RIP Programming, America

The first time I read Mencius Moldbug’s Unqualified Reservations, the style was so familiar, I thought Moldbug was just a friend writing under a pseudonym.

He’s not; I’ve never met him.

Some people dislike Moldbug’s style. They call it “smug, long-winded, and elitist.” I reflexively identify Moldbug as “one of my tribe” based on it and find it far more readable than, say, Das Kapital, which I had to read twice at university.

I have not read all of Moldbug, no more than I have read all of Tolstoy. There are, in fact, a great many unfinished books in my stack, Anna Karenina among them. I don’t claim to endorse or support everything Moldbug’s said; rather, I found his posts an entertaining and thought-provoking way of looking at the world, a means of shifting the political discourse outside the normal boundaries of Democratic and Republican bickering that, to be honest, I find repulsive.

Here was a space for thinking about societal organization from evolutionary, game theoretic, and entropic perspectives. [Note: Moldbug is far from the only person involved in creating this space, and I actually owe much to other writers, like Jayman, who have nothing to do with Neocameralism.] I wanted to move beyond a system where one’s politics were simply an artifact of whatever issues happened to be cool while one was in college. I did not want to become one of those old guys who is still concerned about defeating the USSR, or worse, still bitter about Pearl Harbor. I did not want to become an old woman who is in favor of the radical feminism of the 70s, but in the face of radical politics of the 90s, starts talking about traditionalism and religion.

I do not want to be a crystal, solid, never changing. I want to find the metapolitics that transcend generations and create long-term civilization.

Mainstream American Conservatives have been, to be frank, intellectually bankrupt. This does not mean they are wrong, necessarily–it just means that they have been very bad at articulating themselves. They are especially bad at articulating themselves in ways that will make sense to young people. Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

Conservatives have made lots of other bad arguments, like opposing clean water regulations (what, do you want to be known as the guy in favor of mercury in the drinking water?) promoting tax cuts for the rich (like indebted students care about them), bombing Iraq (because destabilizing the Middle East is always better!) and blathering endlessly about Supreme Court decisions from a couple generations before today’s students were born.

All of which created an intellectual void which liberals were only too happy to fill. And with no one to respond to them, they dissolved into holiness spirals and madness, trying to cast each other as the “other” they were fighting against, like a bird that has mistaken its reflection for an enemy, trying to peck a mirror to death.

Holiness spirals and litmus tests are not my thing. I hope they die in a fire.

There was a time when programming (and science, more generally) existed as an independent zone well outside of both the intellectual vapidity of the right and the holiness spirals of the left. People who were too busy building and creating and discovering to waste their time on holiness spirals, who seemed to delight, in fact, in sticking it to the norm in shocking but fairly harmless ways. We were mostly “liberals,” of course, in the sense that we weren’t Republicans, but beyond that, we dreamed of colorless green libertarian utopias, free information and anti-trusts.

You could be a furry or a Nazi, a ESP-wielding psychic or a polyamorist sadomasochist who ate poop and no one really cared so long as you wrote good code or did good science. We were unafraid.

And this attitude, as I saw it, came straight out of America. I mean America in the metaphysical sense, the America of Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Freedom. The America of yeoman farmers and mountain men, in stark contrast to the bullshit of “parental advisory warnings” on music Tipper Gore didn’t like.

You have your mythic fantasies; I have mine.

So it was with great sadness that I watched Curtis Yarvin get un-invited from Strange Loop last year, not because his code was bad or because he made someone feel uncomfortable in an elevator or because he advocated for the murders of millions of people, (which, of course, many Strange Loop attendees do,) but because Yarvin wrote Unqualified Reservations, which does not bow to the litmus tests and holiness spirals of leftism but exists outside of them.

Oh, Yarvin can play the games if he wants, but he is also still clearly playing a game, not surrendering.

Yes, there are lots of people who dislike Moldbug. There are far more who’ve never heard of Moldbug and wouldn’t have cared at all without the 14 minutes of Twitter Hate to tell them they ought to be outraged about some guy named Moldbug.

