Content Notes: Amateur Genetics, Neurodiversity, Nick Land, NRx, Racism, Ignorance, Stupidity, Addiction
As some people may have noticed, my experiments in using twitter as a platform for philosophical writing have become a bit more interactive of late. However, it’s hard to describe these interactions and explain their significance without somehow recapitulating them. As such, I’m going to try and do something a little unusual in this post, and see if I can effectively capture one of these interactions, because I think it might be instructive.
It all begins with some thoughts I’ve been developing on the politics of health inspired by Mark Fisher‘s take on mental health and my own experiences with healthcare more generally. Where it goes from there is hard to explain without simply showing you.
So, traveller, heed my words, because things are going to get weird…
1. Gulag Builds You
(1): I increasingly think that Mark Fisher’s perspective on the politics of mental health can be expanded to the politics of health more generally. It is not simply that social causes of illness are individualised, but that one can be anything but an individual in medical contexts.
(2): The NHS is great at treatment, and in some respects great at rapid diagnosis and response (cf. NHS 111), but the diagnostic system more generally is completely fucked, and fucked in ways that disproportionally affect both marginal groups and weird individuals.
(3): Here’s one thing I have seen: a friend who was symptomatic for over a year was only diagnosed with cancer when his lymphoma reached stage 4, at which point he had a tumour between his vertebrae and his neck was distended; and only then because my brother suggested it to the GP.
(4): Here’s another: I saw it take 7 years of constant struggle against an indifferent system for someone to get her chronic pain taken seriously enough that they finally found the gallstones and removed her gallbladder. 7 years of debilitating pain and diagnostic gaslighting.
(5): There are more stories, and I’m sure everyone has a couple of these, either of their own experiences or those of their friends and family. It is entirely possible to be trapped in a diagnostic loop by the often more or less random string of GPs we will see in seeking help.
(6): Worse still, there are halting states: terminal points in the diagnostic tree where you are slotted into an ersatz category whose meaning is: ‘something’s wrong with X, now you figure it out’. (e.g., Irritable Bowel Syndrome: ‘What? My bowel is irritable? You don’t say!’)
(7): And the worst? Being put in a category that means ‘you figure it out’ and then being told ‘no, not like that,’ when you try to. All the downsides of paternalism with none of the fringe benefits.
(8): This is a system that fails despite the fact that the GPs who act as our interface to the diagnostic tree are highly trained and highly experienced. Indeed, it often fails because they have so much experience they are hypersensitized to signs of misdescription and hypochrondria.
(9): The politicians and managers who have mangled the system over the last few decades have successfully optimised for just those conditions in which GPs make overconfident snap judgments about potential false-positives in self-reported symptoms.
(10): They’ve turned the interface to the entire health system for anything less serious than an obvious and extreme condition that would make you dial 999 (or 111) into an adversarial interaction in which one side tries to signal harder, and the other finds better ways to ignore it.
(11): Often, what this looks like is: waiting 2 weeks for a 10 minute appointment with a GP who is somewhere between helpful and harmful, and who one has no guarantee of ever seeing again, or successfully passing on any information to the next one you see 2-3 weeks later.
(12): I’m not trying to be too harsh on GPs here, because I have had some great interactions with them. However, these are correctly described as great interactions despite the constraints imposed on them, not because of them.
(13): But I have also had the process of finding adequate medication for a debilitating chronic pain condition held back 6 months by a single GP’s capricious decision that literally ever other health professional I have spoken to thinks was inexplicably wrong.
(14): And I know I’ve got off lightly, because I’ve seen what happens to women with chronic conditions of every kind, and how they are systematically made to feel as if they are making up their symptoms. The pattern is painfully obvious.
(15): If nothing else, the psychic damage of living with symptoms that no one will just give you a word to describe, a short phrase to communicate and validate your suffering in the eyes of everyone and every institution around you, is often as bad as the condition itself.
(16): If this system fails even when the people on the diagnostic front line are highly trained and highly experienced, why in the ever-loving-fuck would we think it would work when they’re petty-minded bureaucrats incentivised to decrease benefits claims?
(18): I think this is precisely what Mark meant by ‘market stalinism‘: senseless bureaucracies consuming the resources that should be spent to free their charges from suffering to break their spirits and beat them into shape instead. In United Kingdom, gulag builds you.
2. The Garden of Forking Threads
There were several responses to individual tweets in the above thread, both as I was writing it and after it finished. The following interactions emerge from my initial attempt to chase these responses up, but they ramify all too quickly. This is the problem with representing such interactions: they don’t form a line, but rather a tree whose many branches can themselves have many branches. A dialectical labyrinth, brimming with twists and turns, in which one can all too easily lose one’s thread.
This is hard enough to follow on twitter as it is, and it’s difficult to represent on a blog. I’ve done my best to do so. I’ve tried to repeat tweets where it’s necessary to show different child branches emerging from the same parent branch, and I’ve tried to make this clear by using screenshots for the important node tweets. Hopefully, what’s interesting about the interaction will become apparent as you read it, but if you’re not up for reading a somewhat unruly back and forth, you may want to skip it. Here’s where it all kicks off:
(D): I think that’s far too easy a response. Not least because (a) the NHS is still good at treatment, and (b) because it used to be much better at diagnostics, and, arguably, more efficient in a variety of ways. There were a lot of marginal people who benefitted quite a bit from it.
(TXH): It’s the true response tho—sometimes the truth is easy. It’s like everything the gov does: grim, inefficient, & strangled by absurd bureaucracy. The only people who benefit are politicians & non-medical NHS bureaucrats who rake in £££s doing nothing. Marginals always screwed.
(D): But most of the worst stuff that’s happened in the last few decades has happened precisely because of privatisation and quasi-privatisation of services, and the accompanying importation of private sector culture into the institution. Understanding failure demands specifics.
(TXH): It has been like it from the beginning, just like USSR etc. It has got worse as more £££s have been shovelled into the bureaucracy.
This is a fairly familiar response to anyone who has ever argued about socialism with a libertarian or someone similarly inclined, though there is obviously some truth to the claims being made about bureaucracy and allied political formations. However, things are about to take an interesting turn. Note the importance of my blindness to ‘the blackened metastatic heart of it’ in the proceedings as a whole:
I must admit that this entertained me no end, but it also invited me to engage in a way that altered the parameters of the interaction. I seriously believe in what I’d call discursive symmetry. I don’t make demands on the way people behave in argument that I would not make upon myself. For instance, I think it’s usually a bad idea to make an argument against what one’s opponent believes dependent upon their motivations for believing it, even when these motivations are obvious, and obviously driving the responses that they’re making. However, if someone does this sort of thing to me, I have no qualms about doing it back to them. As such, this was an interesting opportunity to give people for whom the hermeneutics of suspicion are the default mode of discursive engagement a taste of their own medicine. I’ll let you see where it leads.
(D): You want to induce a psychic break? LOL.
(TXH): You agree with me in your heart; it’s just that you have a higher level moralistic program running that won’t let you admit it for social signalling purposes. You work in/are associated w/ academia so you would lose status points if you attaqed socialism/NHS. I don’t manipulate.
(D): Keep going. Tell me about your preferred coloured pill. This is hilarious.
(TXH): Honesty is addictive—it either induces laughter or profound silence. I take vitamin D and vitamin C pills—seem to boost my mood and cognition.
(D): Sincerity is my cardinal virtue. I do not want any status that would be gained by insincere. However, sincerity demands looking at details, and not letting your aesthetics of bleakness get in the way of looking at the ugly mundanity that is more often the heart of the true.
(TXH): I don’t understand chemistry—everything I learned about nutrition came from homosexual bodybuilders and cat-loving artists. Do you take vit K? How does it make you feel?
(D): I’m bipolar 2, and there’s pretty good evidence that mutations in genes encoding calcium channels are involved, and distinct evidence related to other calcium related processes. It can’t hurt to make sure I’ve got enough of the relevant vitamins: D and K, and they balance out.
(D): How does it make me feel? Well, that’s harder to judge. How do statins make someone feel? It’s less a mood boost than a prophylactic. Though there’s good evidence SAD involves vitamin D deficiency, so it can’t hurt on that front either.
(TXH): Glycine makes me fall asleep quickly (like aging a bath before bed) and have these amazingly vivid dreams sometimes. I think it puts me in contact with another reality.
(TXH): I’m just completely mad, but so are most people. I take glycine, vitamin c & d, Curcumine, fish oil, and garlic oil. What difference do you feel on D and K combined?
