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WASP Microaggressions (MY #METOO MOMENT)

I've noticed I strongly favor words beginning with intense, brash sounds. Words which invite you to say them quickly and loudly. The paradigmatic example might be the greeting: "WHAaat's up, DUuude?" Only after returning from 6 years in England do I realize the quality-of-life cost of misalignment between natural diction and social environment. In England, people often greet each other by softly mumbling something under their breath vaguely in the direction of the person they're greeting. It's hard to communicate how genuinely difficult it was for me to behave this way. We're likely to underestimate the quality-of-life implications of tiny things that happen many times every day. Even after being back in the USA for 8 months, I still consciously experience some joy upon exclaiming phrases like "WHAaat's up, DUuude?"

This is my #metoo moment. Coming from a working-class Irish Catholic family in the Northeast of the USA, I am only now awakening to the severity of my oppression all these years...

More seriously, I really do think it's conceivable that working-class, off-white men (e.g. Irish, Italian) have heritable dispositions toward louder, wilder, more intense speech. And that American and British WASPs either have heritable dispositions toward meeker, more docile speech, or they have traits that better allow them to cultivate such speech — either of which creates a higher cognitive load for wild men, such as myself, who would seek to enter the WASP World Order. There are no laws or rules prohibiting me from entering and climbing the hierarchy of international academia, for instance, but compared to an otherwise-equal WASP, everything is going to be a little more painful for me. The satisfaction of it all will be weaker, and the little annoyances greater. I'm not complaining at all — ultimately I consider it much more blessing than curse to be temperamentally unsuited to the institutional order.

One piece of data consistent with this theory is that, throughout my life, I've had way more close Italian friends than you'd expect from chance alone. In high school and college you could arguably chalk it up to where I lived in NJ and Philly, although if you drill down into neighborhoods and social circles I honestly doubt I was disproportionately exposed to Italians. But in England too, two of my closest friends were Italian nationals, and now that I think about it we often lamented our WASP subjection, even if we didn't phrase it that way... One of my mother's closest friends is an Italian national who was our neighbor for a few years in NJ, but she was the only Italian in our neighborhood; it's not like my mom was surrounded by them. And my mom isn't very social.

I also think this would be consistent with life history theory, i.e. WASPs evolved a basket of traits that make sense for slower, safer reproductive strategies (meekly mumble whatever you can manage with your boss's dick in your mouth, proceed to enjoy a secure retirement); whereas off-white Catholics evolved a set of traits for faster, riskier strategies (talk shit, drive fast, and fuck mad hot bitches — then get stabbed dead in a pool hall!)

What do the WASPs do with men like me, who make it all the way to 33 without getting stabbed and still insist on driving fast and talking shit?

What is an "image of thought" for Deleuze?

From Lecture #3 in my video course for Based Deleuze:

What's really at stake here, I think, is the attack on representational thought... That's one of the core components of the Deleuzian project. Deleuze argued that any philosophy presents an image of thought and that this image of thought, it's not really explicit. It's never really demonstrated or proven. It's sort of a presupposition. Whenever a philosopher or any type of thinker or theologian or whatever presents a philosophy, there is in the background a certain image of what thought is and what thought should be, and what thought can be, and that's never really fully spelled out. It's never really justified.


It's essentially a kind of aesthetic. And there are different images of thought. This is something that Deleuze really wants to show to us… That we have a choice: an essential, irreducible kind of freedom or aesthetic decision to make about what type of thought we want to engage in.

In retrospect, "choice" is not the best word, because Deleuze wants to steer us away from any naive conception of free will. One is almost tempted to use an ugly deconstructionist term here, such as undecidability. The key point is that an 'image of thought' is extra-rational. It's never justified or formalized rationally, although it's implied in modes of justification or formalization. We might not "choose" our image of thought, exactly, although there is a kind of pre-rational selection process that sorts creators and their creations. Perhaps we could say that our 'image of thought' chooses us...

How to know if you’re talking to a wokescold: A scientific method for preventing IRL flame wars

[FYI: If you’re interested in data-blogging like this, I’m offering a little free course on it.]

