Saturday, March 26, 2016

Moldbuggery 2: The Rebuggering

[ background: Moldbug was going to speak at another technical conference (LambdaConf), the organizers this time decided not to disinvite him when they discovered his political views, other people had very bad reactions, and pulled out, and the conference is basically falling apart.]

The reaction to this affair has been extremely polarized. People on both sides seem pretty certain that they are right. Either people are outraged by the racism, or they are outraged that a technical conference would dare to ban somebody for their racism. Doesn՚t seem to be a whole lot of middle ground.

But my own reaction is ambiguous, torn, waffling between two sets of incompatible values. This is interesting to me (although I՚m not sure it is interesting to anybody else, but nobody is forcing you to read this). I find it much more interesting to write about my uncertainties than my certainties.

David Nolen is one of the people most outraged. He՚s a major figure in the Clojure community, and also happens to be black, and he reacted to Moldbug՚s racism in the strongest possible terms, invoking powerfully charged images of racial oppression:
I՚ve thought Moldbug՚s stuff was pretty outrageous, but never really took it seriously enough to become personally offended or threatened. I was willing to debate him over it rather than pushing it away in horror. But I don՚t feel like I have any right to tell Nolen how he should feel about it.

I tried to imagine how I՚d react to race-hatred that was aimed more at me personally. What if a Nazi was going to give a talk on his exciting new programming language? Would I boycott the talk, or the conference? Would I demand the conference organizers shun this individual? I՚m not really sure. I think a lot would depend on the surrounding political climate. One weirdo anti-semite might be a joke to be laughed off, but if there are enough of them to constitute a political force, then the situation demands a political response.

This issue is very parallel to the Trump-related issues I was discussing in the previous post. This idea that there is a space of discourse in which anything goes, and is radically separated from the realm of action is a fine fiction, but a flimsy one.

My earlier post made one point that is still valid, and I haven՚t seen made elsewhere: that Moldbug as an anti-liberal has no grounds for complaint. That doesn՚t invalidate anybody else՚s concerns however.

This episode has caused a lot of bad feelings but I have an oddly positive take of it, from an oddly (for me) conservative point of view. Maybe it՚s a good thing that there are still some ideas that cause outrage, that will get you banned from polite society, that will cause good people to shun you. Boundaries are important. Turns out even in the advanced stages of late capitalism, there are codes of behavior. This is a good thing. Everybody knows liberalism doesn't extend  freedom to infinity, but nobody knows what the boundaries are, so episodes like this are an instance of how we are in the process of figuring that out.


motcliff said...

"Moldbug as an anti-liberal has no grounds for complaint."

Has he complained? I haven't paid attention to his recent activities.

Would you care to generalize your thought about Moldbug - and say that all anti-liberal people as a rule have no grounds for complaint at being excluded from social or economic activity on the grounds of their anti-liberal positions?

I was prompted to think about this the other night after watching an old film on Turner Classic Movies, when the announcer noted that its script had been written by one of the "Hollywood Ten." Say whatever you will about them, they were Communists, and at a time when the CPUSA took its directions from Moscow. The Soviet Union was an illiberal country, and especially so at the time of Stalin. Dalton Trumbo, in particular, toed the party line at its every twist and turn, and remained unrepentant about his Communism to the end of his life.

It seems to me that if Curtis Yarvin, as an anti-liberal, has no grounds for complaint at being excluded from the pursuit of economic opportunities, then neither did the Hollywood Ten. The people who seek to exclude him from forums where he might promote Urbit are acting on no essentially different motives than those of the people who blacklisted someone like Dalton Trumbo. The only difference is possibly one of degree - whereas "neocameralism" exists nowhere, has little likelihood of being implemented, and has done no one any harm, Communism did and does exist and has a bloody historical record.

And yet - I suspect if you asked the people who wanted to banish Yarvin from LambdaConf what they thought of the Hollywood blacklist, they would regard Trumbo et al. as heroes and martyrs. And how about you?

mtraven said...

He hasn't complained exactly, but he wrote a typically long and arch post about the affair. And his supporters and hangers-on are wounded and outraged and using the affair as an excuse for moral posturing.

