If you weren’t under a rock the past week, you will have heard that the New York Times finally went through with its threats to publish Scott Alexander’s real name in its write up about the Bay Area rationality community.
It was a disappointing effort, if not unpredictable. The author, Cade Metz, has no interest and took no interest in covering the most interesting and defining aspects of the rationality sphere (he is a normie… he wouldn’t get it). But he does kvetch a lot about how there is still a place on the Internet where high IQ people, mostly though not exclusively of liberal persuasions, gather to discuss topics that have been placed off limits. Or rather, gathered. For all of Metz’s labored efforts to tie down Scott Alexander to neoreactionaries “with racist beliefs”, the more banal reality is that there has been a soft ban on HBD topics at Scott’s blog since around 2017 – a timeline that syncs with my own observations of Bay Area culture (I did some presentations on futurism/IQ stuff to transhumanists in the early 2010s that received good responses… by 2016, I getting leaked reports that a couple of people felt “unsafe” around me). Nor is this observation something that’s specific to me. Cade Metz himself is good enough to link to a 2017 blog post by OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman, who observed that by then China was de facto freer than the US:
Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me. I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.
That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.
Not that this belated attempt at disassociation ended up saving Scott Alexander.
Is this a big deal? Well certainly the New York Times printing the real name of a blogger who did not want it to be widely known, but who nonetheless doxed himself as Scott Siskind on the second post at his new Substack blog Astral Codex Ten, is pretty bad*. Then again, Pepe veteran Ricky Vaughn is being prosecuted essentially for posting memes on Twitter back in 2016. In this context, it’s hard to justify prioritizing this much.
Pro tip: Never explain yourself to SJWs. Unfortunately, Scott Alexander didn’t do that, instead opting to energetically disassociating himself from Charles Murray’s “offensive” views on race in his response to the NYT piece. This presumably being that Blacks have lower IQs than Whites, and that this is probably partly genetic. A view that is (1) mainstream amongst intelligence researchers, (2) is virtually unanimously backed by literally thousands of separate studies – probably the single most replicated result in psychology, and (3) centuries of stereotypes e.g. Ibn Khaldun.
Unfortunately, this flies in the face of several different public utterances, e.g. on IQ on Reddit:
My impression is that a Martian would consider “we shouldn’t study the genetics of race just in case it promotes racism, which can cause genocide” equally plausible to “we shouldn’t study the economics of inequality just in case it promotes communism, which can cause genocide” or “we shouldn’t study psychiatry, because we might learn some things that stigmatize people with psychiatric diseases, which can cause genocide”, or “we shouldn’t study evolution, because that could cast doubt on the Bible and destroy the moral foundations of our society, which could cause genocide”, or two hundred other possibilities along the same lines.
Since worrying about any of the others isn’t correlated with worrying about the race-science issue, I don’t think it’s a question of fixed cognitive styles. I think it’s just politics, pure and simple.
Or for that matter (his now deleted) travelogue as a doctor in Haiti with its rather blunt observations on the intellectual capacity of its denizens:
It has proven hard for me to appreciate exactly how confused the Haitians are about some things. Gail, our program director, explained that she has a lot of trouble with her Haitian office staff because they don’t understand the concept of sorting numerically. Not just “they don’t want to do it” or “it never occurred to them”, but after months and months of attempted explanation they don’t understand that sorting alphabetically or numerically is even a thing. Not only has this messed up her office work, but it makes dealing with the Haitian bureaucracy – harrowing at the best of times – positively unbearable. …
There are some doctors and nurses, who are just as bad – though none at our compound, which is run by this great charity that seems to be really on top of things. We heard horror stories of people graduating from nursing school without even knowing how to take a blood pressure – a nurse who used to work at the clinic would just make her blood pressure readings up, and give completely nonsensical numbers like “2/19”. That’s another thing. Haitians have a culture of tending not to admit they’re wrong, so when cornered this nurse absolutely insisted that the blood pressure had been 2/19 and made a big fuss out of it. There are supposed to be doctors who are not much better, although as I mentioned our doctors are great.
In a more public capacity, e.g. his posts at the main SSC, he has to be more circumspect, e.g. the Kolmogorov option of navigating social taboos:
Scott Aaronson writes about the the Kolmogorov option (suggested alternate title: “Kolmogorov complicity”). Mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov lived in the Soviet Union at a time when true freedom of thought was impossible. He reacted by saying whatever the Soviets wanted him to say about politics, while honorably pursuing truth in everything else. As a result, he not only made great discoveries, but gained enough status to protect other scientists, and to make occasional very careful forays into defending people who needed defending. He used his power to build an academic bubble where science could be done right and where minorities persecuted by the communist authorities (like Jews) could do their work in peace.
This is all code. Those who get it, get it – the Reds and the Red-pilled, who both “get it” but have rather different policy prescriptions on what to do about it. Sort of like how in the Strugatsky Brothers’ book The Inhabited Island – itself a crypto-critique of Soviet power – in which the only two factions party to the esoteric and maddening “truths” are the “Unknown Fathers” who rule the totalitarian regime of Saraksh, and the “dissidents” intent on overthrowing them. In both cases, normies have no idea what is going on.
Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with Scott Alexander “throwing” Charles Murray overboard. Free speech in the Bay Area has become greatly constricted over the past few years and Scott Alexander presumably wants to retain a social life and his career as a psychotherapist. Besides, Murray himself has “disavowed” people more “edgy” than he is on several occasions. It’s what I call the Great Chain of Respectability. Anyone at the ideological edge has a motivation to ostracize anyone more “extreme” than they are so that they end up on the safe side of the Overton window, where censorship and social risks are far smaller. And besides, there are situations where the disavowing comes from genuine and cardinal disagreements over facts, not concern over career consequences.
Another point I’d like to make is that the cat is definitively out of the bag on this issue, already spreading all over Twitter and various blogs, so I don’t think I’m being inappropriate by linking to all of these things which had hitherto only been “well-known in narrow circles.” These comments about Haitians and Martians and Kolmogorov etc. are going to be, are already being, dug up and propagated. Next up will probably be a campaign against Substack. It uses the Stripe payment system which is an SJW company**. At a minimum, I assume they’ll want them to evict Moldbug and Nick Land, not to mention the growing numbers of other NRxers and outright Alt Righters who have been discreetly moving over there in the past few months. It will be interesting to see if they will succeed.
* Scott Alexander’s real name was long an open secret, he never took great pains to hide it. The main issue, as SA describes it, is that as a psychotherapist it is best for patients not to know too much about the person tasked with treating them. While a few minutes of searching would link SA with SS, with a NYT piece on it, that would appear on the first page of a Google search.
** Fun esoteric Russian nationalist lore: Nationalist mag Sputnik & Pogrom was deplatformed by them, which made a significant contribution to Egor Prosvirnin folding up the project.
UPDATE: There has been a minor edit that doesn’t make a substantive difference to the gist of the post.