Christlover2000 is one half of the podcast Girls Chat. You can find them at patreon.com/girlschat.
Christlover2000 is one half of the podcast Girls Chat. You can find them at patreon.com/girlschat.
This is the eleventh post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. This will probably become a book. If you'd like to hear about that when it happens, be sure to subscribe.
I am considering the benefits and drawbacks of simply resigning, compared to being fired in my hearing tomorrow. One of the reasons I’m finding it hard to decide is because I suspect it matters quite little in the long run. Yet I've often insisted on deliberate and disciplined internal accounting about one’s motives and decisions, so I can’t help but think it through. But because it hardly matters to me, I have to zoom-in all the more microscopically on details, to find the pros and cons. Even if I resign, they might still fire me, so that’s another layer of it hardly mattering. Well, now that I’ve got you enthralled by the profound importance of this decision, let’s proceed.
In my mind, the most important factor inclining me to resign is simply that it feels the most honest and authentic way to exit at this point — the simple truth is that this disciplinary imbroglio has radicalized my disillusioning and given me 4 months to prepare for exit. So if I’m now eager to exit — in principle, emotionally, and even practically (I’ve ended my lease as of today and we’ve reduced all our belongings to what fits in our backpacks) — then I should tell them I am done. Clearly, I’m done. The main reasons to let them fire me are all instrumental. And if you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that here at Other Life instrumental rationality is the root of much evil. That’s not to say I’m above it, not at all — it’s a root of evil precisely because our survival is largely conditional on it. It would certainly be a new drop in the bucket of academia’s self-destruction, my case would probably become an official milestone in absurd administrative repression. That would be good, funny, and politically desirable. But things are already at that milestone, anyway; the event of a formal dismissal might trigger some kind of category click in the minds of people who think in discrete variables. In reality, most variables are continuous variables, and I’m already about 99% fired. There are also other instrumental reasons to prefer dismissal, such as notoriety/media/sympathy, but as soon as anyone starts optimizing for those things — you’re doomed.
More than a few people seem to think everything I’m saying and doing is for notoriety/media/sympathy, all of which are ultimately convertible to cash. I generally don’t care what idiots guess about me, but given this objection is the exact opposite of my core vision, I feel somewhat motivated to minimize it. Just to pwn the haters, I am inclined to resign with purposeful quietude, minimizing the probability of both infamy and sympathy. The mainstream media revolve around discrete events, and getting fired is an event, so if I get fired then the chance of receiving phone calls from all the Tucker Carlson types probably shoots to what? At least 25%, conservatively, I would think. If that level of media buzz arrived, especially given that my type of person is quite capable of milking it for all its worth, it would have a long-term expected value of what? At least several thousand dollars probably, at least? Of course, media is stochastic, it’s perfectly possible I am fired and nobody cares. On average, though, in the long-term, there would probably be a fairly large, positive financial upside to being formally fired.
Another reason I’m disinclined to the dismissal->outrage->media->money strategy is that I genuinely can’t access any feelings of indignation, victimhood, outrage. And these seem to be performative requirements of the contemporary media charades. From the beginning, I have said that this a hilarious and wonderful experience in which a once-prestigious institution has become so paranoiacally bureaucratized that it is actively empowering me to leave it behind while it further destroys itself. When you were a kid, did you ever do that thing kids do, where they take the hand of a sibling and make the sibling hit them in order to scream to mom, “Johnny’s hitting me!!!” I feel like the university is doing that with me. I’ve never once set out to harm the university or academia as a whole, but they keep grabbing my hand and smacking themselves with it. I can hardly be faulted for enjoying it!
When I try to tell my story outside of the aggrieved/indignant framing, instead asserting my contentedness with it all, I suppose it must read like monstrous or ridiculous gloating or delusions of grandeur or something. I was recently invited to submit an article somewhere, and I wrote up my perspective but with historical backing that would make it more than just a personal thinkpiece — citing precedents for the model of life I am seeking to live — and it was rejected. That was an interesting signal. I could try to perform yet another rendition of the persecuted academic, there seems to be insatiable demand for such stories, but unfortunately that’s not my story. It’s quite possible my actual story is either too dumb, or too idiosyncratic, or not interesting/valuable enough to succeed in even the para-institutional meme pool. But my story is my story, and I’m sticking to it. That's where blogs excel, in fact. My whole wager is that anyone who does this with sufficient intensity wins in the end, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to soften up now!
