirectly drawing upon female experiences (e.g., two men could certainly learn from a discussion about an article written by a female author about childbirth or male-on-female sexual assault, etc)
I reject that discussion will be inherently flawed without representation. I further submit that representation can cause flaws in discussion.
To use your thought experiment as an example, say if we are critically examining Sumerian religion and their creation myths, we may not want the Sumerians in the room even if they were readily available, since they may well take offense at us disrespecting and dissecting their beliefs. If we are discussing Sumerian religion with Sumerians and we don't want to cause them offense, we would have to tiptoe around the fact their gods well, aren't real, and subjects like "what might have inspired the Sumerians to ascribe this trait to that god" can't be discussed at all.
And to use a example more grounded in reality, a group of men can't have properly conduct a discussion on how to attract women with women in the discussion. I am well aware that this sort of discussion has pejorative connotations with how infamous the PUA community has become, but the fact is that young men do need to social spaces and groups where they can learn this, since it is skill that needs to be learned and practiced.
Or to use an even more absurd example, a group of rape victims can't have a discussion with a rapist, even though the rapist would be able to add their side of the story to the discussion.
if we are critically examining Sumerian religion
and their creation myths, we may not want the Sumerians
in the room even if they were readily available, since
they may well take offense at us disrespecting and
dissecting their beliefs.
I would agree with this specific example.
Religion is a special case when it comes to rational discussion. It is explicitly a belief in the irrational, and is not compatible with rational thought.
When the "out group" decides to exclude the "in group" from a discussion, we should be very very sure that there's some highly specific reason why the "in group" is simply incapable of rational discussion.
For example, we exclude my car from discussions about his medical care because he is a cat and he can't speak or understand medicine. If we do that with people, we need to be very careful.
And to use a example more grounded in reality,
a group of men can't have properly conduct a
discussion on how to attract women with women
in the discussion.
This is completely opposite to my experiences.
I certainly think it's healthy and good for men to discuss sex, attraction, etc, without women as well. Heterosexual men are a part of the group that experiences dating and sex with women. (I wonder how many hours of my life I've spent on this? Thousands? Tens of thousands?)
This is markedly different than, say, a panel of men discussing/deciding things for women, i.e. a panel full of men deciding what women can and cannot do with their bodies.
a group of rape victims can't have a discussion
with a rapist, even though the rapist would be
able to add their side of the story to the discussion.
I agree with caveats. (Some victims find power and closure by confronting their rapists, etc.)
To generalize this specific example into something broadly applicable, the reason why this example works is because in this case the rapist has done something highly transgressive - essentially, they have broken anything that might reasonably be considered a social contract - and it would certainly be reasonable for a rape victim to find it highly upsetting to see their rapist, much less listen to them.
So again, I would say the validity of excluding a person from a discussion relevant to them would highly depend upon some explicit evidence or reasoning that productive discussion simply cannot occur if they are a part of it.
This would not apply to, say, a room full of white people deciding things about the Black experience.
I think given the context of this thread, it’s fair to mention that there are plenty on the internet who use that kind of rhetoric to invalidate any out-group opinions they don’t like. Not everyone of course, but it happens. These are some of the conversations that are lacking nuance. Sometimes the out-group has something to offer. Sometimes you just need to make them feel heard before you explain to them what they’re not getting. It’s about having the conversation. Why should anyone listen to someone if they don’t get the same respect back?
Sometimes you just need to make [the out group] feel
heard before you explain to them what they’re not getting.
When you listen to groups of affected issues, what you often hear is that they have been explaining forever, it hasn't worked, and frankly they're exhausted.
Often, the folks who ask them for "explanations" are doing so in bad faith. Perhaps you're doing so in good faith, but they have a right to be wary and/or weary.
Understand that a group being oppressed or affected by some injustice is already bearing an undue burden.
Why should anyone listen to someone if they don’t get the
same respect back?
In some cases, you may be the one being incredibly disrespectful by expecting some sort of explanation, because tons of explaining has already been done.
To name one example, there is an incredibly rich history of African-American writing, art, and other forms of expression regarding the African-American experience. To use the mildest possible word I can bring myself to type, it would be rude to expect any individual to owe me some sort of explanation. Why should they do the work of explaining (yet again, most likely) when I haven't?
Look, I get where you're coming from, but this post was specifically about places to find nuanced discussion on the internet, and in the context of that, responding to
> No one advocates that you should only speak if you lived it, we say that those who lived it must have a say if that is in any way possible.
I stand by what I said. If you're coming to the table for nuanced discussion, I don't think it makes much sense to shout down your opponent with ad hominems simply because others have argued against you in bad faith before. If you're weary of explaining something, I get that, but I don't think coming to a place full of people looking for a nuanced discussion and calling them names when they may basically be on your side already does your cause any good. I understand it, and it's a completely human reaction, but it's alienating.
I can have opinions on various topics. Including,
among many others, disabled people.
Are my opinions equally valid, given that I'm not
part of that group?
There's a distinction here that I'm struggling to put into words.
As largely non-disabled people, there is a lot we can and should be doing.
If you have an idea for a better sort of wheelchair or walking aid, is that something you should pursue? Yeah! It's not that you should shut up and stay far, far, away from disabled people who are doing disabled things. But, each step of the way, we've got an obligation to make sure we're not overruling them. Pragmatically, this makes sense as well - we're unlikely to design some kind of gamechanging next-gen wheelchair without some serious collaboration from folks who are actually confined to wheelchairs.
There are parallels when it comes to race relations. As a white man in America, should I largely (or entirely) shut up when it comes to the Black experience in America? Yes. I am not going to understand that experience by any means other than some voracious listening. But there is plenty of work to be done from the white side of things as well. My thoughts and actions are needed there. In fact, considering we have the majority of economic and political power in this country, most of the work needs to be done by us if the situation is to be improved.
