I was browsing reddit mindlessly when I saw this maybe ~10 posts down from the top of r/all, and I kind of snapped:

I am not a communist. I think violent communist revolt would result in, at the very least, a period of significant loss of life and economic destruction. Successful communist revolts usually (but not always) produce brutal, authoritarian police states.

Yet it it seems to me like violent communist uprisings are fairly overtly supported by a sizable fraction of the American populace, perhaps 1-5%. When I talk to the larger fraction of the American populace that does not actively sympathize, they appear to be much, much more comfortable with this than I am. They speak as if the FBI was somehow omnipotent, or as if the internet has removed the possibility for popular revolt inside countries with strong civil liberties.

This optimism is insane. Authoritarian factions are adversaries. They are run by real people with real political ambitions who attempt to move around what you think are the tripwires. They will mask themselves even to internal supporters as "social democracy" or "alternative right" or what-ever, and take off the mask right as they are lining you up against a wall. When they do, our turtle-paced glorified three-letter bureaucracies stand a real and substantial chance of being too slow to react.  

A large part of this procedure is the revolutionary alerting everyone of their pending revolution before anything actually illegal happens. Statements like the above accomplish a task in this vein: demonstrate widespread sympathy and tolerance for murder. They serve as an important coordination mechanism, and that is the job they are performing in the above post.

In the general case I think most people intuitively understand why this should make everyone nervous. If 1-5% of the United States were upvoting posts on Reddit explaining how they "unironically" support a fascist uprising and gassing all Jewish Foreign Agents, well... finish the sentence. I would at least not have to explain why this political propagandist threatening to kill a large number of people is a bad omen and why it's a cause for concern.

So I'm asking: what can I do now to help prevent this from happening? I don't want to wait ten years so the problem can get 10-% worse. I don't want to deflect by saying that the meteor has got at least 30 more years on its flight path before it kills 25% of the people in my hometown. I want to act now. 


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As a starting point, you can open the tweet and report it to twitter. Twitter will sometimes delete the accounts of users who threaten violence if it is reported to them.

On a deeper level, the problem is that freedom/liberalism is inherently self-defeating. Any form of freedom involves giving people the right to accumulate power; but once they accumulate enough power, they can use this power to take away other's freedoms.

In this case, the "power" is organized social networks, and the freedom in question is freedom of association. In order to stop communists from organizing a revolt, you must dissolve their social networks, e.g. get forums like Twitter to ban them when they threaten violence, but doing so violates their freedom of association.

If you're just trying to protect the economic conditions as they exist now, then that might not be a problem, but you explicitly say that you want to protect libertarian democracy, which runs into the paradox. I'm not aware of any full solutions to the paradox; having rules like "don't threaten violence" helps I guess, but they tend to be justified using lies such as mistake theory, that "you should spread your policies through debate, as participants are honestly trying to improve the world for everyone", which seems like a bad foundation.

This is why the secret true LOTR ending is Sauron slow-clapping and then fishing the ring out of Mt. Doom while explaining that you can't destroy the one ring (edit: and much obliged for fetching me my ring).

It would be really good to figure out a real solution to this. A possible speculative way in: mistake theory is afraid of violence (understandably) and so ignores that violence is continuous with existence (existing is a kind of doing violence to nature), and the notion of mistake is founded on the notion of truth which is founded on life which i... (read more)

You can more-or-less prove that that paradox has no mechanical solution. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a citizenry with a widespread culture of moderation that makes them resistant to bad violent memes.

I agree, I think. I sort of imagine an unstable equillibrium, where even small perturbations can put you off track, or aiming a ship in hyperbolic geometry for some exponentially small subset of the space. However, I think for doing this, since it is so unstable, it is important to think carefully about building the foundations. Hence why I bring up concepts like mistake theory, I find that people often treat mistake theory as a counter to revolts, but it doesn't seem to me that it even attempts to accurately describe the social dynamics involved in democratic debate, and so I feel like this may be a foundation that needs improving.

I just did report the tweet. Following their questionnaire for the report, it's a specific group of people being harassed or threatened with violence. This is being done by wishing harm on people, though their identity isn't targeted. Straightforward violation of Twitter's content policies.

lies such as mistake theory Except... some people are just honest but mistaken?