I'd also be lying by omission if I did not include some instrumental reasons for resigning. To be honest, the only slight negative emotion I have about any of this comes from thinking about my PhD supervisors, and everyone else who invested in my career as an academic. Getting fired could arguably tarnish them. I don't think any of this will have any real effect on them, ultimately, but I would feel bad — a combination of guilty and embarrassed, I suppose — to have to tell them all that I was fired. Same thing goes for my parents, and in-laws, and so on — all the normal people to whom I would like to give a clear and straightforward accounting of myself. "I decided academia is not for me" is much shorter and sweeter than "I was fired but..." As I said, I could still be fired even if I resign, but if I resign I can immediately after inform my family and mentors, simply and honestly, that I've decided to resign and that will be that. If the university fires me the day after nonetheless, I'm not obligated to send everyone an update. If they ask or read about it in the papers, I would tell the truth. This is, admittedly, a pretty superficial and instrumental reason to favor resignation. It's not the main reason, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a reason.
Another benefit of resigning is that it will improve the generalizability of my practical enterprise model for exiting academia. If getting fired and receiving publicity and sympathy increased my patrons and book sales and so on, and then I’m successful in my plot to achieve a financially successful independent intellectual model, in the future people could say that my plan for exiting academia is not realistic or practical for most people. And they could be right, in that case. So exiting quietly, and succeeding without any huge brouhaha, would make the social value of whatever I’m able to make greater, and more impactful.
Finally, I’m just tired of talking about myself — believe that or not. I’d like to get back to work, on projects that are not just telling the story of this protracted controversy. If I get fired, it kind of makes the story more interesting and longer and spicier, but I'd rather it be over sooner than later.
What would you do?
Thanks to some good questions in last night's livestream, I managed to give a relatively concentrated hour of talking, with a surprisingly high signal/noise ratio (relative to my average, which isn't saying much). With more than one machine-learning tool and a couple hours of editing, it's now searchable for future purposes. I took my liberties with it, because why not, but only here and there. It's very verbose, sorry. I've limited and committed myself to a one-hour livestream every Thursday at 9pm UK / 4pm Eastern / 1pm Pacific. If you want to talk about any of these things, feel free to follow up with me then/there.
"Why are you not naked?"
That is a very, very good question now that being naked is very righteous and quite normal thing to do for professors trying to make a point they believe in. I don't know why I'm not naked. Well, actually, I do, because, as soon as I saw that lecture — there was recently a Cambridge lecturer, a passionate Remainer in the Brexit debate, she's very troubled by the prospect of Brexit and she gave a public lecture or performance let's say: yeah performance is the right word, to show the world why Brexit is a risky bad idea and she was butt-ass naked. I honestly think it's fantastic, I think it's so great.
The first thing I thought when I watched that is, I should totally do something naked. Why would I not? I've actually always had a passion for doing things naked, like passion is maybe too significant of a word, but I've always had a tendency to get naked, when I was younger. At pool parties and stuff like that, I was always the guy skinny-dipping and shit, it's just fun right? And when I saw her I was like, this is social license. I could totally do this, and no one could say anything to me if I were to do a lecture naked or make some kind of video naked. I could write whatever political message I want on me. That was definitely the immediate thought that entered my mind and actually I started getting really excited. This shows that this is an honorable, righteous thing that is lauded and impressive for an academic to do. I immediately thought to do it, and I mean who knows what the future holds, but the reason I didn't do it, like today — like right when I got that idea, because usually when I get crazy ideas, I do them right when I get them or else It's not gonna happen, but who knows what will happen? — the reason I didn't do it is because here's the thing: nobody wants to see a man naked. I'm not that old yet and I'm in shape and I'm fit, so I think I'm relatively good-looking naked. However, I'm still a 32 year old man and just nobody wants to see even a fairly good-looking and svelte 32-year-old man naked. Of course, there's a small number of people who maybe do, but on the whole, when you see a man naked on The Internet, it's just... It's just horrifying, whereas when you see a naked woman on a stage, it's just not that crazy. Not even that shocking. I mean, you open up Instagram and you see it all over the place. If you look at Tumblr or Instagram, it's naked women all over the place. It's actually quite normal to the average person, even if you have no interest in porn or don't sign up for any type of, you know, sexual types of things...
