Monday, June 22, 2015

Inferences I was happy with

Tell me what you infer about Chilean government from this photo. My answer below the fold

Friday, June 12, 2015

Of Speech Exclusion and Tariff Wars

In the context of the Strangeloop contretemps, it is worth being clear about what the aim is (in my view).

I think it is a rhetorical mistake to call the aim here 'free speech', because this tends to get used to describe a number of disparate concepts. In particular, people have a tendency to mentally substitute the phrase 'free speech' for 'first amendment' or 'no government restriction on speech'. This is indeed one form (and a necessary condition), but not the main thing at stake here in modern America.

I prefer to describe the principle here as Thick Liberty of Speech. The basic aim is thus:

I want everybody to suffer as few negative practical consequences as possible for saying what they think.

Because when the adverse consequences are low, people have a real, practical ability to actually say what they think. That's the thick liberty part. By contrast, thin liberty is being theoretically or legally able to say what you think, although the price for doing so may be considerable.

You and I have the thin liberty to own a Ferrari. Elon Musk has the thick liberty to own a Ferrari.

'Freedom of speech', at least in the form of 'no legal restrictions on speech', is fairly easy to identify. Either you go to prison for saying things, or you do not. Thick liberty of speech, however, is more an aim, a statement of principle that puts social actions on a continuum.

In part this stems from the question of what negative practical consequences are under consideration. These can include a range of possible things, ranging from:
-Not associating with the person socially
-Not doing business with the person
-Firing them from their job
-Assaulting the person
-Imprisoning the person under a relevant statute

Below this is the pure speech remedy - just calling them an asshole.

Let's describe speech that doesn't directly advocate any particular action as 'bare speech'.

From this point, we can start to see what's obnoxious about the Moldbug case, the Dickinson case, and the Eich case.

A speech exclusionist is someone who reacts to bare speech that is perceived as undesirable by performing and advocating negative social consequences for the speaker.

A speech inclusionist is thus the opposite - someone who does not escalate a disagreement on bare speech to an insistence to retaliatory actions.

The reason I think this distinction is important is that it helps clarify what's wrong with a certain view of this type of disagreement.

Over at the discussion on Hacker News, the reprehensible Steve Klabnik showed up to defend his actions thus:
"As has been said many times in this thread, Yarvin is free to say what he believes, and I am free to say what I believe, and organizers are allowed to do what they want. This is how a free market of ideas is supposed to work."
But we're now in a position to see that the two types of speech are fundamentally different.

Moldbug's writings are classic bare speech: discussions of esoteric political theory. By contrast, Alex Payne and Steve Klabnik's were explicitly speech exclusionism. They advocated responding to bare speech with action.

So what's wrong with speech exclusionism?

Well, on twitter, Mr Klabnik was gracious enough to drop the pretense of 'speech, glorious speech!' and tell us himself:

Reader, I cannot think of a more concise statement of the path to totalitarianism than 'everything is political'.

Do you want to live in a world where every decision you make is political? You were about to go to the store to buy some milk, but then you remembered you had to check whether the 7-11 owner had donated to Obama campaign. You pulled out of your bird-watching group because there was a man there who was known to have attended a tea-party rally, even though he never mentioned it and the whole discussion in the group was only ever about birds. You made sure a subordinate didn't get the promotion he might otherwise deserve because he had a 'I support Hillary' bumper sticker.

That social arrangement has existed before. It did not end well.

I personally find this idea repulsive and insidious. There is more to life than politics. It is only monomaniacial fanatics like Steve Klabnik who think otherwise.

These examples are chosen deliberately, as nearly every one of the @$$holes advocating speech exclusion is doing so over political ideas. Big surprise, several of them are explicitly and openly communist. There are some minor aspects of exclusion that are probably inevitable - if you really hate somebody's guys, it's a stretch to insist that you have to invite them to your dinner party. But to respond to abstract political arguments by trying to get people fired is repugnant and unworthy of free-born citizens.