We’ve all been there: You’ve had a couple drinks, you’re having fun talking with someone, then you blurt out a controversial opinion and everything goes belly up. Maybe your interlocutor scolds you, maybe they just walk away, or maybe nothing happens but there’s gossip a week later…

If you have controversial opinions, what you need is a method for knowing — in advance — whether your conversation partner can handle them. It needs to be simple and quick enough to be practical, but it needs to be scientific enough to offer real predictive validity.

It recently occurred to me that there exists a statistical technique that solves exactly this problem. It’s called recursive partitioning, and the practical tool it produces is called a decision tree. If you have data on public opinion and other demographic variables, you can use statistics to determine which chain of questions will give you the best guess about someone’s position on any given issue. If we create a decision tree to predict their position toward suppressing naughty opinions, then we have a simple, practical, and scientifically valid “life hack” for avoiding IRL flame wars.

Analysis

I did this last week and the results are very interesting. If you’re interested in the statistical details, or you’d like to run the code yourself (perhaps on a different outcome variable), you can find all of that here. In this post, I’ll focus on the social and practical implications.

Here’s all you need to know about the stats. In this analysis, “being a wokescold” is proxied by whether or not someone thinks racist speakers should be allowed or disallowed. For possible predictor variables, I included a handful of variables that are reasonable to ask someone about or easy to observe yourself.

Specifically:

  • sex/gender = variable named sex
  • race = variable named race
  • left/right identification = variable named pol
  • family income = variable named realinc
  • college attendance = variable named college
  • word knowledge or verbal skill (proxy for IQ) = variable named wordsum

I then conducted recursive partitioning, which breaks the data down into the sequence of branches giving the most predictive traction over the outcome variable.

Results

Figure 1 plots the resulting decision tree.

Figure 1

The graph is fairly intuitive, and if you’d like to understand the numbers better, see my more technical post over at jmrphy.net. Here I will give you a more concise and practical translation, resulting in a simple heuristic you can memorize.

If you meet a random person, there’s a 38% chance they’re a wokescold (defined as wanting to suppress racist speakers; one can debate this, but whatever, it’s a decent proxy).

The very first and most important question you can ask someone, to avoid a flame war, is: “Did you ever go to college?" If they say yes, the probability of them being a wokescold drops to 29% and that’s your best guess: They are probably not a wokescold. Nothing else will improve your guess from this point (at least from the variables we selected).

Now, many of you will say: But it’s the college-educated wokescolds one should be most afraid of! True. The limited utility of this analysis is also it’s primary social-scientific value: It reminds us that college-educated wokescolds remain a relatively minor anomaly, quantitatively speaking. Being educated still means you’re much more likely to support unsavory expression. It’s true that educated wokescolds are often the most dangerous landmines we’d like to tiptoe around, and unfortunately my particular analysis this week will not help you on this front. Fortunately, I have an alternative algorithm custom made for this use-case: If they went to college and they’re also a female with dyed hair, hold fire on your nuclear takes: They are probably a wokescold. Unless they’re Amber Frost.

If they never went to college, the next question you have to ask yourself is whether they're smart. You probably don't want to give them a vocabulary test, but conversation is pretty revealing. If they are smart, you infer they are not a wokescold (40% chance). If they are dumb, it's now a coin flip (50%).

Next, what is their race? This you can probably guess yourself. If white, this bumps them very slightly toward not being wokescolds (48%). If non-white, this bumps them toward being wokescolds (57%). From here:

If they are white and male, there's a 45% chance they’re a wokescold so you infer they are not — and that’s your final guess. If they are white and female, you should see if their family is rich or not. If rich, they are slightly less likely than a coin flip to be a wokescold (46%); if poor, they're slightly more likely than a coin flip to be a wokescold (54%).

If they are dumb and non-white, there is a 57% they’re a wokescold and that’s your best guess.

A heuristic you can memorize

(This only applies in America, mind you, the land of the free.)

  1. If they’re a female who signals creativity or virtue (e.g., dyed hair, bumper stickers), don’t share any edgy takes (this is post-hoc to the model, just a precaution in light of data limitations and researcher experience).

Otherwise:

  1. If they went to college, they’re probably not a wokescold. You may gradually begin to share your edgy takes.
  2. If they did not go to college, but speak more intelligently than average, they are probably not a wokescold. You may gradually begin to share your edgy takes.

For all others, the safest decision rule is to not share edgy takes. Bonus rule only if you can master the above 3-step algorithm and you have an appetite for risk:

  1. If they are rich white people, you may gradually begin to share your edgy takes.

What about ideological identification?

