The New York Times has finally published their notorious article doxing Scott Alexander, the pseudonymous psychiatrist who wrote the Slate Star Codex blog (which is now revived as Astral Codex Ten on Substack). The author prudently shut down his blog because his patients, which include numerous crazy people, might lash out violently if informed by the NYT of his writing.
Cade Metz’s article now goes off in weird directions, like linking Scott to the the comparably verbose Mencius Moldbug despite their massive ideological differences, because the point is that there are smart guys in Northern California who aren’t part of what The Resistance has turned into: The Submission. And they … must … be … destroyed. Because independent thinking threatens the hegemony of the Woke.
You can kind of tell from reading between the lines that Metz is sympathetic to the resistance to Wokeness, but also that he will sell them out because it would destroy his career to not do so.
Slate Star Codex was a window into the psyche of many tech leaders building our collective future. Then it disappeared.
By Cade Metz
Feb. 13, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET
The website had a homely, almost slapdash design with a light blue banner and a strange name: Slate Star Codex.
It was nominally a blog, written by a Bay Area psychiatrist who called himself Scott Alexander (a near anagram of Slate Star Codex). It was also the epicenter of a community called the Rationalists, a group that aimed to re-examine the world through cold and careful thought.
In a style that was erudite, funny, strange and astoundingly verbose, the blog explored everything from science and medicine to philosophy and politics to the rise of artificial intelligence. It challenged popular ideas and upheld the right to discuss contentious issues. This might involve a new take on the genetics of depression or criticism of the #MeToo movement. As a result, the conversation that thrived at the end of each blog post — and in related forums on the discussion site Reddit — attracted an unusually wide range of voices.
“It is the one place I know of online where you can have civil conversations among people with a wide range of views,” said David Friedman, an economist and legal scholar [Milton Friedman’s son, who is a great guy] who was a regular part of the discussion. Fellow commenters on the site, he noted, represented a wide cross-section of viewpoints. “They range politically from communist to anarcho-capitalist, religiously from Catholic to atheist, and professionally from a literal rocket scientist to a literal plumber — both of whom are interesting people.”
The voices also included white supremacists and neo-fascists. The only people who struggled to be heard, Dr. Friedman said, were “social justice warriors.” They were considered a threat to one of the core beliefs driving the discussion: free speech.
There were plenty of social justice warriors commenting on Slate Star Codex, especially high IQ ex-men. They tended, however, to lose arguments because only emotions rather than facts and logic were on their side.
I suspect that David Friedman, who, like many readers of Scott Alexander, is a brilliant but naive nerd didn’t realize the NYT was out to destroy a lovely intellectual playground simply because it was outside the NYT’s control.
As the national discourse melted down in 2020, as the presidential race gathered steam, the pandemic spread and protests mounted against police violence, many in the tech industry saw the attitudes fostered on Slate Star Codex as a better way forward. They deeply distrusted the mainstream media and generally preferred discussion to take place on their own terms, without scrutiny from the outside world. The ideas they exchanged were often controversial — connected to gender, race and inherent ability, for example — and voices who might push back were kept at bay.
If only People of Intersectionality weren’t somehow kept at bay, they no doubt would have crushed Scott Alexander with their comments. That they didn’t proves that Alexander is bad.
Slate Star Codex was a window into the Silicon Valley psyche. There are good reasons to try and understand that psyche, because the decisions made by tech companies and the people who run them eventually affect millions.
And Silicon Valley, a community of iconoclasts, is struggling to decide what’s off limits for all of us.
At Twitter and Facebook, leaders were reluctant to remove words from their platforms — even when those words were untrue or could lead to violence.
The number of murders of blacks by blacks inspired by idiotic social media beefs on Twitter and Facebook number in the thousands, but nobody cares because that’s just blacks murdering blacks, so it doesn’t fit in The Narrative of White Man Bad.
At some A.I. labs, they release products — including facial recognition systems, digital assistants and chatbots — even while knowing they can be biased against women and people of color, and sometimes spew hateful speech.
The racist robots are out of control.
Why hold anything back? That was often the answer a Rationalist would arrive at.
James Madison and John Stuart Mill did too.
But now they are The Enemy.
And perhaps the clearest and most influential place to watch that thinking unfold was on Mr. Alexander’s blog.
“It is no surprise that this has caught on among the tech industry. The tech industry loves disrupters and disruptive thought,” said Elizabeth Sandifer, a scholar who closely follows and documents the Rationalists. “But this can lead to real problems. The contrarian nature of these ideas makes them appealing to people who maybe don’t think enough about the consequences.”
The allure of the ideas within Silicon Valley is what made Mr. Alexander, who had also written under his given name, Scott XXXXX [I’m not going to publish Scott’s real last name because iSteve is not an irresponsible, violence-tempting publication like the NYT], and his blog essential reading.