What's interesting is that academia is now entering trash-tier media spectacle. I think that's hilarious and awesome. Fast forward ten years, neo-China arrives from the future, and the average academic is a young woman who gets half of her academic salary from thirst-trapping on Instagram or something like this. This [Cambridge woman] is basically like the avant-garde that's heading towards that. I think it's started. It all starts with a fifty-year old senior fellow at Cambridge! You wait and see the deluge of sexualized academics, especially academic women, coming out in the next several years. Mark my words. This will be one of my predictions. I don't make a lot of predictions because I think generally predicting the future is a fool's errand, but I definitely think that there is a long-term dynamic — nowadays, that means like a couple decades, but — I think there's a more or less long-term dynamic in which the prestige institutions and fields are, basically due to ineluctable market pressures... The prestige fields that, once upon a time prided themselves on their anti-vulgarity are basically being torn asunder by competitive necessities to make themselves increasingly vulgar. You know, it's just like cursing in the classroom. I can remember when I first started teaching as a PhD student, it was still pretty edgy. I was like that. I was like the edgy young lecturer to sometimes say a curse word. Nowadays, it's so normal, just drop a little curse word here and there, because it's like everyone wants to connect with the youth, who seem to care less and less about their classes. Market realities of living in a contemporary hyper-digital, hyper-capitalist society are forcing the anti-vulgarity traditions to start trafficking in vulgarity. If my other intuitions are right, that academia will be increasingly chopped up into, well, what is basically the gig economy... A lot of stuff I'm experimenting with is kind of that. Just breaking things up into their component parts and selling them directly to people on large, open marketplaces. Basically, if my intuition is right, then it would follow that the kind of sexual marketing component that is always available in any domain would also find its own little specialization...
You could totally imagine, for instance, if there's an academic thats, let's say, every way comparable to me in my terms of my research output, my level in academia whatever, but she's an attractive woman? Like if I was an attractive woman, and I wanted to make this kind of transition out of academia that I'm currently making, while wanting to maintain a serious intellectual life and a long-term research agenda, but I have to come up with different ways to make an income? Hell yeah I would do basically different types of thirst-trapping — more or less like soft sex work... If I were to do 'gay for pay' to sustain my intellectual life, that would be seriously looked down upon. Even people who accept me and love me, you know they would really feel like, "Damn Justin, that's really low, damn." If you're a woman and you do that, there's still some stigma for sure, I'm not denying that, but people immediately get it, there are now very soft, normalized ways of doing it that don't strike people as scandalous. Even just the "influencer economy," and all of that, it's the really low level of whoring yourself out, even just being a model is whoring yourself out and there's always been a tradition for that that's always kind of accepted and normalized and, in fact, admired. So yeah if I was a woman academic and I was hot, I would totally. I'm surprised you don't see more of it, but I think you will, especially after people like this Cambridge lecturer, when people with a lot of cultural capital at esteemed institutions start breaking down the vulgarity barriers...
Brenton says I am basically describing Aella. I do not know Aella, but I have seen her around. She seems cool. I do remember looking at her blog. She seems smart and legit and has written interesting stuff... I guess what Brenton is getting at is she's also attractive. I guess her idea is that... Well, any woman who's attractive, it's just part of the the value proposition that they're offering the world, and this is true for men too. It's almost inescapable yeah, so all the power to her. She's probably out ahead of something that you're gonna see more and more of. Resistance is futile, never resist things, "never object" says Deleuze, never object. That doesn't necessarily mean you should throw yourself headlong into any trend uncritically and unethically, though, not at all.
"What long-form articles do I have planned?"
The big candidate on that list that I'm starting to focus on now is all of my code for data analysis stuff, specifically R code for political science. I'm addicted to exploratory data analyses. Just random stuff like "I wonder if the relationship between leftism and abortion support is changing since 1976?" What I've often known over the past five years as an academic, you never have enough fucking time. If you get carried away, you might spend two hours on something random and you have all these analyses on a topic of interest, but to turn that into a published research article takes a very, very long time. Like months really. Even just to turn it into a blog post, let's say to do it right, make everything look nice and write it up, let's say that takes 4 hours. Well, that's a long fucking time that you can't really justify when you're doing a serious career like academia and there are certain things you have to prioritize... So I've done all of these exploratory analyses. I have all of this code and all these graphs and different types of half-baked looks at things, and it's just sitting there on my computer. I can give you one script and then you open it up on your computer and it will download some random political science data set. Let's say like the General Social Survey or something, it'll download it for you, clean all of the variables, then make a bunch of graphs and run some models and extract results, like all of that is embedded in the code so there are a lot of people who don't actually know how to do that, and they don't even need to learn how to do that. But if they're just good enough to use computers, I can basically make all of that code and value available to people. So I don't know what I'm gonna do with it, but that's just one example. I'll also be able to get blog posts out of that and write stuff up and and and remember all the stuff I've looked into, trying to make sense out of it all.