(D): As I say, I can’t tell you what meaningful difference there is from the perspective of feeling, because there’s too many variables there. What I can tell you is that taking K means you can’t have too much D.
(D): Is this the psychic assault you were talking about?
(TXH): No, I wouldn’t do that to someone consciously that would be cruel. I just felt you were stonewalling me and we were getting lost in words; but we live in an era of wall building, as with Donald Trump, and everyone is building walls—though I like to pull mine down.
(D): How am I stonewalling you?
(TXH): I feel that you think that people who take vitamins and supplements are silly, and I feel that maybe you don’t take any at all—that’s why you quote studies, so you don’t have to lie directly and also why you don’t talk about your experience with vitamins.
(D): I have a bipolar disorder and a chronic pain condition. This is what a day’s worth of pills looks like for me. This includes prescription meds and supplements (including D&K). I have tried more things than you see here.
(TXH): Thank your for sharing your pills. That is a courageous thing to do.
(D): I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to understand how my body works in order to make it work better. This is in part why I am exacerbated by the ‘you figure it out’ / ‘not like that’ dynamic. Healthcare is quite intimately important to me.
(D): Furthermore, I’m someone whose feelings are demonstrably variable (bipolar), so being honest with myself means looking at research and recognising when the information my feelings can give me is limited. Such as when there are too many variables to reliably isolate.
(D): The one pill I won’t take is the one you call ‘honesty’, because the reason it’s addictive is that it lets you make aesthetic judgments and call them ‘deep’ truths. It lets you rationalise believing things because you’d like to, and then pat yourself on the back for it.
(TXH): I am completely shallow, and I change my views all the time according to how I feel and what I see.
(TXH): It is what it is.
(D): I’ll defend sincerity to the hilt, but I will have no part in ‘honesty’ if it means lying to myself and calling it ‘grim’ truth. Darkness, bleakness, grimness, etc. These are aesthetic qualities with no epistemically valence.
(D): Whether it’s a question of political systems, healthcare infrastructure, or neurology, truth is complex, messy, and in process. Details matter, and feelings are fairly coarse and undetailed things, epistemically speaking.
(PO): “That’s not an argument”.
(TXH): Feelings make facts, I think.
(D): I’m looking at my body as it is. If that means losing a ‘sense’ of it, then fine. If you want to keep that sense, so be it, but don’t pretend that you’re the one letting go illusions.
(TXH): I don’t even exist—even though I think I am very clever fellow. I’m unbearably arrogant and an absolute rogue and pain in the arse.
(D): Well, that’s one sort of story you can tell yourself, but it’s still a story you’re using to define yourself, even if it’s a paradoxical one. Even those who define themselves through their lack of agency are defining themselves, and thereby dictating their behaviour.
(TXH): I just do what I do.
(TXH): I feel that maybe you’re stuck in your head and what you read. I could be wrong; I often am.
There are some important things to notice here already: tautologies packaged as ‘honesty’, and an expression of self-image packaged as self-abnegation. It’s worth paying attention to the way in which these gestures keep recurring, as this is the most important sort of pattern to spot in discursive interaction if you’re looking for deception, rationalisation, or something similarly insincere. Of course, much of this insincerity is for rhetorical effect, but I think there’s more than mere rhetoric here. However, this is where we really get into the garden of forking threads. I’ve done my best to make it readable.
(D): I mean, consider ‘absolute rogue’. What makes one an ‘absolute’ rogue? A willingness to roguishly undermine and sidestep all things? Even one’s own roguishness? The refusal of limits or conditions to which one’s character is relative suggests that there is something else, unsaid.
(TXH): I am what I am.
(D): Tautologies are claims you retreat to when you have nothing else to put forward. They can allude to some deeper profundity, but this allusion is really an illusion.
(TXH): Truth is tautological?
(D) Tautologies are truths, but they are by definition the least informative ones. Finding tautologies is easy, finding non-tautological truths is hard.
(TXH): I like easy things.
(D): This much is obvious. And you will refuse to challenge yourself because of it. You will insist that others should challenge themselves, and in the same breath insist that you simply cannot do what you demand of others.
(TXH): I am what I am.
(D): We’re all just bundles of drives telling themselves stories. A meat machine with a narrative. A body with a soul.
(D): You don’t need to tell yourself that you (qua soul) don’t exist, in order to feel connected to the truth of your body. You need to be honest about the way in which your body is narrating the story of you.
(TXH): My trousers feel tight and I’m a little drowsy.
(D): Who does, at the end of the day? We are doomed to build better models of ourselves that let us understand and modulate our capacities, but there is never any best to be found.
(TXH): Why be better when we can just be what we are?
(D): Because we are stories that are constantly unfolding, told by machines that are changing and failing. Time does not stand still for you, and the idea that you can arrest it by simply being what one is is another convenient rationalization.
(D): As Pindar said, one can become what one is, and indeed must become it over and over, because the only alternative is becoming something else. There is no being what you are, only becoming it. No substantial self, only cybernetic modulation. Self-control.
(TXH): As I said, I don’t believe I exist.
(D): And so we reach bedrock, and it seems to be a belief you deny you have, a belief that is undeniably theological.
(TXH): I don’t believe that—I just said it.
(D): You obviously feel that this pragmatic contradiction – saying things and then denying you believe them – is liberating, that it lets you be who you are. It’s not. It’s a prison you’ve built for yourself, in which your mind will rot.
(D): LOL. This has the intellectual content of a teenager’s edgy 4chan post. It’s got less content than a ‘we live in a society’ meme. You should expect better from yourself, because you could do better if you tried.
(TXH): “Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.” — Heraclitus. I’m a blank cheque, you can write whatever value you want on me.
(D): Quite the converse. You’re an etch-a-sketch. I can write whatever I want on you, but it’ll shake out in a moment. The tragedy is that so will anything you write on yourself.
(TXH): Only death is real.
(TXH): I don’t believe in anything.
(D): This is the greatest lie it is possible to tell oneself.
(D): On the one hand, it is demonstrably false, as shown by every impulse you have to argue and understand. You may not have beliefs about certain topics, but you most certainly have some about others. Hence, it is a lie.
(TXH): I don’t believe that I don’t believe that I don’t believe.
(TXH): I am completely trapped.
(D): Then try to escape. First acknowledge that the person keeping you trapped is you, because you do exist and you do believe things. You have merely tied yourself in knots to protect yourself from the kinds of discursive assault you wish to unleash upon others.
(TXH): I am completely free.
(D): The second greatest lie you can tell to yourself.
(D): If you were free, you would not be tying yourself in knots using tautologies, contradictions, cycles, and other discursive malformations. What you are is content with your rationalizations.
(TXH): Because I know I’m in prison, I’m free.
(D): Just as tautologies are the least truths, this is an example of a least good: ‘at least I know my oppression is total an irremediable’. You have redefined yourself into freedom and contentment. Which is sad, more than anything.
(D): This is probably the one thing we agree on, even if you mean it in a different sense to me. You want to say that I don’t know anything about it either, but I at least know there is such knowledge, and in that, I am more free than you.
(D): You cannot look at yourself and ask ‘what is good and what is bad?’ let alone ‘how do I change, how do I become better?’, because you have told yourself there is nothing there to see.
(TXH): Once there was a mirror, now there’s not even that.
(D): From my perspective, it looks like you pawned it for magic beans.
(TXH): I love magic.
(D): I can see. Magical thinking most of all.
(D): You, I’m assuming.
(TXH): I like to think so, spiritually if not biologically.
(D): Again, you actually want to have some beliefs, but you must disavow even these, lest they make you vulnerable. Lest anyone could make you change. Even yourself. This is the spiritual equivalent of taking viagra and getting painful priapism indistinguishable from impotence.
(TXH): Is thinking believing?
(D): My spiritual dick isn’t big enough, alas.
(TXH): It’s only the physical one that matters.
(D): Well, I must go teach a seminar, and this involves some deep connections to my body that I cannot obviate. I hope you can enjoy your dick without me, be it spiritual or material.
(TXH): I love everything.
(D): You began this interaction by saying that you knew the deep truth of my heart, and that you were willing to do psychic damage to make me confront it. I wanted to show you how this in fact reflects deep truths about your own self you deny by invoking ‘honesty’ and ‘selflessness’.
