[Link] Nerds are nuts

by [anonymous]8 min read7th Jun 201244 comments

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Memetic Immune SystemReligionPitfalls of Rationality
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Related to: Reason as memetic immune disorder, Commentary on compartmentalization

On the old old gnxp site site Razib Khan wrote an interesting piece on a failure mode of nerds. This is I think something very important to keep in mind because for better or worse LessWrong is nerdspace. It deals with how the systematizing tendencies coupled with a lack of common sense can lead to troublesome failure modes and identifies some religious fundamentalism as symptomatic of such minds. At the end of both the original article as well as in the text I quote here is a quick list summary of the contents, if you aren't sure about the VOI consider reading that point by point summary first to help you judge it. The introduction provides interesting information very useful in context but isn't absolutely necessary.

Link to original article.

Introduction

Reading In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, I stumbled upon this passage on page 151:

"...Whereas the Congress Party was dominated by lawyers and journalists, the RSS was dominated by people from a scientific background. Both groups were almost exclusively Brahmin in their formative years...three out of four of Hedegwar's [the founder, who was a doctor -Razib] successors were also from scientific backgrounds: M.S. Golwalker...was a zoologist...Rajendra Singh was a physicist; and K.S. Sudarshan...is an engineer...."

Some quick "background." The RSS is a prominent member of the Hindutva movement, roughly, Hindu nationalism. Some people have termed them "Hindu fundamentalists," suggesting an equivalence with reactionary religious movements the world over. There is a problem with such a broad brush term: some proponents and adherents of Hindutva are not themselves particularly religious and make no effort to pretend that they are. Rather, they are individuals who are attracted to the movement for racial-nationalist reasons, they view "Hindus" as a people as much, or more than, a religion. One could make an argument that the "Christian Right" or "Islamism" are not at the root concerned or driven by religious motives, but, members of both these movements would assert at least a pretense toward religiosity almost universally.

With that preamble out of the way, I was not surprised that the RSS had a core cadre of scientifically oriented leaders. This is a common tendency amongst faux reactionary movements with a religious element. I say faux because these movements tend to be extremely innovative and progressive in the process of attempting to recreate a mythic golden past. The militancy of some of the organizations in the Hindutva movement, like the VHP and RSS, has been asserted by some Hindu intellectuals as being...un-Hindu. Some of the early intellectuals in the movement admitted that they were attempting to fight back against Islam and Christianity by co-opting some of the modalities of these two religions. The question becomes at what point does pragmatic methodology suborn the ultimate ends? I won't offer an answer because I have little interest in that topic, at least in this post. Rather, I want to move back to the point about scientists and their involvement in "fundamentalist" religious movements. Scientifically trained individuals are over represented within Islam in the Salafist Terror Network. As a child the fundamentalist engineer was a cut-out stereotype amongst the circle of graduate students in the natural sciences from Muslim backgrounds that my parents socialized amongst. Ethnological research confirms that Islamist movements are highly concentrated within departments of engineering at universities. Engineers are also very prominent in the Creationist movement in the United States. If civilizations can be analogized to organisms, then a particular subset of technically minded folk get very strange when interfacing with the world around us...and turn into fundamentalists.


So why the tendency for technical people to be so prominent in these groups? First, let me clarify that just because technical folk are heavily over represented amongst religious radicals does not mean that religious radicals are necessarily a large demographic among technical folk. Rather, amongst the set of religious radicals the technicians seem to rise up to positions of power and provide excellent recruits.

