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 is a good example of why safe spaces are so often anti-rule: his post on the useful-but-offensive website Crazymeds.us:
Part of me wants to grab whoever made the site and scream at them “WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? YOU COULD HAVE BEEN BY FAR THE BEST PSYCHIATRIC RESOURCE ON THE ENTIRE INTERNET, IMPROVED THE LIVES OF TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, AND YOU THREW IT ALL AWAY FOR SOME STUPID JOKES.”
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 crazymeds.us without it being as offensive as crazymeds.us. Remove every single flippant statement and optimize for complete unobjectionability, and you’re most of the way back to drugs.com. I mean, there are certainly some simple improvements that could be made on drugs.com, 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.