On Classical Liberal Hero Worship

Nassim Taleb is quiet angry at a history professor for stating facts. What are history professors supposed to do? Pretend that slavery wasn’t that big a deal in ancient Greece and sing obsequious praises of the past? At the same time Taleb states without any sense of irony that morality progresses. You can’t claim progress without naming that which was regressive in the first place.

Taleb isn’t alone in throwing temper tantrums whenever certain regressions are identified and given a name. In this he is part of a new ideological coalition that seeks to shut down social critiques of certain kinds – the kind that asks you to be critical of the things you like or admire. We humans are prone to hero worship. If we like one attribute of something, we tend to like the whole of the thing. So when some other part of the thing is critiqued, we get defensive and angry.

Gamergate is a prime example of this kind of anger. Anita Sarkeesian calmly critiqued some video games, with the repeated caveat that you can like video games and still look at them from a critical lens. But wide swaths of gamers frothed with rage and went about bullying her and anyone who agreed with her. For such gamers, their personal sense of worth is intricately tied up with the games they play. If someone says the games aren’t good in some aspects, it’s an attack on their own personhood. Such rage is a characteristic feature of many fandoms which perform mindless hero worship.

Looking at the past with a sanitized lens is another form of hero worship. It used to be that it were religious fundamentalists and nationalists who predominantly engaged in such hero worship. The past either was all perfect, or if it wasn’t we are not supposed to judge it based on modern values. But of late, classical liberals have joined in such hero worship. Until the past decade or so, certain secular beliefs have escaped critical examination. As the rational toolkit was being applied to many a “golden” periods in the past, it has triggered a fair amount of anger among a liberal class that grew up worshipping those golden pasts. As an example you can see Claire Lehmann, founder of Quillette, lamenting on not being able to hero worship the past.

It is ironical that the classical liberals who cry “presentism” and apply moral relativism to the past also have no qualms in giving absolute judgments about present day societies which haven’t had the opportunity to progress. Even going by past standards, while some past societies practiced slavery, other contemporary societies didn’t. Humans have a shared biology and emotions that haven’t changed much since we formed our first civilizations. So victims of bigotry would feel the same whether they lived in the past or today. Those who piously recite evolutionary psychology as a justification for inequality conveniently ignore our biology while defending the recent past from critique.


Ben Shapiro doesn’t understand art

Ben Shapiro is super pissed about Beyoncé‘s new song Apes**t. He throws out various reasons as to why the song is bad, but all he manages to show is how ignorant he is when it comes to art.

Understanding art requires understanding the language it was made in. If you can’t read English, you won’t understand a book written in English. Likewise, you need to understand the visual language a painting is made in to appreciate it. To the untrained eye, most exhibits in an art museum will elicit a mere “meh”. Somebody decreed that so and so art piece is teh greatest, so seeing that piece becomes one more destination in the pilgrimage of tourism. So there is nothing “universal” about many an art piece that has been certified as “great”. Their universality is confined to those who make the effort to understand the language.

Also, humans are adept at expressing and sharing their emotional states with art. Everyone is capable of it. Every group of humans has produced sublime art. You just need to understand the language it was made in to appreciate it. To do that you need to have an exploring and adventurous mind. And a deep respect for our shared humanity, the one true universal if there was any. Because without that respect, you will end up thinking only your tribe can express the full gamut of human emotions and that everybody else has stunted abilities.

Ben Shapiro doesn’t know many a visual language of art and yet decrees that Louvre shows features mostly Western art because Western art is the best of all art. So he is the sort of guy who thinks his echo-chamber is representative of all of humanity. I suppose proudly parading such ignorance is what makes him one of the heroes of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Professional victimhood, the actual kind

In my previous post about the Intellectual Dark Web, I argued that since the members of the IDW are so popular, it doesn’t make sense to say that their views are being silenced.

Now Scott Alexander has a post about why that argument is not so sound. He has a good point – community leaders being popular doesn’t mean that the community’s beliefs themselves are widely acceptable. He says:

If you say “We know a movement isn’t being silenced because it’s got lots of supporters, is widely discussed, and has popular leaders” – then you’re mixing up the numerator and the denominator.

Gandhi’s Indian independence movement had lots of supporters, was widely discussed, and had popular leaders. So did a half dozen Irish revolts against British rule. And the early US labor movement. And Eastern Bloc countries’ resistance to Soviet domination. And Aung San Suu Kyi. And every medieval peasants’ revolt ever. And…well, every other movement that’s been suppressed. Really, what sort of moron wastes their time suppressing a leaderless movement that nobody believes in or cares about?

