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Removed (Banned)Oct 17, 2022
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"If firefighters cared so much about being 'well liked' that they stopped putting out fires at unpopular people's houses, we'd similarly see a collapse in trust in fire departments."

Unless you are one of The Cool Kids. Far as they are concerned, this state of affairs is ideal.

Draw your own conclusions regarding how this relates to journalism.

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Bah!

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Some of this behavior exists in science now.

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Also first!

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You do have a talent for Firsting. Just be careful to always include the "r" ....

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well this is the only place i feel comfortable firsting. scott alexander banned me for 1 day when i firsted on his stack

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He was just jealous. Don't let the Seconders or Thirders (aka Losers) get in your way.

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Scott's bans are weird. He couldn't handle you firsting, but I was dunking on and embarrassing his commentariat in very rude ways over and over again, and it took him months to finally ban me.

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Yes, I very heavily self censor now, even as a senior professor. When I retire in a couple of years, I will finally be able to be myself. If you are untenured or still chasing grants, it would be insane to have any but an ultra PC public profile...

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Why self-censor if you’re tenured and nearing retirement?

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Because they can make your life a living hell and there have been cases of tenure withdrawl.

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Hence the Laura Kipnis description of academia as a hotbed of Craven snitches

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Tulsi Gabbard just said that it happens in Congress. High School will never end, for some (most).

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Life is like high school, only with more money. Love that saying

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It always has, but it has definitely got more intense recently.

There is a theory that the industrial revolution took off in Britain rather than France first because France had a distinguished royal academy of scientists with royal patronage, that from the start was more interested in publishing things that would get credit with peers.

In Britain by contrast, science funding came mostly from businessmen who expected practical results in return, like slightly more efficient steam engines.

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Oct 17, 2022·edited Oct 17, 2022

This behavior currently dominates science. One example: the way scientists utterly botched our handling of the pandemic.

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Oct 18, 2022·edited Oct 18, 2022

Or how "Trust The Science(tm)!" was first and foremost a signifier of tribal loyalty with at most a tenuous connection to science or inquiry.

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Just the usual dopamine centers up to no good in the modern world!....Well said! "The saddest is when someone shares something, receives the mandatory social conditioning, and deletes the tweet in shame. I recognize the ritualistic quality of all of this and so I don’t take it personally...".

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So much of this. When I was writing I even had tweets to my work deleted by my publication. Got crossways with the publisher about it. Bottom line: independent thought won’t be promoted, even when seeking it was supposedly the reason the writers were brought on. Media wants the reputation for being original but rewards conformity.

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How could Twitter (as this seems to be the focus / reinforcer of this (very old) tendency to want to be on the inside, and to therefore diss anyone (like you) who breaks ranks) - sorry, effusion of parentheses - be modified so as to work in precisely the opposite way? That is to encourage dissent, contrarian views etc not to suppress them. So it's not likes that push you up the scale, but dislikes, for example. "look everyone, here's someone saying something that everyone disagrees with, come and see if you disagree with them too". That's maybe a bit crude, but it seems to me like it would be an improvement over the "let's all follow the crowd" model that prevails now - and look where it has led us.

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As I understand it, Twitter does function this way already. When somebody posts something that is widely considered risible or objectionable, it gets widely quote-tweeted, spread before a vast audience, and they are generally ridiculed and belittled en masse. If anything this is often seen as one of the biggest complaints about twitter as far as I know.

I do think it’s a very interesting question, though—if some benevolent twitter dictator could come up with a plan to rewire everything in an effort to avoid the pernicious social issues social media is seen as giving rise to, what would that involve? Would it be possible to maintain the fundamental idea of the site—a place where anyone in the world can have public conversations—while doing that? Or is that fundamental idea the problem? To me, that’s the scary thought.

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Perhaps the answer might be that if a particular tweet is jumped on heavily, then real twitter fact checkers actually investigate the offending post. I say real, as in serious, fair minded, human beings check the claims of the offending tweet and, if appropriate, defend it against the twitter mob. Or confirm that the crowd is right. But some kind of independent judge / jury that can really (and transparently) call out the nuts, but also tell the mob they are simply wrong, or that the issues raised are simply not that clearcut or straightforward.

As it is, all Twitter / Facebook / Paypal et al seem to do is take the easy option - cancel, suppress, block, shadow any views which the "bien pensants" have decided are not acceptable. And so the avalanche of condemnation just drowns out any dissent.

