You’d have to be craaazzy to trust us!

Okay this blog isn’t going to just be “Freddie deBoer’s sentiments plus Scott Alexander’s analyses”, but here’s one more Scott post that iss a good example of why safe spaces are so often anti-rule: his post on the useful-but-offensive website


But there’s also a part of me that accepts they probably have their reasons. I’m not sure it’s possible to make a site as good as without it being as offensive as Remove every single flippant statement and optimize for complete unobjectionability, and you’re most of the way back to I mean, there are certainly some simple improvements that could be made on, and there’s probably a market for a site like that, and maybe that site already exists and I just haven’t found it. But crazymeds is something special. It’s inspiring trust through countersignaling. In a field where almost everyone is a dry, scientific person who won’t give you a straight answer about anything or treat you like a human being, crazymeds’ business strategy is to make it super obvious they’re the exact opposite of that. They’re human, and I think that’s precisely why a demographic who wouldn’t trust anybody else trusts crazymeds.

One of the problems of making any norm that defines polite behavior, is that dropping that norm becomes an excellent way to communicate “I am being really serious here”. And once frankness, and later informality, become associated with talking impolitely, then you have a distinct difference between how we treat most of the world, and how we talk to the people who matter to us. And no amount of new norms around polite behavior and “treating people with respect” will change that fundamental drift.

Speaking of…

If I’m going to be mentioning to Freddie deBoer on this blog, and his description of our society’s required-indifference, then I should link to his post on Chill Culture.

I think that the same basic dynamic crops up in a cultural expectation that pretension is the worst of all sins and that being straightforward in your desire to live a life of depth and meaning is somehow ridiculous. It is the voice that tells you that you must spend your time in an art museum making little cracks about how you know it is somehow self-involved to want to look at artwork worth looking at. It is the expectation that a novelist is very high status but an MFA student is very low status. It is your desire to be seen as smart but never to be seen attempting to become smarter, to have read important books in the past but never to be reading one now. It is never mentioning the fact that you actually liked your thesis and thought it was worth writing. It is the way in which you are trained to see your impulses to live surrounded by beauty and intellectual challenge and meaning as somehow a matter of vanity and self-absorption instead of as the most understandable desires a human can have.

Which itself is basically a linkpost to a beautiful piece by Alana Massey.

So, ladies and gentleman and people who do not believe in the binary, we have reached peak Chill. Or at least I hope we have. Because Chill is the opposite of something else too: warmth. And kindness, and earnestness, and vulnerability. And we need just enough of those things to occasionally do something so remarkably unchill as fall in love.

“Social Technology” /eyeroll

Neoreactionaries (at least, when they were still a thing and not yet swamped by the alt right) liked to make a big deal out of “social technology”. This summary by Harold Lee again is a decent description of how society can suffer even as it implements formal rules to fix its worst problems.

Start with a pleasant town, with a trusting, cooperative, watched over by professional, friendly policemen who knows the streets, and the townsfolk, like the back of their hands. Crime is rare, but when it happens, it’s news, and the people, from the concerned neighbor to the kid who reads way too many detective novels, eagerly overwhelm the police with their offers of help. With that information and cooperation, what crimes there are usually are solved without so much as a baton broken out, and the community is grateful for being protected.

Then, almost imperceptibly, things begin to change. There begins to grow an idea that authority figures are not to be trusted. At first it’s just a few kids at the local college with some odd political ideas, but pretty soon the town’s poorpick up on it too, with the notion that their loyalty is to their fellow poor rather than to the town’s government and police force. And before long, even otherwise law-abiding people are refusing to cooperate with any police investigations. At the same time, riding on a wave of new complaints about police oppression, the state starts passing laws that make it a harder and longer process to hand down long prison sentences. The police is backed into a corner, both less capable of gathering information to investigate crimes, and facing an uphill legal battle to prosecute alleged criminals. Crime starts creeping up, despite the promises of increasingly desperate mayors and commissioners. Being a beat cop looks like a terrible career choice, the smart kids stay away and so the ranks start getting filled with less qualified candidates, who care less about their work and more about their pensions. The force becomes increasingly alienated from the town, seeing the poor districts as enemy territory, and it starts seeming less bad to use a little enhanced interrogation to crack a tough case.

