Monthly Archives / March 2016

  • Mar 29 / 2016
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LambdaConf 2016: Bending over backwards to shoot yourself in the face

I’ve obviously been under a stone for the last few days, but perhaps it helps to be able to catch up in one go on the recent Twitterstorm around LambdaConf’s decision to keep Curtis Yarvin on their schedule of speakers. If you don’t know who that is, you can read his own reaction to the controversy here on Medium. Among the speakers who chose to withdraw, @amar47shah’s post is representative. All their sponsors, bar one, have pulled out. Eric Normand chose to begin this week’s Clojure Gazette talking about this, and I’d also recommend @alissapajer‘s considered post.

And then there’s this:

So, what remains to be said? Well, everything I can find about this is reaction to the decision, and reaction to the reactions. Alissa Pajer’s post comes closest to explaining some thinking about this. Let’s do some more.

Firstly, I believe LambdaConf made several grievous mistakes here. Honest, well-meaning mistakes, but mistakes which fatally expose the inherent weakness of modern Western middle-class liberal society when confronted with a dilemma such as this.

The first mistake was to panic and vacillate when they found out that their blind selection process had approved Yarvin. That process was, quite rightly, just about the topic he will talk about, and was designed specifically to ignore his identity.  Their decision might well have been a little easier if Yarvin had included in his proposal his intention to appear, as usual for him, dressed as an officer of the SS-Totenkopfverbände. He didn’t, of course, because “Yarvin will be speaking and attending. Moldbug is neither speaking nor attending. Yarvin is not interested in anything except system software and will ignore you, like a total aspie, if you bring up any other subject.” And anyway, “I’m just a writer, and my values are mostly the same as yours. I oppose what you oppose. I just oppose it with different ideas.” So, that’s that.

This mistake has been made before. It comes, understandably, from ascribing to others the values and morals you have or would like to think you have. People like this chap are practically designed to exploit this normally socially useful cognitive bias. I believe it’s actually in the gene pool because it makes us more effective in the large: a large proportion of leaders in industry and politics are sociopaths or psychopaths by classic definition, they’re there because their relatively less retarded by moral doubt.

The second, compounding blunder was to pass the buck by “consulting” those most likely to be affected by their decision, the speakers who come from various minorities. This is actually a whole series of mistakes, as Amar Shah detailed. If you were asked, individually and confidentially, to answer these questions, what would you say? You’d no doubt have to mention your “respect for others’ opinions” and your belief in freedom of speech. Not knowing better, you’d likely share LambdaConf’s face-value reading of Yarvin’s assertion that his alter ego would not turn up to hijack the conference with his odious cryptobigoted “analysis”. Being (due to LambdaConf’s choice of who to consult), by definition a member of a minority group, you will, most importantly, have developed by now an aversion to drawing attention to yourself, so you’d be brave indeed to reply with a strident demand that he should be dropped or you’d withdraw. This is your big gig, no sense in you blowing it and becoming a victim (again).

The “consult the minority speakers”, apart from being an atrocious unconscious act of patronisation (see Mansplaining), would only have worked if most or all the speakers had strongly replied with ultimatums, and that was just never going to happen. They would have been better off if they’d just asked the white middle-class straight dudes who formed the majority, or the bosses of their sponsors. I’m not joking. What’s happened since bears that out.

As John deGoes explains in this extensive explanation of their decision, they then “wrestled” with the conflicting forces before deciding not to exclude the speaker. I’d sum up their stated reasons for this as “lack of evidence”, backed up by a vague promise that, “in keeping with these new policies, if evidence arises that anyone planning to speak at or attend the conference presents a safety danger for others, or cannot be trusted to uphold the pledge, we will evaluate that evidence and make decisions appropriately.”

This one, you hopefully get the idea by now, is also all too familiar.

It’s all too easy to refer to decisions made by deluded conservatives in January 1933, or the earlier triumph of hope over experience of a 1924 treason trial. This guy is not Hitler. In a way, he’s much more and much less than the cartoon villain our amnesic society had made of that muppet. Hitler was also a dual personality, or at least, in his youth, he could switch, as circumstances required, from honest, loyal, humble, struggling, but charming and gregarious country gent, simply doing his best for his people, straight to a violent demagogue screaming for the expunging of Germany’s racial enemies. He did this because he had real enemies, and both his life and his Party were in constant danger right up to the day he gained power. He did this because he viewed his mission as life or death for his entire Volk and its way of life.

This Yarvin is another class of scumbag altogether. Some of us study the history of Fascism because we are terrified of its reappearance in our midst, and determined to extinguish it with all the force necessary if it as much as casts a shadow. Every day, this becomes more of a concern than I had hoped it could be, as democracies face a growing storm of institutional racism, disenchanted, easily radicalised minorities, and the tension between maintaining control and constraining the use and abuse of state force. As before, global economic factors have conspired to impoverish and emasculate the poor white majorities in many countries, and it is to the more literate of these that the “readers of old books” can appeal. Just north of me, the Northern Ireland peace process is in danger of crumbling, as the “old guard” of both Loyalism and Republicanism poison their unemployed, hopeless grandsons with talk of “sieges”, leading to an upsurge in both sectarian and racist violence.

LambdaConf is not going to happen this year. Maybe people will turn up, and there might be some talks, but it’ll just be all about this issue. The best thing for them to do is pull the plug without ceremony, and perhaps try again next year with a proper policy. What they should have done the moment they knew who Yarvin was, was email him informing him of their decision not to include him. And why. Something like:

Dear Curtis,

Thank you very much for your talk submission. While the topic of your talk passed our blind evaluation process on its merits, we subsequently discovered that you are also the cryptobigot known as Moldbug. We defend your right as a human being to express your opinions, but we assert our right to choose how to treat those opinions and their author according to our own values and those of our community, and so we have decided that you, as a self-declared enemy of common humanity, will not be speaking at our conference.

Feel free to share this message. We are proud to stand up for our community, which is all too poor for resembling the bland sameness of the world you dream of, and we are confident that people like you will experience more and more the loneliness and hopelessness of being shunned and ignored for your pitiful and poisonous “ideas”.