Thursday, August 8, 2030


This is the storage place for my longform thoughts, organized in the Table of Contents here. You should just go read there.

Most of these are culled from three social media presences:

Prequels Redeemed, a Marxist analysis of the Star Wars Prequels and other low-culture movies. There's an emphasis on class, universalism, and artistic technique here.

Bambamramfan, a humanist oriented tumblr account adjacent-to-but-highly-confrontational-with the rationalist sphere. There's more of an emphasis on our shared humanity, and analyzing the form of ideology, and current political commentary here.

Left Conservative, a Word Press that collects thoughts and articles about the collision between tribalism and modern life. There's a lot of looking at what tribes believe about themselves, even when we might disagree with the particular tribe strongly.

You can also find my shorter thoughts on twitter and the occasional reddit comment. I very rarely post to

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Accessibility Discourse

@Discoursedrome in a recent thread about "do difficult videogames face accessibility issues?" identified a tradeoff between accessibility and specificity. Specificity is the way in which a game (or any creation) is special, in how it is deep or thick or high-context or interesting, that generates enthusiasm - which often involves weird and arbitrary limits. The difficulty of the Dark Souls games is their specificity. The more you make something specific the more likely that some people won't be able to enjoy it - ie. disabled gamers may have trouble with the split-second timing of Dark Souls games.

In cooking, a chef's eagerness to experiment with new ingredients (or new preparations of old and unappreciated ingredients) is their specificity, and it can conflict with people who are kosher, vegetarian, allergic to peanuts, have a gluten allergy, or low spice tolerance. If you've ever tried to cook a meal for 60 people with different eating restrictions, you know how limited your freedom for creativity becomes.

You can look at romantic norms this way too: traditionalism provides a lot of specificity about who you should date: the other gender, if you're both unattached, on a specific ladder of rituals towards marriage (with appropriate class and station concerns). Bisexual polyamory of the form "date who you want and make up the rules that work for you" provides a great deal more freedom to people who were left out of the old system, but in that freedom often leaves people feeling lost or unexcited about their paths. The overly complex song and dance of (mildly d/s) traditional norms had specificity that are not entirely replaced by the new rituals.

In straight up internet argument, specificity loses to accessibility, because in mass media rhetoric, how can "I like my meals to be interesting" stand up against "okay well some of us would like to be able to eat them at all." However, specificity as a virtue does not really need to be defended, because people will keep independently inventing it on their own and discovering that they really enjoy it. Most new and vibrant forms of art and communities have high specificity - whether it Speedrunning Conventions or Immersive Theater or Weird Twitter. There is always a hunger for this interestingness that unconsciously outpaces accessibility, until the systemitizers notice it.

(My rhetoric may sound like I am selling accessibility short, but let me assure you that when there is something everyone loves that I can't experience or enjoy, my blood boils and I want it erased from the face of the Earth. I get the emotion behind it, and do not think people are wrong to experience it and act on it.)

I'm not taking sides on that tradeoff (yet) and I don't even think that tradeoff wholly describes the situation, because there is another dimension: audience size. Are you creating for yourself, for your close friends, for a small niche market, for a large national market, or the entire world?

With a small intended audience size you can be both specific and accessible - you're cooking a dinner at your home for five friends and you know one is allergic to peanuts but that still leaves plenty of freedom to experiment with an interesting meal. The larger the group you make for, the more accessibility limits you, and the more difficult specificity gets. (Recall that on a global scale, you can't even count on people using the same language you do.)

All of these traits exist in tension, but can be compatible to some degree.

There is an old adage in construction: Quality, Price, Speed: Pick too. Which is to say of getting your building done cheaply, affordably, and fast, you're going to have to sacrifice one. I think the "pick two" applies here, and in fact circumscribes my philosophical perspectives at different times (ie, the three masks.)

Accessibility and size - universalism. Making something is truly supposed to be for everyone with no limits on where they are, who they are, or what they are capable of.

Specificity and size - cthughaism. (Or what I often refer to as humanism, but we'll trade ambiguity for using a new term here.) This is the perspective that interestingness, richness of experience, the new and unexpected and complex is the best thing, the only important thing, and seeks to maximize this in all ways. This means art that is spread to the masses, and if some people can not enjoy it, then hoping they enjoy other art.

