Why you should come to LambdaConf anyway
[Edit: see also, How to respond to hostile media inquiries. If you’re in a hostile frame of mind, this may be more what you’re looking for.]
You were going to come to LambdaConf. Why? Because LambdaConf is awesome and the whole FP field is on fire. Because duh. But —
But then you heard there was some kind of scandal. Or controversy. Or something.
Apparently there’s this notorious fascist, sexist, and/or racist. An “outspoken advocate for slavery.” He’ll be at LambdaConf too. No, wait — he’ll actually be speaking. A certain Yarvin, or Moldbug, or something. Very dangerous person. On stage. Wat?
A reasonable person, hearing this, planning to go to LambdaConf, even having made some commmitments, might reconsider. She might think: gosh, there’s nothing lovelier than late spring in Maine. Functional programming is fun. But how can it compete with salmon fishing in the Gulf of Okhotsk? Bye, see ya, gone.
Why you should come to LambdaConf anyway
Unfortunately, I’m this horrible Yarvin, or Moldbug, or whoever. I am obviously a person who’s read his share of the New Yorker, and I did go to Brown. I’d like to think I know how you feel.
Here’s why you should come to LambdaConf anyway:
- 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.
- Urbit is a typed, cryptographic, memorable, blocking, global immutable namespace in a strict, pure functional language.
- Hoon is functional programming without lambda (or category theory). So it can only debut at LambdaConf. (Hoon is named after Wallace Stevens’ bong.)
Why you have nothing to be afraid of (TLDR)
Again, Moldbug will not be at LambdaConf. I’m experienced in pretending no one knows my secret identity. I do it anyway, even when everyone knows. It seems the most polite thing. It’s certainly the most professional thing.
And it’s not in any way fake. There’s nothing Moldbug wrote that suggests I or anyone should shun minorities, assault women, tip over wheelchairs or strangle baby kittens. Historiography and scientific epistemology are interesting questions, but it’s hard to imagine any answers exciting enough to affect anyone’s personal or professional life.
I am not an “outspoken advocate for slavery,” a racist, a sexist or a fascist. (On 4chan I’m sometimes known as “Moldberg,” and depicted with a photoshopped Jew-nose.) I am also not plotting any sort of world domination. I am neither a leader or a member of any subversive reactionary organization. In fact, I haven’t answered Moldbug’s email for years.
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.
For example, a racist believes Europeans are inherently superior to Africans. I don’t hold any such belief, which is why the racists don’t want me in their racist clubhouse. (Let’s all hope 4chan never starts a functional programming conference.)
One way to not be a racist is to believe that European and African physiology is statistically identical, except for skin pigment and other superficial features. I don’t believe this either, mainly because there’s no evidence for it.
But I’m still not a racist. I don’t equate anatomical traits (whether sprinting speed or problem-solving efficiency) with moral superiority. I actually find this belief despicable — for the same reasons racism is despicable.
Still confused? Sorry, I tried. Please try the long version below. (You can also check out my Reddit AMA.)
What this is all about anyway (longform)
From 2007 to 2013, I wrote a blog called Unqualified Reservations, which reviewed old books and revisited old views on subjects literary, economic, scientific and political. To summarize a few hundred thousand words, the general theme was “thinking from scratch”: reconsidering intellectual perspectives from an absolute position not relative to present-day fashions.
When we say “right” or “left,” we mean “relative to what most normal people think.” But what most normal people think has changed a lot recently. Either most normal people were wrong then, or they’re wrong now, or both.
So we can’t assume that what most normal people think has any strong or consistent relationship to reality. So why not try to think from scratch?
Because the past is a foreign country, old sources (pre-1960 or so) help us think from scratch. Our ancestors were anything but perfect. But since recent changes have left a wide culture gap between us and them, we are in no danger of automatically and uncritically inhaling their misperceptions. Also, their English is perfect and their books are free. (If you want to try letting the past change your mind about something unimportant, try this).
Reading old books and pondering metaphysical historiography sounds like a harmless and pleasant activity, for a total nerd. As we see, this is not the case.
Ideally, I just did it wrong. Ideally, if I’d read the right old books rather than the wrong ones — the books they assign at Brown, not the books I started clicking around in archive.org — the results would confirm Dr. Pangloss, who said: “all is for the best, in this the best of all possible worlds.”
One way to summarize the results I did get is this famous quote from political scientist Eric Voegelin:
In the Gnostic dream world… nonrecognition of reality is the first principle. As a consequence, types of action which in the real world would be considered as morally insane, because of the real effects they will have, will be considered moral in the dream world because they intended an entirely different effect.