Popular support and frequent discussion go in the numerator when you’re calculating silencing. Silencing is when even though a movement has lots of supporters, none of them will admit to it publicly under their real name. Even though a movement is widely discussed, its ideas never penetrate to anywhere they might actually have power. Even though it has charismatic leaders, they have to resort to low-prestige decentralized people-power to get their message across, while their opponents preach against them from the airwaves and pulpits and universities.

So the IDW figureheads maybe popular, but its followers are being silenced.

But are they really? He says that Even though a movement is widely discussed, its ideas never penetrate to anywhere they might actually have power. Who actually is in power in the US? Donald Trump is in the White House. Republicans control both the Senate and the House. The Supreme Court now leans conservative. Many state governerships and legislatures are also under Republican control.

Both Trumpism and traditional conservatism are extremely sympathetic to many of the “taboo” views of the IDW – that there is no patriarchy, that women and men’s brains are different enough that they can explain away gender inequality and that genetic IQ differences between races can contribute to racial disparities. The institutions where such ideas are taboo are primarily academia, the left leaning media and to some degree, corporate America. Left leaning media’s influence is easily counterbalanced by right leaning media. So leftist media is in no position to silence anyone. Even in corporate America, there are counterbalancing forces like the Koch brothers. So it is in academia alone that the IDW lacks power. Step outside of it and you will see gender essentialism and race realism waltzing about in the corridors of power.

Scott Alexander and other like minded intellectuals have an affinity to academia and so feel its disdain for IDW more acutely. But it is a mistake to think that academia is representative of the wider world. Ignoring power structures in society and asserting that your views are being silenced is an exercise in professional victimhood. The IDW and its sympathizers excel at it.

Intellectually Dishonest Weasels

People who tend to use terms like “professional victimhood” or even just “victimhood” are actually more likely to personify those terms. Projecting their worldview onto others, in other words.

Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts used to excel at this sort of victimhood. Fox News is watched by the majority of TV viewers. They are the mainstream for every definition of mainstream. And yet they whine incessantly that the “mainstream” outlets like CNN, which have far less viewership than Fox News, are somehow shaping the American political landscape against conservatives.

Now that baton of victimhood has been taken up by the so called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW). They are the stars of the new media, commanding audiences counting in the millions. They have lucrative careers doing what they love to do, which is not an option for many. And yet they posture as if they are being prevented from being heard.

I think Intellectually Dishonest Weasels is a more fitting name for them.

Libertarian Misogyny

Here is the best piece of evidence on how much the libertarian, self-certified uber practitioners of rationality are devoted to misogyny.

Since incels are willing to commit violence over sex, Robin Hanson thinks that government should step in and “redistribute” access to sex. Now, I don’t think he actually believes this. He is merely playing “gotcha”. Since leftists approve of income redistribution, at the threat of violent revolution, he thinks he found some immense logical contradiction in the same leftists not being for sexual access redistribution.

The core issue is bodily autonomy. If an incel commits violence because he can’t own a woman’s body, Robin Hanson thinks that government should step in and provide the access. Historically governments providing access to other people’s bodies resulted in plenty of horrors (think slavery or legally sanctioned domestic violence). This should be self evident.

But it is not evident to Robin Hanson. He can’t even be bothered to include a premise that is the bare minimum for any civilized society. And yet he boasts in his bio that “I have little patience with those whose thinking is sloppy, small, or devoid of abstraction.” Monster egos like his are all too common among men who are convinced that they are the chosen few who have overcome bias.

BTW, this libertarian devotion to misogyny is a logical result of a market dictated worldview. In that world view a human body is on the same footing as that of inanimate property. A “violation” of property is in the same category as violation of bodily consent.

Google Gulag

Post the Google Gulag incident, gender essentialists are busy arguing that focusing on diversity is largely useless because science shows that humans are *gasp* dimorphic. I’d say that they should think through their premises.
If men are good with working with things and women with people, the gender essentialists argue that shoving down diversity upon society is counterproductive. To maximize utility we should get rid off diversity and focus purely on ‘merit’.
Now let us focus on the women being good at working with people. Leadership is entirely about people and not about things. Given that women are good with people and given that leadership positions are mostly occupied by men, we have a situation that is extremely counterproductive. So to maximize utility and serve the almighty ‘merit’, leadership should reflect what the science says – if 80% of men are good with things and 80% of women with people then 80% of leadership positions should be occupied by women. (These numbers mirror the 80-20 gender split that the eminent gender essentialist James Damore sought to defend before Gulag fired him). Just imagine how much the human civilization would flourish if we were all ruled by women.
But of course gender essentialists won’t even entertain such utilitarian calculus. Their consequentialist mental gymnastics serve only one purpose – to preserve the status quo. Their intellectual cowardice does not allow them to step outside of their coddled notions of gender.