Is it better to have representation when making policy
decisions? Pretty much everybody is saying yes. And
somehow, this "yes" gets interpreted as "can't have
an opinion on any topic as long as I'm not part of a
certain group". That's identity politics taken to the extreme.
I would encourage you to think holistically.
Here's (part of) my thought process. I don't know your demographics so I'll share mine. As a white man living in America...
1. Will I still have plenty of power and agency in my life, if I have the humility to refrain from forming opinions and/or exercising authority over matters in which I have no personal experience?
2. From a purely selfish perspective, won't I learn more and therefore become a better person if I do much more listening than talking when it comes to matters that affect groups I'm not a part of?
3. What are my odds of having better ideas on a given topic than the subject matter experts themselves? As a Ruby programmer, I basically don't have opinions at all on Python or how the Python community should run things. Why wouldn't I extend the same courtesy to women, or people of color?
4. Are there already a lot of areas in my life where I practice this kind of humility? When I step onto a plane, do I assume my opinions about flying the plane are on par with those of the pilots?
That's fair, though also note that in a discussion whether Alice or Bob should get $100, Alice and Bob will be the most biased voices, not the least. So by all means, listen to the testimony of interested parties, but treat it with as much skepticism as other evidence.
> How can there ever be a disinterested party when it comes to matters of national or societal importance?
The scientific method doesn't require that I be a disinterested party, but it does require that I evaluate evidence, to the best of my ability, in a disinterested manner.
E.g. I might believe women are discriminated against in academia and locked out of opportunity; my heart might beat out of my chest because of all the horror stories my friends tell me. However, the data seems to indicate that 57% of university degrees in the U.S. are awarded to women, and that this proportion is increasing. I am emotionally invested in my belief in the former injustice, but I have to evaluate the data as though I weren't and update my beliefs accordingly.
> This approach doesn't scale up to meet most of the world's difficult and interesting questions and problems. Issues of society, race, gender, economy, and so forth affect all of us.
Anecdotally, I've heard many social justice advocates recently assert that dispassionate analysis of evidence and data can't lead to solutions for social problems. "Other ways of knowing" or different "epistemological frames" such as "lived experience" are emphasised. I find this misguided: Indeed mathematics and the scientific method are _the only_ tools that can help us find the truth about social problems. Why would the intellectual tools that build homes, bridges, hydroelectric dams, energy grids, the internet; that find surgical methods, discover medicines, design microchips, and so on, be somehow less effective than lived experience in the social realm? No, these are humanity's most powerful tools. We must not abandon them.
> my heart might beat out of my chest because of all the horror stories my friends tell me. However, the data seems to indicate that 57% of university degrees in the U.S. are awarded to women, and that this proportion is increasing
Both of these are true; women face substantial gendered barriers in academia, and numerically women are doing well. You can't say "you weren't sexually assaulted because some other women got degrees".
It is also fair to ask "are men facing structural barriers in access to university?" Or are they choosing not to, or experiencing barriers further down the pipeline, and so on.
The problem with using aggregate statistics on humans is that they tell you nothing about whether a particular case was dealt with justly or unjustly. (In fairness, there's also a problem going the other way, of over-extrapolating from a single example).
> Why would the intellectual tools that build homes, bridges, hydroelectric dams, energy grids, the internet; that find surgical methods, discover medicines, design microchips, and so on, be somehow less effective than lived experience in the social realm?
This is Le Corbusier style high modernism, the idea that living should be mechanised and human life subjected to statistical process control.
> Then you encounter the problem that there are no average humans
[sigh] In statistical modelling at the population level, we don't make conclusions about "average humans". We derive conclusions based on distributions. And the average is rarely indicative; the median is often more useful. Simple conclusions can be derived through power laws e.g. the divergence in income of the median male since 1970 relative to GDP growth.
> This is Le Corbusier style high modernism, the idea that living should be mechanised and human life subjected to statistical process control
Is this an argument of some kind? I'm sorry but I can't parse what point you're trying to make or the relevance of the statement in determining the correctness of concepts and policies that affect a society.
I find this misguided: Indeed mathematics and the scientific
method are _the only_ tools that can help us find the truth
about social problems.
I love "analysis of evidence and data" as much as the next guy, and quite possibly more.
That's why I am extremely wary of lending too much credence to data when it comes to something as messy as a society of human beings.
What's one of the very first things we learn when we learn about "the scientific method" as schoolkids? For an experiment to be valid, we need control samples. This can rarely, if ever, be practically or ethically achieved with human beings. There are, to put it mildly, an overwhelming number of confounding variables at play in any statistical study of human beings.
That doesn't mean data is useless when it comes to social sciences, but it is rarely if ever sufficient. (This is also resoundingly true for "lived experience", of course)
> To have a nuanced discussion of politics, pushing partisans out of the room or at least quietening them down is the first step.
There's the fallacy though. How do you tell the difference between "pushing partisans out the room" and "pushing one side out of the room"? They have the same effect. A 100% "partisan" discussion looks calm and "nuanced" if no one is there to disagree.
You say you want a nuanced discussion, but how do you know you're not just sitting in an echo chamber?
If you're in a room with partisans from opposite sides, more often than not they'll be shouting over each other and not really having a discussion.
If you're in an echo chamber, you'll find that generally everyone is agreeing with you.
If you're in a room without partisans and you're not in an echo chamber, you can have a discussion, some people will disagree with you on pretty major issues, and you may even change your mind, at least to some degree. These are wonderful spaces to be in.
And again, I think you're just fooling yourself. The people you label as "partisans" are not a representative sample. What you're really doing, whether you realize it or not, is pushing out, not the people who "disagree most strongly", but the people who "disagree most strongly with you".
Those people in the wonderful spaces who disagree with you on pretty major issues and cause you to change your mind to some degree?
Those are just the people you're willing to listen to.
I don't think I agree. I'm perfectly willing to have conversations with people who disagree strongly with me, if they're actually willing to have a conversation. The people I'm labeling as "partisans" are those who bash others with opposing views (or even views that are similar but not identical to their own) rather than having a conversation. Debate the idea, not the person; be charitable in your interpretation; etc.