There is I think a socioeconomic angle on this. Years back I was curious as to the class origin of different scientific professions. I didn't find much, but the data I did gather implied that engineers are generally more likely to be from less affluent backgrounds than more abstract and less practical fields like botany or astronomy. This makes sense, engineering is one of the best tickets to a middle class livelihood, and it might necessitate fewer social graces (acquired through "breeding") than medicine or law. As it happens, oftentimes fundamentalist movements draw much of their strength from upwardly mobile groups who are striving to ascend up from lower to lower-middle-class status. Though the Hindutva movement in India is mostly upper caste, it is not concentrated amongst the English speaking super elite who are quite Westernized, but rather its strength lay amongst the non-Western sub-elites (e.g., merchants in small to mid-sized cities) or the petite bourgeois. Islamism in much of the world can be traced to the anomie generated by the transformation of "traditional" societies through urbanization and other assorted dislocations, and as peasants enter the modern world Islamic orthodoxy is a way to moor themselves within the new urban matrix and the world of wage labor. Similarly, the rise of the Christian Right can be tied in part to the entrance of evangelicals into the broad middle class as the Old South became the New South and air conditioning led to the blossoming of the Sun Belt.

Nerd Failure Mode

This section is the part most relevant to LessWrong: 

But there are likely other factors at play which are not sociological or cultural, but individual. Fundamentalists tend to be "literalists," and have a tendency to look at their religious texts as divine manuals which describe and prescribe every aspect of the world. In some ways this is a new tendency in our species, at least as a mass movement. One can definitely trace scriptural fundamentalism to the Protestant Reformation with the call to sola scriptura, but in the West its contemporary origin can be found in the reaction in the late 19th century and early 20th century to textual analysis of the Bible by modernists. The assault on the historicity of the Bible, combined with both mass literacy and a democratic culture in the United States, led inevitably to a crass literalism that birthed the peculiarities which we see before us in the form of Creationism and its sisters. A literal reading of the Bible leads to ludicrous conclusions, but if one perceives that the game is all or nothing, then perhaps one must assert the truth value of Genesis as if it was a scientific treatise. Religious professionals have often been skeptical of literalism because a deep knowledge of languages and the translation process highlights various ambiguities and gray shades, but for those whom the text is plain and unadorned by deeper knowledge its meaning is "clear" and must be take at its word. Scientists and engineers live in a world of axioms, laws and theories, which though rough and ready, must be taken as truths for predictions and models to be valid. You make assumptions, you construct a model, and you project a range of values bounded by errors. Once science is established you take it is as a given and don't engage in excessive philosophical reflection. This is "normal science." The axioms are validated by their utility in an instrumental fashion in engineering and model building. Obviously religious truths are different. Plainly, the direct material benefits of religion, magic, is easily falsifiable. The indirect benefits, the afterlife, etc., are often beyond verification. A critical examination of the Hebrew Bible shows all sorts of fallacious assumptions. For example, there is an implication that the world is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth. Though these contentions are not defensible, there are a host of other assertions which are less plainly incorrect, or at least seem to be refuted only by a more complex suite of contingent facts (e.g., the historical sciences in the form of geology and evolutionary biology falsify the creation account, but these are complex stories which require acceptance of a chain of inferences). Obviously many religious people have a deep emotional attachment to their faith. If one is told that one's religion is based on a book, and that book plainly seems to imply ludicrous assertions, how to square this circle? Many a scientific mind simply accepts the ludicrous axioms and starts to generate inferences. Consider the Water Canopy Theory. Or, the Hindutva ideology that Aryans originated in India, spread to the rest of the world, and so brought civilization (the gift of the Indians). Or that Hindu mythology records the ancient use of nuclear weapons and spaceships. There are even books like Human Devolution: a Vedic alternative to Darwin's theory. Strictly speaking much of this work is not irrational, insofar as it exhibits internal logical coherency. The axioms are simply ludicrous.

Which gets me back to the way scientists think: though some scientists are very philosophical, the way in which science is taught is often not particularly focused on the nature and reasoning beyond the axioms given. PV = nRT. Why? There are quick primers in regards to the root of the Ideal Gas Law, but the key is to take this law and utilize it to solve problems. But what if PV = nRT is subjective, a misinterpretation. Perhaps a cultural mix-up resulted in a transcription error which introduced the gas constant, R. This is an idiotic question to ask in science. If you're taking a course on the kinetics of gases you don't have long discussions lingering upon the nature of motion and gas particles, those are assumed. In contrast in softer disciplines the very concept of "motion" an "particles" are subject to critique because the objects of study are far more slippery. Is it the "Red Sea" or "Sea of Reeds"? Does the Bible refer to Mary as a virgin or an unmarried woman? Does the color coding of the Aryans and Dasas in the Vedas refer to literal differences in complexion, or are they narrative conventions? Language lacks the interpersonal precision of mathematics, and while uniformitarianism has served us admirably in the natural sciences, the dynamic nature of idiom, phrase and speech within shifting context means that teasing apart meaning from the records of the past can be a difficult feat which requires care, erudition and common sense.