(D): If this sounds like turning the tables on you, that’s because it is. If you want me to stop, I will. But don’t pretend you didn’t invite it. If you want to poke someone else’s ‘reality’, you can’t complain when they poke yours back.
(TXH): Is it a complaint?
It’s worth contrasting this twisty interaction with a more constructive one that came out of the same thread:
(D): I’m not saying it’s ever been good at individuality, because I think diagnostic processes with that fineness of grain are very difficult to design well, I do think it has been in many respects better than it now is. It’s quite clear that the idea of a personal GP is now defunct.
(FO): Indeed. I think y’all need to start accomodating DIY med stuff like biohacking. Let go of the “leave it to to the professionals” mindset, and start giving away the know how of diagnosis and treatment.
(D): Definitely in agreement on this point.
Was that so hard? This is the difference between an interaction in which you’re trying to negotiate the parameters of agreement and disagreement, so that you might at least be able to learn something from one another, even if you do not ultimately agree. If this isn’t how the interactions with @tomxhart and @parallaxoptics were working, then what was going on instead?
3. Narcotic Nihilism
Here’s where things get a little weirder. I swear that I had written this blog post up to this very point, and was preparing to write this section, when some further twitter activity drew the same characters back into my mentions, along with some other, less savoury types. It’s impossible to recreate the whole context here, but it drew out the thoughts that I’d intended to express in this section, and then provided an impromptu demonstration of many of the points I was making. I’ll try to zoom in on the relevant bits, and you can go find the rest if you’re so inclined. However, I will preface it by quoting the piece from Greg Egan’s Diaspora with which I had initially intended to finish this section.
‘Inoshiro smiles beatifically and held out vis hands. A white lotus flower blossomed from the centre of each palm, both emitting identical reference tags. Yatima hesitated, then followed their scent.
It was an old outlook, buried in the Ashton-Laval library, copied nine centuries before from one of the ancient memetic replicators replicators that had infested the fleshers. It imposed a hermetically sealed package of beliefs about the nature of the self, and the futility of striving … including explicit renunciations of every mode of reasoning able to illuminate the core belief’s failings.
Analysis with a standard tool confirmed that the outlook was universally self-affirming. Once you ran it, you could not change your mind. Once you ran it, you could not be talked out of it.
Yatima said numbly, ‘You were smarter than that, stronger than that.’ 
If you want to understand the significance of this passage and to read some commentary on it, there’s an old post on the Hyperstition blog. For now, I simply ask you to keep the White Lotus in mind as you read what follows. Here is where we begin. Let’s call it (19) and continue counting the non-interactive tweets from there.
(20) This is a generalisation that no doubt has exceptions, and there are equally parallel examples that come from completely different political directions. That such parallels are informative was the point of my recent post on Land and Haraway.
(21) It’s one thing to talk about the epistemology of ignorance, and another to talk about the epidemiology of ignorance. This is one reason I love the phrase ‘the red pill’. It’s the Dunning-Krueger effect as a narcotic high: ‘I see the real truth, which means I don’t need to think’.
(22) Compare with ‘I’ve got an out of the box critique of power in domain X, which means I don’t need to look at the details’. That’s what, for years, I’ve been calling a critical reflex. At one point it was interesting detail-oriented scholarship, now it’s a discursive weapon.
(23) This is precisely the sort of thing that NRx types complain about under the heading of ‘The Cathedral’, or JP heads call ‘postmodern neoMarxism’. There is a form of power here that they want to talk about. Yet, they’ve cut themselves off from the canon concerned with this.
(24) Every vice they accuse the left of, every unpleasant tick of erstwhile online ‘social justice warriors’, they mirror and exaggerate without realising it. Convinced of their superior critical faculties.
(25) Argue with one, and you’ve argued with them all, pretty much. They say the same thing about a lot of humanities inflected discourse, and they’re sometimes right, but they’re almost always doing the same things but worse. Why? Their narcotic ignorance is way more potent.
(26) I mean, when you’ve been chasing the dragon of ‘bleak, harsh, dark, truth’ for long enough you need to move onto ‘the black pill’ just to feel the high again. I feel as if I’m watching a memetic contagion unfold like the krokodil epidemic.
(27) The funniest thing is that ‘a memetic contagion like a krokodil epidemic’ is precisely the sort of shit they would lap up if it weren’t being used to describe them. And that’s the real bleak truth: it’s an ideological aesthetics that’s deeply embedded in their self-image.
(28) The same people who will tell you they are fatalistically committed to watching the unfolding horror of existence, and will insist they have no self, can’t see that this is their self-image at work.
(29) So that’s the sad truth of Land, Moldbug, and much less interesting figures like Jordan Peterson or even Stefan Molynieux: they’re pushers, even when they don’t get high on their own supply. A rainbow of ignorance pills that substitute ‘dark’ enlightenment for real learning.
(30) But… if you think understanding this critique makes you immune to the same thing, whatever your politics, allow me a word of caution. We all self-medicate from time to time, and the words ‘critical’ and ‘radical’ are often chiselled into the surface of an ignorance pill.
(31) This is the toughest lesson a philosopher can learn. Getting better at reasoning means getting better at rationalising the things you want to believe. There is no panacea that cures all rationalisation, and it is certainly not what is called ‘rationalism’.
This thread had itself emerged out of another thread in which I mentioned the ongoing problem with having any intellectual proximity to Nick Land, and what my priorities are when it comes to addressing this proximity:
I’ll probably talk about this more in a future blog post, but this tweet is what sucked me into the screaming agnotological void that is NRx twitter and its desperate need to talk about race. Allow me to take you on a tour of the many circles of the peculiar logical hell that I visited on an otherwise unremarkable weekend.
3.1. First Circle: Dungeon’s & Dwarves
Here’s the exchange that opened the door to the discursive dungeon.
Forgive the missing tweet, I’ve since blocked the account in question. Here’s the remainder of the exchange, which I’d hesitate to call an actual argument:
(D): No. My position, which as far I can tell is the consensus position amongst population geneticists, is that ‘race’ is a statistically useless category for making predictions about most phenotypic traits. There’s not nothing there, just so little that its use signals an agenda.
(D): Any question that starts with ‘but what is the difference between the races with respect to X?’ is already fucking stupid, and it’s a stupidity motivated by race-ism, i.e., an insistence that your intuitions about race must have purchase upon something real.
(D): I personally have a bunch of phenotypic traits common to a lot of people descended from miners (e.g., short, stocky, cold tolerance, good dark vision, etc.), but these traits do not reflect some common mining genotypic features shared by some ‘race’ of miners (i.e., the literal fantasy race: dwarves).
(D): This is why HBD advocates often feel like LARPers who have forgotten that the character classes aren’t fucking real. You might want a Tolkienesque fantasy identity, but reality will disappoint you if you actually go looking for one. So, LARP or science? Pick one.
(KT): Hmm, okay, so why is it possible for race realists to make accurate predictions? Are you claiming it’s mere coincidence wealthy Africans perform poorly on cognitive tests compared to poor Japanese?
(D): I suspect that every last bit of data that you could display to back this claim up would not simply be cherry picked and methodologically dubious, but that it wouldn’t even have been cherry picked by you, but by someone you’ve picked by political affinity.
(KT): Okay, I’ll be charitable and let you link me to a study showing Africans performing better on a cognitive/academic test than Japanese. I’m sure there are lots out there, since human race is arbitrary.
(D): This is such a logical non-sequitur it deserves nothing but derision. It’s like saying ‘I’ll let you link me to a study that shows elves are more magical than dwarves!’ This is literally what magical thinking looks like.
(D): Here’s a short summary of what an actual genetic signal linked to phenotypic traits by studying a significant sample of people from a given ethnic grouping looks like.
(D): Notice that this is a significant result, but that does not mean that it is a single variation restricted to a single ethnic population that predicts an intuitively accessible phenotypic classification. Such things are vanishingly rare in real genetics.
(D): And there are certainly not enough of them to group together into ‘races’ as meaningfully predictive categories. This is the reality of genetics, as opposed to the HBD fantasy, which is not even as detailed as HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation.
(KT): This is a lot of tweeting to say “I’m sorry, I can’t find a single example of Africans outperforming Japanese on a cognitive test.” If the definitions are all flawed, and IQ is “magical”, you should be able to show me tons of examples to counter scientific racism.
(D): Oh, this isn’t for your benefit. I’m showing anyone who wants to see how little someone who identifies as an ethno-nationalist knows about actual genetics, not to say scientific methodology, or simple logic.