I wasn't really interested in whether he has a right to complain -- we all have that right, but it's whether that act has moral force or is undermined by his own belief system.

It's interesting to think about the parallels, and the differences, with McCarthyite anticommunism. You've already pointed out some of these, but here are two more:

- McCarthyism was orchestrated by the government, while the boycott of Yarvin is strictly an affair of private individuals

- I'm not sure how much weight to grant this, or how to say this without getting myself in trouble, but there is a difference between the two ideologies. The Hollywood Ten may have supported communism but it was an idealized form of communism, a utopian ideal that included freedom of the intellect. Whereas Moldbug explicitly calls for the suppression of dissent. So the former may have been fools or dupes or worse, but they weren't self-undermining in quite the same way.

mtraven said...

Well I managed to earn my very first Twitter block on this topic. Sigh, nobody wants to (or perhaps knows how to) have a good argument any more.

Hal Morris said...

A slight dispute: You might say HUAC was "orchestrated by the government". McCarthy was a sort of amoral fear entrepreneur (something we're seeing quite a lot lately), and renegade within one branch of the government who was good at staying on top for a while through intimidation. Maybe McCarthy was summoned into being what he became by HUAC and other existing trends the way an out-of-contro Trump (and Cruz really) have been by a similarly concerted movement.

Dain said...

The impression you get from films - Guilty by Suspicion, Trumbo and certainly others (Hollywood loves harkening back to a time when its views were the minority in the industry) - is that a reactionary culture was at least as much to blame as government.

jamshid said...

I don't get your last paragraph. Late capitalism, so it's all going to come crashing down and workers will inherit the earth? Or it's going to descend into anarchy? Or we have / will have corporate and drone overlords?
Anyway, what does drawing, or not drawing boundaries like this around a conference have to do with where we are or where we're heading politically?

mtraven said...

@jamshid I just meant:

- in current conditions, there isn't much that is actually prohibited and not many authorities that can prohibit things
- yet it's necessary to set some boundaries on behavior short of illegality. These are often context-dependent.
- this sort of fracas, as ugly and unsatisfactory as it may seem, is exactly how society figures out what its boundaries are

Or IOW, I'm trying to go meta and appreciate the process rather than pick a side.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure how much weight to grant this, or how to say this without getting myself in trouble, but there is a difference between the two ideologies. The Hollywood Ten may have supported communism but it was an idealized form of communism, a utopian ideal that included freedom of the intellect. Whereas Moldbug explicitly calls for the suppression of dissent."

Wait, what? The Hollywood Ten were members of CPUSA, a Stalinist party controlled by Moscow. They would've been required to support Stalin's show trials. Moldbug, OTOH, says that authoritarian governments ('physarchies') are preferable to democratic ones ('psycharchies') because (among other reasons) 'physarchies' don't need to care what people think and 'psycharchies' do.

One of the many problems with trying to blacklist Moldbug is that there's no principle behind it. The Hollywood blacklist targeted people suspected of membership in a foreign conspiracy to overthrow the government. Moldbug is a guy with a blog. Not only that, he's a guy with a blog that discourages its readers from engaging in any sort of political activity. What the hell principle is this?

Well, apparently you need to ban people who might scare others off. OK, so Communists can make themselves scared of anyone who isn't a Communist, and then if you want to have a career, you've got to be a Communist. But don't Communists (like Jon Sterling, Steve Klabnik, David Nolen, and really everyone else who pushes for this no-platforming) drive people away from the field as well? Why does tech seem to be almost exclusively made up of upper-middle-class coastal atheists? Talk about disparate impact. And when some of these Communists are talking about how there ought to be a "tech antifa" -- in case you aren't aware, "antifa" means "organized street violence" -- frankly, I'd expect them to be the first people against the wall, even under their own stated principles. Which aren't their actual principles, of course, because white people don't count, and everyone who wouldn't be entirely comfortable with working alongside people who want to kill everyone who isn't a Communist is a cishet white man, except every once in a while they try to gin up a purge against Justine Tunney.