I wanted to tell you a little bit about this book because a lot of people would not think that this is in my library and I think a lot of people look down on this kind of tradition or lineage or tendency. I was flipping through it and I was like, there are some good lines in here... I think it's somewhat underrated. It's basically radical left, very anarchist... I think you'd call it insurrectionary anarchist. That's what I would call it anyway, definitely with communist undertones, strong egalitarianism, of course, but really the defining characteristic of this insurrectionary anarchism here is, it's romantic, vitalistic. You know the kind of bourgeois ideology of "live in the moment?". It's kind of like the militant anarchist version of that. Listen to your body. You know that the current organization of society is bad - you just know it - you feel it. Everyone hates their jobs, and everyone knows it, and they're all these lies that society is built on, and everyone knows it so just, fuck it man! If you want to steal from a grocery store, you're not stealing from a grocery store, you're liberating those products from the grocery store. Finding the inner truth of your uncaged animal being, and this is true and good, and morality is just a bourgeois system that's been evolved to keep the masses down. It's very DIY culture, zine culture, like fuck copyright! You get a hint of Guy Debord and the Situationists. People watch too much TV and they're on screens too much. They were kind of saying this before it was cool.
This is what the insurrectionary anarchist tradition gets right. Most currently existing capitalist and bureaucratic institutions, they have in fact evolved to keep you compliant and to suck the life out of you for their own profit to reproduce themselves. Anything that says that, and forcefully reminds you of that, is good. Put your experiences and your immediate affect and energies as a kind of primary and initial data point for building out theories of the world and especially making decisions about what you should or should not do. This is different from naïve sheepish automatism of constant System 1 reactiveness, by the way.
Where I tend to part ways with this it's often in a very secular-atheistic "God is dead" kind of way. Like all of morality is bullshit, there are no rules, there's only the small band of revolutionaries shoplifting and living in communes and stuff. I got a lot of love for that... I think a lot of these people just assume that norms and ethics will emerge and that a small community living radically and romantically in this kind of anti-capitalist, communistic fashion will just self-organize or self-enforce norms and an ethics but that generally tends not to happen and that's a major problem, and there are reasons for that. But that's not really sexy, you don't write gripping manifestos with that stuff and to me that's where religion comes in. I believe capitalism is fundamentally an unjust, lying, exploitative set of institutions and you do have to say fuck this, I'm gonna break whatever rules I need to perform fully and express fully the vital processes that you know damn well are being tortured. It's not a contradiction to also say there are deep and long-standing truths and structures that it would behoove us to respect because they're true and because they are there, whether we like them or not. I think you're you really fuck yourself over if you throw out the baby of religion with the bathwater of all the fake bullshit rules of contingent human affairs.
"Do you believe that, on the third day, Christ rose again, in accordance with the scriptures?"
That is a really good question, and I told you that I'm open to questions here and I'm not going to dodge them. This is the kind of question I struggle with the most right now: the parts of the Christian catechism that explicitly state something that, to a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe. I'm a social scientist, I'm well trained in scientific method. Rationality is the only tool we have for making correct inferences about the empirical world. There's no proof that resurrections have ever happened, or ever could happen. If you're a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe that such a thing happened.
The other half is this... I am not convinced that the Christian person has to affirm belief in such events in this naïve empirical sense. I affirm rationality is the only tool for making inferences about the empirical world, and that's absolute, but making inferences about the empirical world does not exhaust what language can do. And that is an undeniable empirical reality in its own right. You have to understand that all of these ideas we have today about the empirical reality of an event and the way that we can separate empirical "real-world" events from our desires and longings and hopes and artistic invention and our interests in the social community, etc., is all very new. We have this capacity to put empirical statements in a particular way and with certain criteria: the criteria of scientific rationality, but back then they didn't have that! So what it means to write in a book that "Jesus rose from the dead" is just simply not an empirical statement in the sense that we think of empirical statements. I mean that's just undeniable. They didn't have the conceptual tools and the the mental routines that we have! That's really, really important.