More to the point, the "paradox of tolerance" thing supposes some nontrivial things:

  • Checks and balances / bills of rights don't exist.
  • Nobody / not enough people will use their power to protect others / the institutions of freedom/liberalism in general.
  • Nobody is a hardcore flagrant strong-preference... tolerant/libertarian/liberal person.
  • Preemptive coercion would work well enough / not backfire too hard.
  • (Not necessarily in your comment but in similar arguments): It suppo
... (read more)

James Lindsay says the most effective thing that can be done in the US relatively short term is to get Communism/Marxism classified as a religion. That means they get all the protections religions get, but are also barred from public institutions and the government (as the US cannot become a theocracy). He makes this argument most elaborately in the last chapter of his recent book, Race Marxism. He makes the case most strongly here that Marxism is a religion.

Apart from that you can listen to this lecture. Where he mentions a bunch of things that can be done, and also talks about the importance of long term cultural change (I focused on more short term things because this seemed to be what your question was geared towards).

Why does it need doing? Does anything need doing about right wing extremism.

3Yoav Ravid5mo
Sure. I focused on Communism because that was the original focus of this question (before lc changed the title). I oppose authoritarianism from both sides, and though I know less of it and think they're not as dangerous right now , I do think the rise of people supporting authoritarianism around the Neo-Reactionary movement is worrying. btw, since I already mentioned him, James Lindsay thinks that too. He talked about it for a few days on twitter and got a lot of criticism for that. I'd share a link but twitter doesn't lend itself to showing a person's tweets at a specific timeframe, as far as I know. For the first question I'm just gonna point you back to Lindsay, he makes the case far better than I'm going to in a comment.
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To sum up the tweet:

I prefer thinking about myself as the kind of person who wants to help others.

But if I got a chance to hurt people in a way that does not cause cognitive dissonance with my preferred self-image, I would enjoy doing it.

This is a problem I've been wrestling with for some time. The recent invasion of Ukraine brought it back to the forefront of my mind, but so far I haven't found concrete actions an individual can take.

At the moment, it seems to me that the key to keeping authoritarianism at bay is repairing and strengthening institutions because my assumption is that a well-functioning collection of institutions (aka. a state) is what prevents people from turning to bloody revolution. In other words, if people trust the government to get their needs met, they will not wish to overturn it.

There are many forces destroying institutions. Many are internal, such as corruption and bureaucratic cost disease. These things decrease the trust in institutions, making people upset and pushing them toward fixing issues on their own. At best, this means self-help groups, but at worst, this turns into armed militias. There are external forces as well, ranging from nature (disasters, pandemics, etc.) to other states (propaganda, blockades, etc.--depending which country you live in).

I recently read an article about how Estonia is strengthening its defenses against Russian hybrid warfare. It boils down to how hybrid warfare damages social contracts (formal/informal, small/large institutions), decreasing the legitimacy of the government and of democracy itself, potentially weakening Estonia's reaction against a Crimea-like land grab. It set my mind thinking about how it should be possible to apply reverse-hybrid warfare to instead strengthen the social contracts that hold society together.

But it seems like all of this is large scale, long term work, and nothing an individual can get going in a month or six.

Like I said, I don't have concrete ideas for individual actions, but this line of inquiry has pointed me in some direction as opposed to wandering randomly. It has also made visible to me concrete examples of things that damage liberal democracy, such as the tweet you posted, perhaps helping me take on a more defensive posture.

Related: rational irrationality and paradox of tolerance.

If you live in a free society -- not just technically following the letter of the law, but where most people will really not punish you in any way for having any kind of opinion -- you can benefit socially from having "edgy" opinions. You get social rewards from people in the same subculture, without any costs imposed from outside. The society becomes the CooperateBot, and you can get lot of value by defecting against it. At least until a critical number of people starts following the same strategy, and then the system may suddenly fall apart.

Not sure if this has a solution, but even if there is one, it is probably too difficult for most people to follow. My first guess would be to increase intolerance proportionally to the benefits the "edgy" people get from rewarding each other... but that is difficult to estimate, difficult to do precisely, and most importantly does not distinguish between people who get social benefits from creating negative externalities (Nazis getting loyal Nazi friends) and people who simply get social benefits doing something neutral (chess players finding friends among chess players).

The only thing I can recommend is to notice when someone is trying to make you a CooperateBot. On the other hand, this is how intolerant people may genuinely feel when they hear about the idea of tolerance.

Funny, I just started reading The Open Society and Its Enemies to find some answers or at least threads to pull on.

One point that struct me, right in the introduction, is Popper saying that totalitarianism appeals to people because it absolves them of individual responsibility, a responsibility that we, humans, gained (became burdened by) because civilizational progress pull us out of tribes.