The most intriguing result here, to my mind, is that ideological identification totally drops out — it appears to have no predictive power! As I wrote in my technical post:

[That ideological identification has no predictive power] is fascinating, given that many people today tend to think of speech suppression as a fashion on the educated Left! And it is, but that's only a highly visible minority. Political scientists would not be surprised by this result: We've long known that leftists and educated people are always more supportive of free expression (you just don't hear about those people in the media right now).

Limitations

Please note that the model here does not provide especially satisfying statistical discrimination. It’s better than nothing, but one must still proceed carefully. Always begin by sharing mildly provocative takes, and watching your interlocutor’s reactions. Do not advance to nuclear takes until several acts of mild edgelording produce only smiles, laughter, or excited edgy reciprocity. With additional data and more sophisticated modeling, we may hope to derive more confident predictions for more ambitious social maneuvering. Until then, be careful.

Shared roots versus hard forks

I’m reading with interest the recent comeback post by Curtis Yarvin. I might have some longer thoughts later, but for the moment I just wanted to quibble with part of his empirical model.

Referring to the dominant axis of partisan polarization, he writes:

Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: “uncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.”

Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called “PR.”

The Clear Pill, Part 1 of 5: The Four-Stroke Regime

Empirically, I think this is the opposite of what’s really going on. He seems to acknowledge this toward the end, I just feel like riffing... The problem is not an illusory consensus, but the rapid disintegration of all illusory consensus beyond the small-group or subculture level. Neoreaction momentarily aligned the words “accelerationism” and “Moldbug,” but perhaps now we should start to explore the adversarial collaboration: Accelerationism versus Moldbug.

The broadcast era saw the reign of illusory consensus because everyone had to fight for highly scarce spots in a one-to-many transmission game. Digitalization, downstream from the mid-century Information Revolution, has been the story of protracted fragmentation of the illusory consensus.

Players from Rush Limbaugh to the Fox News network gradually realized that it was increasingly possible to “hard fork” the illusory consensus. At first, educated high-status people thought Rush Limbaugh or Fox News would be easy to dismiss; it was genuinely believed that enough public snickering about these stupid people would force them to go away.

What we are now realizing is that the short-term stigmatization of low-status culture hackers simply does not work. High-status educated people were overconfident in their power to make or break the success of cultural projects by telling the public what is worthy of attention. Low-status content that optimizes for the affects of particular audience segments, will always defeat high-status condemnation of it — but only as of recently. High-status people still don’t understand this yet, because their life’s work is predicated on climbing broadcast towers, in an era where broadcast legitimation games could make or break you. The low-status culture hacker is invariably weird, dumb, lame, or evil in the eyes of high-status figures, but the hacker doesn’t care. They are correct to not care, for what they intuit is that there is no longer any root. If all the high-status people say you’re a loser, but 1000 people think or feel you’re awesome (as indicated by their revealed preference to read/watch/listen to you), ontologically you are much closer to “awesome” than “loser.” The 1000 people who like you are real people, whereas the high-status people are shouting into a room that was evacuated years ago. The hard-forking culture hackers know their machines operate objectively, in a fashion technically immune to the lamentations of the déclassé broadcaster folks.

At the moment, what's happening is that this realization is finally being reckoned with from within the younger and more risk-tolerant factions of the higher-status sets. This is why so much of the cultural conflict is becoming particularly hysterical: all of the older and established individuals in perches based on institutionalized status see that genuine creative talent from here on out is no longer paying into their pyramid scheme. Imagine building your household on a MLM business, which has been growing for as long as you can remember, but now all of a sudden the last cohort of incoming members has nobody behind them. The analogy is not quite right, because it’s happening more gradually than this, but you get the idea. Whether it's the relatively uncouth and anarchistic temperaments defecting from increasingly oppressive high-status perches (like me), or young and attractive women who see that defection from Hollywood morals is a growth market (like Red Scare), or high-school boys who calculate that becoming anonymous internet edgelords has a higher expected value than even trying to speak to peers IRL… The fact is that everyone and everything worth paying attention to has already moved to the frontier, in a digital gold rush that is hardly even seen, let alone understood, by those who have not yet set sail.