How should one respond to speech exclusion?

Supposing one opposes it, it is always appropriate to respond with bare speech. Steve Klabnik is a reprehensible worm who deserves to find out first-hand the joys of life under communism, ideally its brutal Stalinist versions.

But what else? In particular, is it reasonable to advocate exlusionism for those who themselves demand exclusion of others?

Here's where it gets tricky.

To me, the problem resembles that of tariffs. We'd prefer a world where nobody had any tariffs. But we don't get to directly determine other people's tariff policies, only our own.

If our trading partners are reasonable and can see the merit of trade in general, we can negotiate co-ordinated tariff reductions via a free trade agreement. But maybe they're mercantilists, and they think that tariffs are actually helping them. In other words, they're willing to have our tariffs at moderate levels as long as they can keep their own.

Sometimes, you can create change by a unilateral reduction in tariffs. Industry gets competitive, and you perhaps provide a moral example to others. Brendan Eich advocates this strategy:

In the language of the prisoners dilemma, Eich is always co-operating. Which is very noble, except that the thugs are always defecting, and this doesn't always provide a great incentive for them to change. Hey, I can exclude Brendan Eich and he'll actively dissuade others from excluding me back - score! In other news, Australia unilaterally got rid of its agricultural tariffs decades ago. If you see signs of the US Farm Bill and the EU Common Agricultural Policy disappearing any time soon, you have sharper eyes than I do.

Sometimes, what is needed are punitive tariffs. Under various free trade agreements, a breach of the rules by one party raising tariffs can be punished by a targeted punitive tariff arrangement from the counterparty until the original breach is rectified. Typically, these are designed to hurt one foreign industry at a time by large increases in tariffs that cut off the export market of the target ted firms.

To a game theorist, this is immediately recognizable as a version of tit-for-tat, appropriately adjusted for the slightly different context.

In other words, targeted exclusion of speech exclusionists, if done right, need not be either hypocritical or impractical. It's not ideal, but sometimes one has to use the tools that might work.

There are a couple of aspects here that are worth mentioning.

Firstly, it's very important that the other party be clearly and explicitly given a way out by permanently renouncing their earlier exclusionary demands. The aim here is to get rid of speech exclusionism overall - in other words, an ultimate reduction in overall tariffs, not an ongoing escalating trade war. As a result, if people like Klabnik drop their thuggish attitude and sincerely apologize, they should be accepted back into polite society. It's easy to forget the importance of carrots as well as sticks in this arrangement. David Cole makes the point about the effectiveness of this when discussing the way Jewish groups fight against Holocaust denial and revisionism
After I was “exposed” as David Cole in 2013, the “punishment and reward” thing showed itself in full force. Some members of Gary Sinise’s Hollywood conservative “Friends of Abe” group offered “rehabilitation” if I denounced my revisionist views.
And regarding Fritzsche’s point about hope versus fear, the Jewish method offers “hope.” You can always throw yourself on the mercy of the court, or plead insanity, or—as I did to get the JDL off my back—recant. 
Secondly, if you want to protest speech exclusionism, you have to practice it yourself. Steve Klabnik seems like a thoroughly noxious person, but neither his odious personality nor contemptible political views should be grounds for him being barred from tech. His insistence that other people get banned for their views, however, is entirely fair game.

Finally, you don't want to respond to someone else's punitive tariffs with more punitive tariffs, otherwise you end up getting dragged into the trade war equivalent of conflicts like World War I. In other words, only target speech exclusion that was itself aimed at bare speech. If someone else imposes punitive exclusion against other exclusion in a way you don't agree with, just let it slide, otherwise exclusion really does beget more exclusion.

I'm certainly not the first person to talk about this - Clark at Popehat got me thinking about it initially, and had a really good follow-up post.

But I think one thing that's missing is a concise label for exactly the type of bad behaviour we're trying to stamp out here.