Up until this point I have focused on the way scientists work, and the necessity of background assumptions, and the relative short shrift they often give to the "meta" analysis of background concepts. Though I don't want to push this line of thought too far, I will offer the following illustrations of behaviors which I think are not totally unlike the manner in which some fundamentalists behave. Someone tells a child to "pull the door behind" them. He proceeds to unscrew the hinges and drag the front door across to the street to his house. Siblings are told that there is life after death by their parent. They proceed to plan the death of one so that some confirmation of this possibility can be ascertained. These two instances are real examples of individuals who exhibit Autism/Asperger's Syndrome. Anyone who would behave in this way lacks common social sense. I believe that a disproportionate number of those who are attracted to fundamentalism tend to lack the same perspective and contextualizing capacity in regards to their religious beliefs. If they can do some matrix algebra too, they're nerds. On a mass scale, consider that both Salafis among Muslims and Puritans among Calvinists debated whether all that was not mentioned within their Holy Texts as permissible were therefore impermissible. I suspect that for most people common sense might persuade one to the conclusion that these sort of debates imply a lack of a sense of proportion, frankly, of normalcy.

In sum:

  • Hard core religious fundamentalists are somewhat atypical psychologically
  • Scientists and engineers are also atypical psychologically
  • Some of the traits modal within these two sets intersect
  • Resulting in a disproportionate number of scientists amongst fundamentalists
  • Science converges upon rock solid truths, which become the axioms for the next set of projections and investigations. Fundamentalism presents itself as axioms and clear and distinct inferences from those axioms. Both are fundamentally elegant and simple cognitive processes, but, the content is so radically different that the outcomes in regards to truth value are very different
  • Mass literacy and mass society, as well as the decentralization of authority and power, likely made fundamentalism inevitable as the basal level of individuals with susceptible psychological profiles could now have direct access to the axioms in question (texts)
  • Just as some scientists tend to take ideas to their "logical extremes" (e.g., the "paradoxes" of physics) no matter the dictates of common sense, so some fundamentalists take the logical conclusion of their religious texts to extremes
  • No matter the religion it seems that modernity will produce faux reactionary fundamentalism because of the nature of normal human variation combined with universal inputs (e.g., the rise of normative consumerism, urbanization, etc.).

I bolded the note on mass literacy and participation because of the interesting historical conclusion that in the United Stated mass participation in democracy inevitably made the influence of religion on policy greater. It goes against a deep assumption shared by most educated people that "democratic elections" necessarily produce "liberal" or "secular" results. It was particularly evident among pundits and particularly easy to see as foolish with the recent upheavals in the Middle East.  

Note: Much of what I said above applies to non-religious domains. After all, many scientists were once Communists and Nazis.

This last rather minor seeming note is perhaps the most relevant part of the article for aspiring rationalist. Not only is it particularly salient for those us inclined to questioning the usefulness of the category "religion" in certain context, but because nearly all of us are not religious. Our bad axioms seem unlikely to originate directly from something like a religious texts, though obviously it is plausible many of our axioms ultimately originate from such sources.Not many of us are Communists either, but we are attracted to highly consistent ideologies. We seem likely to be particularly vulnerable to bad axioms in a way most minds aren't.

So if after some thought and examination you notice that a widely respected and universally endorsed axiom in your society has clear and hard to deny implications that are in practice ignored or even denounced by most people, you should be more willing to dump such axioms than is comfortable.