Today we say, "If you're a Christian, then by definition you believe X, where X is also by definition something that every half-educated person knows to be empirically impossible." Thus religion gets defined as idiotic, but tautologies are also anathema to proper scientific method! That's a perfectly fine bit of algebra, but you can't test its mapping on the empirical world without a falsifiable hypothesis (which it is not). So this is just a little trap, with no scientific purchase on what you think or do with a religious tenet such as the resurrection. The meaning of that statement as it was written in the Bible, at the time it was written in the Bible, makes a lot of sense. You can say that, and you can also say everything I said about my scientific diagnosis, that I do not believe a physical resurrection has ever occurred in history. Empirical reality is something we only learned how to do after they wrote that shit down! So that's where I come down on it.
"So what did they mean by it?"
Well, first of all, I would say a lot of the scripture is really densely concentrated so it's a really efficient encoding of multiple things. It's like the first hyperlinked document, if you look at like Bible Hub. It's supposed to encode all of this stuff about life and how you should how you should think and behave and the history of the world, and it's relatively short for what it's trying to encode, so clearly in an evolutionary process where this stuff is iterated over time, it's gonna get increasingly dense and concentrated. So that's one thing, I don't think that's a cop-out. I think that's the truth of what this historical evolved document is.
I think they're definitely trying to say something about the weird, well, miraculous property of truth-telling as unstoppable. There were Ancient Cynics in the area around Jesus and it's quite likely that Jesus had some concrete exposure to Cynics in the lineage of someone like Diogenes. And if you go back to that time, you know Diogenes, a radically militant kind of truth-speaker who organizes his entire life around talking shit as aggressively as possible, basically... One way to read Christianity is that this Jesus guy and his cronies, they're learning from this.
One of the discoveries encoded in Christianity is that there is something very weird and peculiar about the truth, which is that nobody can stop it. You just can't, it's there and there's no amount of social conformity or political pressure or force that is going to stop the truth from becoming true producing its effects on the world. The resurrection encodes this. If you align yourself with the truth - and here I'm gonna start sounding like Jordan Peterson just because he's closer to this than anyone else right now — if you just try to say what you think is true at all times as fully as possible — and that's basically a Christian injunction — if you do that, you will win, you don't know exactly when or how and why you're gonna win and that's why it's kind of irrational and miraculous, that's what makes it religious.
In fact, rationally everything tends to look like telling the truth too extremely is doomed to lose. That is because our society really does run on lies; they might even kill you, they might even fucking crucify you, they might even literally kill you and yet, still, it's worth it, somehow. The truth that you try to live by is going to actually ripple out even more, the more they try to suppress you. I just think there is a basic truth in that. I'd even say that's amenable to empirical demonstration. If the truth is true, because it's something hard-coded into the nature of things, then it makes sense that reality would snap back no matter what we say. It makes sense that that would be unstoppable. In other words, the truth will always be resurrected. The person who aligns themselves with the truth will always be resurrected. The resurrection of Christ is an encoding of that. If your entire message, everything you stood for, everything you believed in... If they kill you, but everything you've ever said and done lives on? Is that not as legitimate and real and empirical a resurrection as if your physical body appeared in the air one day? Like, that's just dumb! [In caveman voice:] "So you mean like his body, like his skin, came out of the tomb and was in the air? Like I could touch his skin in the air? Whoa." Today we laugh at this straw-man of Christianity, but in fact we're truly stupid for interpreting the question in this way.
I don't think any smart Christians in human history ever really believed that the resurrection was a physical thing. You have to be an overeducated, hyper-scientific, modern person to be stupid enough to interpret the question in that way. There are many other things you can do with language, so I think the resurrection is a deep encoding of the seemingly miraculous property of the truth that makes it unstoppable, that makes it rise again, no matter what anyone tries to do to bury it. After Christ, there's this insane blossoming that takes over thousands and thousands of bodies across continents. In some non-trivial sense, like all of the Christian people, whose lives and attitudes and behaviors and are rooted in the Christ cult, that's a far more real and physical resurrection than having your body lifted in the air one fine day. It's literally a more empirical fulfillment of the statement than the naïve imputed notion. So sure, I do believe that on the third day Jesus was resurrected, I think it makes perfect sense and it's perfectly consistent with a modern, rational, educated scientific perspective on the world.
