Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

Created Mar 24, 2016
What would you like to do?

Moldbug Should Be Sanctioned

I want to start off by saying that I strongly respect John De Goes and the decision he made. If you haven't already read his extensive post about what he did and why he did it, I highly recommend you take the time. His post is thorough and generally persuaded me to his way of thinking, which is not that the works of Moldbug should be accepted or ignored, but that we need to be inclusive of differing beliefs in a community, so long as the holder of those beliefs is willing to "leave them at the door". This is a strong, intellectually defensible and consistent position.

However, as the day has gone on, and I've discussed this issue at length with many members of the community. I have come to the conclusion that this is idealistic, and ultimately missing the point. And as strange as it seems, the point is not that there is a literal Neo Nazi who will be speaking at a well-regarded conference! The point is somehow bigger than even that, and it has to do with community.

Community is everything. I'm fond of saying that programmers are not automata, and that's true, but it radically undersells how important people are. Every time you "do the hallway track" at a conference, you're explicitly making the claim that the people at the conference are more important than the content. People often talk about how you should try to choose your workplace for the coworkers, not the problem. And when we punch our pillows in frustration after a difficult day, we're rarely thinking about a thorny technical problem or an annoying technology: we're thinking of a person (or persons). Community is everything.

And community is being disrupted. Not even by Moldbug himself, but by the idea of Moldbug being accepted in any form. I called this the "meta-controversy" on twitter, and the more I think about it, the more I've realized that it's the only controversy that matters in this case. Community is disrupted by Moldbug. It is now being disrupted by the announcement that he will be speaking at LambdaConf, and it will (presumably) be even further disrupted by the actual event. People are divided, some of whom believe that we can (as a community) divorce ourselves from these ulterior associations and judge solely on technical merit, and others who believe that allowing Moldbug a platform on any topic is benefiting and supporting his philosophy.

What I'm realizing is that it doesn't matter which of these opinions holds sway. The division and disruption of the community itself is the problem, and it needs to be rectified. This would be true whether Moldbug were the second coming of Hitler or of Ghandi. Social equillibrium is tremendously important, and disruption to that equillibrium is a cancer which the community must stamp out for its own preservation. Moldbug must be the recipient of this correction, not because of his views (which are reprehensible), but because of the effect he has. As horrifying as it seems, the fact that he advocates for literal slavery (and more) is secondary to the impact he has on the community as a whole.

The community must always act for the preservation of its own harmony. And to that end, I believe that Moldbug should be removed from his speaking slot at LamdaConf. All arguments about inclusiveness or the technical nature of a conference are an aside, because the community itself has decided that they are an aside by their reaction.

Copy link

ohbadiah commented Mar 24, 2016

It's disturbing to me that because this line of thinking is independent of the reason Moldbug is objectionable to many, it could apply to anyone in a different circumstance. It seems like the same reasoning for telling Galileo or Copernicus to keep quiet, in my 1-D caricatured knowledge of history.

Copy link

weissjeffm commented Mar 24, 2016

So, basically, "mob rule"?

Is a conference organizer's job is to just do whatever the majority of attendants want, or is it to do the actual right thing? You're basically saying here, that it doesn't matter whether the community is righteously indignant or hysterical over nothing. I think it does matter. There is an objective reality.

The objective reality is that it doesn't matter that Moldbug's FP talk and racist ideas reside in the same brain, assuming that when he's at an FP conference, the racist stuff is just sitting inactive in that brain.

This is about identity. We should be allowed to have more than one. If Moldbug's racist identity wasn't known to be the same physical person as his FP identity, and no one could make the connection by what he says at an FP conference, then the two personas should be considered distinct. Racist Moldbug is not FP Moldbug.

Now, one might argue, "well what if he were a serial killer in his other identity, wouldn't that be a problem?" Well, if there was some assurance that the serial killer persona would be undetectable, I don't see that it's a problem. In reality that's hard to guarantee, since it's probably not possible for one persona to be mentally ill, but the other is not. I don't see anyone arguing that Moldbug is violent or mentally ill, or otherwise unable to separate the two personas.