Selfish immigrants

In the debate over whether to admit refugees and immigrants from certain countries, you’d find some immigrants being for or tacitly approving of banning them. On the face of it, it would seem like an illogical choice. These immigrants should know what it is like to want to come to the US. Why would they be for banning unless there is a good rationale? The rationale here being that the banned immigrants and refugees might be potential terrorists or that they bring with them a regressive worldview that is at odds with the values of the US. So these model immigrants are paraded as examples of why Trump’s immigration policy isn’t bigoted. You see, if immigrants themselves are afraid, Trump must have a good reason for what he is doing.

But there is another explanation for it. Immigrants from countries like India come from the wealthiest echelons of the country. And this class has a selfishness that is deeply embedded in them. In a monstrously unequal society like India, any concern for the less fortunate contradicts the desire lead a content life. You can’t enjoy your wealth while knowing that there are millions who can’t even afford basic nutrition. So we rationalize. We justify our lifestyles. Ignoring suffering becomes second nature to us, something we do unthinkingly. A system 1 response. This ingrained indifference manifests in our everyday acts – whether it be dumping garbage next door (only keeping our house clean matters) or cutting lines. The cream of the Indian society that makes up for almost all immigrants in the US is selfish by nature unless they’ve consciously deprogrammed that selfishness. And I bet same is the case for immigrants from many other countries.

It is this selfishness that drives these immigrants to be in favor or Trump’s policies. Their thinking is that they are already in. They don’t care if the door is closed behind them. There is nothing logical about their support. So remember this whenever you see anyone parading these model immigrants as proof that the Trump administration is acting in a rational way.

During the election campaign, Trump complained about outdated immigration laws alluding to the 1965 immigration law that lifted restrictions on which nationalities can immigrate to the US. Being the ignoramus that he is, it is likely that Trump was briefed by either Steve Bannon or Jeff Sessions on how the 1965 law made America not great.

Now here is Jeff Sessions asserting that a 1924 law, which was aimed at preserving the racial makeup of the then US, lead to the growth of America.

There is a panic over increasing numbers of non-white ethnicities and a desire to preserve or roll back to earlier levels of racial makeup. The alt-reich believes that the US currently has open borders where anyone can waltz in, even though the reality is that it is pretty hard to get a US Visa. This racism is what gave us Trump. That is why his anti-immigration stance won him so many supporters.

Understand the grievances of Trump voters, we’re asked. Don’t rush to judgements, we’re implored. Look at what identity politics and political correctness have wrought, we’re warned.

Here’s a comment found on Brietbart, the alt-reich’s premier web platform. What “grievance” turned Obama into a Muslim? Which “identity politics” made the White House a “mosque”? What “political correctness” made immigrants “untraecable” when in reality we all have to be fingerprinted and DHS has broad authority on checking up on where we live and work?

An alt-reich racist whining about Obama

Trump liberals

Here’s yet another think piece on how identity politics gave us Trump. All of these think pieces ignore the inconvenient fact that Trump lost the popular vote. The difference between a Trump win and a loss was a few hundred thousand votes in a few swing states. That was all it took for some liberals to bend over backwards to understand the voters in those few states. These voters get such a huge benefit of doubt that we are asked to consider the possibility that they didn’t vote based on Trump’s explicit misogyny and racism. Fine, consider that possibility by all means. But have these liberals ever given identity politics the same benefit of doubt? Even at it’s worse, identity politics is not capable of putting the left-wing equivalent of Trump and Breitbart in the white house. So wither the understanding quest for the reasons identity politics exist?

The parsimonious explanation for the double standards is that these liberals never really believed that the reasons for the existence of identity politics have any validity. Remember how Dawkins belittled Rebecca Watson for expressing minor discomfort at being sexually objectified? I’d say that all these liberals are of the same mould. They think the entirety of modern day feminism and anti-racism activism are baseless. This isn’t about activists going overboard with identity politics, but a wholesale rejection of issues surrounding gender and race. People voting for a misogynist and a racist are deserving of understanding because they have economic grievances. But people who have grievances about gender and race, but act in divisive ways, don’t deserve the slightest bit of understanding.

Instead of reasoning with Trump voters these liberals take the easy way out and blame identity politics. What is stopping them from reasoning with Republican voters who for decades have held very harmful beliefs – from creationism to climate change denial, from Ayn Randism to opposing everything Obama does? How about asking those voters to understand issues that affect a different majority of Americans? Sick and tired of these Trump liberals building arguments based on their self-interests and passing it off as genuine concern for all Americans.