Other Life started as a “side project,” but it seems now to have escaped its cage, destroying my normal life, and growing itself into the project, which is now my life itself (at least until I go broke and have to find a salary, or get a phone call from Jake Paul, or pick up even just like 3 more moderately wealthy patrons, or my wife leaves me and I overdose on something — to be honest, all of these seem equally probable at this point, with the exception of the last — as I've insisted many times, I only do the healthy drugs, and my wife is what rappers call a ride-or-die bitch, bitch being a good thing in this context...). Anyway, the point is that my other life now seems to be arriving from the future, as it were. So this post is the first of its kind, as I try to develop routines adequate to everything brewing around me…
1. My livestreamed conversation with Michael James (@brightabyss, Synthetic Zero) was cited in a recent video by tech news outlet The Verge. They showed a clip of the video and call me an example of someone “too excited” about fully automated luxury communism. They’re not wrong. Here is their video at the relevant timestamp.
2. My life is about to get very chaotic: We’re officially leaving our flat on February 12th to become antifragile toward a possible summary dismissal on February 13th. By the 12th, we will have all of our belongings sold, given away, or shipped back to the US, where we expect to land sooner or later.
3. Preparing for this, I’ve instituted a new weekly schedule which I should be able to maintain while we live out of our backpacks and stay with friends. If you can tolerate maybe some weird locations and iffy production qualities here and there, I promise to continue converting the implosion of my career into the strange brew of theory, entertainment, and experimentation that you’ve now come to expect from me. At a bare minimum, here’s what this will mean: I’ll aim to do at least one solo livestream every week on Thursday (from 9-10pm UK / 4-5pm Eastern / 1-2pm West Coast). I encourage you to bring questions or challenges to these ones, and I’ll try to respond. I’ve also decided to impose a one-hour limit, because I’ve observed that without a limit I will talk well beyond the point at which I’ve run out of steam. I am now back on track scheduling plenty of conversations, and I expect to have at least one of those per week, but they are harder to guarantee in advance. Also expect my current rate of blogging to continue, more or less.
4. I’m also going to keep posting all the now-vintage Youtube conversations as audio on the podcast, at least one per week. With luck I’ll do a few batches to get caught up, but I’m going to promise at least one per week. This week I just posted my talk with Urbit engineer Ted Blackman, about Urbit. So make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast.
5. The private monthly seminar, for $25/month, has gained a couple new participants. We have people working on various projects, including writing projects, tech projects, social-science survey experiments, and more. I’m quite pleased with the quality and unique vibe that has emerged, and I think it’s working well because I get a few new signups each month (so far). If you think this could be good for you but you’re not sure, please join and come to a seminar for free! If you don’t think it’s worth $25/month, you can just cancel your membership. I’m trying to create something genuinely valuable and affordable and I would never want anyone’s money unless they really like what they’re getting for it. To learn more about the idea, or to sign-up and start in February’s seminar, go to the seminar page. If you’re thinking about trying this month’s session, you need to sign up in the next 24 hours so I can get your availability before announcing this month’s dates and times.
6. Like most people on Patreon, I took a pretty big hit from the Sargon affair. I completely understand and support people who vote with their money in this way, no hard feelings of course. If you hate Patreon but still want to chip in to help me keep all this running, you can now setup a recurring contribution outside of Patreon. It’s the same alternative that Jordan Peterson has been using. You’ll get everything my Patreon supporters get.
7. I’ve been invited to give two different talks over the next month, so I’m half-a-mind to embark on some kind of DIY punk-rock book tour or something. Would any of you like me to visit your city/town and give a talk on my serial-book-thing in progress — How Academia Got Pwned aka Jumping Ship? I can do moldy basements with a tiny group, or auditoriums with a crowd of >100, I’ve literally done both several times. When my wife and I become free-floating exiles for a few weeks (starting probably from Feb. 14, we could accept a wide variety of ideas, proposals, or invitations. I wouldn’t need money unless travel costs are significant, but let me know what you have in mind and we can just talk it out.)