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The dangers of decompartmentalising toxic waste have been covered here before: Phil Goetz's classic Reason as memetic immune disorder. Vladimir Nesov hypothesises that this is why humans compartmentalise.

In the skepticsphere, decompartmentalising stupidity is considered the best hypothesis to explain the Salem hypothesis: that if a creationist touts scientific expertise in a supporter, said supporter is likely an engineer. But engineers in general are notorious for this sort of thing.

I wonder whether the Salem hypothesis -- more precisely, the fact that the Salem hypothesis is interesting -- is largely a base rate fallacy. If there are a lot more engineers than, e.g., physicists (which I think there are), and if creationists will claim "scientific expertise" for anyone doing anything even vaguely sciencey, then even if there's no interaction at all between domain of expertise and susceptibility to creationism most "scientific experts" who are creationists will be engineers, just because most "scientific experts" will be engineers. (My impression is that a better version of the Salem hypothesis would say "If a creationist touts scientific expertise in a supporter, said supporter is likely an engineer, computer person, or medic" -- and now take a look at the graph at http://www.intuitor.com/physics/ScienceCareers.php .)

Is there more going on than this? Maybe. It's possible, e.g., that the cleverest scientific-ish people gravitate to fields other than those and are less likely to be creationists. Or that something about the kind of problem-solving engineers have to do fits somehow with creationism. (I've heard a similar explanation proposed for an alleged prevalence of engineers among terrorists.) Or something. But I'm not at all sure that it's not just a matter of base rates.

I'm not actually sure how well the Salem hypothesis holds; I'm wondering if it's just having no idea what "science" is. See the Creation Ministries International list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation. They've pulled in veterinarians and plastic surgeons as "scientists".

Also related: The bullet-swallowers by Scott Aaronson.

Yes, Being willing to swallow the bullet does not mean you are not, in fact, being very stupid indeed. Extrapolating beyond one's knowledge in this manner is using one's own ignorance as data. (Not that any agent can avoid judgement under uncertainty, but it's why this sort of extreme extrapolation can lead to crazy results.) Consistency is useful, but not a terminal value.

Because I can't write a comment there, I will write it here:

Comment #19 by IceBogan:
Interesting comparison. But you can be Libertarian “in the neighborhood of x_0″ without accepting all the reductio ad absurdum arguments — you can vote for a little less government, a little lower taxes, a little more personal responsibility. You can’t be a little bit Many Worlds.

You can be "a little bit Many Worlds", and actually this is probably the most popular position -- that the microscopic particles have many possible histories, with complex amplitudes that sometimes cancel each other out, but as soon as you have too many particles (such as: enough to build a cat), it's no longer true.

A "Many little Worlds" would probably be a better name. Many little Worlds are acceptable for many bullet-dodgers, assuming that they later transform (collapse) into One big World.

[-][anonymous]9y 1

Phil Goetz's classic Reason as memetic immune disorder.

This material is very relevant, I hope you don't mind me adding links to it the directly to the OP?

I think it would be very much on-mission :-)

I think another manifestation of this phenomenon is the way geeks tend to come up with elaborate justifications for plot holes in their favorite science fiction/fantasy works, e.g., all the discussion about the science of star trek and star wars.

great catch. I wonder if teenagers sat around in ancient greece arguing about which god would win in a fight.

Within nerdspace libertarianism (deontological flavors) seems to be a pretty big offender here.

Good post; it's useful to discuss biases that people who frequent this site are especially susceptible to. This happens in US extremist religious groups too, for example see this article about the subset of people who predicted the apocalypse last year:

It’s been noted by scholars who study apocalyptic groups that believers tend to have analytical mindsets. They’re often good at math. I met several engineers, along with a mathematics major and two financial planners. These are people adept at identifying patterns in sets of data, and the methods they used to identify patterns in the Bible were frequently impressive, even brilliant. Finding unexpected connections between verses, what believers call comparing scripture with scripture, was a way to become known in the group. The essays they wrote explaining these links could be stunningly intricate.