Which is not to say that every space needs to be like this; disagreements are exhausting after all. But I think there need to be spaces where this kind of reasoned discussion is the norm if we're ever going to escape the tribalism in our society.
You're right in one sense: the people who disagree with me that communication and building bridges with people you disagree with is something to be valued... those people I'm pushing out, yes.
And again, because I don't think you're getting the point, I argue you're assessment of "communication and building bridges" and and "bashing rather than having a conversation" are fundamentally subjective. You routinely forgive passionate and edgy behavior by people who agree with you, where you view the same kind of debate from your enemies as "partisan". I don't need to find examples, I know this is true for you because it's true for everyone.
And that adds up. So, fine, you sincerely want a forum for dispassionate debate. But it doesn't work. You end up driving away the actually diverse viewpoints and your forum ends up an echo chamber. And it's worse than that: it's an echo chamber you think is telling you how the world works.
So you get forums like the letters.wiki site being discussed elsewhere, which is filled with sincere and high-minded discussion from minds drawn from (heh) across the spectrum from "center-left technocrat" to "right-leaning libertarian".
>You routinely forgive passionate and edgy behavior by people who agree with you
Yes, I am guilty of this at times. I would hope and expect to be called out for it in such spaces.
>I argue you're assessment of "communication and building bridges" and and "bashing rather than having a conversation" are fundamentally subjective
No, I disagree. If someone comes into a discussion space and dismisses someone else's points by simply calling them a (libtard|fascist|fraud), that's just a textbook ad hominem attack. This is objectively decidable - the person is not engaging with the contents of the other person's view, but is rather attacking the speaker themselves.
This is one example, but there are others: threats and other forms of verbal abuse, for example. They're pretty evident to anyone who's not emotionally involved in the conversation. I would like to keep all of this behavior out of such spaces, and I think it's possible to build a culture that discourages it.
I would ask you this: what's the alternative? Simply accept the vitriol between opposing sides of our political arguments and give up on any hope of connecting with people with significantly differing views? (In the US) we have a two-party political system, should we just accept the endless back-and-forth power struggle between the two sides? We all have a vote, and if we can't reach across the aisle to those we disagree with, how can we ever hope to make progress?
> how much of this nuance is achieved by having discussions about issues which have real life-or-death impacts on people but without having any of those people inconveniently present
I find this comment difficult to understand. On an uncharitable reading, you would seem to be implying that non-white people are incapable of nuanced discussion about race, which I'm sure isn't what you meant. Or are you saying that what we take to be nuanced discussions about race are only considered nuanced because there are no non-white people? Or that it is impossible for white people to have a nuanced discussion about race unless there are black people present?
While not impossible, discussion on problems as they play out in practice rather than in theory (in theory we don't have racism after all), we tend to not have statistics or not the right statistics (we're not measuring the things that would show the issue). Then, the best way to be informed is first hand accounts, which white people naturally wont have. First hand accounts serve as a ground truth when statistics are insufficient, and as such, I don't see how you can have a very informed exchange without them. Now you may read up on those account, but far more often than not, I see white people point to the absence of racism in a statistic and take it as proof it does not exist, or is so uncommon it doesn't show up. That is the problem that is avoided when including (people who telling their) first hand accounts.
> I see white people point to the absence of racism in a statistic and take it as proof it does not exist
I agree, and often I see it the other way around, with statistics used as the basis to build a racist discourse. The classic example is prison population statistics, and the even more classic one is Lombroso.
Plus, it's not like white people don't rely on personal experience and prejudices. There are psychological mechanisms to isolate "otherness" out of people you witness as "bad", you will just use the easiest one to pinpoint. So if you witness a bad guy who is white but from another town, you'll form a prejudice against people from the other town; if the guy is black, the prejudice will "scale up" to skin tone. The only way to offset that problem is to ensure everyone in the room comes from significantly different experiences and can somehow balance them out.
In the legal sense I meant (it is not allowed). And very few people are intentionally of consciously discriminating. I wanted to contrast that to practice: human features that gatekeep people of color and so on. Hope its clear now.
Today's twitter row is the "cancellation" of a history broadcaster for using the phrase "so many damn blacks" in a video, which is probably not a criminal offence Mark Meechan notwithstanding, but is definitely unambiguously racism.
Employment discrimination and the set of things covered by equalities law is the _beginning_ of tackling racism, not the end.
I am pretty sure that the last of your interpretations is closest to the truth, and it is really clear exactly what the parent is saying: people who are directly affected by or involved in the issue under discussion should be involved in the discussion of the issue.
A room full of rich white people discussing problems affecting poor people of colour is doomed to fail to capture the nuance of the situation. Not because white people are inherently too stupid to understand things, but because nobody can completely understand and articulate someone else's lived experience. It's not like this is a new or mind-blowing idea - representation is a key tenet of democracy, and should cover all the ways of segmenting society that are clearly differentiating.
Uh. Excuse me. <foreigner raises hand>. How is 95% of the globe population supposed to discuss black people in America? Are we just simply not allowed to?
And to take the reductio ad absurdum even further - do we move towards a society where you need a token black person to be able to discuss certain subjects? Because, statistically, there's going to be quite a lot of rooms without one.
Like I said in another comment, this is a hell of an Isolated Demand for Rigor. We don't use this kind of strict standard for absolutely anything else. People cook without being chefs, raise children without diplomas in parenting, and make travel plans without a travel rep by their shoulder. But apparently certain subjects can't even be discussed without a representative?
> It's not like this is a new or mind-blowing idea - representation is a key tenet of democracy, and should cover all the ways of segmenting society that are clearly differentiating.