Doxing people seems to be a big thing lately at the New York Times. For example, recently the racist 1619 lady Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted out the phone number of a reporter she hated.
But in late June of last year, when I approached Mr. XXXXX to discuss the blog, it vanished.
Well, yeah, the New York Times publishing the name of a writer who is also psychiatrist who works with crazy people was an obvious threat of mayhem on political grounds.
By the way, why is it crucial to refer to “Dr. Jill Biden” when she is a low-brow Ed. D., but to “Mr. Scott XXXXX” when he is a legit psychiatrist?
… Many Rationalists embraced “effective altruism,” an effort to remake charity by calculating how many people would benefit from a given donation. Some embraced the online writings of “neoreactionaries” like Curtis Yarvin, who held racist beliefs and decried American democracy.
Scott Alexander and Mencius Moldbug propound strikingly different ideologies, which they would be happy to inform you about at length. But neither man finds the reigning dogmas of feminized Woke drivel to be intellectually satisfying, so … it’s as if they are part of a vast non-leftist conspiracy to not submit, so something must be done about them.
They were mostly white men, but not entirely.
But being white men, they were Bad.
… The Rationalists held regular meet-ups around the world, from Silicon Valley to Amsterdam to Australia. Some lived in group houses. Some practiced polyamory. “They are basically just hippies who talk a lot more about Bayes’ theorem than the original hippies,” said Scott Aaronson, a University of Texas professor who has stayed in one of the group houses.
Last June, as I was reporting on the Rationalists and Slate Star Codex, I called Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, an artificial intelligence lab backed by a billion dollars from Microsoft. He was effusive in his praise of the blog.
It was, he said, essential reading among “the people inventing the future” in the tech industry.
Mr. Altman, who had risen to prominence as the president of the start-up accelerator Y Combinator, moved on to other subjects before hanging up. But he called back. He wanted to talk about an essay that appeared on the blog in 2014.
The essay was a critique of what Mr. XXXXX, writing as Scott Alexander, described as “the Blue Tribe.” In his telling, these were the people at the liberal end of the political spectrum whose characteristics included “supporting gay rights” and “getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots.”
But as the man behind Slate Star Codex saw it, there was one group the Blue Tribe could not tolerate: anyone who did not agree with the Blue Tribe. “Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?” he wrote.
Mr. Altman thought the essay nailed a big problem: In the face of the “internet mob” that guarded against sexism and racism, entrepreneurs had less room to explore new ideas. Many of their ideas, such as intelligence augmentation and genetic engineering, ran afoul of the Blue Tribe.
Mr. XXXXX was not a member of the Blue Tribe. He was not a voice from the conservative Red Tribe (“opposing gay marriage,” “getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies”). He identified with something called the Grey Tribe — as did many in Silicon Valley.
The Grey Tribe was characterized by libertarian beliefs, atheism, “vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up,” and “reading lots of blogs,” he wrote. Most significantly, it believed in absolute free speech.
The essay on these tribes, Mr. Altman told me, was an inflection point for Silicon Valley. “It was a moment that people talked about a lot, lot, lot,” he said.
He did not mention names. But Slate Star Codex carried an endorsement from Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. It was read by Patrick Collison, chief executive of Stripe, the billion-dollar start-up that emerged from the accelerator. Venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen, and Ben Horowitz followed the blog on Twitter.
I’m struck by how the NYT is obsessed with the doxing the identities of bloggers Scott Alexander and Mencius Moldbug, but not with the doxing that Ben Horowitz is the son of David Horowitz, much like they won’t report that David Friedman is the son of ultra-famous Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. All six of these brilliant people are Jewish, but for some reason mentioning their dads is off limits, probably because NYT subscribers won’t notice that that Metz’s article is anti-Semitic unless he mentions the elder Friedman and Horowitz.
And in some ways, two of the world’s prominent A.I. labs — organizations that are tackling some of the tech industry’s most ambitious and potentially powerful projects — grew out of the Rationalist movement.
In 2005, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, befriended Mr. Yudkowsky and gave money to MIRI. In 2010, at Mr. Thiel’s San Francisco townhouse, Mr. Yudkowsky introduced him to a pair of young researchers named Shane Legg and Demis Hassabis. That fall, with an investment from Mr. Thiel’s firm, the two created an A.I. lab called DeepMind.
Like the Rationalists, they believed that A.I could end up turning against humanity, and because they held this belief, they felt they were among the only ones who were prepared to built it in a safe way.
In 2014, Google bought DeepMind for $650 million. The next year, Elon Musk — who also worried A.I. could destroy the world and met his partner, Grimes, because they shared an interest in a Rationalist thought experiment — founded OpenAI as a DeepMind competitor. Both labs hired from the Rationalist community.