That intricacy was part of the appeal. The arguments were so complex that they were impossible to summarize and therefore very challenging to refute. As one longtime believer, an accountant, told me: “Based on everything we know, and when you look at the timelines, you look at the evidence—these aren’t the kind of things that just happen. They correlate too strongly for it not to be important.” The puzzle was too perfect. It couldn’t be wrong.

This suggests a possibly alternative explanation, that analytical types tend/learn to enjoy systematizing, especially on topics that will be important to others. As Cosma Shalizi says,

Now, I relish the schadenfreude-laden flavors of a mega-disaster scenario as much as the next misanthropic, science-fiction-loving geek, especially when it's paired with some "The fools! Can't they follow simple math?" on the side.

Too long, lacking a decent summary upfront, misleading, if catchy, title. Presumably the point is that technical people overestimate the reliability of wetware.

[-][anonymous]9y 7

These are relevant criticisms. Trying to address them I have changed the intro to this:

Related to: Reason as memetic immune disorder, Commentary on compartmentalization

On the old old gnxp site site Razib Khan wrote an interesting piece on a failure mode of nerds. This is I think something very important to keep in mind because for better or worse LessWrong is nerdspace. It deals with how the systematizing tendencies coupled with a lack of common sense can lead to troublesome failure modes and identifies some religious fundamentalism as symptomatic of such minds. At the end of both the original article as well as in the text I quote here is a quick list summary of the contents, if you aren't sure about the VOI consider reading that point by point summary first to help you judge it. The introduction provides interesting information very useful in context but isn't absolutely necessary.

Link to original article.

I have also broken it up with subtitles into three parts, making the end article summary easy to spot and added two important related links to a prominent spot.

Is this an improvement?

Is this an improvement?

Well, yeah, but I still cannot tell if my one-line summary is correct or not.

Maybe? For example, in terrorist groups, engineers are of obvious usefulness and are directly recruited, interfering with inferences about radicalism.

What we really need here is a controlled experiment :P

This explanation doesn't quite work since many engineers have become suicide bombers. If engineers were being recruited largely for their technical skill one would expect them to be the very last people used in that ashion.

. A literal reading of the Bible leads to ludicrous conclusions, but if one perceives that the game is all or nothing, then perhaps one must assert the truth value of Genesis as if it was a scientific treatise.

I think the "all or nothing" thing is a very important insight. I've often found myself profoundly disturbed by my inability to solve some bizarre moral dilemma (something really weird, like "If you had the power to perfectly control what sort of personality types people were born with, what is the optimum mixture of personalities to create?") and felt like my inability to solve these problems somehow puts all of ethics in doubt. It's like I feel that not knowing the proper way to behave in a bizarre science-fictional moral dilemma means that there is no reason to help people, save lives, and do other obviously good things. Even though I know it's irrational, it sometimes makes me physically sick. I have to keep reminding myself that my beliefs should be more robust than that, that a belief system so fragile that it can shatter with one tiny inconsistency is not one worth having.

I imagine that this is how fundamentalists must feel when they spot an inconsistency in one of their sacred texts.

It's like I feel that not knowing the proper way to behave in a bizarre science-fictional moral dilemma means that there is no reason to help people, save lives, and do other obviously good things.

An analogy would be feeling that if you can't solve the Fermat's last theorem, then there is no reason to believe that 2+2=4.

A completely reasonable answer to "if you had power to do X, what exactly would you do" is "I would start doing reseach on consequences of X, and only after having reliable results I would decide". And if the other person says "well, I want you to answer now", just say "if you want me to answer without having critical information, you are not expecting a perfect solution, right?".

If you had the power to perfectly control what sort of personality types people were born with, what is the optimum mixture of personalities to create?

I don't know the answer to this question but that's because I don't have a superhuman understanding of psychology. I don't see how it poses any moral problems.

With my very limited current layperson's knowledge, in terms of the big 5 I would probably increase Openness and Conscientiousness, leave Agreeableness and Extraversion at current rates, and decrease Neuroticism.

