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The Satisfaction of Piety vs The Concentration of Force
A nagging question.
I just skimmed this article by Bradley Campbell about the newly proposed University of Austin where the he proposes three groups in contest for the soul of the public sphere.
In The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, Jason Manning and I identified a new moral culture that is especially prevalent in academia. (Editor’s note: Iona Italia and Helen Pluckrose have interviewed Bradley and Manning on Areo’s associated Two for Tea podcast, here.) We called it victimhood culture because it focuses on the idea that victimhood confers a kind of moral status. It is often rooted in academic Critical Theory and is seen in its extreme form among left-wing social justice activists on college campuses. We contrasted it with other moral cultures, such as honour culture, which prioritises a reputation for physical bravery, and dignity culture, which centres on the idea that all individuals have inherent value.
Secondly there is a tiresome meme going around about nine categories of nouns that fall into the nine segment cross product of [lawful, neutral, chaotic] x [good, evil]. Don’t ask me how that particular math works. This is the Alignment System of Dungeons & Dragons. According to their website, I am a True Neutral. It turns out that I don’t seem to have the requisite number of fucks or ego defects to turn the meters far enough to fall into another sort of characteristic bucket. I don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand I think it bolsters my Stoic creds, because in fact I don’t bother to manifest strong feelings one way or another. On the other hand, what I do think and eventually decide compels me toward strong actions. The fact that I pursue barbell strategies, hedging my bets on a number of important subjects is a reflection of two things.
I don’t trust that other people are necessarily correct, despite their convictions.
Whatever works works.
As an adventurous intellectual sort (I am 53% Gryffindor & 47% Ravenclaw) I can always see any number of ways around to achieve results. I tend to gang up with the courageous and disciplined over the clever and imaginative. Either way I prefer not to get carried away. Perfect is the enemy of good & Memento Mori.
Where this goes is that as I engage the public sphere and consider the political desires of Campbell’s grouping with the following skepticism:
If you have enough pride to make enemies in the public sphere and truly intend to convince others of the good of your cause, why are you not satisfied in your own pious self-expression?
I happen to be reading Dan Jones’ history of the Middle Ages. It’s a kind of Game of Thrones based on actual events. So if our victimhood, honor and dignity cultures are all aiming to grab the crown of the proper moral spirit of democracy, it all becomes such a game. In other words, it’s not enough for the House of Honor or the Duchy of Victimhood or the High Lords of Dignity to stay put and enjoy themselves, they all must engage in some head hunting.
This is at the core of my gripe with the public sphere. Take blackness for example. (I know this is tiresome), but what we know is that a black person is perfectly content with other blacks calling them nigger, because the inherent satisfaction of being black enough around other blacks surpasses the weight of the insult. I presume this is exactly why homosexual men don’t mind being called fags by others of their sort. Yet so long as there is a a perceived tipping point of social influence and power in claiming a trespass against ones honor, dignity or victimhood, all of that happy piety goes out the door. Game On.
My newest friend Eli Steele, the filmmaker, and I met this past Friday at a biergarten in Glendale. It has been a while since I’ve been there. Its outdoor setup is rather ideally constructed for COVID but they have installed a beefy security guard since the last time I had a Warsteiner. When I mentioned to him that I was a member of the LA based IDW Meetup, he was a bit miffed that he hadn’t heard of it or gotten to attend. It raised a point I have been thinking about and want in some way to realize which is some kind of permanent meetup real estate for me and people like me. The decentralization of social media power has not created actual meatspace for like-minded fellows to fellowship. Believe me, I have heard quite enough testimony from people on the verge of being PNG’d by departmental tyrants and persistently whiney students. I feel the relief in their commiseration.
I do follow James Lindsay on Twitter and I do appreciate Christopher Rufo’s style of political combat for what it’s worth. And since I am convinced that we True Neutrals are getting crowded out, I don’t mind their mouthing off. That makes me party to the same Game of Thrones. Then again, I don’t possess my own castle where we could chill out and listen to Clark Terry and Bach Cantatas. Naturally, all of you would be invited. So I leave you with the following provocation.
I claim that the Grey Tribe generally, and rationalists/longtermists/EAs more specifically, and LessWrong the website and community even more specifically, are systematically and spectacularly failing at concentration of force. That none of those groups puts anything like sufficient strategic energy into ensuring that critical mass coheres at crucial moments, and that each would benefit from optimizing their ability to do so quickly, reliably, and effectively, and from thinking in terms of concentration of force as a matter of habit.
Yes. So much this.
Some sort of coordination needs to be afoot. This is something I have long speculated would eventually have to be the case. Yet for most of my life I have thought of my own ilk as tending to be more monastic than combative. I bet you have as well. But there are moments when the right swarm can make the right difference. Those of us who treasure the rational and the process of discovery can, at the right place at the right time be the tactical butterfly wing that winds up being the strategic catalyst of the hurricane. Or maybe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The math is in the article, but I think this picture will suffice.
The trick is for us to have the distributed real estate where beer can be served. Or is this what the Claremont Institute and other such think tanks actually are? I should visit.
Extra Credit: From the Archives (Prophesy from 2012)
I take this as the single most useful observation of Pinker's book as it dovetails with Hobbes and is in synch with my critique of the overreach of organic politics - aka 'Who is Your Leviathan?' Nonviolent social protest and all such questions of 'social justice' are an attempt to move multicultural honor systems into national law here in the United States. They weren't in the case of the Civil Rights Movement, because King's SCLC was nationalist and his dream was firmly rooted in the American Dream. That was the Negro position. But the Black Nationalist movement that followed on the heels of Civil Rights successes required international links and Marxist connections. It sought to change the direction of justice coming from an honor established outside of the Pledge of Allegiance, as do its mulitcultural follow-on movements.
-- this above paragraph is my first clearly articulated idea about what exactly people mean by 'social justice', which is to say that it seeks to elevate particular and provincial honor codes to national standing by privileging the victimhood of favored groups according to social definitions. I opposes this because it is anti-modern, and devolves common law towards interest-group law. --