And I would emphasise "transparent" - the worst crime of all of them is the hiding behind "our terms and conditions" - ie no real attempt to explain what exactly was done to prompt cancellation, shadow banning or whatever.

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Heinlein created a character like this in some of his stories. He called it a "Fair Witness."

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founding

I believe the "problem" with Twitter is what makes it genius--the character limit. When everyone is limited to 240 characters for a tweet (or the top tweet in a thread) it becomes easy to stay up to date with everyone you follow, plus every tweet that gains a bit of traction in your circles. Today I've read 3 essays on Substack and 1 column in The NYTimes, and I've probably skimmed a few hundred tweets. On Twitter, you don't miss anything.

The ease of interacting (likes, retweets, short replies) also means that it takes almost no effort for a dozen people to say "lol that guy sucks." But when you're that guy, it feels significant and humiliating. In part because you know that everyone will see it.

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It’s easy to justify being glib 100% of the time when glibness is almost baked into the medium.

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what's the problem with "missing something"? And the ease of interacting is precisely (it seems to me) the problem - no thought or reflection needed, just react, and move on. I was on Twitter, for about a day, and was abused by my own brother for disagreeing with some islamophobic tweet of his (I just replaced "muslims" with "jews" in his tweet, I think - it didn't read well). We are brothers, and good friends, but Twitter is no way to enjoy a healthy difference of view, in my experience.

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It was a shame that comments were not permitted on the Parker Molloy convo.

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Not really. I can certainly see why they were turned off.

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I tried reading one of her "letters" but could get more than two or three paragraphs without moving on. That's OK. No one appeals to everyone. She probably wouldn't have any interest in what I may have to say on some topic. No doubt she has plenty of people that want to hear what she has to say, whatever it was. My loss.

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I read them. I don't know much about her, so while I expected to agree more with Freddie I was rooting for Parker's letters to be good and make a strong argument I hadn't considered before...but it just felt to me like she was talking around and past the topic at hand.

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Her letters were boilerplate, flannel.

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She had a lot of stuff about right wing cancellations, with examples. My takeaway from her was that the right are just as big (or possibly bigger) censors as the left, it just doesn't get promoted, because the right-wing ecosystem is really interested in amplifying the victims of left-wing cancellations, but the left-wing doesn't have a similar cancel to click pipeline. It seems like that may be more or less her beat, but she's small potatoes. (I've only heard of her because of our host, and *he's* small potatoes.)

I found her informative and interesting and was glad of the point of view. OTOH, I don't think she has Freddie's chops. I haven't been back.

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That's a good summary of her argument, which would have been a good one to make if she were talking to a right-winger who was genuinely worked up about cancel culture. Talking to a fellow leftist, "the right does it worse" is probably enough of a point of agreement that it's not worth spending much time on.

All of that's to say, it felt like she was intentionally avoiding a more interesting conversation, not about whether the right or left is more censorious but about whether the left's censoriousness is a problem (for the left and in general).

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Mark Twain wrote about this back over 100 years ago in 'Corn-pone Opinions' http://www.paulgraham.com/cornpone.html

Most relevant passage:

A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

And of course, now that Twitter exists everyone must treat everything as a political emergency.

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Oct 17, 2022·edited Oct 17, 2022

I see social media as the modern evolution of the Royal Courts of the old world, it simply exchanged participation from the hereditary class to popularly accepted digital tribes. But the echo-chamber conformity is remarkably similar.

Twitter is like the court at Versailles in all its ass-kissing glory; except the ritualistic and spineless genuflecting is not focused on Louis' royal absolutism, but rather on the all-powerful and unreproachable ideal of irrational moral absolutism.

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This reminds me of a meme:

There are only two types of people in this world: me and everyone else.

I think it is a bit simple to understand. Jordan Peterson talks about it... the pursuit of position on the status and dominance hierarchy. It used to be more contained... family, places of work, community. Social media both caused it to be national and global while at the same time corrupted it to be more exclusively about popularity and much less to do about real accomplishment. Just ask yourself... what did the Kardashians really do to earn their millions (and billions)?

The pursuit of social hierarchy status is a ubiquitous human behavior. It is the design of the system that either exploits that for good, or else sends humanity into the sewer.

We either grow self-awareness that we are pursuing our status at the expense of the whole and stop doing the things that lead to such bad outcomes... or we change the system so that our natural needs pursuits are additive to two progress and productive growth.

I think we should do both.

And how we get it started is to call out the selfish pursuits of others causing bad outcomes... take away the fake shine of positive popularity. This is happening. This article is an example.