The aim in all of this is tolerance, in the old way the term was meant - taking people as you find them, and accepting differences between people cheerfully and politely. The modern version of tolerance insists on cheerful acceptance of different races and sexualities. It also insists on a rabid lack of acceptance of any meaningful differences in political opinion. Modern tolerance today is everybody looking different, but thinking and speaking the same.

How dreary! How stifling!

Speech exclusion on political grounds is everywhere and always the hallmark of thuggish would-be totalitarians.

Friday, June 5, 2015

'Stop oppressing us!', the lynch mob thugs cry

I worried, but secretly knew, that this day would eventually come. 

So, I strongly suspect, did he.

It seems that the political retributions have begun against Curtis Yarvin, better known in these parts as Mencius Moldbug. His current project, since he stopped writing at Unqualified Reservations, is Urbit, a bizarre and fascinating new operating system and programming language. The best description I know of as to what Urbit is comes from Clark at Popehat. Read it if you want to get a flavor. It very much is Moldbug doing to computing what he did to politics: rethinking everything from the ground up in a weird but compelling way.

Anyway, he was scheduled to present about Urbit at the Strangeloop tech conference. You can probably guess where this goes next.

Lynch mob leftist thugs complain to conference organiser.

Conference organiser acts like spineless coward, rescinds invitation:
A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis's writings objectionable. I have not personally read them.
I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.
Thus, I chose to rescind Curtis's invitation and remove him from the program. 
You didn't want to overshadow the the talk and become the focus, you say? Ha! Perhaps you've heard of the Streisand Effect?

Readers of this august periodical will recognise this pattern. We've been here before. We've been here with Brendan Eich, getting fired from Firefox for donating to opponents of gay marriage. We've been here with Pax Dickinson, fired from Business Insider for having a private twitter account in which he made hilarious off-colour jokes.

The best way to understand this spread of virulent intolerance of any right wing opinion being publicly expressed is as a 'brown scare' - a witch hunt for fascists inside of tech. The definition of fascists, is of course, very flexible, including people like Moldbug who explicitly disavow fascism:
Here is my perception of fascism: it was a reactionary movement that combined the worst ideas of the ancien regime, the worst politics of the democrats, and the worst tyrannies of the Bolsheviks. And what was the result? It is every bit as vanished as the Borboni. For a reactionary, fascism is more or less a short course in what not to do.
But why let that stop you? The whole point of a witch hunt is that there aren't actually any witches, just the fun of bullies persecuting those with different views. The best description of how this process works, both in the case of the technology brown scare specifically (indeed, the article that invented the term) and the psychology of witch hunts in general, can be found here. You should read the whole thing, as it's the best description of the current situation. A mere sample:
The logic of the witch hunter is simple.  It has hardly changed since Matthew Hopkins' day.  The first requirement is to invert the reality of power.  Power at its most basic level is the power to harm or destroy other human beings.  The obvious reality is that witch hunters gang up and destroy witches. Whereas witches are never, ever seen to gang up and destroy witch hunters.  By this test alone, we can see that the conspiracy is imaginary (Brown Scare) rather than real (Red Scare).
Think about it.  Obviously, if the witches had any power whatsoever, they wouldn't waste their time gallivanting around on broomsticks, fellating Satan and cursing cows with sour milk.  They're getting burned right and left, for Christ's sake!  Priorities!  No, they'd turn the tables and lay some serious voodoo on the witch-hunters.  In a country where anyone who speaks out against the witches is soon found dangling by his heels from an oak at midnight with his head shrunk to the size of a baseball, we won't see a lot of witch-hunting and we know there's a serious witch problem.  In a country where witch-hunting is a stable and lucrative career, and also an amateur pastime enjoyed by millions of hobbyists on the weekend, we know there are no real witches worth a damn.
We do not see Pax Dickinson and Paul Graham ganging up to destroy Gawker.  We see them curling up into a fetal position and trying to survive.  An America in which hackers could purge journalists for communist deviation, rather than journalists purging hackers for fascist deviation, would be a very different America.  Ya think?
Perceptive, no? Do you know who wrote that?

