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By You Can't Tip a Buick in ""He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation"" on MeFi

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Deep upthread someone asked how you win a debate against people who willfully disregard facts and reason.

If I have a political project in my participation in these threads, it's in observing the ways that people presume that political disputes are resolved through debate and reason, and then observing how in all of those cases those disputes are instead resolved through organization and action. All of those cases — I stand by the strong universalizing claim here.

So the way you beat them is by out-organizing them, by getting more people on our side than theirs, by denying them space in the room where decisions are made, through materially demonstrating that our side can beat their side, not in the domain of reasoned dispute but in the domain of who can get there the first with the most, in the domain of who can be sneakiest when being sneaky matters, in the domain of effectively disorganizing and demoralizing everyone not on our side.

Debate plays almost no role in this. Rhetoric, now rhetoric plays a huge role, as does propaganda, and effective knowledge of human psychology, and material resources — money, media outlets, control of institutional processes. Debate is a sideshow. Facts matter insofar as having the right facts can point you toward the most effective organizational strategy and the most effective way to disorganize your opponents, but simply having more accurate facts than the other side means nothing.

The reason why I am insistent on railing against liberal Enlightenment ideology is that it leads to miserable, ineffective tactics. There's a liberal idea, baked deep into our pre-2016 culture, that says that reasoned debate between formal equals is the best way to resolve disputes, and that therefore the best decision making processes involve constructing a sandbox where we pretend that reasoned debate is how disputes are resolved, and then act according to what we decide on within that sandbox. This idea was so deep in our culture that we forgot that the sandbox was a sandbox; we started to think that that was how the world really worked. And so, just like in 1933, we were helpless when people who recognized the sandbox was a sandbox walked over to the sandbox, took a healthy shit in it, then flipped the whole thing over.

The thing is, it's not just that the sandbox is susceptible to sudden major attack from outside, from people who are like "fuck debate I'm taking what I want." It's that the reality outside the sandbox of reasoned debate is always intruding, and reasoned debate is never determinative of decision-making processes, no matter how intent you are in establishing an abstraction that lets you think that reason rules. The bosses and the capital-owners always put their thumbs on the scale of reasoned debate by buying the participants and the judges, the cops always abuse their position as enforcers of law derived by reason to their own unreasoned benefit. The sandbox is a leaky abstraction; there's always buffer overruns and always people ready to exploit them.

This is why I'm always dismissive of people here and elsewhere who are like "well we just gotta fix our processes by [reforming campaign finance laws/doubling the size of the house of representatives/whatever weird shit Lessig is on about these days]. It's not about processes. It's about organized power. It's about who owns what. It's about who can convince whom of what, not about what's true or what's right. This is the distinction between left and liberal: liberal solutions involve funding fair processes — about trying to patch up the sandbox so we can go back to pretending reason rules — while left solutions are about acknowledging that the sandbox is impossible and (governed by our collective senses of fairness, justice, reason, empathy, and love) making those solutions real in the world.

This is a hard grim thing, though, because if you're coming from the liberal position you can pretend there's a rock-solid foundation for your actions. You can say "well, we have a process, and that process allows for decision making based on reasoned debate, and we followed that process and here's the result it yielded, so we know we have good reason to do what we're doing." If you admit that that foundation, which seems rock-solid, is built on sand, you have no way whatsoever to be certain that what you're doing is right. And because you can't rely on a process to ensure that the conditions you want remain extant, there is no end to the process of struggle — struggle informed by reason, but never governed by it, because reason can't govern, and if you trick yourselves into thinking reason can govern you've gone and made yourself susceptible to attack by nazi thugs who are quite eager indeed to show you your error.


It's a hell of a world we're living in. But living in it beats the alternatives.
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duerig
2 days ago
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It can be a useful corrective when somebody points out the implicit power relationships in society. Because it is easy to conflate the status quo with 'good' or 'just' or even 'neutral' and 'equal'. But every society has a pattern of power relations and we need to inspect the relations of our society and not blind ourselves to power imbalances.

On the other hand, it seems easy for people who think a lot about power relations to start thinking they are the only thing that matters. Reading this article, I'm left with no reason to ally with the 'left'. If the world really is just different groups competing for power, why should I root for one over the other? The only wise course of action in such a world is to ally with the side that will grant me the most power in exchange.

In order to have a reason to pick one side or another, I have to have more than the knowledge of power relations. I have to have a standard of truth and a standard of justice. If these are discarded in favor of the pursuit of organized power, then it doesn't matter who wins any more.

And this is where defending the process and the sandbox comes in. Because the institutions and processes of society aren't just imaginary, though they do depend on most people following them most of the time. They are also real. They are embodied in our law enforcement services (however flawed) and our elections (even if they don't go our way) and our property (even when unequally distributed). The sandbox isn't an automatic thing. And we have to recognize that it can be threatened and be willing to defend it. But it is a real thing that is worth defending.