The question I'm trying to frame is, if you have the power to choose what preferences people would have, what would you choose? Obviously you'd increase Conscientiousness and decrease Neuroticism, because they generally determine how good you are at fulfilling your preferences, not what your preferences are. Increasing Openness would probably also be good because it would help prevent people from being jerks to those who are different, and I think that we would desire anyone we create to want to behave morally.

But what kind of preferences would you give people? Would you give them a diverse variety, or make them homogenous? Would you keep the current personality distribution the same or would you, for instance, make more nerds and less jocks? Would you pick one ideal person and make all the future generations of the world clones of them? You might say you need a variety of people for society to function, but would that mean that if we had an FAI to do all the work for us that we should make people more homogenous? If you created incredibly unambitious people who only preferred to exist and nothing else would you have created a utopia of 100% preference satisfaction?

I think I've figured out that we should create people whose preferences are at least as ambitious as a normal humans, boredom is good after all. And obviously we should create moral beings. And at the very least a good portion of the creatures we create should have fairly human-like emotions. We should definitely not create any sociopaths. I suspect that creating a wide variety of personality types is good, if only because novelty is good. But what is the proper mix of personalities? How many go-getters, how many artists, how many dreamers, how many down-to-earths, how many nerds, how many jocks, etc.

I suspect there is probably more than one right answer. And for now I'm trying to be content with that, because I'm beginning to think the anxiety it causes me might be symptomatic of some sort of serious mental health problem. I don't think most of the people on this site get heartburn from thinking about this sort of stuff.

See? Looks like I haven't been talking gibberish after all! Or, at least, someone wise shares some of my paranoid delusions. He even points to the two most infamous technocratic states specifically.

A pity that he hasn't mentioned another important thing: that being convinced of one's total freedom from dogma (and founding your philisophy on this "difference" between you and the brainwashed masses) is the most dangerous dogma of all, and nerds are very likely to be convinced of just that.

(It's easy to glimpse some scary moments of that dogma on the blog of a certain locally famous software engineer... although, as I said, he's far from the worst of it.)

the most dangerous dogma of all

Presuming it's not entirely rhetorical, that sounds more than a little overblown. I'd buy "foolish" or "dangerous", but this seems pretty ubiquitous and generally doesn't lead to more than the usual amount of disaster. In particular, I hardly think this is unique to nerds or uniquely horrible in their hands; best I can tell, pretty much everyone is under the impression that they're substantially free of ideological bias, whether they wear a blue collar or a pocket protector, and their attitude toward ideological foes is very likely to be informed by that.

With regard to the OP, I think I broadly accept the theory that technically minded folks are less inclined than average to tolerate fuzziness or internal contradiction in systems, and that this tends to attract them to totalizing systems in the absence of suitable countervailing influences: a set which, unfortunately, includes quite a lot of fundamentalist nastiness.

best I can tell, pretty much everyone is under the impression that they're substantially free of ideological bias, whether they wear a blue collar or a pocket protector

In far mode most people think in terms of good and evil first, correct and incorrect second. They might think that their enemies are evil mutants, but most sense, underneath it all, that their enemies still have their own unique truth (evil mutant truth). This leads to hatred and aggression, but it's less bad than an impersonal, clinical, mechanistic approach.

The people I'm so afraid of are the ones who look for some "objective position" first and feel simply that they're technically correct in the Engineering Challenge of Life, while others are "making mistakes". Thinking that you're fixing others' mistakes all day (like mistakenly allowing Jews to "contaminate" a nation) promotes a much more simplified picture of the world than thinking you're opposing dread and cunning evil - like Catholics do.

In far mode most people think in terms of good and evil first, correct and incorrect second. They might think that their enemies are evil mutants, but most sense that their enemies still have their own unique truth (evil mutant truth). This leads to hatred and aggression, but it's less bad than an impersonal, clinical, mechanistic approach.

I agree with the first sentence, but not with the second. Good and evil, for most people, implies correct and incorrect -- ideological enemies are both wrong and evil, and they're wrong because they're evil. Also evil because they're wrong, if you back them into a corner on that one. Christian conceptions of sin are tied pretty closely to correctness, for example -- the etymology implies "missing the mark".