(KT): I dunno man, I’ve been pretty charitable. I’m sure you’ll come up with a study eventually, though.
(D): I’m not even sure that you know what it means to be charitable, outside of using the word as a rhetorical gesture. If you assert P, and someone says ‘the choice between P and not P is meaningless’ asking them to prove not P is simply to misunderstand what’s at stake.
(D): But I think we’ve gone about as far as we can here. Enjoy the LARP!
There was a further exchange with this… elf? later, but it simply consisted in them repeating the demand that I do the research required to test their hypothesis for them (until I banished them from my timeline for good).
The study that I linked them to a summary of is an attempt to isolate genetic signals (variations in GADL1) that correlate with the effectiveness of lithium in treatment of bipolar I disorder amongst the Han ethnic group in China. Here’s the abstract:
Lithium has been a first-line choice for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorders to prevent relapse of mania and depression, but many patients do not have a response to lithium treatment.
We selected subgroups from a sample of 1761 patients of Han Chinese descent with bipolar I disorder who were recruited by the Taiwan Bipolar Consortium. We assessed their response to lithium treatment using the Alda scale and performed a genomewide association study on samples from one subgroup of 294 patients with bipolar I disorder who were receiving lithium treatment. We then tested the single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that showed the strongest association with a response to lithium for association in a replication sample of 100 patients and tested them further in a follow-up sample of 24 patients. We sequenced the exons, exon-intron boundaries, and part of the promoter of the gene encoding glutamate decarboxylase-like protein 1 (GADL1) in 94 patients who had a response to lithium and in 94 patients who did not have a response in the genomewide association sample.
Two SNPs in high linkage disequilibrium, rs17026688 and rs17026651, that are located in the introns of GADL1 showed the strongest associations in the genomewide association study (P=5.50×10(-37) and P=2.52×10(-37), respectively) and in the replication sample of 100 patients (P=9.19×10(-15) for each SNP). These two SNPs had a sensitivity of 93% for predicting a response to lithium and differentiated between patients with a good response and those with a poor response in the follow-up cohort. Resequencing of GADL1 revealed a novel variant, IVS8+48delG, which lies in intron 8 of the gene, is in complete linkage disequilibrium with rs17026688 and is predicted to affect splicing.
Genetic variations in GADL1 are associated with the response to lithium maintenance treatment for bipolar I disorder in patients of Han Chinese descent. (Funded by Academia Sinica and others.).
I came across this study in the process of researching the genetic basis of bipolar disorder, the motivations for which should be fairly obvious. This is what research that makes predictions of of phenotypic traits (bipolar I) and resultant behaviours (lithium responsiveness) on the basis of genotypic traits (SNPs in GADL1) looks like. Crucially, this sort of prediction is concrete enough that (a) it gives us enough information to go looking for causal mechanisms that explain the correlation (e.g., looking for connections between GADL1 and CRMP2), and (b) it gives us enough information to look for further data that might refute it (e.g., looking at a different Asian population, or looking more deeply into lithium responsiveness).
So, when someone wants to talk about whether it’s possible for ‘race realists to make accurate predictions’, this is the sort of research I expect them to produce, rather than demanding that I go away and find studies about correlations between racial categories and IQ tests that conflict with their ‘predictions’, absent any awareness of the methodological problems involved in defining ‘race’ as a genotypic category and ‘IQ’ as a behavioural trait indicative of some deeper neurological measure of ‘intelligence’. Furthermore, I expect what they produce to be the beginning of a research program that leads from mere statistical correlation to causal explanation, such as telling us where to look for neurological traits that might explain the relevant behaviour, as we might expect of research into bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, or any of the myriad more specific yet still controversial categories we might name. There’s both science and philosophy of science at stake here.
Leaving the elf behind, I carried on my train of thought as follows:
(32): As a short guy descended from miners, I have always felt an affinity for dwarves (also: I’ve always hated elves), but demanding that I build a politically salient identity out of that affinity would be utter lunacy. Ethno-nationalism makes about as much sense.
(33): Once more, I apologise for dumping interactions with HBD spouting ethno-nationalists into your timeline, but I think it’s instructive to see the actual shape of the ignorance that’s at work here.
(34): To extent the RPG metaphor: these people are convinced that they’re the only PCs in a sea of NPCs, but when you interactively explore their dialogue tree, the situation appears to be quite the converse. QUEST: “Do my homework for me!”
Little did I know how true my words would prove, for at this point, a higher level race realist returned to my timeline, ready to do battle. How did I survive? Read on to find out!
3.2. Second Circle: The Gorgon’s Glare
I will admit that I was frozen by the Gorgon’s glare for a moment, but I steeled myself and decided to adventure on. Armed with my skill in philosophical logic, a healthy interest in the intersection between genetics and neurology, and warded by basic human decency, I rose to the challenge:
(D): So, to be completely clear, I think your position on racial intelligence is both vile and false. It looks like an opinion you already had, and then found a way to show isn’t impossible rather than looking for methodological or empirical issues that might undermine it.
(D): I also don’t think it’s false because it’s vile. It think it’s vile because it’s not just false, but an elaborate rationalisation of a piece of heavily motivated reasoning that is intended to be used by you and others in political contexts to justify vile things.
(D): But let’s break it down, because it’s important to demonstrate that it is false, and on that basis vile, because otherwise you will clamour that it is me doing the motivated reasoning rather than you. So, I’ll try to be as clear as I can be in the context of a twitter thread.
(D): There are three things that we should separate out here: (1) genotypic differences, (2) phenotypic differences, and (3) phenotypic differences that are in any way politically salient. I have no doubt we will reason in entirely different ways about 3, so I’ll focus on 1 & 2.
(D): So, genetic distance is a real thing. But spatial metaphors have a tendency to distort the way we reason about statistical measures. As you point out, there is often more similarity through ambient common heredity (ethnic group) than localised descent (family).
(D): The last HBD ‘genius’ in my mentions tried to talk about genetic distance as if it was like shades of colour. Not only does this show how he’s actually thinking about race (through phenotypic skin colour), but it also shows he has no idea how statistical measures work.
(D): When you mix a sample of blue pigment and a sample of red pigment, you’re going to get some shade of purple. Pigment mixtures are generally closer to each other than the pigments mixed. Ethnic mixtures are often more distant to one another than the ethnicities mixed.
(D): I feel a little dirty even having to explain this to someone. Just using the phrase ‘ethnic mixture’ is a little squicky, but these seem to be the terms in which you’d like to have the debate, so there we go.
(D): Here’s the crucial logical point. Merely showing that there are statistical cluster points in the combinatorial space of possible genetic variation, does not show that these cluster points are phenotypically significant in any way. It is not obvious that they must be.
(D): The people to whom this sort of thing is obvious are people who are inclined to believe that their intuitions about racial classification line up with their intuitions about meaningful phenotypic categories, such as ‘intelligence’, ‘diligence’, or other such folk virtues.
(D): These people have a persistent habit of cherry picking whatever bits of empirical research and otherwise appropriating the semiotics of science in order to justify or otherwise launder prejudices that they already have, rather than trying to test them as if they were hypotheses.
(D): Anyway, with that out of the way. Here’s the actual argument. It turns on logical distinctions that are generally erased by Bayesians, among others: the difference between types and predicates, and the difference between mathematical types and empirical generics.
(D): So, we can apply predicates to objects (e.g., 3 is prime), but predication is restricted by the type the object belongs to (e.g., 3: Nat, and only instances of Nat can be prime). Predicates encode information that can be used to infer other information, types bundle them.
(D): Mathematical types bundle predicates neatly, or at least, we’re starting to develop ways of organising mathematical reasoning in ways that approximate it (i.e., MLTT + HoTT). Empirical types (generics/sortals) are not neat, and we still treat them as Aristotelian hierarchies.
(D): There’s a lot more logical nuance I could add here, but this is twitter, and I’m going into too much detail as is. However, the question I need these logical details to ask is the following: are we better treating ethnicity as a predicate or as a (sub)type?
(D): Is being A more like merely being a human with blue eyes and blonde hair, or is it more like belonging to the genus bird and the species penguin? This is the logic of the question, and it asks us to look at patterns of reasoning.
(D): So, what’s distinctive of generics? Non-monotonic inferences. This is the same thing at play in multiple inheritance in object-oriented programming and exception handling in control flow. The classic problem: how do you reason about Nixon, given he’s a Quaker and a Republican?