The sandbox has been overturned many times in our history. Many of the people who did it had righteous causes and they were filled with a deep sense of fairness, justice, reason, empathy, and even love. But each time it happens, the blood of the tyrants is spilled, the blood of the weak is spilled, the blood of the powerless is spilled. And the new sandbox that was created still had power relations and injustice and unfairness and corruption. And the new tyrants oppressed the new weak and powerless.

The world is better now than it has been in centuries past. But it is not because of those who overturned the sandbox. It is because of those who spent years or decades slowly improving the sandbox they already lived in. Sometimes with better laws. Sometimes with new ways to prevent corruption. Sometimes just with a new way to till the land.
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CrystalDave
2 days ago
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Which, not that I'm :100: down with this (I suspect the illusion-of-sandbox & trying to reinforce it as an ideal holds some value), but it's a hard thing to avoid grappling with, because the core point holds fairly well.

It's all well and good to hold to sandbox rules until someone comes along who wants their goal more than they want to avoid upsetting the sandbox, and forgetting the map/territory distinction there means getting blindsided.

See also: Yonatan Zunger's Tolerance as Treaty, not Moral Precept article & similar.
Seattle, WA

Gamers Can't Stop Buying the Loot Boxes They Hate

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Star Wars Battlefront II isn't out until November, but publisher Electronic Arts gave fans a chance to play the beta this weekend for free. Thousands of players stormed Naboo's throne room, piloted Poe Dameron's X-Wing, and hunting rebels as Boba Fett. A good time was had by most, but the game's reliance on loot boxes has angered some fans.

Loot boxes contain rewards that change the game slightly and in some cases give players a little boost over other players. Sometimes the boxes jut contain aesthetic items such as costumes, but increasingly they contain items that modify the way a game plays. As of this writing, the top three threads on the Star Wars Battlefront subreddit and the top five threads of the /r/games subreddit are discussions by fans upset about the presence of loot boxes in a $60 game. They're angry because, if the beta is any indication, then Battlefront II's progression system is completely tied to the loot box economy.

It's another in a long list of recent examples of how big video game publishers are pushing loot boxes to squeeze extra cash out of their customers. Forza 7, Lord of the Rings: Shadow of War, and Assassin's Creed: Origins all made news this past week for including a loot box economy in a $60 games. Worse, some anti-loot box extremists are attempting to ruin other player's good time by spoiling the games for them in attempt to hurt sales.

Based on the beta, Battlefront II has tied player progression completely to loot boxes. As in previous games, Battlefront II players earn guns and mods by playing, but now players earn credits towards the purchase of boxes after every match and have a chance to get scrap from loot boxes which they can use to buy specific cards and guns.

The rate at which a player gets credits doesn't appear to be tied to how well they play. When playing this weekend with friends, my buddies would sometimes have double or even triple my score, but we'd all get the same amount of credits at the end of the match.

Players spend those credits on loot boxes which contain three random items. They could be guns, scrap, or mod cards. After roughly ten hours of play this weekend, I had collected 160 scrap. That's enough to buy some lower tier cards, but not enough to buy one of the weapons which cost 600 scrap each. Of course, this convoluted progression model becomes profitable because if I want to skip this grind, I can just pay EA some real-world money to buy loot boxes, though at the moment we still don't know what EA is planning to charge for those.

The loot boxes could cost $1 or $100. It doesn't matter. It's the principle that is making players on Reddit and YouTubers like Angry Joe and TotalBiscuit angry: EA took what was once a linear player progression model that was designed to keep players playing, and tortured it into this new model that is designed to get more money of them via microtransactions.

Lord of the Rings: Shadow of War. Image: Warner Bros.

This is an angry conversation that the media, players, and game makers have been having for about a decade, but some monetization schemes in the past few days have brought it to the forefront once again.

Popular racing title Forza 7 angered fans when it tied its $20 VIP service to limited use mod cards found also found in loot boxes. Players were so angry that developer Turn 10 is changing it and offering VIP fans four free cars and 1 million credits as an apology.

Lord of the Rings: Shadow of War is another big game releasing this week with a $60 price tag and a microtransaction economy built in. Players can pay a few extra bucks for boxes of rare orcs and other legendary loot. Early reviews of the game are mostly positive, but have pointed out that the game's ending is locked behind a tedious 20-hour grind that encourages players to drop cash on the aforementioned loot boxes.

The Shadow of War situation has angered some fans to the point that they're trying to ruin the game for others to make a point. Anti-loot box extremists are messaging fans on the /r/shadowofmordor subreddit with spoilers about the game and encouraging them not to buy it. Its Steam forums are preparing for a review bomb of the game. Its Facebook page is full of fans arguing the merits of microtransactions.