Accessibility and specificity (with small audience) - tribalism. This is the understanding that you can make the perfect combination of openness and interesting if and only if you group is small and you know them well, and it is the opinion that this tradeoff is worth it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Ideology of Climate Justice

In the news because of the #GreenNewDeal and various right-wing attempts to bait its proponents (do they notice that by paying so much attention to an absurd GND while ignoring many more technocratic proposals, they fulfill the exact raison d’etre of this platform: at least you’re talking about it?) But it’s really an evergreen topic.

Any student of ideology should be very concerned about the way climate change is talked about among the progressive set. While most policy matters on the left really are talked about in material terms and how much benefit people will immediately reap (which contrasts positively against both Republican policy proposals and progressive *cultural* discourse), climate change is an arena where discussions tend far more towards the uncertain and symbolic than the concrete. And that should be a concern.

For this discussion, assume I already believe everything quote unquote “all environmental scientists believe” (as if there isn’t plenty of disagreement even when they are to the left of current policy.) Human causes are changing the atmospheric makeup enough that over the next century the temperature will rise by 2 degrees C or more, which will have massive changes in local ecosystems, and devastate coastal cities. One can agree with this, but also think progressive discourse around climate change is terrible.

The problem is that even with this empirical backing, climate change concerns can become like other causes motivated by distant future threats - extremely ideological and symbolic. If you think about movements defined around “okay if you keep doing this thing now you won’t notice anything bad, but generations from now it will lead to collapse so we need to crackdown now”... they are often pretty reactionary. Homosexuality, immigration, atheism or religious tolerance are all things that demagogues have warned “will eventually destroy society, you just can’t see it yet.” Because you can’t see if you’re having any beneficial effects or not, the “cause” easily becomes entirely symbolic and immaterial, dominated by status games among its leaders to see who can be the most pure/extreme/politically savvy.

You see this most with changing environmental issues to “climate justice” and other methods of making it part of the overall social justice alliance toolkit. It becomes one more way to beat down the “greed” of corporations, aligned with a dozen other causes, rather than about “does it have a proposed policy measure that will change material conditions of the world?”

(There’s nothing wrong with opposing corporations of course, but emphasis on the greed of the Other is pathological and generally prevents you from contemplating structural reform, and instead focuses on replacing “bad” actors with “good” ones and hoping it produces change. It will not.)

It helps to split our discussion into moderate measures, and radical measures, meant to address climate change. Moderate measures are those already implemented by many developed nations, and include carbon taxes, credits into research of renewables, etc. Radical measures are ones that would have a large impact on the economy and dramatically reduce greenhouse related outputs immediately.

In terms of radical measures, we should be honest that no government is contemplating them (certainly the GND is not on a sufficient scale). One should not blame democracy - historically authoritarian governments are even *worse* on environmental matters than bourgeoisie republics, if only because they tend to reap the full gains of exploiting the environment. (Do not forget how often environmental preservation was considered a bourgeoisie cause, valuing pretty parks over the defense of the state and feeding the masses.)

We should also be honest that’s probably what is necessary. Scientific estimates of greater than 2C temperature rise usually come with “based almost entirely off of what we have already set in motion.” Very few researchers believe that we can just stop the train now. If the Earth is to be doomed, we have already doomed it. But activists do not promote that message, because it leads to defeatism and nihilism. Which may be true from a political perspective, but that means everything you hear downstream of that is motivated by politics, not truth. The truth is nihilist despair: the world might end or at least displace billions in the next century, and it’s too late to stop it.

That being said, moderate measures are still possible, to reduce what damage we can, and reducing harm remains our moral obligation.

The next lament of the modern tumblr anti-capitalist becomes that capitalist is incompatible with any attempt to reign in pollution, because it is too short sighted and greedy. So it’s important to remember how untrue this is. Most capitalist nations have happily passed laws regulating greenhouse emissions - in fact in most of those nations the conservative party supports at least some version of them. In fact if capitalism was not so adaptable to so many different circumstances, it would not be nearly so damaging an ideology - it lurches from crisis to crisis where theocracy or dictatorship would fail, never fully failing nor fully fixing its problems.