Actually, this is a very new and mind blowing idea. In two ways. First, "all the ways of segmenting a society" part is new, and I can't help but notice that the people doing the gerrymandering... sorry, I meant deciding which segments are clearly differentiating are having a hell of an advantage. Speaking of, I'm going to say that being an introvert is a pretty big thing, and I really don't feel my needs are properly represented in politics. And second, the idea that we need to take the kind of rules made for governing and apply them to citizen's everyday life. This is not a normal extension - it's a reversal. Rules made for governing have the very important purpose of curtailing the power of those in power, so that we, the citizens, have more freedom.
I'm also a foreigner to the USA. Not sure why that us being used as the reference point but OK.
It's really not hard - you actively seek out written or shared experiences, opinions and perspectives of the relevant people.
By all means people are welcome to have uninformed discussions that are doomed to trap them in an echo chamber. But if you want to have a well informed discussion and truly understand an issue then you'll try to diversify the participation and the evidence base.
That is why we have discussions and a good chunk of why we as humanity have so much literature outside of technical and entertainment reasons. Putting down your "lived experience" and conveying it so that others can understand it is very important and should be happening everywhere. There is nothing magical about "lived experience" if you articulate its effects clearly and others can understand it. People can, of course, choose to dismiss them but that is their own failing.
Personally, I think the "lived experience" argument is currently being used more as a way of discounting/dismissing opinions just by virtue of who is saying them rather than the content and value that said experiences convey/express. It's equally dismissing of the "lived experience" of the other group as well because they bring a unique perspective as an outsider if the issue pertains to just one group.
Right now, the "lived experience" of white-people (and some other groups) is being dismissed and ignored. There is currently racial discrimination against white people, double-standards against pro-white opinions, all-round blaming of white people for grand historic things that they are not the sole perpetrators of, downright hatred against them that is ignored and celebrated, demonization of them expressing pride in their identity, historic slavery and oppression of white people is swept under the rug, human-rights abuses against white minority groups around the world are ignored, predominantly white nations are being demonized for racism for wanting national sovereignty, etc. These are all "lived experiences" currently affecting the white population group. So if we want to bring emotion to the discussion, then I'm all for having the "lived experience" discussion with any group, so long as all groups' experiences matter.
Side note: Another "lived-experience" affecting white people: Having to tip-toe and be afraid of voicing our opinion on racial topics such as this one.
There are obviously situations where one might have a discussion without the person being discussed being present. The point is that if the discussion might affect those people, they should be represented. That could be by the people having the discussion actively seeking out resources to genuinely learn the perspective of the people in question, but where at all possible it should involve them.
> Having to tip-toe and be afraid of voicing our opinion on racial topics such as this one.
I'm a white person and am not at all afraid of voicing my opinion on racial topics, but that's often not important to do. Far more important is to listen or actively seek out and learn from other (affected) people's perspectives. If you're afraid of voicing your opinion it's because you haven't made a good faith attempt to learn about the subject, and have formed an uninformed opinion. Learn and then think and then maybe speak. Everyone doesn't have to have their stupid opinions respected.
"Nuanced" is a description of tone; it says nothing about how well informed the participants are. Someone who comes in saying "I am part of this group, and you're completely misrepresenting me" is not nuanced.
Perhaps our misunderstanding is just one of definition then. I understood nuance to mean something like this from Merriam-Webster: "sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value)". A nuanced discussion according to that definition would be one that takes into account the various complexities and positions involved in a topic, rather than papering over them with political rhetoric, partiality, or fallacious reasoning.
For example, I can have a nuanced understanding of how fire works, the fire code in my area, and so on. But I'm not going to be very "nuanced" when I'm trapped in a burning building and screaming for help because I'm about to burn to death.
Both meanings are relevant here.
To the parent poster's point...
Certainly, nuanced discussion is in general a good thing. We want that understanding, that openness to new ideas, the understanding of others' perspectives, the acknowledgement of complexity, the reliance upon facts and not rhetoric or emotion.
However, an insistence on nuanced discussion necessarily excludes folks who do not have the luxury of nuance. If I am trapped in a burning building, I would not have the luxury of nuance. Folks being rounded up for transport to concentration camps do not have the luxury of nuance. A person being stalked by a jealous ex-lover with a history of violence does not have the luxury of nuance.
So if we exclude those whose tone lacks nuance, we also tend to exclude those with a truly nuanced understanding of the issue at hand.
I wouldn't advocate holding any sort of discussion in a burning building or when exigent circumstances demand urgent action. Pausing for a chat while people are, at that moment and in that place, being "rounded up for transport to concentration camps" seems irresponsible. If someone interrupted a conversation to tell me they were having a heart attack, I wouldn't tell them off for lacking nuance.
But conversations don't take place in those circumstances. Those circumstances stop conversations, which can only take place when people have the space to talk or write, making and critiquing arguments, and so on.
To return to my original point: there seems to be an underlying worry that the people we should be listening to about race, who should be part of those conversations, are incapable of nuanced conversation, either nuance of tone or nuance of content, which strikes me as deeply patronizing and nakedly racist.
Either that or it's an attempt to shut down conversation in case the "nuance" tends to show one party's arguments to be false.
To return to my original point: there seems to be
an underlying worry that the people we should be
listening to about race are incapable of nuanced
conversation, either nuance of tone or nuance of
content, which strikes me as nakedly racist.
Nobody is suggesting that any group of people is intrinsically incapable of nuanced conversation. If they did, they would be profoundly (factually and morally) wrong.
What is being suggested that, yes, some individuals and groups are experiencing circumstances that -- while not as exigent as being trapped in a burning building -- are something like that.
Certainly, if I or my loved ones personally experienced police brutality, or if it was a common enough experience for people in my area who looked like me, and it was a real possibility that I faced every day... it would of course be challenging for me to discuss it in a nuanced way. I do not feel this would represent some sort of weakness intrinsic to my race.
See, that's exactly the kind of questions you could ask there. And it wouldn't take long before somebody would point out that forum discussions don't have real life-or-death impacts on people, and while policy without representation is a pretty good idea, applying it to non-policy discussion is just having a chilling effect on conversations. Plus a bunch of comments about the idea of policy and representation itself, positive and negative, which would likely be above my head.