"This is the big test of whether or not we're willing to accept these kinds of things in our games," TotalBiscuit said in his video about Battlefront II's loot boxes. "Unfortunately, I think it's very likely that we will."

Will TotalBiscuit and vengeful Redditors manage to fundamentally change the video game industry's growing reliance on loot boxes? I doubt it. This conversation has lasted more than a decade because, despite a small contingent of players upset about loot boxes, what players do matters more than what they say. And what players do is buy loot boxes. Players buy so many loot boxes that companies make a lot of money they wouldn't have made otherwise.

Activision made $3.6 billion in 2016 from selling such items. "We've been a leader in driving digital extra content for games, which really drives the profitability of this business," EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said during an investor's conference in 2016. "The extra content business is [$1.3 billion] a year."

It's been a bad week for loot boxes, but they're not going away as long as these companies make that kind of money from them.



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duerig
12 days ago
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I'm a little confused by the passions this seems to arouse. If you really can't stand a game with a particular game mechanic, then don't buy that game. More games are being released now than at any time in history. And there is unprecedented access to a vast back catalog of games in every genre. Instead of trying to battle 'trends' that you don't like, just buy games that are trending in a different direction. And if you get to a point in the game where you'd have to grind 20 hours and it is boring, then stop playing and go play another game. It isn't like any of these games have Hemmingway as a staff writer anyways, so who cares if you miss the ending? Or if you want to see the ending, just pull up a let's play on YouTube.

I don't like casino mechanics in games. So if I play the game, I don't go to the casino. And if going to the casino becomes essential to progress, then I will move on to some other game. And it just isn't a big deal.
freeAgent
12 days ago
I think people are frustrated because these days it seems that almost every single AAA title with multiplayer capabilities is building in the ability (and in some cases, near-requirement) to pay additional money in order to "compete". I agree with you, though. People should avoid these games if they don't like them.
duerig
12 days ago
I guess I haven't been keeping up on these competitive multiplayer games. I suppose I would be unlikely to play a game where it is not only competitive, but the deck was stacked against me because I can't buy the nice weapon that rich people get. But in that case, I suppose I don't understand it at all. Aren't most of these e-sport type games supposed to start with a blank slate and equal chances with each new map? I mean, I know that if I went up against a chess grandmaster, I would almost certainly lose. But it would just make things that more frustrating if they got an extra queen at the beginning of the game because they had 'earned' it somehow by playing chess a lot.
freeAgent
12 days ago
What you mention at the end of your comment is essentially what is happening. People who "pay to win" can essentially start the chess match with two queens. That gives them a big leg up regardless of skill level. A lot of the time, these things can also be "earned" in-game, but the amount of time it takes to earn those rewards can be in the thousands of hours. Older online multiplayer games that came out before microtransactions were a thing tended to start everyone out on an equal footing and in-game advantages were limited to skill and rewards that were realistically obtainable through play-time. Games like that are becoming more rare over time.
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Academic writing is like a painful, upper middle class dinner party

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This blog post is part of a series dedicated to developing ideas for a new book I am writing with Shaun Lehmann (@painlessprose on Twitter) and Katherine Firth of the Research Voodoo blog. “Writing Trouble” will be a Swiss army knife of a book, containing range of strategies and tactics for fixing academic writing that is good, but not yet great.

We generated chapter titles from the bad feedback PhD students have told us about over the years. Parts of this post will end up in chapter two: “Your writing doesn’t sound very academic”: how to convince your reader you belong”. The book will be published by Open University Press and will hopefully be out in late 2018. If you’re interested in knowing more about the book before we publish, you can sign up for our writing trouble mailing list.

Although I got reasonable marks for my creative essays in high school,  literary criticism was never my strong suit. One of the issues with my analytical writing was that I didn’t really understand how to use verbs.  It wasn’t until I nearly finished my masters degree that I found out that verbs function in academic conversation much like table manners at a middle class dinner party.

Let me explain.

I owe much of my education in verbs to the good work of Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler and their excellent book ‘Helping Doctoral Students Write’. This book was crucial for helping me understand that in humanities writing, the verb you use to describe someone else’s work indicates your feeling about the quality of the work. For instance, “Mewburn (2010) argues…” is kinder than “Mewburn (2010) asserts…”. By using the verb ‘argues’ I invite the reader to consider that what Mewburn is doing is actually arguing – a scholar who asserts is not really a scholar at all.

Looking up the verbs in a dictionary makes the difference quite plain. According to Google, the first definition of ‘argues’ is “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” By contrast, the definition for ‘asserts’ is “cause others to recognize (one’s authority or a right) by confident and forceful behavior”. In the humanities, at least these days, we are meant to make knowledge by persuasion, not through authority. Authority is used more often in political or religious arguments. If you read back into the history of Western academia, you will find examples of writing that seems very strange to contemporary eyes. The tone is much more commanding and confident – this was because the origins of Western universities were monastic and it was acceptable to make an argument on the grounds that God had ordained something.