Related to this... the journalism industry needs professional standards and certification.

The next step is to put the Republicans back in power and hammer them to enact legislation that breaks all the political and Wall Street connections between the tech and media industry, and puts those entities back into being platforms of free exchange and non-biased, balanced reporting.

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"The next step is to put the Republicans back in power and hammer them to enact legislation that breaks all the political and Wall Street connections between the tech and media industry, and puts those entities back into being platforms of free exchange and non-biased, balanced reporting."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fdAFmtq-o8

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LOL. Well, the NEW Republicans... not the old establishment that is the same as the Democrat establishment.

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perhaps this post should be titled "the rise of the mean-girls of middle school in the PMC"

it's not just journalism tho may be the most advanced in this field... (journalism as a post-blue collar PMC profession that is)

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Somebody gave me some good advice recently. 99% of the time when somebody asks "What do you think of this idea?" they're not genuinely soliciting criticism, they're seeking affirmation. In other words what they expect to hear is everyone in the group saying "That's so true" or "What a great idea" or some variant. In other words it's an exercise in tribalism.

Say that to a bunch of geeks on the other hand and we will take the question at face value and cheerfully tear the proposal apart (or praise it if it's a genuinely good idea). The question is who do you want designing your car seat belt? Or the bulkhead on that passenger jet? Or figuring out if that politician is lying or what the real situation is like overseas?

There are professions that (should) reward stubborn old mules who think that the job is more important than getting along with people.

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I work with a woman who is always accusing me of arguing with her because I'm not good at the affirmation thing.

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Yup. Different set of expectations right out of the gate.

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Bravo!

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The situation is less simple and more messy than you say. 99% of people indeed want affirmation. If you think enough of an idea to introduce it and subject it to the consideration of others, of course you would like it if a lot of people find it valuable. That is *human*. If you're part of the 1% that aren't seeking affirmation at all, you're the oddball. That doesn't make you bad, but it also doesn't make you moral or superior.

There are not just two choices, affirmation-seeking lickspittles or cantankerous mules. A person can be both affirmation-seeking and cantankerous. A person can bring insightful ideas to light without being a jerk, or even an outsider at all.

The affirmation-seekers one should worry about are the ones who, when disappointed, cannot accept it. I don't mean that they initially don't accept criticism, but have to think about it and let it sink in. I mean the ones who take it personally and then feel they have to respond in kind (i.e., personally), and who react to criticism with an urge to destroy the source of that criticism. Not the criticism itself, but its source. Those people are both dangerous and highly counter-productive.

To criticize someone for wanting affirmation seems very uncharitable. As well criticize people for being horny or wanting creature comforts. Sure, there are some who don't have those desires, and there are some who take those desires to unhealthy extremes, but they are *very* normal desires and are a built-in part of being human.

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I do not disagree--obviously there aren't just "two types of people" in the world and there is a continuum in terms of personality traits. And I think you are spot on in noting that there is a group of people who take criticism of their ideas as criticism of themselves. This is especially prevalent in the public sphere: Glenn Loury and John McWhorter have postulated that woke ideology is a kind of replacement for religion and its adherents view dissent from doctrine as personal attacks.

The point is that in a functioning society you need people all along the spectrum. There are undoubtedly professions where consensus is paramount. But, again, who do you want designing your seat belt or the bulkhead of your passenger jet? The guy who's just going to go with the flow or somebody who's willing to dig his heels in when he sees danger signs? And similarly who do you want investigating and writing about Hunter Biden? Is there even any point to journalism if some stories are doomed to be stillborn because of groupthink? Yes, human beings are social animals. But we rightly celebrate individuals who, for instance, say "If you attack them you attack me." Or who point a machine gun at their fellow soldiers and say "We are both Americans, and they are not, but if you kill them I am going to kill you." Of course we celebrate them, because they are heroes.

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"But, again, who do you want designing your seat belt or the bulkhead of your passenger jet? The guy who's just going to go with the flow or somebody who's willing to dig his heels in when he sees danger signs?"

I'm less worried about the *person* who is designing this than the *culture within which it is designed and manufactured.* I don't need a place full of people who are personally obstinate about safety and will argue for it against the grain (though those people are certainly useful); I want to take advantage of a culture where ideas that improve safety *are the ideas that gain affirmation.* Culture of safe innovation is far more powerful than individuals who go against the grain. Make the grain work for you rather than trying to work against it.