But yeah, we don't have that anymore.
So post-ssc-takedown, I'm going to be human, emotional and biased and going to say that I'm personally opposed to any ideology that suggest we should discuss less.
And my current position is to be completely opposed to cancel culture. I'm considering it the contemporary ideological enemy. Just making my biases known :)
Ontopic, I just can't imagine any good place this can take a society. If you accept that some topics can be (politely) discussed and some can't, this is equivalent to accepting that people in power decide which topics can be discussed. Because, well... how else are you going to decide except by discussing them? And no, I see no trace of people being able to separate conversation from meta-conversation, as long as it involves the same topic.
Not to mention that it goes again an intellectual and political tradition going back to the Enlightenment. Every time we diverged from open agora, we went to very dark places. That's one hell of a Chesterton's fence. I want a big, big argument pro cancel culture before I can consider it.
That's very much the point. But it's also a distraction, because the Englightenment idea that politics somehow operates on the basis of disinterested rational persuasion and public debate is clearly nonsense.
Politics operates on the basis of applied force and leverage between competing interests. The terrible thing about cancel culture is that it makes this explicit. Groups who are not usually allowed political leverage suddenly act as if they're no longer willing to stay in their usual place of political impotence.
This isn't entirely a good thing, for various reasons, most of which will be familiar. It also isn't an entirely bad one.
But it is unarguably a reminder of how power dynamics really work in this culture, as opposed to the rather self-congratulatory narrative of how we're supposed to believe power dynamics work.
It's also a reminder of what happens when political and business leaders ignore the rule of law and basic standards of representational social justice. Cancel culture and wokeness wouldn't be necessary - and wouldn't even be happening - if there was a general sense that the culture was fundamentally ethical.
Of course it isn't. Given that, there's no need to feel surprised that pushback is happening.
This is an excellent comment from somebody who understands Hobbes :)
> It's also a reminder of what happens when political and business leaders ignore the rule of law and basic standards of representational social justice. Cancel culture and wokeness wouldn't be necessary - and wouldn't even be happening - if there was a general sense that the culture was fundamentally ethical.
Exactly. #metoo exists because reporting sexual assault to employers or the police is often ineffective, so the only resort is the court of public opinion. "Black lives matter" exists because of a number of incidents where a black life was lost and no consequences attached to those responsible nor was any attempt made to prevent it happening again.
I would like you to define what you're against in more detail here.
There are also things much worse than mere "cancellation" going on; murder and deportation, for example. We don't normally have to say we're against "murder culture", but somehow there are hugely controversial street protests against it.
> I would like you to define what you're against in more detail here.
Among other things, I'm really irritated by the pattern of forcing the conversation partner to properly define his position (likely to be able to poke holes in it) while your original position is floating on air and walking on clouds. You original comment says absolutely nothing, to the point there's a long thread in the subsequent conversation on what you're actually advocating. This happens often enough to be a pattern, and one I keep associating with things I don't like.
(well, you asked).
For the record, I did take a quick peel in your comment history and I definitely, emphatically, don't dislike you as a person. Which I guess makes it easier to take swings at this ideology.
And to be a bit more ontopic, I'm against cancel culture, aka the idea that one of the first tools in our toolset to reach for is some form of silencing people (forcefully, by shaming, by deplatforming and so on). It can be a tool in the toolset and as it happens there was a use-case I agreed with this very winter - my local government closed down a few denialist websites early in the pandemic. But that's pretty much the level I see necessary to get as far as silencing or punishing speech - spreading wrong information in a national emergency situation, or falsely yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.
Anything less should be solved with other tools, even if it's much more difficult. To me, seeing cancel culture used to solve day to day problems shocks me just as much as seeing somebody use an angle grinder in the kitchen. They can keep telling me all day how much faster it is at cutting, it's still an idiotic idea, to the point I actually have to think for a minute before saying why. Except for the obvious "you're definitely going to cut something you don't want, sooner or later". Which applies to our conversation as well.
The point of the post you were responding to was not to discuss the details of this particular claim, it was to show that one of the best ways we can learn about perspectives beyond our own and discover the faults in our logic is through discussion.
It would seem you consider discussion a tool so dangerous (in that it can have real effects) that we should not have them unless we have a perfectly representative group of people taking part in that discussion. But that seems... extreme (e.g. it means that two people can't have a discussion, since two people will never approximately represent all of the groups making up our society). Perhaps you could clarify your claim?
1. People ask HN where they can find a replacement for their objectively great rationality discussion club in which they can discuss solutions to the issues of the day.
2. HN commenters point out that the objectively great rationality discussion club wasn't that great, or all that rational.
3. People say "so what, what's the harm in having a crappy social discussion club, it's not like we're killing anyone."
> how much of this nuance is achieved by having discussions about issues which have real life-or-death impacts on people but without having any of those people inconveniently present?
Uh, not much? This comment seems to be assuming some weird things about what the blog typically focuses on. Actually, he writes about trans issues a bit, got some flack for defending Blanchard, and a large fraction of the readership is trans.
I can see what he's getting at, at least if he's focusing on the SSC subreddits and comments. It's easier to be a brave truth-teller when it's not your ox being gored, and I think the demographics of the SSC commentariat explain its openness to e.g. discussing HBD and critiquing feminism, but rather prickly responses to more ingroup-focused critique. The whole 'grey tribe' distinction was often used in a more defensive/obscurantist and less productive/illuminating way than in Scott's original formulation. I think the community is still far more open than average, but this is certainly influenced by the interaction between demographics (which Scott regularly surveys) and blog topics.
I don't think this is unique to SSC, by the way. I think it's why exclusive groups often eventually emerge from inclusive groups, and why apps like Clubhouse are attractive.
Well, there is a reason that victims of a crime aren't the ones who prosecute or judge the accused. If your goal is to seek understanding, you generally don't want the most emotionally involved person being the one controlling the discussion.