Times have changed (despite what some Australian politicians would like to think). When you think about it, most academic writing is highly passive aggressive. By using a verb to express your evaluation of someone else’s work you avoid directly stating your opinion, leaving it up to the reader to infer what you think. To read between the lines if you like. In academic writing you would never, for example, write “Mewburn (2010) is shit – don’t bother reading this paper. She’s a rubbish scholar”. You’d say something like: “Mewburn (2010) relies on insufficient evidence”.

You mean the same thing, but it’s you know – polite. At least it’s polite according to dominant cultural norms in academia which, it’s important to recognise, are not ‘natural’. While some people struggle mightily with the idea that verbs are like manners at a middle class dinner party, Indigenous students, and people who are first in family to get to University, tend to get it straight away. When I shared this analogy with one Wiradjuri woman she laughed and said “Right, so to succeed in the academy I have to write like an uptight white person? That makes perfect sense. I’m surrounded by them all the time”.

Sadly true.

Kamler and Thomson were writing for humanities scholars, but their work led me to develop an interest in deep nerd grammar within the sciences. The most interesting difference between science writing and humanities writing is the use of verbs, or rather – the lack of them. When scientists are evaluating the work of other scientists they tend to drop the verb altogether. In the brilliant “Disciplinary Discourses: social interactions in academic writing” (told you it was nerdy) Ken Hyland points out that scientists will make a statement and then put the reference for the fact at the end of the sentence, like so (totally made up example):

“The molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”.

By placing the reference at the end and not associating it with a verb, the scientist ‘imports’ this idea without comment and effectively expects the reader to accept the idea as fact. Even when they do include verbs, scientists do it in ‘sciencey’ ways. If the scientist was inclined to more ‘flowerly’ language, they might use a neutral verb, for instance:

“It has been shown that molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”

In this sentence, the passsive voice functions to leave out the identity of the person who showed how the molecules cluster, that’s because, generally, in the sciences the identity of the person who did the work is irrelevant. Scientists are assumed to be identical to each other and employ scientific methods and procedures exactly the same way. This point of view has been questioned by some who argue that scientists are human like the rest of us, but that’s not a Pandora’s box that I need to open here. To complicate matters further, not all scientists use verbs in this way all the time. Hyland points out that Biologists are the outliers of the science world and tend to deploy verbs much more like humanities people. In other words, it’s complicated, but you need to know the norms of your ‘tribal dialect’ to fit in.

So how can you operationalise this knowledge? Well, unless you want to take a risk challenge academic norms (and hey – don’t let me stop you!), give your writing an ‘uptight white person’ make over. Grab a few papers from scholars you admire and make a list of the verbs they use. Then cluster the verbs into three columns based on a passive aggressive index: “this work is great”, “This work is fine” and “this work is terrible”. You can look at my own verb cheat sheet as a model, but you’re best advised to make your own.

When you’re finished, stick your cheat sheet to your wall. While you are doing your literature review, examine your feelings about the work you are reading, and then pick a verb from the list that fits your judgment. Varied verb use will make your writing more interesting and precise If you are a science student, closely examine your own verb placement and compare it to work in your discipline – could you afford to use a few more verbs? Or do you need to pare it back?

I hope that’s clear – I’ll be making edits when I put this post into the book, so your questions are helpful!

More Writing Trouble posts:

Don’t let those ‘sticky words’ confuse your examiners

The vagueness problem in academic writing






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duerig
22 days ago
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I write in the sciences and this is pretty accurate. I'd add two extra subtleties.

First, for science writing, there is a difference between citation in 'related work' sections and citations elsewhere. In the 'related work' section, we cite more like the humanities folks do. And it often sounds like passive-aggressive insults. Because the purpose of the related work section is to both acknowledge similar contributions, but also show how your contribution is different and better.

Second, in the rest of the paper, I use citations almost exclusively when I want to make a non-controversial assertion. The thesis of the paper as a whole is a controversial assertion that I am attempting to back up with reasoning, data, and assertions that aren't subject to controversy. So the citations act as annotations that let me tag certain things as reliable, already-known, and understood to undergird my main argument.

It is actually pretty rare for one paper to refute another in my field. If a paper is no longer considered reliable, it is much more likely that it will just no longer be cited.
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claudinec
22 days ago
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“Right, so to succeed in the academy I have to write like an uptight white person? That makes perfect sense. I’m surrounded by them all the time.”
Melbourne, Australia

Because of a piece in the NYT yesterday, people on the net are crapping on progr...