I understand your suggestion as being in line with this theme of personal responsibility--you cannot become any sort of -Bot and instead you have to evaluate every interaction separately and decide whether you want to cooperate or defect.

Also, I wonder if this problem exists in the type of uniform society we have now, but would become largely irrelevant in the type of society that Scott describes in Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism. If you lived on your own island full of edgy people like yourself, then the benefits of being edgy would cancel out as you wouldn't have a larger society to defect against.

I know that right now this is just a theoretical exercise, but sometimes it does feel like society is fragmenting into smaller and smaller subcultures through a process fueled by globalization.

If no one had to suffer the consequences of other people's bad decisions, there would be less need to worry about other people's stupidity. Like, you could still feel sorry for them, but usually you would just shrug and tell them that if it starts hurting too much, they are free to change their minds.

I'm not going to put this as an answer because you said you didn't want to hear it, but I don't think you're in any danger.  The problem is not very serious now, and has been more serious in the past without coming to anything.

To get a sense of where I'm coming from I'd encourage you to read up on the history of communist movements in the United States, especially in the 1920s (sometimes called the First Red Scare, and IMO the closest the US has ever come to communist overthrow).  The history of anarchism in the US is closely related, at least in that period (no one had invented anarcho-capitalism yet I don't think, certainly it wasn't widespread), so study that too.  To brutally summarize an interesting period, USG dealt with a real threat of communist revolt through a mixture of infiltration/police action (disrupting the leadership of communist movements and unions generally) and worker's-rights concessions (giving the rank and file some of what they wanted, and so sapping their will to smash the state).

For contrast, study the October revolution.  Technically speaking, how was it carried off?  How many people were required, and what did they have to do?  How were they recruited?

Also I'd encourage you to interrogate that "1% to 5%" figure pretty closely, since it seems like a lot of the problem is downstream of it for you.  How did you come to believe that, and what exactly does it mean?  Do you expect 1% of Americans to fight for communist revolt, as Mao's guerillas did?  If not, what proportion do you expect to fight?  How does that compare to the successful revolutions you've read about?

It might also be useful to role-play the problem from the perspective of a communist leader, taking into account the problems that other such leaders have historically faced.  Are you going to replace all US government institutions, or make your changes under the color of existing law?  Each institution will have to be subverted or replaced -- the army especially, but also the Constitution, Supreme Court, existing federal bureaucracies, and so on. Think through how you might solve each of those problems, being as specific as you can.

Again, I know you said you didn't want this, but sometimes when you look through your telescope and see a meteor coming toward the earth, it's going to miss.

It's definitely a fair suggestion that I should inform myself better on the actual history of communist ideology in the United States. If I'm scared by what I read, then I will have a better idea of what the problem is. If what I find out doesn't scare me, I'll be relieved, and leave with a better understanding of astronomy.

“Republicans (30%) are approximately three times as likely as Democrats (11%) to agree with the statement, “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” Agreement with this statement rises to 40% among Republicans who most trust far-right news sources and is 32% among those who most trust Fox News. One in four white evangelicals (26%) also agree that political violence may be necessary to save the country”


It’s more than 1-5%; it’s a sizable minority.

Note that someone agreeing with

Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.

Might not support any kind of uprising. They may be thinking of using violence to defend against an uprising from the other side, or even against a foreign aggressor.

Like, I think of "support for a violent uprising" as being something like "the country is fucked and we need to use violence to make it better". But someone answering yes to that question might be more like "the country is pretty okay but we might need to use violence to keep it that way".

In case you didn't notice, the phrasing ("true American patriots", "gotten so far off track") is engineered to give the discrepancy highlighted found in the press release. The survey itself is interesting but it's propaganda.