It’s really only America that is the standout, with the dreadful combination of: a right wing party that has gone all in on denialism, and a veto-heavy system that has prevented moderate measures from being passed even when the left-wing party was in control. Which is terrible and has led to dysfunctional policy. But then the lesson has changed to “America has a broken system of checks and balances” and not “capitalist democracies are inherently unable to confront global warming.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cops & Robbers, Left & Right

One of the most important attitudes that dominates our, American, and almost all Western discourse is how the left is held to a higher standard of behavior. I certainly do it.

Harassment, epistemological ignorance, take your pick: if someone on the right does it it gets a shrug, but if someone on the left does it’s a dire concern for our principles. Donald Trump can insult every group in the country all day long, but Hillary Clinton calls half of her opponents “deplorable” and it gets pretty much equal coverage and outrage. Who even notices if a Walmart manager sexually harassed their staff -- but a producer at NPR, oh my.

Now this isn’t to say “everyone hates the left.” Obviously there are still many partisans who will defend social justice or communism against any attacks, cherry picking right wing examples to make themselves look bad. But I guess that’s just it: they’re being mindless and just ignoring inconvenient data. Anyone who engages in actual discussion, and holds both sides to any accountability at all, holds the left to much higher standards.

And yes, for this discussion I am going to state the overall assumption up front: viewed in aggregate, the left’s behavior in this century (culturally or politically) is nowhere near as bad as the right’s. There is no statement by any politician, activist, or star on the left that you can not find something worse by an equivalent or higher-profile person on the right. We have Anita Sarkesian, you have Rush Limbaugh. We have Bernie Sanders, you have Rick Santorum. HRC vs DJT.

This isn’t to say the double standard is bad. I definitely hold the left to a higher standard. Some right-twitters use bad logic and statistics, I’ll laugh before blocking them. Some left-twitters use a bad statistical framework for looking at gun violence/pay gap discrimination, and I won’t stop fuming until I’ve composed a six page tumblr essay. But why do I do it?

The imbalance is so widespread that there are many explanations for it, but they fall short to me.

1. The left are our people. This essay about internecine harassment falls in that camp
I’ve taken heat from both sides, and while hate mail and mean tweets from my ideological opponents are annoying, they’re also easy to dismiss. I criticize Trump, someone with a giant red X in their Twitter bio calls me a cunt, and I glance at it and move on. It’s like a fly buzzing around your head—you swat it away and soon forget its existence. But when I criticize my own side—for being, at times, intolerant and dogmatic—the mob is made up of people I agree with on the big issues (climate change exists, health care is a human right, Trump is a fool and a danger) but disagree with on some small specifics. In this case, the buzzing doesn’t just annoy; it actually stings. (Or, at least, it used to. Turns out, you can become inured to almost anything.)

Slatestarcodex describes it as our disagreement with the fargroup (who we barely know) being eclipsed by the imminence of the neargroup (who are threatening us right next door.)

Except no. People native to the right happily share this double standard. And when people leave left-wing circles, driven out by how much they see their allies fail to live up to their ideals, and fall into orthogonal or centrist movements (say, rationalism) or right wing movements (hello alt), as often as not *they still focus on the failings of the left*. The reaction as someone changes environments varies, and indeed sometimes ideological emigres are just as upset at their new allies… but the flaming, biased hatred towards the left stays alive often enough for me not to buy “it’s because these are the people who are around us.”

(This also goes for the inverse explanation: that we critique the left more because we are more likely to be able to influence it. Plenty of dissidents aren’t!)

2. The left holds the real power. In this explanation, the cultural and social power that the left holds, especially over professional matters, dwarfs the economic and political power the right often holds. Or local government (if you’re in a city) is terrifying compared to national government. Or the “Deep State” which is a bunch of left-friendly bureaucrats holds the real power, and not the conservative politicians holding nominal office. (One might even call them “the Cathedral.”) And since they actually hold power, we should be more critical of them.

As an explanation of convenience, this can be made to fit any situation. Power is amorphous and very hard to pin down. In any particular situation you can make up a story about why you are right to fear left-derived power than right-derived power.

But I can’t see any theory of power where it makes broad sense. Like how can you sit down, and tally up all the forces in America - voters, colleges, state governments, corporations, small employers - and come to the conclusion that progressives have the overwhelming advantage? Certainly how could you tally up all the DAMAGE wrought by various forces, and think there’s more danger from the left? These people are always conspicuously silent on the current goddamn President, or the largest employers in the nation, or the military culture.