Mencius Moldbug. The current imbroglio is not exactly doing much to discredit his argument.

My position on these matters is quite simple - thick liberty of speech. As I put it in the case of Donald Sterling:
I want Donald Sterling, and Pax Dickinson, and everyone else, to be able to say what's on their mind with as few negative practical consequences flowing to them for doing so as humanly possible. I want the same thing for people whose views I find stupid or repugnant - "Stalin wasn't that bad" communists, kill-the-humans hardcore environmentalists, carpet-bagging race hucksters, humourless radical feminists, whatever. I want them to be able to express themselves unmolested either by the government or by offended grievance lobbies, regardless of whether they're from the right or the left, trying to get them fired or excluded from polite society based only on things they've said.
But I think, at this point, it is also time to be realistic. You will not convince bullies by defending speech in the abstract.

Those who prosecute this war do not do so because they dislike liberty of speech. This is a war on any right wing thought. Speech is just a casualty, but not one the proponents care particularly about, except as a way of covering themselves.

Abstract defenses of speech will not do anything to convince these thugs, because they will simply carve out absurd ad hoc exceptions on the fly that make this case totally different. For an example in this oeuvre, see this defense from one of the bullies:
The reason I joined the call for Urbit’s author’s invitation to be rescinded is not his political views. Had he spoken, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve interacted with someone who espouses a politics divergent from my own at a technology conference, and nor would I hope it would be the last. I value a diversity of viewpoints, as must anyone committed to democratic processes....
Strewn throughout the Urbit author’s writings are statements in support of racism and slavery. To my mind, this is where the line is crossed from the abstract debate of politics into something more visceral and emotional: hate. Hate is a necessary component of any defense of racism, slavery, and other dehumanizing practices. Hate is necessary to reduce a person to a commodity or strip them of rights based on innate traits. Couch it all you want in the trappings of academic writing: hate is always laid bare for what it is.
Hate has no place in the Strange Loop community, nor in any community with a future. Some have found it convenient and exciting to assume that Urbit’s author was uninvited – nay, censored! – due to his political views. Trust me: those views could not be less frightening or less interesting. What does concern me is the idea that Strange Loop attendees would no longer feel welcome because an avowed racist and proponent of slavery has been given a tacit endorsement by virtue of his speaking slot.
Ah, you see, it's not about political views, it's about hate! How, well might you ask, can you distinguish between 'far right views' (which are okay, nay, valued by this modern day Voltaire) and 'hate'? Well, we're not told, except that it's something to do with racism and slavery.

I would have thought that if Moldbug's writings are so hateful, this clown might have had the courtesy to provide, you know, a shred of actual evidence from his writing. A hyperlink or two would do the trick. But don't worry - they're 'scattered through his writings', trust him.

The reason that you will never convince thugs like Alex Payne is that nobody is the villain in their own narrative. Alex Payne values free speech. Alex Payne values diversity of opinions and tolerates even far right thought. Alex Payne does not support censorship. If the converse of any of these were true, it would be most unfortunate. It might cause you to think badly of Alex Payne. More importantly, it would cause Alex Payne to think badly of himself.

Alex Payne knows this, so he goes to some length to assert that none of these nasty claims apply to him. He does this, you see, because he has to explain why the actions he took seem blatantly inconsistent with the principles he's claiming to espouse. Thus does cognitive dissonance spring eternal.

The logic (and I use the term loosely, of course), is threadbare. Hate! Along with its subcategories of racism and slavery, it's the Deus Ex Machina that makes all the contradictions disappear. I disagree with what you say, but am prepared to fight and die to let you say it, provided it's not hateful.

This is why you will not reason such people out of their views. The reasoning is constructed ex post to justify the tribal vengeance and preserve the self image. Alex Payne simply cannot conceive that he is the bully in this story. If you remove his current justification, he will simply find another equally absurd distinction, and the game of whack a mole will continue.