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Because of a piece in the NYT yesterday, people on the net are crapping on programmers, and I don't think very many, if any, have any idea what we do. I even unfriended one person because it's just too fucking offensive. People lose it when it comes to this topic. Yes we are mostly men. And we work really hard to do stuff to please you. And if you want to help I'm pretty sure most programmers will create plenty of space for you to do that. I certainly will. We're mostly nice people. Yes there are assholes. But there are asshole women too. But for god's sake the programmers aren't in general the sexual harassers. We're fairly meek people. So stop shooting with such imprecision. Focus on the problem.
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duerig
22 days ago
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When we feel attacked, it comfortable to distance ourselves from it. Finding that comfort is natural and it might even be essential to keeping a sense of wellbeing at times.

But it is wise to think twice before publicly claiming purity. Maybe you really are pure and were collateral damage in a mudslinging competition. But even if so, talking about how pure you are doesn't help solve any of the problems.

If the attack is improper, your own personal purity doesn't refute it and it would have been better to refute the attack directly.

If the attack is fair and represents a real problem, but you happen to be completely innocent, then your innocence is mostly besides the point. There is a real problem, and it is wise to consider how you can help solve the problem and how important the problem is compared to other problems you see around you.

But, of course, we are rarely completely pure. Purity is a pretend state that makes sense when we are talking about angels and unicorns, but not real people. I am in tech, and I am a coder. Have I been deliberately misogynistic and tried to close off space for women? No. But I am part of the culture and I have accepted it and re-transmitted it to others. I share responsibility for that culture just as I share responsibility for the debts of my country even if I didn't co-sign personally on the loan.

So the really productive thing would be to consider the culture that we both share, and try to figure out ways to change it to create more space for half the population to be their best programmer selves. And to make it a culture that is less accepting and makes less excuses for misogynistic insiders and insider-practices.
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thequeerwithoutfear: sluti-snek: all the internet did was give...

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thequeerwithoutfear:

sluti-snek:

all the internet did was give him a place where he didnt have to worry about being punched in the face when he says what he thinks

[image: a tweet by patrick s. tomlinson, @stealthygeek. “‘He’s not like that in real life.’ Stop. Is the internet real? Yes. Are the people on it living? Yes. Then he’s like that in real life.”]