(D): Generics qua subtypes have to encode patterns that allow us to reason about exceptional situations, including those generated by multiple inheritance and co-predication (e.g., I can both memorise a book and burn it, but the object being memorised/burned is not the same).
(D): Penguins are WEIRD birds, which means that you can’t always use generic information about and reasoning patterns that apply to most birds to reason about them (i.e., subtypes can break stereotypes). This is the logical correlate of statistical metrics of distance.
(D): However, this logical structure is not a correlate of genetic clustering. The causal patterns that we’re interested in (e.g., can it fly?) are phenotypic. We should only turn statistical clusters into genotypes that are meaningful subtypes if they have predictive power.
(D): The question as to whether it is more meaningful than ‘has blonde hair and blue eyes’ is not the question of whether there is a genetic cluster there, it’s the question of whether proximity to it reliably tells us anything interesting.
(D): Does it let us generate meaningful causal hypotheses about biological behaviour that can be tested and used to predict behaviour if they pass muster? Racial categories are largely fucking useless in this respect, and so are the vile hypotheses you hinge upon them.
(D): Let’s take a contrasting case: neurodiversity. This is a name for a bunch of phenotypic variations whose consequences and similarities we are only just beginning to appreciate: e.g., autism, bipolarity, schizophrenia, ADHD, etc. It is most definitely politically salient.
(D): Here’s an actual genomic study of overlaps between autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
(D): Notice how methodologically complex it is, and how much work has to be done to make any informative claim about the relation between interacting genotypic similarities and what we tend to think are reasonably obvious phenotypes.
(D): I’m not a geneticist. I’m not really able to criticise any potential flaws in this methodology, and so I’ve got to be very careful about using this information to formulate speculative hypotheses about categories which are far less dubious than ‘general intelligence’.
(D): Here’s one thing I can tell you though: for all these phenotypic variations being discussed, local facts about familial inheritance are orders of magnitude more predictively powerful than global facts about ambient genetic clusters. Family is more significant than ethnicity.
(D): Why the fuck would you think ‘general intelligence’ whatever the fuck it is supposed to be, once we strip away the zillion environmental factors that are entwined with it, was any different from these more concrete neurological traits? Probably because you’re a fucking racist.
(D): Here’s another contrast case. Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest genetic diversity of anywhere on the planet, but it’s not evenly distributed. There’s a big split between those descended from the Bantu expansion and those who got displaced by it.
(D): Why is this the case? Did the Bantu have the most ‘generally intelligent’ gene-line in the very cradle of human evolutionary diversity? Or was it because they invented iron smelting, and even their most stupid members could take advantage of this to exert power over others?
(D): This is an example of how the very methodological complexity of trying to talk about genotypic variations in relation to phenotypic traits should tell you to always look for alternative explanations first, and to be tentative with any hypotheses you’ve generated even then.
(D): What does the fact that you have demonstrably not done any of this tell me? What does it tell everyone else who can be bothered to read me slumming through the intellectual dregs of twitter? It tells them what they already know: elaborately ignorant bigotry remains popular.
(D): Here’s the bleak truth about your deepest self: you use edginess to push away those who might disagree with you seriously enough to show you you aren’t as smart as you think you are, and tying your beliefs about your own intelligence to your race is a great way to do this.
(D): You’ve been infected by a very effective and hideously vile memetic parasite, and it’s probably impossible to cure you of it, because you don’t want to be cured.
Now, as I say above, I’m not a geneticist. I’m not a historian either. I don’t even work on the philosophy of race. But I do know a thing or two about logic, rhetoric, and philosophy of science. This is an argument I constructed on the fly, using my ongoing work on the logic of empirical types and a few things I’ve researched on the side. I’m certain there are aspects of it that requires further justification and elaboration, and it’s entirely possible that there are some outright errors here. But it seems pretty sound at a first glance, and if I didn’t even try to muster such an argument to defend my commitment to both explanatory and normative anti-racism, what sort of philosopher would I be?
Now, let’s take a look at the interactions that spin off this ‘debate’. Pay attention to the way in which the same patterns we saw earlier begin to re-assert themselves:
(PO): “Optimise for intelligence” @Outsideness
People for whom intelligence optimisation is a terminal value naturally bristle at it being called a folk value alongside something like diligence, which would be better understood as a facet of intelligence.
(D): If you want it to be anything but a folk virtue you’ve ‘scienced up’ through selective statistics (worse than lies, and damned lies…), then it’s pretty much got to be related to computational complexity theory. All else is slightly more presentable folk-psychology.
This is not a position that I’ve elaborated in a lot of detail. Once more, I’m aware of the controversies in the philosophy of psychology over the definition of intelligence and the metrics used to measure it, but I don’t work on these debates. However, I do work on philosophy of artificial intelligence, and thus on what the question of what ‘general intelligence‘ means, and how we should understand the relation between human and artificial intelligence. This work is somewhat abstract, but then, so is the Landian conception of intelligence that is being referenced here.
In fact, I helped write the section of the introduction to the #ACCELERATE reader that describes the opposition between Land’s abstract take on intelligence and that preferred by Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, and myself:
Herein lies the real divergence between Land’s consolidated right-accelerationism and the burgeoning left-accelerationisms: whereas one continues to see an ever increasing accumulation of both collective intelligence and collective freedom, bound together in the monstrous form of Capital itself, the other, as it develops, is proving more speculative and more ambitious in its conception of both ‘intelligence’ and ‘freedom’, seeing Capital as neither an inhuman hyperintelligence nor the one true agent of history, but rather as an idiot savant driven to squander collective cognitive potential by redirecting it from any nascent process of collective self-determination back into the self-reinforcing libidinal dynamics of market mechanisms. In this respect, the work of Negarestani and Brassier forms the conceptual bulwark preventing left-accelerationism from collapsing back into schizoid anarchy or technocapitalist fatalism. By reviving the constitutive link between freedom and reason at the heart of German idealism (Kant and Hegel), reconfigured and repurposed by pragmatist functionalism (Sellars and Brandom), they not only provide a dynamic measure of the emancipatory promise of modernity at odds with Capital’s own monotonous modes of valuation, but equally demonstrate how its progressive realization implies, in contrast to the blind idiot cyborgod of Kapital, the constitution of a genuine collective political agency.
This dialectic parallels that played out in artificial intelligence research between dominant strains developing AI capable of parochial problem solving and those increasingly concerned with characterising artificial general intelligence (AGI). The shift from conceiving intelligence as a quantitatively homogeneous measure of adaptive problem solving to conceiving it as a qualitatively differentiated typology of reasoning capacities is the properly philosophical condition of the shift from the hyperstitional invocation of machinic intelligence of the Cyberculture era to the active design of new systems of collective intelligence proposed by MAP.
Moreover, I have since written about the fallacies encouraged by the appeals to optimisation that are inextricably entwined Land’s conception, both in the context of artificial intelligence and in the context of politics.
None of this is enough to protect me from the horror of the Gorgon’s gaze:
The Gorgon is fearsome in its performative transgression of basic social norms. But it has a weakness! A persistent need to invoke a diabolical left-wing conspiracy (the cathedral) to explain the lack of methodologically sound empirical research that supports its racial hypotheses.
(PO): Notice how unlikely you are to receive academy funding to complete a similarly complex methodological study on *race*
(D): It almost entirely depends on framing. There are many studies in population genetics on connections between ethnic group membership and various medical conditions. We don’t fund ‘Are blacks dumber than whites?’ research as much anymore because it’s both vile and bad science.
(PO): This is just retarded. If HND aka racial IQ / intelligence correlation does real, much of consequence follows. If you are faced by hard limits in processing power of certain groups, much follows. Anyone interested in statecraft / political policy would benefit from object level analysis of these factors / data, if even thinking about it wasn’t s career ending / treasonable offence.
There’s a bunch of red flags here. What’s the ‘much of consequence’ that follows? It would appear to be that which is relevant to (ethno-nationalist) statecraft. What’s relevant to such statecraft? The notion that there are hard limits on the ‘processing power’ of certain groups. Is there anything justifying this claim about limits beyond the supposed utility of such belief? If there is, I can’t see it. Worse, what does ‘hard limits in processing power’ even mean in this context? It means that there’s an analogy being made with computer science, but with no real attempt to elaborate or justify it. It’s political phrenology packaged as if it were computational neuroscience. Still, I couldn’t repel this barrage of motivated reasoning, for I was distracted by the arrival of another opponent:
(D): If the person’s family all come from different ethnic groups, e.g., 2 parents with distinct ethnicities, or 4 grandparents with distinct ethnicities, and so on, the information about familial inheritance remains relevant even as the information about ethnicity becomes less so.