The immigrants Thiel and Musk must be destroyed.
Or at least forced to donate billions to Ibram X. Kendi.
The fact that America’s greatest living African-American is a white guy is simply intolerable.
Part of the appeal of Slate Star Codex, faithful readers said, was Mr. XXXXX’s willingness to step outside acceptable topics. But he wrote in a wordy, often roundabout way that left many wondering what he really believed.
Mr. Aaronson, the University of Texas professor, was turned off by the more rigid and contrarian beliefs of the Rationalists, but he is one of the blog’s biggest champions and deeply admired that it didn’t avoid live-wire topics.
“It must have taken incredible guts for Scott to express his thoughts, misgivings and questions about some major ideological pillars of the modern world so openly, even if protected by a quasi-pseudonym,” he said.
It was the protection of that “quasi-pseudonym” that rankled Mr. XXXXX when I first got in touch with him. He declined to comment for this article.
As he explored science, philosophy and A.I., he also argued that the media ignored that men were often harassed by women. He described some feminists as something close to Voldemort, the embodiment of evil in the Harry Potter books. He said that affirmative action was difficult to distinguish from “discriminating against white men.”
You’ll notice that this article doesn’t quote any full sentences from Scott or Curtis, just tiny fragments of their endless oeuvres.
In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in “The Bell Curve.”
Scott is Guilty By Association! Actually, what Scott wrote is:
The only public figure I can think of in the southeast quadrant with me is Charles Murray. Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture. But he shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too.
The NYT goes on:
In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”
In other words, Dr. Alexander did not say he agreed with Dr. Murray on race-IQ. But the point is that at some indeterminate point, Alexander expressed alignment with Murray on a different issue, so he must be destroyed.
He denounced the neoreactionaries, the anti-democratic, often racist movement popularized by Curtis Yarvin. But he also gave them a platform.
What could be worse than listening to people you disagree with? You’ll never see Cade Metz doing that. Not not never.
His “blog roll” — the blogs he endorsed — included the work of Nick Land, a British philosopher whose writings on race, genetics and intelligence have been embraced by white nationalists.
In 2017, Mr. XXXXX published an essay titled “Gender Imbalances Are Mostly Not Due to Offensive Attitudes.” The main reason computer scientists, mathematicians and other groups were predominantly male was not that the industries were sexist, he argued, but that women were simply less interested in joining.
And therefore he must be burned at the stake like all heretics.
That week, a Google employee named James Damore wrote a memo arguing that the low number of women in technical positions at the company was a result of biological differences, not anything else — a memo he was later fired over.
What can be more just than that Damore was fired for hurting the feelings of the CEO of YouTube, Sergey Brin’s old landlady and ex-sister-in-law. So the programmer had to be destroyed in the name of Punching Up in favor of a CEO.
… I woke up the next morning to a torrent of online abuse, as did my editor, who was named in the farewell note. My address and phone number were shared by the blog’s readers on Twitter. Protecting the identity of the man behind Slate Star Codex had turned into a cause among the Rationalists.
More than 7,500 people signed a petition urging The Times not to publish his name, including many prominent figures in the tech industry. “Putting his full name in The Times, the petitioners said, “would meaningfully damage public discourse, by discouraging private citizens from sharing their thoughts in blog form.” On the internet, many in Silicon Valley believe, everyone has the right not only to say what they want but to say it anonymously.
Amid all this, I spoke with Manoel Horta Ribeiro,
You can’t get much more Person of Colorish than Manoel Horta Ribeiro:
a computer science researcher who explores social networks at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. He was worried that Slate Star Codex, like other communities, was allowing extremist views to trickle into the influential tech world. “A community like this gives voice to fringe groups,” he said. “It gives a platform to people who hold more extreme views.” …
In August, Mr. XXXXX restored his old blog posts to the internet. And two weeks ago, he relaunched his blog on Substack, a company with ties to both Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator. He gave the blog a new title: Astral Codex Ten. He hinted that Substack paid him $250,000 for a year on the platform. And he indicated the company would give him all the protection he needed.
In his first post, Mr. XXXXX shared his full name.
After spending months rearranging his life to ameliorate the threat of the NYT’s impending doxing.
And what exactly did the NYT disclosing his last name achieve journalistically? It’s not like anybody read this exposé and said, “Oh, Scott Alexander is that Scott XXXXX! Now everything is clear. The scales have fallen from my eyes!” Nah, it turns out that the real Scott XXXXX is exactly the same as the “Scott Alexander” depicted in a million words of self-published prose over the last decade: a nerdy Jewish psychiatrist with a sideline in calmly blogging at length.
All that I can see is that the Times revealed that Scott has a Jewish surname, which must have come as zero surprise to anybody who has read him …