The grotesque aspect of this charade is the spectacle of the bullies claiming to be either oppressed themselves or standing up for the oppressed. Yarvin giving a technical talk on programming languages is oppressive. Yarvin being in the room is oppressive. Not for Alex Payne, you see, but on behalf of unnamed offended victims. Destroying someone's company by actively trying to make them persona non grata in the tech community, and implicitly threatening consequences to anyone who refuses to join the boycott? That may seem oppressive on a naive reading, but have you considered hate?

The only thing thugs understand is consequences to their bad behavior.

This is an area where I feel the  right has failed to understand the incentives they set up when they respond to these kinds of spectacles.

The first instinct of many is to attack the group that did the firing. Alex Miller, organizer of Strange Loop, is a gormless nitwit, but he was placed in an admittedly difficult position. It's the same position as Business Insider in the Dickinson case, and Mozilla in the Eich case. They're going to get screwed either way once this blows up. Keep Yarvin, and the social justice warriors boycott. Ditch Yarvin, and the conservatives and free speech types boycott. There is a calculus to be made, assuredly, over which group is larger when deciding this question. Even an organizer who didn't intrinsically care one way or another is forced to decide on this, as I noted in the Dickinson case. So when conservatives boycott a conference over this, they are sending a message that there are consequences to acting against free speech and conservatism. This goes some of the way to perhaps convincing future organisers not to side with the social justice warriors if these controversies arise.

But to focus on this component is to deeply misunderstand the overall lesson future organisers will learn from this event. They will note three possible options.
a) Invite Yarvin, when the progressives complain, side with the progressives. Lose the conservative group.
b) Invite Yarvin, when the progressives complain, side with the conservatives. Lose the progressive group.
c) Don't invite Yarvin in the first place, but don't say that you did it out of politics. Lose Yarvin, perhaps his immediate supporters at worst. Maybe don't even lose them, since they might not know that he was barred because of politics.

What future conference organiser will choose anything other than option c)?

What you punish, in other words, is uninviting Yarvin. But this is not the same as rewarding inviting him in the first place. Indeed, the worse you make the consequences for the organiser for uninviting him, the more future organisers will worry about the possible risk of inviting him in the first place. And as a result, even if you get Yarvin reinstated in this particular conference, the thugs still get their way. 

Are you starting to see why the standard response of lashing out primarily at the person who does the firing may not quite achieve the outcome you wanted?

So how do you stop this thuggery happening?

I fear, unfortunately, that given the zeitgeist is what it is, one cannot.

But if there is to be any hope, it requires bringing consequences for the people who initiated the demands for a boycott in the first place.

That is the only way this will stop. When future Alex Paynes worry that they can't call for a boycott without risking themselves getting excluded from future events, and without their companies and employment suffering as a result.

Without such consequences, these people have absolutely no reason not to start future lynch mobs.

As it turns out, this is not something we simply have to speculate on. The first tweet I posted at the start complaining about Moldbug is from a man called Steve Klabnik. As Nick Steves noted, we have seen Steve Klabnik before, in the discussion of the Pax Dickinson case. It is the same lynch mob each time.

Steve Klabnik, you are a bully and a coward. You may dress your tribalism and will to power in the garments of "social justice", but you cannot hide the sheer malignity of your actions. You are undeserving of living in a free society.

Bodil Stokke, you are a malicious and mean-spirited thug. The glee with which you gang up on others is repugnant and contemptible. I cannot conceive how any person of character would be willing to associate with you.

Alex Payne, you are a miserable hypocrite and a craven fool. Yours is the thinnest gruel of thin liberty that cannot even speak its name honestly. You are unworthy of licking Curtis Yarvin's boots.

Gore the matador and not the cape.

Update: Linked at Free Northerner.

Update: More thoughts on the issue here.