There's a place to hear the testimony of people who personally live a topic, and it's fundamentally important, but to claim they need to be present to discuss whatever topic they relate to seems counterproductive.
If a bunch of people are applying a really crummy approach to setting policy, that's bad for policy. If a bunch of people are applying a really crummy approach to having a discussion about policy, then that's a low-quality discussion.
Whatever goal you set for yourself, you end up with something that is deeply sub-optimal at achieving that goal. Why not pay attention to the critique and build something that achieves its goals well?
> without having any of those people inconveniently present?
Actually, the very presence of the people involved can actually be counterproductive because of personal emotional investment, so it depends on circumstances.
> it's an academic exercise to those involved, not something with real impact on their lives.
A benefit of academia, even if it often fails to keep to this standard, is that it provides a setting for dispassionate discourse. And you can be sure that it has affects. If you want to see what society will look like in 20 years, look no further to what students are being taught at universities today.
It is my general observation that what some people call "dialogue" actually amounts to surreptitious coercion. You mention having a trans person present at the table. However, if you're a psychologist and you're characterizing mental disorders like gender dysphoria, you don't invite a trans person to the table as an equal with whom you're going to come to some compromise pleasing to both (in practice, pleasing to the trans person). This is not political negotiation, it's an attempt at knowing the truth. Sadly, we've made truth a kind of "what's the narrative we can all agree on" (in practice, "that the loudest bully is willing to accept"). Conversation is ultimately about trying to get to the truth. By bringing the trans person to the table as an equal and not as a patient presumes the legitimacy of trans beliefs which are precisely that which is at issue. If someone, trans or not, wishes to make arguments in favor of their position, by all means, but one's, shall we say, identity does not take the place of reasoned argument.
 This is what happened with the DSM and same-sex attraction. There was no reasoned debate, only political coercion and acquiescence.
Using standard truth-seeking tools is in fact bad and harmful when it comes to people's identities. The ultimate goal of society should not be to seek out objective truth! It should be to minimize harm to human beings. Seeking truth is merely a means to that goal, and is powerful when it works. But it often doesn't!
> You mention having a trans person present at the table. However, if you're a psychologist and you're characterizing mental disorders like gender dysphoria, you don't invite a trans person to the table as an equal with whom you're going to come to some compromise pleasing to both (in practice, pleasing to the trans person)
So you presume they're an unequal? This is exactly the problem.
> By bringing the trans person to the table as an equal and not as a patient
Your medical ethics license has been revoked for treating patients as subhumans. People were executed for that at Nuremberg.
> This is what happened with the DSM and same-sex attraction. There was no reasoned debate, only political coercion and acquiescence.
Are you arguing that the DSM ending characterising homosexuality as a mental disorder was wrong? Is this based on anything other than raw homophobia?
I read a lot of independent blogs. When you see a blog post with a good tech analysis, subscribe to them as a lot of people write non-tech stuff as well which would never make it up on HN [I wrote about RSS here: 1].
You can also set up another RSS reader and just import a couple of those "Awesome blog" lists on Github. That way you have a collection of random shit you can browse through and sometimes you get an interesting title.
Get on an ActivityPub server (Mastodon, Pleroma, MissKey) or set one up yourself. You can find a couple of threads on here and Lobste.rs where people post their Fediverse accounts and you can follow some of those and then branch out and find other people.
- self-hosted miniflux, because products like NewsBlur remove posts older than some number of months (though if you're fine with that, NewsBlur is a great product and exposes the same API that miniflux does and so can be used with the below readers too)
Ha, I've had the exact opposite experience. I've got a handful of friends who are intelligent and mature enough for nuanced conversation about topics most people have trouble discussing like adults and (not coincidentally, they tend to be the friends I'm closest to). But meatspace is horribly inefficient for getting exposed to a wide variety of ideas; sheer numbers alone make a forum with the right norms almost impossible to beat.
"With the right norms" is the tricky part. There are some fora a couple degrees of separation from SSC that I've had good luck with, but it's really tough to find places like that
Sure, there are some insightful comments. But also a lot of sneering, a lot of trash talk, a lot of very bad faith arguments, etc. This was the beginning of the end for my posting on metafilter. It's just too toxic.
One thing is nuance and truth. There's a lot of people capable of intellectual honesty who can argue about a topic with healthy levels of nuance if they are in the right state of mind, if they have time, peace and motivation to do it. This could be collected in magazines and other publications... well, at least if this kind of nuance and truth could be consistently valuable to a broad public. But it's not just that it's hard to tell apart this kind of content, but rather that we learn at very different rates, derive value from very different ideas, and the rest can quickly and easily become "noise" for us, while it's not for others. Some authors are original enough to combine new ideas with nuance and intellectual honesty, and those cases might be very interesting, but you can't really expect that in high and sustained doses. SSC was interesting in this sense, plenty of books are interesting in this sense, but they are mostly individual voices.
Another completely different thing is trying to build communities around those values. And even then, one thing is the real world, educating children to be rational, intellectually honest, critical... another thing is creating small physical communities with that kind of people, and yet another is creating "large scale", open, highly visible spaces that still have consistently high quality contributions. This last case seems unlikely to me. You either require large scale moderation, with all the potential problems that that involves (logistically, morally, and for the scope of the discussions [I still think it tends to be better than no moderation. Small communities are naturally moderated by the fact that no one interested enough in a topic will get to find the community]), or you need everyone to be intellectuals with similar priorities and a strict discipline to shut up unless you are in the best conditions to contribute (have something useful to contribute and they are in an emotionally stable state when they can best fight against their own biases and whatever). Both seem pretty impossible.
Other approaches are possible, though, and have been used in many cases in similar and different contexts. Basically, entry doors to large communities that interact in smaller subgroups. Take forums and threads, reddit, google itself where you can search whatever you want but end up in a random blog, etc. The main issue is structuring information and interests in an accessible way / discoverability, standardizing the interaction methods... but there will still be a lot of noise. You could try with other ideas like allowing authors or discussion starters to filter by themselves the answers, and have both filtered and unfiltered discussions, so readers can access to "highly curated" discussions on the topics they enjoy, while also being able to switch to the mess that real interaction inevitably can become (and with it, the broader perspective, which can only ever be fuzzy and noisy).