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duerig
27 days ago
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Yes. There is line between 'real life' and 'the Internet'. 'The Internet' is not a stage where everybody is pretending. The only ones who are pretending are the trolls. And the only people they are fooling are themselves. You are what you do. And if you spend your time being evil, it doesn't matter whether it is 'online' or 'offline'. You are still evil.
gazuga
26 days ago
I'll confess alarm at this eagerness to point a finger at the evil ones in our midst. It drowns out better questions about how environments channel behaviours. Some environments bring out the worst in good people. And reliably. When I reflect on the actual range of circumstances "He's not like that in real life" evokes, it makes me notice how underappreciated so much of the offline world's evolved incentives against meanness are, how social media leans the opposite way, and how much better the Internet could be at connecting people without elevating their worst group impulses.
duerig
26 days ago
There are two aspects of this that are related. First, when I talk about 'evil', I am specifically referring to things that are unambiguously bad behaviour. Acts that even the troll themselves would not consider appropriate if it weren't online. Sending rape or death threats, for example. Or explicitly trying to ruin somebody else's day for 'lulz'. It is not just holding an unpopular opinion. Second, you are correct that environments (and social environments) channel behaviours. One of the social contexts that enables internet 'trolls' is that for most of the history of the Internet, we as a society have accepted a divide between 'who I am' and 'what I do on the Internet'. It goes all the way back to the old comic where 'On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog'. Within this social environment, behaviours are condoned online and their ill effects are minimized because it 'isn't real' and is just an act rather than reflecting on the person doing the bad act. Even going so far as to come up with a special word (troll) to describe 'doing it online' which tends to have less dire connotations than 'stalker' or 'abuser' or 'sexual predator' or 'scam artist'.
gazuga
26 days ago
Strongly agree that abusive conduct shouldn't be sheltered in false impressions of low stakes. A functioning social environment must call abuse what it is. It must also discriminate between abuse and mere meanness, and have different sets of responses to each.
gazuga
26 days ago
The role identity plays in these problems is very tricky. People's intuitions about the benefits and costs of real name policies or other design efforts to link reputations across contexts are often wrong. A narrative of online-offline accountability aimed at bigots and predators could hurt a lot of vulnerable people for whom the design of online spaces as zones of experimentation, permissiveness, and loosely coupled identities is a source of both liberty and safety.
gazuga
26 days ago
I think it's vital for online spaces to hold onto their permissive potential without rewarding awful behaviour the way they do now. Most of these spaces support asymmetries between the effort required to push hurtful messages in front of people's eyes and the effort required to avoid them. Many of these spaces implode into meanness so regularly that people's only response is to harden themselves to it, or even embrace it.
gazuga
26 days ago
Exhortations about good and evil will not stop any of this. We didn't get a solution to email spam by all resolving to hate spammers twice as hard, or by reasoning literally from how we deal with unwanted communication in the offline world. If we had, we would've broken email. I'm convinced the same lesson applies to social media's current ills.
duerig
26 days ago
I agree that we should not conflate lesser evils with greater evils. This is one of the reasons I dislike the word 'troll'. It is a catch-all that encompasses both random YouTube comment responses 'This video suckz' and an obsessive stalker compiling a detailed dossier on a topic and then releasing it along with rape/death threats or calling the police to try to provoke a SWAT raid of somebody's house. If somebody is a jerk, they are a jerk not a 'troll' if they do it online. And if somebody is a stalker, they are not a 'troll' if they do it online.
duerig
26 days ago
I'm getting a bit of a mixed read on your last couple of responses. You don't want more regulation because that would stifle the permissive and experimental nature of online interaction. But simply exhorting people not to be evil is ineffective. In some ways, we need to thread the needle on this. First, it is important that we pass legislation and train our law enforcement to take things seriously even if they are 'online' and to coordinate actions and things like warrants better across jurisdictions to handle cases of serious harassment or criminal actions. These are concrete things that can change that do not impinge on identity. Second, cultural forces have a lot of impact in this arena. They have an impact on whether the law can be enforced (for instance, if police officers take complaints seriously and follow up). They also have an impact on perpetrators. Currently, perpetrators of misconduct 'online' can easily lie to themselves that they are not doing 'real harm' and it is 'just for fun' and that it doesn't represent their true identity. We as a society make it easier by not taking these crimes as seriously, by treating minor insults as equivalent to major crimes, by letting things slide if somebody seems to lead an otherwise morally exemplary life. If society as a whole stops coddling 'trolls', then they will be less likely to act on their malignant impulses. It will be harder for them to maintain the lie. If you want a similar example, look at sexual harassment in the workplace. This is something that is often hard to enforce, often hard to prove, and still frequently dismissed by authorities as not worthy of investigation. But our culture has slowly changed over the years. And the social permissiveness that made it seem normal thirty years ago has now turned to a more general opprobrium. There has been progress on this issue. And I think progress can be made on the issue of online death threats or rape threats or other egregious activities that are often ignored because they happen 'online'. It is crazy that we live in a society where any woman who speaks out on any side of a controversial issue can expect rape and death threats as sure as night follows day. And that these people are not being tracked down, arrested, and tried because 'That is just the trolls. Don't feed the trolls. It doesn't matter and it isn't real because it was online.'
gazuga
26 days ago
Reading back, most of our confusion stems from whether the "that" in "He's not like that in real life" refers to abusive, illegal conduct or a much wider set of online behaviours. Better law enforcement could change the equation around rape and death threats, agreed. Different notions of self have a way of collapsing together when your keystrokes are being traced to your apartment. It's when I turn to the larger problem set—why do people act differently online? Why are people such jerks on this subreddit? Why has my twitter feed devolved into a status lowering contest? Why are the same people on Instagram so nice to each other?—that almost all the potential gains start from a recognition of how norm transmission in online spaces is not only different but alien to that of neighbourhoods, workplaces, churches, or public squares.
gazuga
26 days ago
I also predict that even in the domain of straight up abuse, novel system designs will succeed in many cases where law enforcement chasing people across sockpuppet accounts and VPNs fails. The working solution will be the one that scales to the problem.
duerig
26 days ago
I think we should pursue all of these angles simultaneously. Law enforcement for criminal behaviour, designing forums and social networks to reduce problematic behaviour, and norm-enforcement within those communities. All of these methods will be bolstered when society as a whole takes the problem seriously and when those online are not given tacit permission by society to perform bad acts online. I've read that psychologically, we often tend to associate bad acts that we do ourselves to circumstances (I was having a bad day, so I flipped off that guy in traffic) while we attribute bad acts in others to fundamental personality traits (that guy flipped me off in traffic because he is a jerk). Currently, 'but it was just online' is one such excuse people give for abuse and removing the permission framework for that excuse makes a difference and gives legitimacy to other more concrete initiatives like the ones you suggest.
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Hillary Clinton Didn’t Propose Universal Basic Income Because Centrists Won’t Fix the Future

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Hillary Clinton recently sat down with Vox's Ezra Klein to talk about what she "really thinks" nearly a year after she handily lost an election that was hers to win. The interview, which went online on Wednesday, is by turns surprising and utterly moribund.

Clinton discusses how prior to her electoral run she considered supporting policies that would make the Left salivate: a basic income for all, paid out of the pockets of the extractive industry, and single-payer healthcare. Yet in the same breath she dismisses these ideas out-of-hand, as if they never could have worked. This is the hard limit of establishment liberal politics, and her unflagging dedication to a broken system is one of the biggest reasons why Americans have tired of politics as usual.