I'm honestly not sure unemotional, subjectively-objective hatred exists in neurotypical folks, human psychology being what it is. I've gotten pretty angry at software bugs before.

Might be mind projection on my part, true. However, it genuinely looks to me that many people do feel like this, for example, in the trolley problem: the math might say it's more "correct" to end up with +4 saved lives, yet it's still an "evil" act to them - they'd say that a solution can be the only technically correct one and still less moral than alternatives.

A pity that he hasn't mentioned another important thing: that being convinced of one's total freedom from dogma (and founding your philisophy on this "difference" between you and the brainwashed masses) is the most dangerous dogma of all,

I doubt it. A more dangerous dogma probably involves something to do with killing.

Um, how to put it... it leads to stunning intolerance for other kinds of "dogma", including wholesome, psychologically healthy ideology or religion. Religious fanatics might hate infidels, but at least they can understand & admit vital human feelings like faith; intolerance for "blindness" or "delusion", the insistence that there's one calculable right way to run things is culturally destructive, throwing the baby out with the bathwater in literally all cases - even iif it might spare individuals, it enroaches upon the complex, often beautiful patterns of their culture.

I hope you wouldn't deny that the "rationality" of RAND, RAF Marshal Harris, Kissinger or their Soviet/Chinese counterparts - the "rationality" of Dr. Strangelove - has been like a grey, soulless plague upon civilization. They all would've said that it produced slightly less misery than the alternatives they've considered, but I maintain that the indirect damage to humanity has been off the scale, and needn't have happened if our cleverness hadn't outstripped our sanity.

Go read Orwell's or someone else's notes about how we lost a gentler, less callous way of thought in the early 20th century, one that was so entwined with Christianity as to rot away and leave a gaping hole with the advance of aggressive materialism.

Go read Orwell's or someone else's notes

No. I think you are failing to understand the difference between the meanings of the phrases "I express disapproval of" and "the most dangerous of all".

I'm telling you, IMO it's an enormous memetic threat to human civilization as a whole, and not just to the well-being of individual lives.

What sort of fanatics do you mean? Most fanatics that I'm familiar with think that the equivalent virtue in service of a different ideology is not analogous simply because it is in service of the opposing ideology.

Crusaders didn't tend to say that jihadists were like them, only Muslim. Only we who use the outside view can see the parallel.

Which notes of Orwell's are you referring to? Orwell has seen tyranny and cruelty since boarding school. I really can't see him succumbing to wistful nostalgia.

Notes on the Way

That's for a start. I already linked to that essay in the quotes thread. Also, one more in the same vein.

My Country Right or Left:

The young Communist who died heroically in the International Brigade was public school to the core. He had changed his allegiance but not his emotions. What does that prove? Merely the possibility of building a Socialist on the bones of a Blimp, the power of one kind of loyalty to transmute itself into another, the spiritual need for patriotism and the military virtues, for which, however little the boiled rabbits of the Left may like them, no substitute has yet been found.

There's other such bits of left-conservative, anti-pragmatist sentiment sprinkled throughout his essays. Hell, it's not a stretch to call him a National Socialist. I suggest that you take a fresh look, without the conventional view of Orwell - a petit-bourgeois view, I'd say - coloring your perception.

Also!

I really can't see him succumbing to wistful nostalgia.

Oh, but he did. Read Coming Up for Air.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Do you have any more mainstream examples than your software engineer? I really don't know what you mean by "dogma." In the 19th century the word was not used so pejoratively but lately I can't think of anyone who would describe their package of beliefs as a dogma.

Again, the RAND Corporation. There's plenty written about its mindset and practices, including in connection with the whole Vietnam deal - Agent Orange and all that. "Forced-draft urbanization", ain't that a brilliant fucking idea? Hell, thinking of that, the CIA analysts probably also qualify as slaves not only to bureaucracy, but to the Cult of Reason as well.