Just went to the first entry in section "poltics&news" and immediately closed the site. This is the same cancer as reddit only with more blinking animated gifs. "unHINGEDpolitics.com" would be a better fitting name IMO.
I would never have called the discourse on this website "nuanced discussion." It's just one of many echo chambers on the internet where people think very similarly and otherwise rigorously suppress dissent from their consensus worldview. So let's be clear about what kind of community you're looking for: one that comports with your worldview.
I regularly see thoughtful disagreement on issues on Hacker News on a range of topics, even privacy and the ethics of tech. (That's not to say it's unbiased or that I don't share that bias—I do want to recognize that.)
Yes, and I believe that's consistent with my point. It generally fits your bias, so in your view the range of discussion seems comfortable and optimal. That's precisely what I'm saying.
So, for example, I could make an anticapitalist statement, or say something about how I don't think Paul Graham (or some other HN prophet) has ever uttered a philosophically novel or interesting idea, and I'd be downvoted to hell because dissent on those topics is verboten.
That may be true (although there may be a constructive way of phrasing an idea such that that doesn't happen, I don't know), but I don't think anyone would try to doxx you or have you fired for saying so. Do you agree?
That seems like a reasonable threshold? I should feel like this is a forum for nuanced discussion so long as nobody seeks to harm me personally? I hadn't even thought of that, but now that you raise it, I think I'll sign off.
You would be downvoted because you wouldn’t be saying anything of value. I don’t care at all about pg and I care even less if an armchair philosopher who doesn’t like capitalism doesn’t like YC or it’s founder (shocker!).
agreed on the anti-capitalist part but to the credit of HN the last time I commented on something related to Paul Graham I think I wrote a pretty harsh comment (IIRC it was about haters) and people weren't downvoting and the entire thread in fact was pretty dismissive of it, because it honestly was a pretty bad piece in an awful tone.
It's somewhat better here than say, on an average subreddit.
That impression, at least with respect to politics, is in my view because HN readers have an extraordinarily narrow range of education and are therefore generally uninformed about politics, history, philosophy, or the arts. They can't effectively engage in serious discussions on those topics without descending into chaos from their general state of intellectual disarray.
Unfortunately there is little room for nuanced discussion anywhere. It’s hard to start a new platform to rival Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Google/YouTube. All four of these platforms are against open discussion and practice censorship against certain stances, irrespective of the presence of nuance.
There are lists of Reddit and YouTube alternatives that are worth visiting. But they’ll only have a chance if we all try them out, evangelize them to friends, and post content (rather than just consuming it). The big issues are lack of content or early swarming from one political group (which then deters the “other side” from joining). Parler, a Twitter alternative, has this issue. I’m nevertheless trying it out just to give it a shot. But we might need a tool to manage the process of achieving quorum on what platform interested people move to. If we fragment across all of available choices, they’ll all wither and die.
Kialo is an interesting platform for debate - https://www.kialo.com/. But it is a complex interface and certainly doesn’t have the reach and accessibility of the biggest (and worst) platforms like Twitter. Apart from Kialo I think developing one’s own nuanced perspective is easiest to achieve by reading many different news sources and having respectful real life conversations. But only a few in my social circle are up for such discussions - I suppose it is better than none.
PS I feel your pain on the loss of Slate Star Codex. I had many bookmarked articles that I now can’t read :(
> Unfortunately there is little room for nuanced discussion anywhere.
That's exactly what drove me to build my own vision for a discussion site! I wanted a place where people could have rigorous discussion about news or other topics with no hassle. I didn't use SSC, and from what I've gathered it was focused on long-form blogging(?), but for sqwok the aim is low-friction, open, simple, live discussion. Definitely open for feedback! https://sqwok.im
If I were to guess, it was downvoted by people who are offended by his closing statement "I feel your pain on the loss of Slate Star Codex". A sizable percentage of people agree with eschaton's post (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23719748) and will downvote anything that suggests having SSC disappear is anything but a positive. I'm only guessing though, and would appreciate hearing the actual reasons from those who downvoted it.
Pointing out that many SSC commenters believe in “human biodiversity” should not be controversial; neither should pointing out that this concept is just a thin coat of paint atop “scientific racism.” What should be controversial is people mourning that community as some sort of valuable place for discussion.
I disagree with your characterization, but I guess the real question is whether the beliefs of some members should negate the other positive values of the community. The value I found there was that there was genuine conversation between anarchist law professors and self-proclaimed social justice warriors, anti-abortion Catholics and trans activists, Trump supporters and Trump haters, global warming deniers and global warming scientists. I disagreed with the vast majority of what people said (on all sides of all issues!) but derived tremendous value from hearing what people believed in their own words. There are few places on the web where people who have serious disagreements about culture war topics can have can have productive discussion, and SSC was one of them -- thus I mourn its loss, and actively seek a replacement.
Slate Star Codex wasn’t a nuanced conversation. It was a gathering place for people who wanted to discuss “scientific racism” without using those words or the other well know dogwhistles. It’s great that SSC stopped providing a platform for that.
I dunno. There may have been some commenters with those views, but from what I saw it was a tiny minority. And most discussions never touched on those sorts of topics at all. Are you sure you weren’t reading a different blog?
Scott and the community were fine with an article, even a critical one. What's being objected to is the NYT outing Scott's name in a way that makes it easy for patients to see his online presence, which would more or less make him unemployable.
It doesn't have a particularly obscure rationale: it's a game of chicken with the NYT to pressure them not to publish his real name. He's decreased the benefit to them by making the article an irrelevancy if they do publish it, and made it costly as an action by making lots of people upset at the NYT if they do publish it.