You graduated from the local college and settled down for the long haul. It’s election season, and you flip to the mayoral debate. Police reform is the hot button issue, and it’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately. One of your friends had his car broken into a month ago. Just a few weeks ago you heard that one of your coworkers got mugged and you do a double take – that’s a street that you used to play on as a kid. Naturally, you resent the spike in crime. But at the same time, you’re disgusted at the increasingly boorish behavior of the police – it seems like there’s always a police brutality scandal in the news, and you know that’s only the ones you hear about. The moderator finishes his question and one candidate responds, saying that the only way to get a handle on crime is to give more and more powers to the police forces – which, a little voice whispers, you know they’ll just end up abusing. His opponent responds, saying that the real problem is the growing militarization of the police, leading to the citizenry understandably unwilling to work with them. The only way forward is to assuage fear of police brutality by giving more protections to those accused of a crime – many of which, the little voice whispers, are in fact guilty. No matter what you do, all that either candidate can offer is with higher crime and a more unpleasant justice system than you remember from your childhood. You turn off the television in disgust, and decide that this November you’re going to do the one thing that will really make a difference. You’re going to write a strongly worded letter to the editor.

Note the disclaimer tag. NRX types run into some serious “my cat is the best cat” logic when trying to describe why a simple value like trust actually requires 3000 years of Western Civilization and has never been replicated anywhere else. You don’t need to talk about “anarcho-tyranny” and whatnot when you’re just trying to say “wasn’t it better when we cared about and reflexively trusted one another?”

Our god’s the sun god, our god’s the fun god, Ra Ra Ra!

Otium is trying to define a set of egregores, or names for godlike entities that control our world. Today he wrote a good one about Ra, the force of high-class prestige and smooth vagueness.

I’ve had my writing criticized because “when you give your opinion, it sounds like you think you’re smart”.  And I’ve spent a lot of time feeling ashamed of “thinking out loud” in public, because it tarnishes the glossy facade that it’s easy to feel obligated to put up.  I’ve also had my more mainstream, Ivy League friends express surprise that I cared at all or made the slightest effort for friends in trouble.  Being committed or involved in people’s lives is also messy and doesn’t permit the preservation of a flawless impression.  Expressing yourself, thinking speculatively, and relating to people are shameful to the Ra-worshipping mindset, because all mental and emotional resources must be channeled into the quest for prestige.

Gruad Grayface, in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, is one of many figures representing “the Man” or malign technocratic authority, and he is accused of setting people against each other, making them unable to empathize across demographic lines (men and women, black and white), because if they communicated with each other they would realize that they were natural allies and none of them benefited from Gruad’s tyrannical rule.

There’s a persistent theme in the 60’s counterculture ethos that if people just communicated authentically, it would make a big difference to the world. And while this sounds like a platitude, I think it might be an important truth about the nature of Ra. See “The Sound of Silence.”  See Leary’s exhortation to “find the others.”  See the dystopia of perfect conformity that is Camazotz, which is vanquished by human flaws and by the love of specific people. Understanding that everyone has an inner life and nobody is smooth and blank is the antithesis of Ra.

Warcraft: LFG


My favorite metaphor for the advance of modernity is World of Warcraft’s Looking for Group tool. I’ll explain.

For players who played WoW before any expansions, in the Burning Crusade, and in the first half of Wrath of the Lich King, running dungeons went a certain way. You needed 5 players: a tank, a healer, and 3 DPS. You could organize a dungeon run with your friends or your “guild”, or you could just ask the public over general chat for who else was interested in a run. Finding the tank or healer was often the longer part, but eventually you’d organize a group and head out.

Then things could get interesting. One of your players might be bad and mess up the run. You might argue during the run about who was responsible for pulling too many monsters and leading to a group wipe. Maybe you’d complete the dungeon, but maybe you’d fail. Nothing was certain as you were relying on other people, and a bad argument could descend into harassment and a complete waste of your time (sometimes more than an hour’s worth.)

But, sometimes you’d have a real good time. You could stick it out through a really tough boss and several wipes and all cheer together once you finally killed the jerk. You might meet a really good DPS who cracked funny jokes and you’d add him to your friends list, or even offer him an invite to your guild. And if you met a tank who was patient and helpful and seemed to like you, well hell, you added him to your friends list and now had a tank to ask for future runs instead of standing around town like a pleb. If you were really lucky, maybe the run would go so well that you’d just keep the same group and go to another dungeon.

Social connections were made. They were online, and based around getting loot, but they were real and engaged the social parts of our brain.

Image result for blizzard friends list

It could take a frustratingly long time to get the loot you wanted this way, and sometimes there was harassment after groups went bad, but you did make friends and communities along the way. Do not underestimate how many geeks playing MMOs wanted those friends and communities.

Then, Blizzard saw this and how inefficient and socially laborious it was, and decided to fix it. They added an “LFG” tool (for, looking for group.) Here’s how it worked:

  1. You hit a button saying what dungeon you wanted and what spec you were.
  2. It placed you anonymously in a line for the next group that could fit you. (Healers and tanks would get a group immediately, overpopulated DPS would wait several minutes.)
  3. As soon as your group was full, it teleported you to the dungeon and you could get started.
  4. If someone was a problem, the rest of the group could vote to kick them out.
  5. The dungeon run would proceed with a minimal of talking, the boss would be killed, people would get their loot, and disband.
  6. If you found your group wasn’t up to the challenge, you could easily disband and queue in the LFG again anyway, so no need to bang your head on a difficult boss.