3. Equal criticism to both sides will have to target the left unfairly. I mentioned Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump before, and there’s a cynical explanation that “well the news media is going to want to attack both to seem unbiased, and that’s going to mean pitting the worst scandals of each against each other, even if one is in absolute terms much, much worse.” There’s something to this - but outside political races, the different powers are so asymmetric that I don’t think that really resembles anyone’s thinking process. What would such a Thoth be balancing for? Colleges vs corporations? Intellectuals vs service members? Bosses vs workers? Urban vs rural? I don’t see anyone in the discourse really trying to apportion fault between wildly different groups like that equally.


The closest to an answer I’ve come you can tell from the title. It’s a mix of all three above explanations, but with a strong moral intuition that *the left should be the good guys* (whether you are right or left yourself.)

The feelings most discoursers have about the left and right, is like feelings we have about police and criminals.

Criminals kill and hurt more people than the police, easily. And yet, we talk about the conduct of police much more. Why?

Well, for one, supposedly the police work for us, and so should be taking feedback from the citizenry, whereas no one expects that of criminals, so moralizing about them is wasted breath. And that’s true to an extent, but this sort of anger is shared by radicals and activists who hold as very deep parts of their sociology that the police are a power unto themselves and answerable to no one, especially their victims. And if the cops aren’t going to be better, why even have them at all?

And different people react to this police anger differently. It would be very dumb indeed to think the police are so bad that it would be better if the criminals were put in charge of the police force - but some people get angry enough that they do think that way. Much the same as some liberals, well:

Not everyone reacts the same way of course. Some people criticize the left all day, but still reliably always vote for left over right. Whereas some people are so swayed by their critical emotions, that they buy in that the right must actually be preferable.

But underlying either response is just “these are the good guys!” We can’t ever separate our reaction to someone on the left from “I really expect better from you.” It’s not just about nearness to them, or the cultural power they wield, but an unconscious moral assumption about the world.

And that intuition can mean a lot. For one, it’s a lot harder to fight back against the good guys. When you fight back against progressives or cops, people who don’t know you well think you’re a villain. It’s an uphill demoralizing battle - much worse than complaining about how a conservative state legislature fired you or how a racist troll harassed you. And so some people want to stake out as hard as they can beforehand “these aren’t actually the good guys.” With, alas, mixed success.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Gatekeeper’s Dilemma

I have a friend who is running a mix swap, where people exchange playlists they created. He wants this to be as open and friendly to newcomers and easily intimidated people as possible. He has two things to monitor in this regard:

One, playlists need to be formatted properly for listeners to be able to run on their device of choice (iTunes, a CD, etc) with a minimum of fuss. This means editing the titles so that player order is kept between conversions to different formats, and a number of other small and important tweaks.

Two, MAKING the playlist needs to not be so intimidating that a newbie doesn’t break down in tears because they got the format wrong.

Failing at either one of these, could result in the mixclub getting a reputation for being exclusive and difficult. And you see the irony, that an enthusiastic manager could lean very much into one solution, solely out of desire to make sure people feel the mixswap is easy and low pressure, and inadvertently make it harder on participants on the other end of the axis, thus creating the atmosphere of high pressure and elitism.

There is of course no easy solution, and this falls under the broad category of “competing access needs.” But it seems a very specific category to me, that a lot of different fields face - most importantly sharing the characteristic moral irony. If you go to the ultimate lengths to make newcomers feel included on one access axis, you might actually be making newcomers feel excluded because they now have all these rules they need to follow.

I think of this when I browse reddit where various subreddits are passionate about free-flowing and uncensored discussion, but in order to keep that have a great deal of intimidating rules about formatting and on-topicness and whatnot. Or when I see old GMs talking about all the demands a LARP should satisfy in order to be welcoming to new players. Or of course, discussion about the right words to use to refer to oppressed groups, that can involve high level knowledge of academia or the latest fashion in slang to even participate.