Of a basic income, based on the Alaska model that pays out dividends from the state's oil industry to citizens, Clinton wrote in her new book that achieving this would mean raising taxes or scrapping essential social services. Ditching the idea was the "responsible decision." This is, frankly, bullshit. The Alaska model is funded by oil revenues (as well as investments in stocks and bonds), not income taxes. To extend it to the rest of the country wouldn't mean raising taxes or scrapping social services but expropriating revenues from an industry that ravages what is supposed to be a shared natural resource. And even if a basic income were funded through taxes, who might bear the brunt? Perhaps the mega-rich who hoard billions of dollars in foreign banks, far out of reach from the American people?

A politician with a larger imagination would perhaps see these opportunities and latch onto them. But not Clinton. Instead, she worries about having to explain to her enemies how she would achieve these goals and not having a good answer, because the answers are forever out of reach for her politics. Rather than grappling effectively with the biggest issues threatening our future: namely income inequality, climate change, automation-related job loss, and the health of our population, Clinton decided to work within a system that offers only patchwork solutions to a limited number of people.

Of single-payer healthcare, which has now been proposed by Bernie Sanders and 15 other senators, Clinton says that she supports it, at least in the abstract. According to her, though, the question of "who's going to pay for it?" made it a political impossibility during her candidacy. The way Clinton tells it, Sanders can't explain how to pay for it, and nobody can. At least, not without raising taxes on average Joe and Jane. But Sanders does have answers and explanations, and he released them publicly this week. The answers he proposes are: Tax high-earners, tax offshore wealth, close loopholes for corporations, tax capital gains, tax the finance industry, etc.

These revenue streams are out of reach for politicians like Clinton and other centrist Democrats who are terrified of upsetting an economic order that created the largest income inequality gap in American history. Even more, she dismisses single-payer healthcare and stronger environmental protections as simply being "whatever it is that might be viewed as universal and inspiring." But the environment, people's health, and their quality of life are not abstractions. Making them better is possible.

Centrist politicians, of whom Clinton is emblematic, can't see the bright point of light at the end of our very long and dark political tunnel. They like being neither here nor there, in the half-light of justice deferred, comfortably "between center right and center left," as Clinton put it, wherever the center of a center is supposed to be. Nowhere, I suppose.



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duerig
37 days ago
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As a centrist, I look back at history and see all the times when a shortcut to justice was found, and in almost every case, the outcome has been more injustice. Radical changes do not make the world more just. They break the world. It is only by a thousand tiny and insufficient steps that we move towards a more just world. It means at every stage we muddle our way through in our imperfect world. But an imperfect world is always more just than a broken world.