I think, if anything, deleting the blog only raised the stakes. It definitely increased the publicity of the blog and the interest of the general audience to read his writing, which is still readily available through Internet Archive, and NYT can link it in their article. Far from becoming an irrelevancy. Also the more drama, the more interest NYT will have to publish a piece on it. So, his explanation that no blog = no story does not convince me. This is why I think that his action had a different goal, if he was rational in it. (Well, I think, his real goal was to make it maximally public, and make his followers and bystanders to go mobbing against NYT, or something like that.)
It's unclear to me what the best course of action for him actually was, given the Streisand effect. I tend toward thinking that taking down the blog was an emotional outburst at the NYT not respecting his request, and that he could have probably gotten a good outcome, both for his community and real career, if he accepted the press and maybe tried to negotiate the use of his real name down to a single instance, e.g. Scott Alexander, born Scott Alexander Scott. But I see it more as a fit of pique than anything else, not an intentioned effort to cause an internet freakout.
You clearly didn't (and probably should) read his post explaining why he took the blog down. It literally says right there, that Scott Alexander is part of his name, but that the NYT would expose his _full name_ instead.
Even if he did broadcast his full name regularly on @slatestarcodex (which he doesn't), the main problem is in the other direction, as he and others have repeatedly noted. The worry is that people (i.e. patients) can go from Scott LastName to SlateStarCodex, not the other way round.
By deleting the blog, SA created a scenario in which if the NYT run their story about a significant blog, they're also left with how to address the readers' curiosity as the why the blog no longer exists.
The Times could address this directly, or not. In either case, the Times's outing of SA is made a major focus of the story. And to that degree, SA's action strikes me as exceptionally well considered, as it turns the Times's own strength and public status and reputation against itself. Far more so than any possible argument or appeal might.
And in terms of strategy and tactics, I have to admire the move regardless of the merits or insensitivity of the Times or its identification policy.
I think the questions surrounding identity really need deeper exploration, and that there isn't a simple pat answer.
There are cases where pseudonymity or anonymity is valid and justified, cases in which they are not. Cases in which at least some self-labelling is reasonable, others in which it's clearly not. Names and labels are powerful tools. As with all tools, it's how they're used and to what ends which ultimately determines morality.
It convinced me that he had a rational reason for his decision, and that the Times should not be pushing to dox him. That doesn’t mean that I would have taken the same decisions, but I respect his reasoning and his reasons. And he had an excellent website, so I hope he prevails.
It's hard to take that objection seriously, though. His pen name and his real name are already strongly linked in search engine space. The only thing that will change as a result of the NYT article is that there will be additional scrutiny of his ideas.
I also agree that protecting his patients and his business is something he should have seen to, but it is a problem he should have addressed six years ago, not after building a minor media ecosystem around himself, including books, published articles, and con appearances.
> It's hard to take that objection seriously, though. His pen name and his real name are already strongly linked in search engine space. The only thing that will change as a result of the NYT article is that there will be additional scrutiny of his ideas.
"strongly linked" is doing a lot of work. They're linked in that if you're a tech professional, you can figure out his last name with five minutes of dedicated digging. A casual searcher would not make the connection without knowing it beforehand.
> I also agree that protecting his patients and his business is something he should have seen to, but it is a problem he should have addressed six years ago, not after building a minor media ecosystem around himself, including books, published articles, and con appearances.
Kind of victim-blaming, but yeah, he should have used better opsec six years ago. That boat has sailed. But what's the public benefit of the NYT outing his real name? The public costs are clear: primarily hurting a provider of healthcare services and secondarily making it more dangerous to entertain even slightly heterodox ideas in public.
It's wider fame that threatens Scott's current life track. This is true for all people whether that fame is positive or negative, whether the person in question is Scott Alexander, Rebecca Black, or Monica Lewinsky.
By those lights, the only thing he's a victim of is his own success. I suspect we'd be getting the same reaction from SA regardless of any so-called "doxing," the trail of breadcrumbs leafing back to his identity would still have been present. And at least the article was planned to be positive
As far a the goofle-fu needed to find that specific information, well, I think you're overestimating the difficulty of that particular feat.
As Scott himself has explained, the bigger deal isn't whether or not it's easy to find out his last name if you know the blog. It is finding the blog from his last name. In other words, if his patients, who don't know the blog exists, find it simply by googling the name of their doctor.
One thing that I'd be curious to test: if Scott were given a choice between a very critical article that maintained his weak pseudonymity and a very positive one that didn't, which would he go for? My expectation is that he'd go for the former, and I'd be disappointed if he went for the latter.
You're thinking with the wrong threat model. The concern is not about people who really want to know what his real name is, it's people putting his real name into Google and getting references to Slatestarcodex on the first page of the results.
Having his real name linked to the gathering place and intellectual support he provided for eugenicists is beneficial to his patients, since it lets them see just who it is they’re really going to for treatment.
I'm aware it's fashionable among certain parts of the left to refer to any discussion at all of population genetics as "supporting eugenicists" but it's honestly not an effective way to make any sort of point.
If this is a reference to discussions around IQ, I'd suggest that equating "person X scores lower on IQ tests than person Y" and "person X is subhuman compared to person Y" is a frankly horrifying position and if that isn't the equivalence you're trying to draw then you might do better being less combative and more descriptive around your actual objections.
>what was likely to be an enthusiastic article has been absolutely pathological
The NY Times was willing to use pseudonyms for the subjects of articles in the past. I didn't see Banksy exposed for instance.
So if the article was in fact sympathetic why use the real name, when it has no relevancy to the subject?
Unless, the article was actually not sympathetic, but meant as a zesty piece to "expose" Scott Alexander as a reactionary/eugenist/sexist in the current hot climate of "cancel-culture".
Which surely would generate lots of clicks for the NY Times, but would also destroy the subject of their story at the hands of SJW/twitter mob, then allowing for more stories about the drama and generate more clicks.
Exposing SA's real name is a win only for the NY Times.