It’s important to understand that in all of these cases the rules enforcement is done with the best of intentions. It’s just important to see whether it is really working out well or not. Are you adding or reducing stress to your most marginal participants? And this is a hard thing to monitor, since your marginal participants are by definition the ones least tied into your feedback loops. If someone doesn’t bother to listen because songs are hard to load you might not know, but also if someone doesn’t make a playlist because formatting is too hard you also wouldn’t know. These are the areas where we are just most likely to fly by the pre-established rules we believe in, and think anyone who deviates from those rules just doesn’t care as much as us.

There tend to be three solutions to this dilemma:

  1. Decide that one type of newbies really is more relevant than another (because of size of population, or their previous experience, or what you are currently lacking, or just your personal bias) and just go full-throttle on protecting their experience while not worrying about the weight incurred on the other type of newbie. This may in some cases be the right call, though it’s easy to do this while being an asshole too and that is to be avoided.
  2. Put a great deal of thought and effort into striking the exact right balance, considering concerns of all involved groups, figuring out the comparative advantages where one group’s needs can be satisfied with minimal cost to other groups, and intervening directly to solve problems (like edit playlist files) when necessary.
  3. A return to deontology, and declare “if I don’t want there to be gatekeeping, then I do that best by not gatekeeping.” This is in some sense “privileging inaction” but in the Kantian sense that the best way to achieve pacifism is for everyone to stop fighting, starting with yourself, rather than hoping you can enforce non-violence with violent power over others.

They all have their merits, and different situations will call for each. All we can preach here is awareness: rather than believing “I am trying to be inclusive and if others don’t agree with me they just aren’t as inclusive as I am”, seeing “this is the choice inclusivity requires, and I am resolving it with this particular solution, but I can see how they care about the same principles but think that other solution is better.”

Relatedly: Freedom always requires someone else be limited, and becomes a discussion of who gets the freedom to enforce what.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Geeks, MOPS, and Sociological Essays

David Chapman wrote a famous essay called Geeks, Mops, and Sociopaths that looks at the lifecycle of geek subcultures as an arc from innocent creators to being overtaken by cynical exploiters.

These essays are all hitting on *something* but doing so in such a morally loaded manner that they start missing the Real early on. The best form of essay like this starts with an idea based on their observations, but instead of just inductively growing from that idea, sees how it can lead to explaining OTHER observations. They just sound pretty judgy and tell us why we should dislike the sociopaths etc so much (even if they nominally say “I’m not saying these people are evil.”)

Here is instead the bambamramfan modification:

  1. Geeks are obsessive creators who make a new thing, that every so often catches fire with other obsessive creators, and they make a super-charged circle of people making awesome stuff. It can be a new artistic movement, or people playing with computers in their garages, or competitive rubix cube solving. This category includes people who aren’t creators, but just really love that thing.

If you have read the famous Infamous Brad essay, this includes both Dream Nazis and Authenticity Policy

2. Mops are people drawn to the POSITIVE ENERGY of this. Being around a bunch of people who are excited about something is itself very exciting. There’s just a magic in the air, the group is breaking boundaries and forming bonds and it is all very intense and creative. Even if you don’t care about the thing qua the thing, it can be fun to just be around that community. This includes the third part of Bard’s trichotomy, the Fun Mavens.

Hakim Bey talks a lot about this in his landmark essay Temporary Autonomous Zones.

Note this really applies to political groups too. It’s *fun* to be in a revolution. It’s fun to think you’re overthrowing the patriarchy/the SJW bureaucracy. This is all the dark-web or pirate-radio stuff. They are not only exploring new intellectual territory, but they’re also having fun while doing it. This attracts people who… just like fun.

On a purely economic level of course, you can see this as the transition from “people who program for the love of programming” to “people who realize you can make a fuckton of money from this.”

3. Systematizers. (Shockingly, “sociopath” is a really bad word here for any hope of clear communication.) These people see the geek subculture, and the positive energy and think… this could be better if only they got organized. The political geeks could actually be organized into activists. The tech geeks could get venture capital and HR. The art geeks could modify their product just a little and then I could sell it on the mass level.

This is usually not experienced as a cynical ploy. They see something wonderful, that’s just ordered dysfunctionally, and they want to help by bringing their logistical skills. Maybe they’ll take a cut for the value add they bring, but it’s not the primary motivation: the motivation is to “spread BLANK to the masses.” And of course, the original geeks and mops love that. Being part of an organized thing means validation after all.