8. I'd also like to do better with sharing notable work coming out by others within or adjacent to the Other Life ecosystem. Anthony Morley has started to release sections of a book about the scientific and the sacred. Mac Vogt has released a batshit poetry film+book combo that he says he's been working on for ten years now. I've never been much for crazy poetry stuff, personally, so it's not my cup of tea, but long hard work on any highly idiosyncratic vision orthogonal to marketability is precisely my cup of tea, so happy to pass this along.
There’s more but that will do for today.
Ted Blackman is a senior engineer at Urbit, the mysterious tech startup founded by Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug. Ted kindly answered all my questions, and he dealt very graciously with my efforts to politicize everything. Ted is outside so be warned, there is some background noise. If you would really value better audio engineering please tell me as I decide how to allocate effort across the Other Life ecosystem...
I've had some vague notion of trying to contribute more to other intellectual communities, but whenever I start to write a quick reply, I end up hunched over in a room gone dark from nightfall with a word count that seems self-indulgent for a reply on someone else's blog. This was going to be a comment on Scott Alexander's post from yesterday, Respectability Cascades.
Here's Scott's post in a nutshell. There are some reasons to think intellectual and cultural progress comes through low-status, unrespectable types militantly pushing some topics against the patient caution of respectable opinion leaders (e.g. militant queers forcing recognition of homosexuality and gay rights, against those who sought to do it discreetly). But then there are some reasons to think progress is thwarted by the unwashed militants (e.g. scientists say that Alex Jones pushing the line that "they're turning the frogs gay!" harms real progress on the kernel of truth in this claim). He ends the post asking: Which is the right strategy? Push something from a low-status angle to create social permission for the more respectable rungs to go with it, or exercise discreet respectable patience ala the Pinkers and Haidts of the world?
The crucially missing fact in Scott's setup of the problem is the ongoing and seemingly irreversible fragmentation of respect or prestige hierarchies. Scott refers to respectability as if it is one pyramid around which everyone’s respect is organized. But it's not anymore, like, at all — and I think this is the source of his admitted confounding. Alex Jones is close to the top of one respectability hierarchy — for his tribe. The Pinkers and Haidts are at the top of theirs, no doubt, but now their tribe is only one of many, and to be frank it's not exactly composed of the movers and shakers of the world. Once upon a time there was this notion that the appeal of becoming an establishment intellectual is to win the ear of those in power, but now that politics is so endogenous to technocapital, the only exclusive audience you win by achieving institutional respectability seems to be 'people who still buy books off the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores, and take their cues from traditional authorities such as the NYT' or whatever). In other words, it's conceivable to me that the tribe-audience you win from playing the patient/respectable gambit increasingly selects for precisely those who are not moving and shaking things.
In the epoch of mass broadcast media, the official institutional hierarchy could accurately be referred to as respectability itself, as Scott does, because this was the only respect that mattered: it was the only respect that could win you access to the public, and of course the public’s respect tended to follow semi-automatically. The problem today is that the sum total of social respect allocated to Alex Jones is probably greater than that allocated to someone like Pinker, but to the degree that educated weirdo bloggers are socialized as prestige-tribe members, this feels sad and yucky and our esprit de corps kicks in and we continue to insist Alex Jones is obviously the opposite of respectable. But he is clearly, widely respected, by many, and it is now we who have a hard time updating our schemas, especially when our own status and influence are contingent on our type of people remaining the presumed definers of social reality.
We can even see this within Scott's post. For example, Scott says that Alex Jones has harmed the cause of endocrine health, but his only empirical support for that is “scientists say so, non-scientifically.” Does anyone really think physiological scientists have good intuitions about the empirical dynamics of cultural change and public opinion? I doubt it, but they have many good reasons to dislike Jones; to be disgusted that such a vulgar conspiracy theorist is trafficking in one of their precious, hard-earned insights; and to feel competitively threatened, even. I mean, there is not a long distance at all between Jones-style populist insanity and, say, public contempt for academic science and the faction of politicians keen to strangle academic research funding; not to mention that the Joneses of the world really are chipping away at the perceived credibility of scientific communication, etc.