The gap between intended and real effect will be imputed not to the Gnostic immorality of ignoring the structure of reality, but to the immorality of some other person or society that does not behave as it should behave according to the dream conception of cause and effect.
No need to try to parse that. All Voegelin is saying is that if you experiment with “thinking from scratch” and the results are positive, you end up living in a different story from everyone else. What I see as reality, you see as a surreal dream world. What you see as reality, I see as a surreal dream world.
The good news is that it’s not our values which differ. You and I both believe it’s awful to kill Grandma. Unless Grandma is a vampire, in which case it’s highly meritorious. We disagree only on a question of fact: is Grandma a vampire?
Enough with the philosophy
Forget Grandma! Let’s get back to the real question. Am I a racist?
The answer is: no. But, I see why you might think so.
This demands a little more of an explanation. Please be assured that I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m just hoping you can suspend your fear for a moment, while we think together. Once this moment is over, you can go on fearing and loathing me with ferocious eternal passion.
In real life, DNA doesn’t matter
Old books aren’t the only source of dangerous information. Science has been producing inconvenient truths for a while, and it’s not quite finished. Today the most dangerous field is biology: specifically, human population genetics.
But whatever researchers have learned and will learn about the human genome, we already know one thing: none of it will be relevant at an individual level. DNA matters to history and politics, but not our personal and professional lives.
Any information you can learn from DNA today or tomorrow will be beaten soundly by the information you get by talking to someone for 30 seconds. An actual IQ test will blow it away.
The DNA signal is just too noisy. It’s not just that we don’t yet have enough data to construct a genome-to-IQ function (or a photo-to-IQ function). We know a good function isn’t in the data. A “Gattaca” world where everyone is measured by their DNA (or racial appearance, as a crude proxy for DNA) can’t happen, not because it’s morally wrong, but because it’s factually wrong. The best information about the phenotype is… in the phenotype.
The real problem is IQism
Let’s agree: a racist is someone who thinks white people are better than black people. There are fancier definitions, but this one is nice and simple.
You are not a racist. I am not a racist. But you and I have different ways of being non-racist.
Here’s how you are not-racist. You hold two beliefs: one, neurological problem-solving performance (ie, “intelligence”) is homogenously distributed across the genetically inhomogeneous human species. Two, it’s better to be smart than stupid.
Ergo, no race is better than any other race, because all races are equally smart. Is that right? I hope I have it right.
Here’s how I’m not-racist: I share neither belief.
I don’t believe in your theory of human population genetics (“human neurological uniformity”). One, HNU is mathematically unlikely. Two, there is next to no evidence for it. Three, there is plenty of evidence against it.
HNU is not a natural null hypothesis. Its doubters don’t need to disprove it. It needs to prove itself. Genetic and anatomical inhomogeneity is normal in the species. Statistically, its presence is expected and its absence would be remarkable. No such absence is found.
We agree that as recently as a century ago, few believed in HNU. (In 1916, Americans were so racist that the word “racist” didn’t even exist.) How did HNU become the null hypothesis? This is quite the scientific revolution. Hopefully it was driven by quite a body of evidence. What were the most pivotal studies?
This is not the place to argue about human population genetics. For a readable look at the field, I recommend a recent book called A Troublesome Inheritance, by NYT science writer Nicholas Wade. Here’s his own summary in Time magazine. I don’t always trust content from the New York Times, but when I do it’s content by Nick Wade.
But you can fail to believe in HNU, and still not be racist. Why? A much more important reason: being intelligent doesn’t make you a better person.
Yes, racism is creepy. (If it’s sincere. There’s nothing creepy about Dave Chappelle.) But most people are wrong about why it’s creepy. The creepy idea is actually that people who score higher on IQ tests are in some sense superior human beings.
Where IQism comes from
How did this creepy idea get into our heads, anyway? You can just look at it and see it’s creepy. Ick.
Yes, general intelligence correlates across a wide variety of problem-solving skills. If you have a high SAT score, you are more likely to be a good Go player. Until machine learning is a little more mature, this may retain some economic importance. You may retire before your brain is obsolete; your kids won’t.
But a better person? Everything about this idea is obviously objectionable. For instance, if a smarter person was actually a better person, a court should take his testimony more seriously. He’s more likely to tell the truth, since he’s a better person. He’ll be a better husband and parent, since he’s a better person. Wat?
For most people I know, it’s not hard to find the psychological source of this creepy neurosis. It’s called “high school.”
If you’re an average American New Yorker reader, high school was the last time you were on the bottom of the totem pole. Maybe you were one of the smartest kids in the building. But to the cheerleaders and football players, you were a joke. If you had friends (some did), you and your friends were a joke.