There are certainly shared illusions in operation, as there always are in human groups, but what is unique and perverse about contemporary American history is the disappearance of limits (historically, hardware-based limits) on the quantity and quality of hard forks.

But hey, maybe Yarvin’s next posts will account for all of this and more. Just thought I’d jump in while the water is warm.

Abjection

If you would like to become a philosopher or any type of serious intellectual you must acquaint yourself with the concept of abjection. To be a philosopher one must be abject, and the reason a lot of people don't understand anything about this concept is because most contemporary philosophers want to be respected; they want to be in good standing in society. They want to be accepted. Whereas what we should try to be is abjected.

If you want to think what other people are unable or unwilling to think, and you want to express it in any way that has any impact at all, then you should expect to be mercilessly, brutally rejected — abjected — and pretty much thrown out of every possible social standing that is available to people. It's just part of the game, folks, it always has been. I think what we're seeing now with what is called political correctness or cancel culture is, in some sense, just the catching up of digital culture to this basic, essential reality, which has always obtained. If you want to say anything that's meaningfully and interestingly and importantly importantly true. You should expect to be rejected.

The great saints have always been abject; great criminals, for instance, have always been abject. the criminal and the saint essentially converge. The true intellectual and the artist and the true political militant, all of these figures tend to converge in a tendency towards abjection — a kind of complete, utter incommensurability, a kind of impossibility of being integrated into contemporary status quo institutions. And that sounds kind of sexy and impressive and cool, but in practice it's not. In practice, in any particular status quo environment and any particular epoch, to be a true intellectual or artist or saint or whatever... is to suffer, it's to be alone. It's to be isolated. It's for people to hate you, pretty much.

You become anti-fragile, one might even say. All of the ways in which people usually punish you and try to constrain your behavior... Not only are you robust to them, you're unaffected by them. They don't bother you, they motivate you. They make you feel even more energized and more emboldened because when someone is disgusted by you or is mean to you, if you can actually feel encouragement through that, if you hack your systems and your circuitry in a way that you actually feel positive affect because you realize in this longer term historical way that sort of abjection is positively correlated with radical truth-seeking... if you're able to experience that positive affect from it, then all of a sudden you enter into this new type of non-linear psychological-productive dynamic where the more people hate you the more able to produce, the more insights you're able to glean, the deeper you're able to go into your abject search for whatever form of truth you're after.

Post-Structuralism and False Authority

A major epistemological foul in Continental Philosophy is that it often treats concepts as if they were tested and validated empirical models, when they are not. People routinely speak as if X’s concept is “built on” Y’s concept — but the only justification for thinking and speaking this way is scientific method, and they don’t use scientific method. As soon as you’re referring to an accumulated intellectual consensus, there are only two possible principles behind that consensus: either selection from experimental and intersubjectively verifiable tests (science) or, essentially, fashion. If X’s concept is seen as the contemporary frontier of some philosophical position, it is not because X discovered and validated something beyond the previous scholarly consensus. It is because social circumstances are such that X commands respect at the moment. The good post-structuralists took this seriously and called bullshit.

It’s a sociological reality that philosophy is a relatively arbitrary, competitive language game, and thinkers such as Deleuze ask: Well, what should we do if this is the case? And the answer is to set sail. Don’t go back to port, the port of whatever you are supposed to respect as the consensus structure, because that consensus is arbitrary. This might sound anti-authoritarian, but it’s not exactly — it’s opposition and flight from fake authority. Deleuze says anyone can form an alliance with the outside, with external reality.

Rebel against false authorities, but become a scientist or an artist or a philosopher — and to the degree one becomes such things, one becomes loyal to true authorities. All forms of loyalty are forms of submission to authority. The point of post-structuralism was to free us from false authorities, and to figure out what to do from there. Turns out, it’s complicated. But there can be found a sincere search for answers and solutions in this movement. How can we produce social cohesion without fascist implications? Deleuze made real discoveries on this puzzle, they deserve to be understood without fashionable obscurity…

In a strange way, post-structuralism was rebelling against precisely what contemporary “anti-postmoderns” such as Jordan Peterson blame post-structuralism for representing. The old structuralists were the real charlatans, but people like Jordan Peterson want to shoot the messenger. Post-structuralism said “These older philosophers and social scientists are claiming structures not really justified by science, we’re going to be honest about this and work from there…” But then they get blamed for the fallout.

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