[-][anonymous]9y -1

Samuel Huntington certainly had a bloodless way of writing. I wonder if he would have characterized himself as dogma-free.

Again, the RAND Corporation

Where else have you written about the rand corporation?

Where else have you written about the rand corporation?

Nowhere, just mentioned it in this thread twice. You can start with Soldiers of Reason by Alex Abella, though - it's really rather biased against RAND, but has plenty of info.

There's also an interesting-sounding title in the Wikipedia links, Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism, but I haven't read that one yet. Looks like it'll be more helpful for my argument, judging by the name and the summary.

In Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy, S. M. Amadae tells the remarkable story of how rational choice theory rose from obscurity to become the intellectual bulwark of capitalist democracy. Amadae roots Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy in the turbulent post-World War II era, showing how rational choice theory grew out of the RAND Corporation's efforts to develop a "science" of military and policy decisionmaking. But while the first generation of rational choice theorists—William Riker, Kenneth Arrow, and James Buchanan—were committed to constructing a "scientific" approach to social science research, they were also deeply committed to defending American democracy from its Marxist critics. Amadae reveals not only how the ideological battles of the Cold War shaped their ideas but also how those ideas may today be undermining the very notion of individual liberty they were created to defend.

Oh, looks like its first 180 pages are on Google Books.

Ah yes, the danger of thinking you can think for yourself.

The danger is that it avoids regression to the mean. For that reason, yes it is the most dangerous dogma, but it also has a lot of potential. I'd trust someone like this more than I'd trust your average "agreeable" neurotypical who can at any moment be convinced by a charismatic enough charlattan cult leader to do just about anything if the neurotypical is down on their luck. Yes, some people like this have dangerous beliefs and a dangerous tendency to act on them but at least you can usually see them coming.

Also, what if they are free from dogma? What if they just think better than you or I? Depending on how free they are from dogma the danger may just be that they are excellent rationalisers. If someone who I think is mostly someone who thinks for themselves: they view every claim critically and insist on rederiving every conclusion before they believe it, if they tell me theythey are totally free from dogma and the masses are brainwashed idiots they're probably wrong about the "entirely". But, more or less, they are right. The only danger here is you can't talk them out of things, if they think you are one of the brainwashed masses and they might be angry about most people being brainwashed.

If they are a typically dogmatic thinker then they are really good at believing things which aren't true which presents a whole different kind of danger. Also they probably think of people who disagree with them as evil mutants and themselves as noble saints.

It's not dangerous for someone who is better at thinking undogmatically than people in general to found their philosophy on this difference, or even the overestimation of it that you propose.

Can you link the scary moment of dogma from the blog of a certain locally famous software engineer? Is it paul graham?

In a comment below you say "intolerance for "blindness" or "delusion", the insistence that there's one calculable right way to run things is culturally destructive." You sound like you are talking about something completely different. I suspect thinking they are free from dogma is simply something people who think there's one calculable right way to run things happen to tend to do and you are throwing out the baby (okay, maybe a crocodile) with the bathwater. Thinking that demonstrates blindness to the facts. Thinking that one's preferences are objective pronouncements on how the world should be in some fuzzy non value dependent way demonstrates that you mistake your feelings for facts. Believing you don't do this does intensify the danger such people pose massively but it isn't the source of the danger. And for people who don't do this, or don't do it very much, or who are just not abnormally vindictive or aggressive or callous enough to come up with a right way to run things that hurts people, or accept that their right way to run things will not be implemented are not a danger.

The certain software engineer is Mencius Moldbug, of course.

neurotypical

Are you using this to mean "non-autistic person", or something else?

Also, also! Just discovered a writer with rather similar sentiments, Garret Keizer.

First, the title is quite vague. This post is very long, and it's rather difficult to see what the actual point of it is until the very end, especially because there's no "this is why you should take the time to read this" blurb up front.

It's a worthwhile point to make, and something that's worth discussing, but more people would probably discuss it if it were presented differently.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I have made changes to the OP, is it any better now?

Substantially so.