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It's nice if you can get it but the history of engineering is replete with examples where too many people who knew better chose conformity and going with the flow over personal responsibility or where the individuals who spoke out were ignored. Both space shuttle disasters, the recent 737 Max debacle, etc.

Secondly from a technical standpoint individual competence matters. This is especially apparent in development where a good coder can literally be an order of magnitude more productive than a mediocre one but it is still true in fields like engineering.

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I would argue that expecting people not to conform, which is built into most of our DNA, is futile and results in failures exactly like the ones you describe. Trying to hire people who will work against the grain and then expecting them to individually do the right thing is a recipe for failure. Having a culture of safety, where doing the right thing is *what gains you status and affirmation* is not "nice if you can get it" -- it's the *only* way. That's what Boeing once had before the MD merger. The reason Boeing's safety record was destroyed, and the reason for the 737 Max's problems was precisely a loss of safety culture. It was not a failure to hire people willing to go against the grain. It was a failure of management to maintain a culture where one generates affirmation for maintaining the highest safety and quality standards.

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Except that history is filled with examples of people that failed to conform: look up the background for both space shuttle disasters, or Ralph Carr during WWII, or the American soldiers at My Lai who turned their weapons on fellow Americans to stop the massacre. If individual resistance is impossible how do these individuals even exist?

Resistance against authority is by definition non-conformist simply because the vast majority of people will go along with the herd. The changes at Boeing were dictated by management--that's the danger. What do you do when management/leadership is wrong?

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TG for tech. It's keeping me sane through this invidious era.

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Sounds like Russian people (in my family)

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Sounds like what went wrong with the Boeing 737 Max

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I think what's probably going on re: this not getting covered is a failure of imagination. I thought you hit upon this in your piece on publishing, these people have to work in this industry and to work, they have to get along. I think most industries that are not subject to some other, external selection pressure conform to this, in the little bit of time I've spent running around LA, its been very clear that popularity is the second most important factor in who gets opportunities for succes (the first still being who your parents are). Asking most journalists to imagine a world where their careers aren't highly staked to how many of their peers follow them on twitter is like asking fish to imagine living in trees. My guess you happen to have had such an anomalous trajectory (coming out of academia, finding early success on the internet, being embraced as a sort of counter-mainstream figurehead in certain circles, being a prolific and decent writer) that you just aren't aware of how pervasive this is, not just in journalism but everywhere. And again, I don't think that its the case that the people who compete in this sphere necessarily wouldn't prefer one that correlates more to say, how good their writing or reporting is, its just that they no longer have a way of imagining how that might look.

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since i come out of evolution, i think of the 'iron law of institutions' in a group vs. individual level benefit context. individually this sort of behavior is beneficial and necessary for success. but on a group level it makes the broader unit far weaker and less robust. in normal course of biosocial evolution you develop regulators of ingroup dynamics so they don't become counterproductive and overwhelm group fitness (eg cheater detection mechanisms or hard to fake signals of commitment)

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How much does survival of the fittest depend on there being a clearly defined state of not surviving? Evolution wouldn't work so well if all its subjects had trust funds

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i think you're talking soft vs hard selection. but all that matters here is differential fitness. the dead and living both matter

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Oct 18, 2022·edited Oct 18, 2022

If everyone can't have a trust fund, perhaps UBI will do instead.

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I think a bigger reason than "I buy into it and won't criticize it" is that what looks to me like an obvious race to the bottom in chasing the correct insider opinions just doesn't feel that way to the people involved.

I suspect that the people engaging in this disturbing behavior aren't occasionally realizing that they're jockeying for social status and then denying it. I think they've learned the conformity, the "well since we all know" way of speaking, and conformed, and felt rewarded for it. So they keep doing it.

I think this probably works at a subconscious level. I don't mean that in a Freudian sense but a more literal sense, the way that habits develop without us realizing it, and then the habit just feels like a fact of your reality, which makes it harder to notice and harder to change.

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One thing I've always found interesting: Twitter lags way behind so many other social media apps in total number of users. Yet it has a strange, outsized impact. Probably because it's the media's drug of choice. https://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users

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There is good evidence that we are all more likely to believe whatever our tribe says than some conclusion we arrived at on our own.

Once you see this in the journalism industry, you can't unsee it.

I appreciate FDB more than ever. As a conservative, I lost my tribe when I ditched Trump. I looked for intelligent progressive writers and found very few. Most are just in-grouping themselves and virtue signaling. Freddie isn't your prototype progressive, but he does believe in a lot of the causes. And I find his arguments to be thoughtful, and with good intent, even when I disagree. Thank you.

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