There are also lots of people who like Moldbug; lots of people who would actually like to hear Moldbug speak or who are interested in Urbit.

Now we get to LambdaConf. LambdaConf accidentally accepted a programming talk by Yarvin based on its merits, in a blind application process, without first applying a political filter to all of their applications and tossing out anyone who believes anything offensive to anyone. Then they found out what they’d accidentally done, were horrified, and went into a long, hand-wringing process of trying to figure out whether they should start screening programmers for Wrong Think or if they should try to just have a programming conference.

They eventually came to a sensible conclusion, but the fact that it took them that long to figure out something considered obvious back in the day and were that afraid of the political backlash is saddening.

Rest in Peace, programming.

(Also, I dislike the current habit of calling people like Moldbug “autistic” when people actually mean, “He doesn’t prioritize MY feelings! WAH!”)

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16 thoughts on “RIP Programming, America

  1. This is why I blog anonymously. If I used my real name I would never work at the same level in my industry again. Mind you, I do write some filthy rubbish.
    I was thinking the other day, this isn’t a novel situation. It used to be Communism that was vorboten. For much of the past millennium it was heresy. In all times and places there are some things you’re not allowed to say even if they’re true.

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  2. Yeah I had been following the story for a while too, I even thought the original LambaConf policy was weak and easily gamed http://degoes.net/articles/lambdaconf-inclusion , and have been sad to see how badly this has blown up in their face. I don’t think Moldbug’s post really helped at all https://medium.com/@curtis.yarvin/why-you-should-come-to-lambdaconf-anyway-35ff8cd4fb9d#.xzn6yj5yc

    Given my history, you know I share your passionate anger about these tactics of exclusion. No-platforming is more an emotional act than a tactical one, after all.

    I don’t think a utopia of “we are geeks who share this geeky thing and don’t care about the political views of people involved so long as they were doing our geeky thing” was really tenable, and this shows one failure mode of that. Every act _is_ a political act on some level, and the ideologies that try to pretend some things are apolitical (like how good you are at programming) are easily hijacked. Remember to some people they think excluding Moldbug is entirely apolitical, they are merely trying to “restore harmony to the community” https://gist.github.com/djspiewak/3a6ff436865d9e5794e4 or “prevent controversy”. And you have in general seen the tactic of saying someone a liberal disagrees with makes them feel “unsafe” and getting them removed, all on supposedly non-political grounds. The geek and coding communities were way too vulnerable to that attack.

    What’s actually needed is a political commitment to tolerance and inclusion and appreciation of people like Yarvin FOR the weirdness of their points of view, not in spite of them. But one that is not, like liberals, “rich in doctrine, poor in principles”. (The last stolen from twitter.com/alicemazzy who you should be reading if you are not already.)

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  3. “Freedom of freedom”. Got to put the kibosh on that.

    I kind of doubt that America was ever stable, in the sense of a “metapolitics that transcend generations and create long-term civilization.” Democracy was baked in from the start, and America was always morphing in its pursuit of the city on the hill. Still, I know what you’re saying. I loved the way programming was in the 80s and 90s, and it did taste of frontier and America. RIP crazy old America.

    Parenthetically: isn’t a person with a transcendent metapolitics in an important sense a “crystal, solid, never changing”? I aspire to ideological stability, anyway. And so does Moldy.

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    • It was always a bit mythical, naive, and foolish. Hence the furries.

      I prefer the metaphor of a homeostatic system. The world is dynamic, thus we must have dynamic responses. New technologies are invented; new friends and enemies arise and fall. But a homeostatic system contains feedback mechanisms that help it return to equilibrium. Fevers kill germs; cuts clot and heal.

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  4. Being gay is sinful, but so are dozens of other things. I find most politicians guilty of being prideful. The answer to most political and social problems can be solved with a tool used for centuries, the cane. Sometimes, old school methods work best. If folks were held accountable for their actions and suffered caning as a result of immoral behavior, such as allowing polluted water, pedophilia, political impropriety, etc. our country would be a much great place… Before you dismiss it as barbaric or foolishness, reflect on it for a while. It’s quite simple.

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