(D): This is even before we talk about the behaviour of siblings and their offspring. Ethnic mixing is actually experimentally helpful to some extent, because it can separate genetic signal from phenotypic noise.
(PO): There’s no firewall between nature / nurture aka genes / culture, they are entangled in cybernetic loops of mutual excitation + encoding.
Genes >> culture >> genes >> culture >> genes >> etc …
I’m not sure what to make of your point, beyond signaling that you’re triggered.
Ah, a diversion disguised as an appeal to nuance! The claim that there are complex feedback loops between nature and culture is fair enough, but what we’re interested in here is the relation between genotype and phenotype, which is relevant even when we’re not talking about cultural factors. Not only has there been no attempt to engage with my examples of concrete neurological phenotypes (which are distinctly cross-cultural), but there has been no attempt to delimit the abstract neurological phenotype that is supposedly at issue (i.e., intelligence). If these more concrete phenotypic variations are largely uncorrelated with the genetic clusters associated with race, then why would we assume that a much less well specified and supposedly more basic trait would be?
But this is not a question they’re interested in answering. Instead, I’m treated as if I’m defending some sort of social constructivism about neurological traits and their behavioural effects, rather than a form of neuro-computationalism that merely rejects the methodological assumptions baked into their predictive hypotheses about the relations between ethnicity, neurology, and behaviour. I suppose this makes it easier to argue with me in a way that preserves one’s bleaker-than-thou self-image.
But wait, the Gorgon has finally noticed that I’m passionately attacking a position I detest! How can I now stand against its cool, professional dedication to reasoned argument and well researched facts, triggered as I am?
(PO): Surely you can grok the connection here? It’s not like all white men were Newton, but the group benefited from his discoveries + invention resulting from them – BUT – that doesn’t mean Newton was an accident of history, he was genetically Anglo + inserted into Anglo technomics.
(D): How many potential Newton’s do you think there have been across the globe, for whom ambient environmental, cultural, political, economic, and technological factors did not line up in a way that allowed them to make contributions recorded in our history books?
(D): I think that your hypothesis is narcissistic, self-serving bullshit. Worse, it’s bullshit that can and will be used to demean and degrade people who will by all likelihood be much smarter than you, even on your own terms.
(D): In order to shore up your own ego and your preferred political aesthetic you ask others to prove a (counterfactual) negative: ‘Find me the great geniuses of other racial groups who would have been world shaking were it not for all the other factors I am discounting!’
(D): There are plenty of illustrative examples I could pick if I wanted to, but I’m going to stop here. It’s not my job to do your homework for you, and I’ve done enough of it as is.
(PO): You couldn’t even stoop to 1 example?
As I reel from this devastating blow, another foul fiend takes the opportunity to perform a role reversal. Oh no!
(D): Go on then, explain my deepest self to me.
(YP): Probably not vile, but certainly not adventurous.
(D): Unadventurous? I’ll admit I’m a bit sedentary. But hardly incurious! I’ve actually gone and read up on genetics to learn about myself and my family beyond the 99.2% European rating that 23andMe gives me. I’ve tried to go and learn about the things I want to make claims about.
(YP): And you’ve arrived at … the Lewontin Fallacy.
(D): Did you read the rest of the thread in which I carefully took that apart? If not, I don’t see any point talking to you.
(D): I mean, I’m the only person who has actually referenced any actual genetic studies so far, as far as I can tell. Everyone else just keeps telling me to find the data that conflicts with their personal hypotheses, which they should really be looking for themselves.
(YP): Probably because we’ve been in the weeds on this stuff much longer than you and don’t share your phobias. I accused you of projecting because you have an unshakable memetic-religious and professional interest in not being a “racist,” which might cloud your understanding here.
(D): Therefore, you choose to discount my philosophical commitment to being anti-racist, and ignore the arguments that I present for that commitment. I’ve done more work today learning about your views than you have learning about mine. This is what active ignorance looks like.
(D): Pissing about on twitter congratulating each other for your superior intelligence and superior genes (and that one follows from the other) is not being ‘in the weeds’. You’re not fighting a guerrilla war here.
(PO): Actually, we are.
[Image Lost to Posterity]
3.3. Third Circle: Return of the Thing
Hidden round a corner, in a fleeting moment of safety, I try to make sense of the horrors I’ve seen thus far:
(35): Those who lack specific knowledge or concrete intellectual virtues are invariably those most desperate to demonstrate that there is some general abstract epistemic quality that separates them from everyone else.
(36): Doesn’t matter if you give them cutting edge Bayesian inference techniques and contemporary genetics research, they’ll still use it to reinvent phrenology and eugenics, and then tell you you’re the one with motivated reasoning.
I have but moments before I’m face to face once more with the paradoxical thing that haunts the labyrinth: a thing which both somehow is what it is and yet doesn’t exist, a very clever fellow of below average intelligence, a lover of everything who cares for nothing but itself and its kin, a prisoner of the labyrinth that can be truly free only within its confines. My own personal Minotaur.
(D): I hate gaslighting in all its forms. I especially hate people who gaslight themselves and each other in ways that degrade themselves both epistemically and ethically. I hate watching processes of intellectual and moral degeneration, especially when they run in tandem.
(D): This is what I’m trying to tell you guys: stop gaslighting yourselves and those around you by telling yourselves you’re already smart and virtuous, either because you’ve imbibed an addictive revelation or because your genes are just inherently better. Neither is good for you.
(TXH): I’m of average to below average intelligence, very self-centred, selfish, and arrogant. My genes are just part of my reality, people don’t live by genes. I am addicted to revelation (Aletheia).
(TXH): I do form somewhat of a double act with @parallaxoptics. However, I don’t agree with him on everything and he doesn’t agree with me. That’s fine. When the three of us talk, we’re in a triad—a powerful relationship.
(D): So, are you saying you LARP as scientific racist neoreactionaries? What is the nature of this triad precisely?
(TXH): Our triad is a human relation of some kind. The number three has great symbolic and philosophical importance.
(TXH): Personally, I don’t believe in anything. I’m a seeker, I seek the truth and aim to be as honest as possible (I am not always honest to be honest). My framework for understanding the world is always being updated, it’s always provisional. Marx says some true things, so do HBDers.
(D): I think both of these claims are false. I think you believe them, but if we tried to argue about it you’d claim not to believe them rather than allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise. That’s the behaviour of an addict, not a seeker.
(D): You’re not addicted to truth, you’re addicted to the affective quality of revelation, and will choose the easy high of the latter over the difficult path of the latter.
(TXH): I don’t know what truth is, so I seek it. What is the affective quality of revelation?
(D): I’m sure you know it’s sweet kiss better than I. The thrill of the easy idea that ties everything you already want to believe together. The idea that cannot ever be refuted by those who would rather you didn’t believe these things.
It isn’t long before I’m assaulted by new foes. I’m deep in the dungeon now, crawling through an ideological labyrinth built by blasphemous architects to spite their Cathedral building kin. Its nooks and crannies conceal hidden logical passages and elaborate rhetorical traps ready to swallow the unprepared adventurer whole. It’s a good thing my heritage has prepared me to traverse the underdark in search of the blackened bones of the earth, for otherwise I might have been felled by the foul creatures drawn to such lightless spaces, like anti-moths drawn by the opposite of Promethean flame.
(D): I think there was a personal cost, but that it’s resulted in a sort of sunk cost fallacy turned death drive, where you’re so committed to the aesthetics of ‘dark’, ‘bleak’, or ‘forbidden’ truth that you can’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you it’s just a bit shit.
(PPPP): Yes this can happen, but just because some people fall off the cliff and start believing in flat earth or something equally nonsensical doesn’t mean that, for instance, ethnic rivalry and subversion isn’t a major driver world history, and that to acknowledge this is wrongthink now
Occasionally, a coherent challenge lunges out of the shadows, to be quickly parried not with facts or feelings, but cold logical steel. My arm is heavy, but my axe strikes true.