Edit: TL;DR: if Moldbug can keep his own two identities distinct in his mind, then everyone else can also keep them distinct in theirs.

Copy link

abiggerhammer commented Mar 24, 2016

Any argument for which a simple regex replacement produces the opposite point of view should be reconsidered carefully.

And community is being disrupted. Not even by gays themselves, but by the idea of gays being accepted in any form.

Who is creating the disruption? The gays, or the people who don't want the gays to be accepted?

(N.B. I have a girlfriend who I love very much, so come at me, people who want to call me homophobic.)

Copy link

dhinojosa commented Mar 24, 2016

The audience is very important, their opinion counts, and they can certainly vote with their wallet, and their feet or wheels. The Overton Window right now doesn't accept this notion of natural master and slave genetic placement, hopefully, never will. Yes, mob rule, but the mob in this case are the presenters and the audience, and those two major groups can make or break the conference. If the conference participants don't feel safe from harm or ridicule from someone or some group who considers them inferior, it is a no go.

Copy link

NOTtheMessiah commented Mar 24, 2016

Why do we assume there's a social equilibrium in the first place to uphold, or that maintaining it would be a proper motivation in deciding these things? Society has never been in equilibrium. I think we can come up with better reasons.

The problem with Moldbug in this case is that you cannot separate the politics from the person or project. The goal of UrBit is explicitly political, to implement the kind of society Moldbug wants to see (UR is short for Unqualified Reservations, Yarvis's blog), a pretty ugly one at that. I would further argue that you cannot isolate politics from technology because technology isn't developed in a vacuum and it's denial to think that we can abstract away the social impact of technology for the purpose of a talk.

So I guess my point is that we as technologists ultimately have a responsibility to make ethical choices to make about the impact of our technology on our world. And by giving Yarvis a platform, we have to ask, what is the impact we are making?

Copy link

weissjeffm commented Mar 25, 2016

If the conference participants don't feel safe from harm

This is a dangerous proposition. What if the participants didn't feel safe from harm because they were the racists and the speaker was black? Just because attendees feel someone is a threat doesn't mean he actually is.

The problem with Moldbug in this case is that you cannot separate the politics from the person or project.

Many of these conference attendees don't want to separate them, even though they could. They would rather manufacture outrage than talk about programming. There is absolutely nothing political about functional programming techniques.

Copy link

Daiz commented Mar 26, 2016

because Yarvin/Moldbug is not at all shy about linking his identities

Where did you get that impression from? From the statement LambdaConf asked him to write (which can be found in the De Goes blog post):

Two: Politics of any sort is out of scope at a functional programming conference. I pledge to treat other LambdaConf guests as if they were colleagues at a large company or fellow students at a university, and neither utter nor show any content that’s out of scope or otherwise disturbing. My pen name has been “doxed,” but professionally I behave as if it was a secret. [emphasis mine]

Which is basically saying the exact opposite.

Copy link

lepasserby commented Mar 26, 2016

First and foremost - I hate Moldbug and am actually one of the people who would kinda think hard before sharing space with him.

Not because I believe that he's gonna hurt me, but because there's a sold chance I'll loose my wits and try to punch his infinitely punch-able face, and that's just not something I consider to be acceptable outcome (at least from my current, wits-not-yet-lost perspective)

However, even with that in mind, I can't characterize djspiewak 's position as anything other than 1) cruel 2) authoritarian 3) extremist-collectivist, to the point of outright maoism 4) insane (in purely descriptive sense)

djspiewak seriously suggests that some kind of ill-defined and impossible-to-measure spooky "Social equillibrium" is more important than human free expression and exchange of ideas, and doesn't even claim to be protecting "weaker among us".

The fate of weaker is secondary to djspiewak.