If a UBI comes, it will come at the hands of the centrists. It will start small and slowly expand over time. The revolutionaries can't deliver on it. Revolutionaries can only bring revolution. And revolution is the path to death and the failure of dreams.
gazuga
32 days ago
Wouldn't you allow that some inputs to progress in the last 200+ years have been revolutionary rather than incremental in character? Often a new pattern takes hold only by displacing an old pattern. Even if we agree most conscious efforts to reorder societies overnight ruin what they're trying to improve, what works for a while can also get hopelessly stuck.
gazuga
32 days ago
What I'm on the edge of my seat about is what happens when the burn-it-down progressives actually take power somewhere soon. Corbyn in the UK looks to be first in line. It's not a movement I associate with any interest in revolutionary politics or its workings. They're using the image of violent revolutions and the counter-image of waffling centrists as code for something more like the shortcuts successfully taken in the New Deal.
gazuga
32 days ago
That's incomplete, though. These folks have started to normalize political violence and system breaking in their language. I still think they're allergic to the tools to organize violence at scale (even if Nazi punching has them a little too worked up right now, as if that's a corner of the political violence matrix they can expand from). The literalness they profess in these extreme stances is, for all but a disturbed few of them, a bluff with the cards face up. And I think it's largely the same thing when they talk as if they'd fire all the technocrats and start emptying prisons and breaking up banks in their first minutes in office.
gazuga
32 days ago
What, then, is the actual theory of power running under their ideation? Will having jobs to do inside rule-filled pluralistic systems tame them overnight, or does the collapse of liberal norms give them access to a bunch of shortcuts that their predecessors never thought were available? What power is lying on the ground for the centrist smashers right now, and do they know how to wield it without knocking themselves out?
gazuga
32 days ago
I don't see things clearly enough make strong predictions. Still too dizzy from 2016.
duerig
32 days ago
There is a role for revolutionary idea, but not for revolutionary action. Many of the foundations of our current society that make it more just were once revolutionary ideas. And it is good that our current institutions have displaced what came before. But as much as it was a good idea to tear down the feudal order or to eliminate regional grain tariffs, for example, this clearly didn't work out for the generation of French men and women when these idea were suddenly put into force overnight. A nation without a center is a nation on the brink of collapse. It is a car without brakes. So the increasing trends to smear political opponents as not just wrong, but also moral monsters who eat babies has now spilled over into attacks on the center. Because somebody willing to work with baby-eaters is pretty much just as bad. This doesn't lead us to a good place.
duerig
32 days ago
The role of a centrist is to lose slowly. So that radical ideas that are good are implemented gradually over time. While radical ideas that are bad are held at bay until they become more obviously bad and then discarded. There were centrists who opposed universal suffrage. And there were centrists who opposed eugenics. Both were ideas that were suddenly very popular and gaining currency in society. From our historical perspective, it is easy to see why one was good and the other was misguided. But at the time, this was not clear. So to be a centrist, it is nice to be able to account yourself on the right side of history some of the time. But just as often centrists were on the wrong side of history. There really is no way to know for sure whether you are right or wrong. Subjective certainty is cheap currency that is easily obtained by everyone involved. So society works out best when there are both forces pulling it in one direction or another and forces trying to keep it centered. And when it is slowly pulled in the direction that its populace finds most attractive. The answer to radicalism isn't more radicalism. And it is very worrying indeed to see groups on the left falling prey to the same traps that 'conservatives' have succumbed to for some time. We already have a radical right wing. A radical left wing just makes things worse.
gazuga
32 days ago
I've never heard the role of the political centre described that way. I strongly agree that all radical changes need to meet resistance and suffer failures in order to find their best path (in many cases that path is straight into the garbage heap of history). I'll have to think more about whether centrists are history's surge protectors that let a society plug in different ideas and try them out safely, or whether it's other forms of feedback that do most of the regulating of good and bad ideas. Big claim.
gazuga
32 days ago
As for the left's turn to radicalism, it scares me too. The thing that might settle down all the guilt by association nonsense is the need to build coalitions. In an important sense, political power and coalition building are the same thing. There are those who prefer the aesthetic of losing who will always hold onto to the conceit that people a few degrees from their politics are baby eaters, but they're not actually taking part in politics when they do so. (Ironically, these are usually the same people who insist every iota of life is political.) What's obvious in many developed nations is that the centre and the left will have to listen to each other and get down to lowest common denominators, and soon, to put things on a saner track. I think symbolically the left may have to 'win' these exchanges, and the centre may have to eat some crow. Maybe the left is too aggrieved for a selective alliance to work at all. But attempting one is vital. Centrists and progressives may be each other's most hated outgroup in September 2017, but they'll have to summon up some praise and support when real mutual opportunities come into view.
duerig
32 days ago
My big historical claim is not that 'centrists' are the biggest force of inertia in societies. Rather, that the role of providing ballast in a societies politics is a crucial one because radical change is almost uniformly disastrous. For example, in non-democratic societies the bureaucracy of a state is likely to act as that ballast rather than the politicians or aristocrats that make up the political class. It is when we look at modern democracies that politicians themselves seem to show themselves as either centrist or radical rather than simply a dynastic power broker.
gazuga
32 days ago
Gotcha. Related question then. Assume politics in the west only gets crazier and less open to compromise. Do you think the 'ballast' will begin to retract into unelected bodies that are more tapped into how things work, a la non-democracies? There seems to be no check on the growth of the state, even when politicians galvanize negative feelings toward it. Thousands of bureaucrats with heavy rulebooks won't find instructions for revolt in any of the pages no matter how loudly their leaders shout for it. Military leaders ignoring presidential orders might begin to feel routine. Is this deep state ballast necessary for the centre to hold in your view or does it only borrow against a future collapse?
duerig
32 days ago
That sounds like a plausible future outcome. It is a very frightening society because it would represent a gradual loss of the society and institutions that we have right now which I value greatly. Including autonomy, participatory power structures, and democracy itself. While revolution is almost uniformly disastrous, gradual changes are not always for the better. Some of the most worrying moments in the current administration are the times when the president has seemed to be on the brink of a power struggle with our institutions. Because if that ever happens, then no matter who wins, our democracy loses. We absolutely must have security and government services that are subservient to elected political control. If we don't, then we have a shell of a democracy which has rotted from within. The only way for our democracy to survive is if there are centrist politicians and centrist parts of the electorate. At the end of the day, being a centrist is about finding things to love about our society without losing sight of the shortcomings and ways it could be improved. A bureaucratic state wearing the clothes of a democracy will have those within the society that love it. But it seems worse than our present in crucial ways.
gazuga
32 days ago
Thanks duerig, I enjoyed this thread. You make the most impassioned case for centrism I've ever come across.
duerig
32 days ago
A centrist is someone who stands athwart history, yelling 'Maybe!' :-)
gazuga
32 days ago
Hahahahahaha, I'm stealing that!
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fxer
37 days ago
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"Tax high-earners, tax offshore wealth, close loopholes for corporations, tax capital gains, tax the finance industry, etc.

These revenue streams are out of reach for politicians like Clinton and other centrist Democrats who are terrified of upsetting an economic order that created the largest income inequality gap in American history. "
Bend, Oregon
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