(D): I have not said ‘one can’t say anything about anything’. I said quite precisely that there are certain logical constraints on what makes empirical type terms meaningful, but no one seems to actually be interested in my argument, so… *shrugs*
All the while, the Gorgon and the Minotaur have their sick fun. They circle me while their fellows test my mettle. Taunting me. Playing with their food. They flood my mind with nonsense, disorienting me, drawing me deeper into the maddening spiral incarnated in the labyrinth’s very walls.
(D): If you want to convince me otherwise, you’ll have to actually do something that looks like seeking truth, rather than LARPing the most venal of intellectual trends to get your kicks.
(PO): I’m not LARPing. I have a Black Sun tattoo spanning my entire face, a cellar full of kidnapped women (they love it), never listen to jazz, or play basketball, abhor KFC, always swipe left on anyone non-Anglo to guard against the Evil Spirits of miscegenation.
(TXH): I don’t want to convince you; if I did that, I‘d have to coerce and manipulate you. My life is a complete LARP, but it’s a genuine LARP. I am also very venal and like trendy things.
(D): How could tactical insincerity possibly be less manipulative than sincere conviction? Wrapping this up in the language of coercion and oppression is the most pathetic form of bad faith I can imagine.
(TXH): I am what I am
(D): You are anything but that, but we’ve hit this particular defensive tautology before.
(TXH): What am I?
(TXH): Jealous that I’m talking to another man.
(D): Beware the White Lotus.
(TXH): Only God is Magic.
(D): As an aside, I’d try out some actual LARP or tabletop RPGs. They’re pretty cathartic. Get’s this sort of thing out of your system.
(PO): I knew you’d advocate for dressing up.
(TXH): I feel that our discussions, a kind of LARP, are cathartic and therapeutic for you because we engage authentically.
(D): What do you think authenticity is? I’m genuinely curious.
(TXH): [Image Lost to Posterity]
(D): Either a curiously authentic answer, or an extremely inauthentic one. I’m sure you find the indiscernibility exquisite.
(TXH): The last part of your sentence makes me feel sad.
(PO): Pete, is SD on Twitter? Does he has a blog?
(PO): SD wrote the piece you linked to at hyperstition / abstractdynamics
(D): Ah. No idea.
(TXH): I identify with the Bridgers in the story you sent me, tho I haven’t finished it yet.
(D): Which story was that?
(TXH): I resent your attempt to deny my reality. “Live not by lies”.
(D): If you live by lies, you won’t have a reality.
(TXH): I only deal in true lies.
Maybe they don’t want to suck the marrow from my bones? Maybe they just want to turn me into a fellow creature of the labyrinth. Another mad wretch trapped in the bowels of the intellectual earth. Swaddled in comforting dark. Senses finally silent. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some part of me tempted by giving in and shirking every endless demand to justify my thoughts, my desires, my very being… but when one can see the wages of such degeneracy gyrating at the edges of the little circle of light you’ve carried into the depths, such temptations are easy to dispel. Stare into the abyss, and this is what stares back, glassy eyed and mouth gaping. Maybe they were elves once, but the labyrinth has twisted them beyond all recognition.
(TXH): I am completely addicted to revelation. Does belief matter?
(D): That’s precisely the question an addict would ask: ‘I’m not hurting anyone, so why does it matter if all my interactions with other people are constructed around elaborate lies that change the way they relate to me?’
(TXH): Am I hurting anyone?
(D): First, yourself, for believing half of what you say, and second, anyone who listens to you without realising you don’t believe the other half.
(D) If you’ve ever seen alcoholism up close and personal, you have seen what this sort of rationalisation looks like.
(TXH): I knew a girl who was an alcoholic. I told her she drank too much, then she threw things at me and cried.
(TXH): Do you care if I hurt myself? Do you care if what I say hurts other people? I aim to take care of myself first and foremost because it’s too easy to use the pretence of caring for other people as a means of control and manipulation.
(D): I do care, genuinely. Though I’ll admit that I generally care less for people who support ‘scientific racism’ than those who it will inevitably be used against. I won’t stop anyone from dying on that particular hill, but I also won’t pretend I don’t think it’s worth dying on.
(TXH): I don’t care about anyone except myself and my immediate family. What is “scientific racism” and how do you know I support it? Do you not support it, if it exists, because it’s not “worth dying on” or because it’s not true?
(D): Because it’s not true, explanatorily speaking, and furthermore because it comes with some horrific implicit normative content. If you don’t support it fine. Who you care about is your business.
(TXH): Should we stop pursuing the truth because it reveals horrifying things? Is it true in ways other than for explanatory purposes? Do facts imply values and normative conclusions?
(D): Well, now you’re asking me for a philosophy lesson, and I’ve got actual lessons to plan for. I’ve covered some of these points further up thread, and some in a blogpost I’ll link again. You can do the work.
(TXH): It is what it is.
A tautology to end all tautologies: the little death of all thought, orgasmic in its syncretic onanism. Yet somehow there are still more branches that must be explored on the dialogue tree. The NPCs are still jabbering to themselves, dancing in endless circles.
(D): I also think that you are over-reacting to the threat of control and manipulation in precisely the same fashion as those on the left you seem to loathe. It seems like a reactionary vs. reactionary feedback loop.
(TXH): Isn’t telling someone they’re overreacting an attempt to control and manipulate a person’s emotional reaction? I don’t feel loathing for the left, and I don’t even consider myself right wing, tho effectively I am on the right. Feedback loops lead to enlightenment.
(D): Feedback loops *can* lead to enlightenment. They can also blow out your signal processor. If you define every possible attempt to persuade another human being as control, then yes, I am trying to control you. But then you are similarly trying to control everyone around you.
(TXH): I am a control freak. I manipulate all the time. I gaslight people. I do know I do these things tho, and I aim to tell people so that they have a chance to escape me. is enlightenment blowing out your signal processor?
(D): Do you think I have somehow hidden my agenda in responding to you? Is there anything I have not been completely honest about? Claiming my academic position depends on not revealing my deep beliefs doesn’t count.
(TXH): I feel all humans have a hidden agenda that we cannot access, so, yes, you have a hidden agenda and so do I. I feel you don’t admit how far ur intellectual positions are driven by feelings. I feel you’re pretty dishonest abt feelings. I think academics have never spoken freely.
(D): I think I’m more free than you are, and it’s got nothing to do with me being an academic.
(TXH): I am in prison.
At least we agree on that much. The question is whether I can still escape, or whether I’ll be imprisoned in here with them. We have finally reached the endgame.
(D): And here we reach bedrock (performative equipollence): ‘I know you are but what am I?’ I’ll leave everyone else to judge who has the better argument here.
(P): You have an elaborate argument, and you’re trapped by it. Of course you’re projecting, so am I, all the time. It’s how we model / navigate reality and part of what makes us more sentient more overt NPCs, though we are all NPC deep down.
(D): I’m committed to following the argument where it leads, rather than reconstructing a rationalisation to protect a self-image I claim I don’t have. This is the will to truth, rather than the will to bleaker-than-thou intellectual onanism.
(D): I’m actually *playing* the dialectical game for keeps. You seem to have turned yourself into an NPC who hands out side-quests encouraging real adventurers to do your homework for you, all the while chanting vile incantations that warn them to keep away.
(D): We never left it. You opened the first interaction by questioning my motivations, I merely expanded the interaction to incorporate yours.
(PO): FYI the last functioning >80 IQ individual in Sunderland left for London in the 1880s…
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, an arrow strikes true, penetrating my rational defences and piercing my fragile ego. Maybe they’re right? Maybe I am genetic filth. Maybe myself, my friends, my family, and the unsung generations of labourers whose chromosomal shoulders we stand on are so much biological detritus left over after the worthy were called South to the Undying City, where the fair folk dwell in their towers of glass.
But wait… where exactly are we lurking beneath? Where is this labyrinth, and what is this sickly stench? The unmistakeable odour urban fatalism. Epistemic waste ejected from the City above and consumed by the lurkers below, now grown so used to the toxic cycles of excremental excess that they crave its noxious taste. Ideological effluent rolling from tier to tier, stripped of nutrients by their denizens, before pooling in the minds at the bottom of the cognitive barrel. Ideas reduced to their lowest energy state: empty symbols vacillating between tautological self-affirmation and paradoxical self-abnegation.
Still, the assault continues, as suddenly logical hypocrisy comes to matter, selectively, even as anything resembling logic is dismissed in favour of speculative camaraderie.
(WH401K): No point in discussing this with Pete in any event. He’s not free to agree with you if he were persuaded. All you’re going to get is more of this Lewontin-style word salad.