But one can not serve God and Mammon. Once you’re doing what the Systematizers advise, then you become more dependent on the value they’re trying to mine, and anything that threatens that value (money or public acclaim) has overwhelming pressure to make the geeks shut up and get in line.

(Even social justice, I believe, is a very good geek idea that has been completely taken over by systematizers who use it to sell their website and increase their twitter presence. Let alone how this played out with say, comic books.)


This is the part of the essay where all the above authors say “and HERE is how you can stop it, and keep your group pure.” Well go back and read TAZ more closely: you can’t. It’s an endless process of creation, rise, and decay. Either you group dies or it ossifies. Die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. Am I cliche enough yet? There’s no stable system where you don’t grow like that, anymore than you can tell a colony of fruit flies “don’t eat all the nutrients in your environment or else the colony will die.”

What you have to do is embrace the rise and fall. Don’t tie yourself to rationalism or battle-bot-building, thinking “it will always be about the music.” Enjoy the Mops and their energy. Resist the Systematizers for a while. But once they’re deep enough in… just go somewhere else. Make a new geek source of energy. Enjoy it while it’s small, and don’t spend all your time dreaming of how great it would be if EVERYONE was part of it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Axiology / Morality / Law

Or the A/M/L distinction that comes up frequently.


Axiology is the study of what’s good. If you want to get all reductive, think of it as comparing the values of world-states. A world-state where everybody is happy seems better than a world-state where everybody is sad. A world-state with lots of beautiful art is better than a world-state containing only featureless concrete cubes. Maybe some people think a world-state full of people living in harmony with nature is better than a world-state full of gleaming domed cities, and other people believe the opposite; when they debate the point, they’re debating axiology. 
Morality is the study of what the right thing to do is. If someone says “don’t murder”, they’re making a moral commandment. If someone says “Pirating music is wrong”, they’re making a moral claim. Maybe some people believe you should pull the lever on the trolley problem, and other people believe you shouldn’t; when they debate the point, they’re debating morality. 
(this definition elides a complicated distinction between individual conscience and social pressure; fixing that would be really hard and I’m going to keep eliding it) 
Law is – oh, come on, you know this one. If someone says “Don’t go above the speed limit, there’s a cop car behind that corner”, that’s law. If someone says “my state doesn’t allow recreational marijuana, but it will next year”, that’s law too. Maybe some people believe that zoning restrictions should ban skyscrapers in historic areas, and other people believe they shouldn’t; when they debate the point, they’re debating law.

I’ve been to write a lot more about this distinction and all its implications (like, write an entire book.) But to generalize it further – from an axiological perspective, the OP is correct that all social order no matter how unspoken is order and we should not deny that.

But from a morality/community perspective, we prefer something more concrete in defining social order. We still understand there are unspoken rules and ambiguities, but we acknowledge some unofficial rules like “the family patriarch” or “the gossipy sewing circle.”

And on the legal level, we don’t want to acknowledge any order than what is explicitly written down and we can pretend is objectively verifiable.

Where most Marxists go astray is that they are so committed to axiological values (like “no one should go hungry, even if that’s not one of your written down civil rights”) that they lose sight of how much normal people really really like having a distinction between that and the moral and social orders. It may be “good” to wish everyone in the world is well taken care of and loved, but almost no one wants the responsibility for doing that for the whole world themselves, and when you make people have that responsibility they become extremely unhappy and anxious.

Are you not a consequentialist with respect to your ideal axiology?
Consequentialism is always the axiology answer. It does not care about the community or law, except as tools to achieve an optimal result, but always judged by your axiology. This is one of the many ways the True answer of a question will be the axiological one, and axiology can back itself up with facts and arguments the best.

That being said, you would have to be a bull-headed social engineer or philosopher to not realize that people are not pure axiology. They do not care just what the “best” action is, but what is allowed by the community and what is legal under the law.

(Imagine a law saying you are forced to marry… the person who will make you the happiest. Yes in some sense that encourages “more happiness”, but people would rebel over that coercion over the private sphere in a split second. I would rebel.)

Understanding how these three types of morality intersect are not really valuable as an ethical matter – since yeah, consequentialist axiology still wins the ethics – but they are key for building an accurate model of how people work and what will make them happy.