  1. Even the political party which would be disincentivized by the phrasing to answer "yes" to the above question answered with a 11% positive rate. If we accept the discrepancy of the results being purely because of the engineered phrasing, then we have at least 22% of the population agreeing with committing violence in order to preserve their notion of what this country ought to be.
  2. This is an isolated demand for rigor.  Your post uses a tweet and your personal feelings as evidence for the fact that "perhaps 1-5%" of the population supports a communist violent revolt. Is your post propaganda because it only focuses on the fears of a left-wing revolt and not a right-wing one? It was likely influenced to be that way because that's what you legitimately fear and are concerned about, and you're trying to convince others of your opinion. That's fine; I have no reason to believe that this post contains anything other than your true belief. The people writing the above survey question may have also had similar fears about a right-wing revolt, and phrased a question in a way that makes it less than perfectly useful for this analysis.
  1. I mostly agree, and that's why I said the results were still interesting. In fact, both numbers should be lower bounds; it says at least that 33% of conservatives are willing to tell surveyors they'd support violence. I would crowdfund a study similarly phrased so that left-wing respondents can say yes; I could imagine it coming up with 15%, 40%, 30%, but I don't really know and I think I would have probably undershot it a few days ago. If the left and the right are equally bellacostic, then that would mean we'd expect a third of the country to support violence, not a fifth.
  2. Perhaps I'm being partial, but I don't think I'm making an isolated demand for rigor. It's not a general critique of the methods of scientific polling as much as punching in the effects of the wind. If you had said "I see Facebook posts by conservatives making similar threats all the time' I wouldn't have had a problem with that. On the other hand, if I had said something like "well, you need a meta-analysis of different results by different polling companies before you can make that claim", then that would of course be unfair because I'd have no a priori expectation that the further evidence would move away from the already established conclusion. In this case however we do have the ability to conclude that the study is biased based on mechanical details, so we can and should adjust our GPS coordinates.

I do, by the way, totally believe conservatives on the whole are more willing to use violence, mostly because they have a self image as political underdogs who have been shut out of large institutions like Hollywood/News media/Education by elites and have "no other option". I'm more scared of communists because I think their extremists are more capable, and that might reflect a bias on my part.

This was in the answer section for a while, and I deleted it for that reason. Then it was moved to the comments section, and it seems like an admin might have moved it. Note to lesswrong devs:

  1. It'd be nice if I could do that myself.
  2. The delete reasons should probably show up on answers like they do comments.

Yep, to both of those. Will see whether I can get around to fixing those.

I think you are asking the wrong question. What you want to achieve is to prevent radicalization that makes revolts conceivable. Here is a quote from Scott Aaronson :

Nazism explicitly repudiated any “guardrail,” any principle that would explain why Jews shouldn’t just all be exterminated. Which is why, when I look at modern ideologies—from Trumpism to wokeism—the first question I ask is always: what guardrails, if any, are in place to prevent my worst nightmares, should the proponents of this ideology get unchecked power? And the appeal of liberal Enlightenment ideologies is precisely that they do have such guardrails—in the form, for example, of due process, the presumption of innocence, and free speech.

The tweet you linked is a radical opinion without a guardrail. Eliezer talked about it somewhere, how bounded rationality can lead to radical ideas, and one has to learn to see one's own limitations when evaluating the conclusions you reach. The further out of the mainstream, the more likely that your ideas are wrong somewhere.

Are you specifically against a communist revolution, or just a member of team "advocating violence is wrong, no matter the cause?"

I am a member of team anti-authoritarianism. I do not want to live under any police state. Starting a revolution in which the new government begins its rule by executing a bunch of capital-B-P Bad People strongly implies dictatorial control by OP's faction. I originally debated whether or not to make the title neutrally anti-authoritarian and ended up going with communist revolts for a reason I can't remember; I'll change it now. 

I think we underestimate the risk of fascist coups as well in the United States, but there are large organizations dedicated to monitoring and subverting right-wing extremists that I consider pretty effective, and suppressing nazis has pretty broad support in what I consider relevant institutions. On the other hand, when I point out that communists might start actually murdering people like they keep saying they will, the most common reactions I get are either indifference or laughter.

the most common reactions I get are either indifference or laughter.

If the debate gets more serious, I would also expect accusations of McCarthyism.

Punching up vs punching down is the distinction there. Natzis want to (and have done) kill off the "weak" and "Jewish" Communists want to (and have done) take away all the money from (which is only marginally better than killing) people who currently have wealth (and therefore power). Killing and eating the Rich isn't an end in itself, the way it is for Natzis, it's a threat to get what the Communists want, which is control of the wealth/property.

To be honest, I don't really think it matters much how sympathetic or powerful the to-be-executed-class is. I'm glad communists don't want to murder Jews too but it seems naive to me to assume that has much to do with quality of life under the rule of people like OP except for those parties in question. It's the demand for authoritarian control that's concerning, not the particular group of people that they want to guillotine after they get it. 

I'm glad communists don't want to murder Jews too

Except for the moments when they accuse the Jews of being - or trying to become - rich and powerful, of course. (1, 2)

I think existing methods for subverting right-wing extremists are problematic because they also seek to suppress scientific inquiry that gets linked to right-wing extremists. It also seems conceivable that something similar could happen if opposition to communists became too strong, though I'm not sure what scientific directions would most likely get hit by that.

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