(PO): Pete once wrote a brilliant takedown of Speculative Realism, which, as an artist working in an adjacent space contaminated by Landian-lite, I’m v grateful for. Though the further he moves from @Outsideness ie HBD denialism, the less interesting / correct I find him.
(D): I find it amazing that you guys think I’m the one that’s constrained. I say exactly what I think, all the time. I don’t have to keep different personas and worldviews distinct in my head. You’re the one’s who have to tell yourselves I wouldn’t really disagree with you elsewhere.
(WH401K): That’s exactly *why* you’re constrained Pete. A mind without private thoughts is a bed of Procrustes.
(WH401K): Ain’t going to happen. And it causes him distress I think. I’d leave it alone, tbh.
(WH401K): We can still love him for who he is, Parallax. And who’s to say he doesn’t have some pseudononymous alt? *That’s* the place to play with fire, not the account he’s professionally tied to.
(D): I don’t have any alts. I think I had an epistemology police account years ago, but this is the only place I tweet. I only say what I believe on here, fully, and whole-heartedly, and I find the fact you guys need to pretend otherwise is mildly entertaining but also a little sad.
(PO): You mean @ElSandifer isn’t your trans account?!
Finally, we reach the end of the path. There’s light at the end of this dismal tunnel, but I cannot resist one final glance behind me. There but for the grace of good go I: the will to terrible truth turned will to petty power. As I climb the final steps toward the exit of this allegorical cave, I reflect upon the vices and virtues constitutive of voice.
(37): Just because this apparently needs to be said: I only say things I sincerely believe on this twitter account, excluding typos, obvious sarcasm, and the occasional joke. There’s things I won’t say here, for various reasons, but nothing that would contradict what I do say.
(38): I find it fascinating that some people have to tell themselves I really think what they think, only I’m too afraid to say it, lest it hurt my social or financial standing. What social and financial standing, exactly? What have I got to lose, precisely? Only friends and family.
(39): Only the love and solidarity that my existence depends on, and has depended on for the better part of 15 years. Only that which I wouldn’t deserve if I had some secret racist alt-account spewing vile noise into the digital agora. Nothing matters to me more than this.
(40): So, no, you can’t comfort yourself with the knowledge that I’d be saying the same things as you if only I were brave enough to hide behind an anonymous twitter handle. Disagree with me, think what I believe is wrong, but do not doubt that it is what I believe.
(41): Look how obsessed these guys are with pointing out other people’s logical flaws, and how completely incapable they are of doing anything similar to themselves and others? This is what I mean by mind poison.
(42): I’m sure they’ll read this as me somehow oppressing them. Just one more tendril of The Cathedral wrapped around their throats. And that’s the funniest thing of all.
(43): Whatever power I have is not institutional. It comes from speaking, arguing, and changing my mind when I’m wrong. That’s how I level up.
I breathe easy in the open air, Northward bound.
4. Conclusion: The Wages of Shitposting
This post has been almost finished for well over a year. I tracked these interactions, collated, and commented on them back when they happened in October 2019. However, various things conspired to stop me finishing it. The most important of these was stumbling onto an incredibly personal topic in chasing down references in this strange confluence of intellectual trends. It turns out, the following claim was not as idle as it appeared:
(PO): FYI the last functioning >80 IQ individual in Sunderland left for London in the 1880s…
There’s actually a study on the genetics of coal mining communities of the kind that my entire family comes from. I am descended from people who came from various places to find work mining coal in the villages straddling the border between Sunderland (Silksworth) and East Durham (Ryhope), and presumably the inhabitants who were already there. This place predates the Norman conquest, though it was changed beyond recognition by the industrial revolution and the trials and tribulations of the British working class. If you want to get as good a feel for my family’s story as it is possible to get, watch The Miner’s Hymns, which is a work of staggering beauty about the places I know better than any in the world.
What this study does, amongst others, is to try and detect genetic signals associated with intelligence by looking at the link between educational attainment and patterns of migration. To quote the explanation of the study given in Nature:
The team looked at previous studies to amass a list of 33 health and behavioural traits and the genetic variants that influence them, adding up the contribution of each variant to get a polygenic score. The researchers then investigated the UK Biobank samples to see whether these genotypes differed across the United Kingdom. They first discounted genetic variation caused by historical regional differences in ancestry, throwing out variants that are common because of shared ancestry rather than because they govern a trait. Then they could see which traits still clustered into certain regions. For some traits — caffeine consumption, for example — there was no regional difference. But for others, such as educational attainment, the difference was significant. The researchers found that people living in former coal-mining regions had, on average, fewer genetic variants that correlated with staying in school longer or with going on to higher education.
Peter Visscher, a geneticist at the University of Queensland in Australia who worked on the study, says it’s not clear what underlying biology the genetic patterns identified represent. “I see that as a proxy for genes to do with intelligence and maybe perseverance, and maybe a bit of risk-taking.”
Of course, interpretations of the results of this study are controversial, but such controversy is precisely what draws the armchair aristocrats of hereditary intelligence to it, seeking dark metaphysical truth in muddy methodological waters. As with everything, the journalism mill takes such interpretations and strips them of ever possible nuance, reframing them in language even their most confident proponents strive to avoid. Here’s a quote from the write up in the Economist:
Though not quite so sharply as with educational achievement, this pattern was also reflected in all but one of the other 20 SNP-related traits the researchers looked at. With the exception of bipolar disorder, the best outcomes were found in outward migrants from coalfields and the worst in stay-at-homes. The healthy, in other words, depart. The less healthy remain.
The upshot is a vicious spiral. That young, ambitious, healthy people tend to leave economically deprived areas is hardly news. But to see that written clearly in their DNA, which they take with them when they leave, while the converse is written in the DNA of those who stay behind, raises questions of nature and nurture that society is ill-equipped to answer, and possibly unwilling to confront.
And so we return to the Nietzschean language of health, though it is now turned back on ‘we Hyperboreans’. I’m damned if I do (stay in the North East and resist the genetic ‘brain drain’ sucking everything into London), and damned if I don’t (go to London and burn out in a burst of manic-depressive energy). I have much to say about the details of this study and why I think the interpretations it suggests are quite deeply flawed. Not least amongst these is the definition of ‘intelligence’ preferred in such circles:
This is so far removed from anything resembling the functional account of intelligence that Reza and I have been pursuing that it is often better to mock it than take it remotely seriously. There is no systematic understanding of the computational character of reasoning, or the ways in which culturally articulate discursive wisdom allows us to repurpose and reformat the bundle of more specialised types of intelligence with which nature has equipped us.
I’ll take it more seriously another time, when those I’m engaging with deserve the time and attention I would spend on it. For now I will simply point out the delicious ironies here. It’s not just that these disputes over social construction (more than nurture) and cognitive destiny (more than nature) are being carried out by hoards of left-wing and right-wing Nietzscheans, whose socialised drives push them to violently clash over the same basic set of philosophical references, but that the terrain on which this takes place is precisely the form, content, and institutional structure of education itself. Here’s the Gorgon’s personal thoughts on the latter:
I don’t disagree with any of this. But it’s for precisely this reason that I think basically every attempt to extract meaningful genetic information about the diverse range of neurological mechanisms responsible for anything worth the name ‘intelligence’ from data about educational attainment is an bureaucratic absurdity at best, and an epistemological atrocity at worst.
I care so strongly about intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and dare I say truth, that I consider the casual way these topics are pulled into philosophical culture wars a demonstration of how little those involved care about what they claim to care about. ‘Intelligence’ is a proxy for something else. Something that has vanishingly little to do with the cognitive potential that our society continues to squander at every opportunity.
Here’s the punchline. I’m not a social constructivist. I’m as thoroughgoing a realist about the neurocomputational basis of intellect as you are going to find anywhere. But realism means looking at the way in which cultural evolution emerges out of and refluxes upon biological evolution, in a way that actually discerns the functional structures that realise reason within the world. I enjoy talking about this stuff. I even enjoy shitposting about it:
Yet such shitposting confronts us with a perennial man covered in shit problem. Talking about these issues summons those self-made monsters who would seize upon what little they grok about our current best explanations of how reality works to fight petty culture wars over ideals they’re not even self-conscious enough to explicitly avow, motivated by ego-images they actively deny.
All we can do about this is to laugh at them, and at those aspects of ourselves we see in them, and hope that maybe, just maybe, one day they will be in on the joke, rather than the butt of it.
END OF PHASE 2.