Here’s my own story of IQism. Third grade was the last time I was with kids my own age. I threw chairs and terrified everyone, so they skipped me to fourth. This was quite effective if only in a disciplinary sense. Later my family moved to Cyprus and put me in a fake English public school, going from fifth grade to “third form” — ie, 8th. With CTY in between. After two years, we moved back to Maryland, where I was a 12-year-old sophomore in a diverse public high school. Later I graduated from Brown at 18 and dropped out of the Berkeley CS program at 20.
My actual IQ isn’t that high, but this CV suggests a risk for IQism — pretty much the way the CV of a heroin-addicted sex worker suggests a risk for HIV and Hep-C.
Perhaps I overdosed. I don’t know. In any case, I reject IQism and everything it stands for. It disgusts me, the way racism disgusts you.
I stand with the cheerleaders and jocks (now housewives and plumbing contractors). Sure, they got to go to the prom. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Is that justice? Or just more injustice?
IQism in historical perspective
Racism, Nazi style, is the arrogant ideology of a dead ruling elite. We bombed the shit out of this elite (my grandfather, a Jewish Communist from Brooklyn, invaded Europe with the 100th Airborne). Then we said to Germany: now, how’s that Nazi sh*t working out for you? Not so great, it seemed, so the Germans have been super sweet ever since.
IQism is the arrogant ideology of a live ruling elite. 50 years ago, the jocks and cheerleaders handed over Detroit to the professors and journalists. How’s that working out for Detroit? It was never bombed by the RAF, but it looks like it. Surely if the Krauts can change their minds and their system government, so can we.
50 years ago, in every major city in America, there was a thriving African-American business district — Bronzeville in Chicago, Sweet Auburn in Atlanta, Third Street in SF. Where are they now? You can still drive there — in the daytime. I’ve been to Third Street. Once was enough.
Dear Brown, dear Berkeley, dear NPR, tell me again what great things you’ve done for black America. I’m all ears, since my eyes are telling me you’ve taken their votes and f*cked them. Like any arrogant ruling elite.
Why are sh*t-tier whites voting for Trump, a barbarian who can’t even write a grammatical tweet in fourth-grade English? Because they’re done with being sh*t on by their “betters,” who think invading Iraq and starting civil wars in Syria and Libya is a brilliant use for a third of their income.
Our whole society works by picking the kids who do the best on tests, hazing them in high school so they hate jocks and cheerleaders, sending them to college where they learn to be bureaucrats, and funneling them into gigantic, incompetent institutions that misrule the entire planet. Unless they’re good at math, in which case they end up in Silicon Valley.
At every stage of this tournament, the winners are the clever. The professors at Harvard have higher IQs than the professors at Notre Dame. The journalists at the NYT have higher IQs than the reporters at the SF Chronicle. They all need a lot of other bureaucratic skills to get ahead, of course. But they assume — simply because they’re the smartest — that they’re the best. Are they? Look at the results.
It’s true that a high IQ is useful in almost every field, including government. In no field is it sufficient. A much more important qualification is a clue.
We know this qualification is lacking. Our brains tell us that a regime with a clue doesn’t let its country rot — regardless of race, creed or color. And our eyes tell us that, outside the university-media-government complex, the financial “industry” and Silicon Valley, everything else in America is rotting.
It’s difficult not to connect this with the fact that everyone who is smart feels the right to rule. This desire pretends to come from their rational impulse to make the world a better place. Far more often, I feel, it’s coming from their chimpanzee DNA, which wants to be chief chimpanzee and pop out lots of little baby chimpanzees.
When you join a Twitter mob and serve as a sort of informal government — by deciding, for instance, who can speak at a conference — you’re feeding your inner chimpanzee. It feels good. Your conscience may be convinced that it’s spiritually the right thing to do. But your limbic system is just plain high. Twitter is a drug cartel. The drug is power. Or at least, apparent power.
It is very difficult for high-IQ nerds to realize that a Twitter oligarchy of all the high-IQ nerds is not an effective government, that high-IQ people are not inherently better than low-IQ people, etc, etc. But we’re smart and we could try. The clue is out there, somewhere — maybe even in old books.
Why you should come to LambdaConf (again)
So that’s what I believe. Rather, that’s what Moldbug believes. You will not hear anything more on these subjects from me.
You probably still believe Moldbug has bad ideas. He believes you have bad ideas. Hopefully that’s fine — at least if you can agree that he’s just wrong, rather than evil.
Again, Moldbug will not be at LambdaConf, but I will. I do have strong opinions about strict evaluation (good) and tracing GC (bad). If reference counting triggers you, definitely cancel that flight.