So, instead of coming home and spending an evening doing social organization to play WoW, you logged on, hit the button, and 45 minutes later you’d have loot, all with barely interacting with another person.


This was hugely popular. People loved it. DPS had to wait in line, but it was a fair line and they knew they’d get a run at the end of it. Tanks had instantly available dungeons and no more people bugging them to come run with them. Loot was flowing easily, and bosses were being downed more than ever before. Pretty soon even talking in an LFG group was considered weird and rude, because it interrupted the smooth flow of acquiring loot as fast as possible.

Within months the friends list, of people you met in game and didn’t know IRL, is empty. How or why would you even go about making new friends after all?

Image result for blizzard friends list

And the loot was good, yeah. But after a dozen quick runs you had all the loot, and why run any more LFGs then. Did you pay for and install a game just so you could have the right electronic sword? Like, what even is the point of a massively multiplayer game when… you don’t interact with any other players as players?

(A few years later Blizzard implemented this for raiding too, the higher end content in WoW, which was one of the main reasons to join a guild.)

So yeah, you get more stuff, and some of the rough edges of bad interactions are rubbed off. Those are the benefits of an ordered tool that does all your social interactions for you.

But, it was lonely. You might log on and play for an evening (again, a multiplayer game you chose to buy) and never talk to anyone the whole time. You might go away for a year, come back, and no one even knew you were gone.

If you value loot, and are very risk averse for bad social conflict, this is fine. If you value friendships and social memories, this is austerity.


Now imagine what I just described as applied to romance, and we called it Tinder. Imagine it for every human endeavor that is become standardized and streamlined and we’re eliminating the difficult meatspace negotiation parts for. Think about this the next time you wonder why, as we have more loot, more sex, more games, and more media that fits our tastes than ever before, we’re also less satisfied than we’ve ever been.

In Defense of Safe Spaces

Given the distinction I gave yesterday between tribes and rule-based morality, I want to talk about the libertarian boogey-man: safe spaces.

A safe space is a place where a certain group is granted protection from normal modes of criticism. The reason for this is because many minorities spend most of their time in a culture that is telling them they are wrong. Maybe queer kids have to deal with heteronormative messages all the time, or maybe a black person is sick of how any time they express anger it might be interpreted as a criminal threat, or maybe an immigrant just wants a place where everyone speaks their language. It is very stressful having to monitor your casual tendencies all the time, and a safe space promises “here, you can just be yourself.”

It can be very easy for non-minorities to forget how incredibly valuable this is. It’s like when you go from high school to college and you finally meet “your people.” The relief at a place where you can just be you is immense.

I think of these less as “space where we enforce rules about how we treat a minority group” but rather “a tribal zone for that minority group.” You can’t define what one specific thing it is that makes such zones great, but it’s everything about them. In fact, trying to overzealously defend any particular rule just turns a safe space into another ideological war zone.

Looked at it from this perspective, the majority culture in this country can see how important safe spaces are. For many people, every public place used to be a safe space for white Christian middle class traditions. If you went into the grocery store, you could wish the clerk “Merry Christmas!” And you didn’t do that to enforce your religion, but because you were really fricking happy about Christmas and you wanted to share that joy. Sharing joy with like-minded people about stuff is really really fun.

And then the feared political correctness police came, and (even if no one will ever jail you for saying “Merry Christmas”), when you talk to the clerk you think “Merry Christmas”, but you have to stop yourself for a second, check yourself, and say “Happy Holidays” instead. And having to think for that one second, that consideration for someone different than you, just interrupted the little joy-feedback loop that was going on in your head, and brought you out of it. It’s an exceedingly trivial thing, but now you’re not quite so happy about Christmas and neighbors as you were a minute ago.

This is stressful. Having to do it a lot in places you previously felt comfortable in, will make you less comfortable and happy in those places. The shift from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays is if anything, understated in how it has affected our culture.

Now imagine this is what a minority goes through every single day. Outside their home or synagogue, no one wants to share their reflexive holiday cheer. A space where you can do that is fantastic. Nothing interrupts your little joy feedback loop. And after a while, you’d fight and die for this place.

Safe spaces for those groups are absolutely amazing, and anyone should defend them on pure utilitarian grounds of “they create a lot of happiness.”


Of course, safe spaces can be turned into a close-minded ideology like any other. The mainstream culture, having heard how important safe spaces are, can try to turn every group and place into a safe space for this minority culture. And once every campus/club/event is a “safe space” then members of the majority can ask that their traditions be respected there too – which generally causes the sort of debate where both sides lose. Because re-shaping the rules of the entire society shouldn’t be the point, and instead turns the spirit of tribal joy into just another ideological civil war.