Scott’s own personal story is a lovely anecdote suggesting Jones is more likely helping the cause, even if our normative status assignments are very confused in 2019. As Scott explains, he learned about the scientific finding while doing his pre-med, he then ignored it, and only came back to it because of all the buzz. Scott is essentially citing Jones as an influence on his thought and cultural activity, but it's just unthinkable for us to put it that way. For my part, I never even heard about the issue until the goofy hysterical talking points circulated. With that, I assumed it was a grain of truth surrounded by mostly bullshit. But now Scott’s endorsement of the basic idea increases my confidence a lot, and I will tell people that, and maybe none of this would be happening if it weren’t for... Alex Jones. So let’s face it, even though we are smart and sophisticated people our intellectual progress and cultural activity is now being shaped by Jones as much as by Pinker. I believe many respectable people — including many esteemed scientists — find this too insane and horrifying and threatening to admit, let alone grapple with, but I don't think that should convince us otherwise.
This is the crisis we are living through. I used to think the crisis was “fake news by lunatic fringe conspiracy theorists,” but now I think it’s equally “self-serving reality-denial in the professional class becoming legible as such by the masses, now choosing liars that suit them better.” The more the respectable institution-dwellers maneuver to retain their premium of credibility through anything other than whatever real edge on the truth they might possess, they become their own Infowars for the Educated. It’s hard to read the NYT today and not get a strong sense this is already irreversibly underway.
So what to do? It’s really simple, I think. So simple it's practically unthinkable to those whose social capital depends on sophistication: Say whatever you believe to be true, in uncalculating fashion, in whatever language you really think and speak with, to everyone who will listen. First of all, it’s a simple heuristic with the advantage of being an ancient ethical precept. But more interestingly, today, it’s increasingly clear that this defines the lines along which reality is fragmenting. We have inherited a culture based on a compromise with truth (modify your personal optimal expression of truth to make it palatable for a mass audience, and we’ll let you on TV, basically.) That’s all crashing down now, and everyone is fleeing to whoever seems best to them. If you're just saying everything true you possibly can, in good conscience, you're not only being a good person but you're going to be one of the most attractive intellectual source-options for all people similar to you (even if you're insane or rough around the edges, simply because almost all other people are up to their necks in social compromises and they speak like ~10% of the truths they could).
We might think Jones is an insane liar, but he’s not compromising the truth any more than all the Pinkers and Haidts are. It's the same structure: Tell truths but make them optimally palatable to your target market. If we see Pinker/Haidt as normatively superior, it is only because educated liberal-minded sophisticates like educated liberal sophistication and dislike low-IQ conservative people. In a next stage, though, the huge Jones audience will fragment further as the next wave of reality entrepreneurs create new worldviews better optimized for particular audience segments currently stuck under the big Jones tent.
Most of the "big" players in independent media represent examples of this, with respect to the previous generation of big-tent broadcast personalities. Joe Rogan is the Tom Brokaw for everyone who only ever watched Brokaw because there was no producer of daily media who specialized in the unique combination of martial arts, weed, and stand-up comedy. In ten years, there will be a very successful media personality who specializes in martial arts, weed, stand-up comedy and, say, Christianity. And they will get all the Christians currently listening to Rogan everyday, and so on.
I see no way this dynamic gets arrested. All anyone can do is all anyone should have done all along: tell the truth as radically as you can, in your own language, to whoever will listen. This will peel some people away from Jones, and away from the corrupt parts of the institutional narratives, and it will contribute to creating new communities holding up their own forks of social reality. It's the only ethically honorable thing to do, and it just so happens to be the most influential, as well.
If we are creating oases of stable, cooperative, autonomous sense-making, maybe they will get better and better at communicating until some kind of new and improved social reality begins to re-aggregate. Or infinite fragmentation, I don't know, but this seems like the best bet individually and collectively. Of course, Scott is already doing this, indeed he's a paragon of it. The next stage is just to make these processes more transparent and reproducible, and to more fully accept that there is no longer one social reality with one hierarchy of respectable intellectual influence. The more fully we integrate this new fact, the sooner we can all cease making futile compromises with the truth.
I don’t think the Pinkers and Haidts are bad, because they set their intellectual life strategies in a different epoch, and it’s nearly impossible to change gears as rapidly as our culture now changes its gears. But to answer Scott’s question, I do think that for people young or fluid enough to set or reset their intellectual strategies, everything points to: tell every truth you can sooner rather than later, do not wait for permission and trade as little as possible for the benefits of mainstream respectability. I can’t guarantee I am right, but I can say I’m practicing what I preach, and so far my results are as predicted!