What is primary is some absurd "equilibrium" that is being "disrupted". Dear Lord Cthulhu, poor little equilibrium, it must hurt so much - oh wait, "social" "equilibrium" and "community writ large" don't feel a thing.
Communities don't feel things.
Corporations (despite what many US Presidential candidates claim) are not really people.
Funny, right ?

At least I don't try to steal moral high ground and explicitly admit that my hatred of Moldbug is entirely irrational and impractical.

Copy link

pron commented Mar 26, 2016


Any argument for which a simple regex replacement produces the opposite point of view should be reconsidered carefully.

A mind capable of accepting context-sensitive languages shouldn't restrict itself to reasoning as a finite state machine.

Besides, such a mind would find itself confused about many things, e.g. "8 > 5" s/8/4 => "4 > 5", which should by no means make the original statement, 8 > 5, suspect in any way. If only regular expressions could capture the meaning of our world... Well, it would be decidable, for one. Sadly, even arithmetic is too complex for your argument to hold any water, let alone ethical questions.

Copy link

Ichoran commented Mar 28, 2016

If you step back a few more steps and look not just at the LambdaConf community and its social equilibrium, but of society as a whole, I am not sure the position you state above is easily defensible.

Whenever you have a situation that boils down to, "we will eject this person because we want to eject this person" it is not simply a matter of the community being everything. That can be and often has been the source of terrible injustice. You need to advocate that the will of the group is a just decision. I am quite glad that various groups that promoted all sorts of inhumane acts and attitudes are no more.

I don't have statistics, presently, but it seems to me that it's overwhelmingly perpetrated by charismatic demagogues. It is the retreat from engagement of unpalatable ideas, not the failure to boycott their proponents, that fosters demagoguery. Boycotts do not train one to use reason to persuade, to demand reason and evidence, to deconstruct bad ideas to expose precisely why they are bad. (People don't want to believe ideas that are just plain bad. They might want to believe an idea which is unpopular but which they can convince themselves is true.)

So although I agree that social cohesion writ large is a good thing, cohesive subgroups within society can promote qualities that are dangerous to society as a whole. And because of that, you can't just write a blank check that "community is everything". It's not everything; it exists in a larger social context.

There are arguments that I think you could make to give a strong defense of the wisdom of sanctioning Yarvin (starting with an endorsement of the principles of affirmative action). This isn't it. Not only does it abandon any pretense of moral standing, it also does more to promote Yarvin's ideas save for actually advocating for them. By requiring only a community, "Noooooo!", toxic ideas remain unchallenged, unexamined, still tempting to those who can be swayed by appeal to evidence and reason.

Copy link

acjay commented Mar 29, 2016

People are as free to choose not to participate in a conference as Yarvin is to espouse (or not) views many find objectionable. Decisions of whether to offer him a forum at a private event are not required to be made as though his personage as a presenter can be separated from his pseudonymous writings. I'm personally a big proponent of the idea that controversial ideas should be confronted, rather than silenced. But free speech as a societal principle does not include immunity from social repercussions in the private world. There's nothing authoritarian or maoist about that. And there's no particular reason to believe that Lambdaconf is the place where that confrontation should happen. Or even the genteel side discussion about programming, in face of the fact that one of the participants is also a considered a major thought-leader to many who hold views that denigrate the vulnerable and underprivileged.

Edit: TL;DR: if Moldbug can keep his own two identities distinct in his mind, then everyone else can also keep them distinct in theirs.

That's an imposition on people who want nothing more than to attend a conference on a subject they want to engage in. The organizer of this conference has the unenviable decision of whether to impose that upon all the people who have done nothing in order to accommodate Yarvin. While I'm sympathetic to Lambdaconf's decision, it's certainly not for the reason quoted here.

I don't think there's a purely morally correct answer here. I think Lamdaconf made an admirable stand in favor of the idea of the "big tent". But I'll also not be surprised if the desire to make that tent big enough to accommodate Yarvin as a speaker makes it a lot less desirable for a whole lot of other people, and I don't blame anybody for deciding not to attend.

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment