Curtis Yarvin’s presentation at the Strange Loop technology conference in St Louis has been pulled, because of objections to Yarvin’s previous political writing, up to 2013, under the name Mencius Moldbug.
So what? The conference is the property of its organisers, who can invite and uninvite whomever they like. It is not, fundamentally, any serious issue that they happen not to like Yarvin.
There are some interesting points to be teased out of the affair, however, mostly about culture and about truth.
It will probably be necessary, in order to avoid confusion, to dispose of some distracting non-arguments.
This is nothing to do with “free speech”, whatever that is supposed to be. Freedoms are nice, and I value them, but none of them are absolute, none of them have intrinsic moral force. Yarvin, as Moldbug, argued for the overthrow of his country’s government. As it happens, that government is explicitly founded on the principle that people should be allowed to argue that, so it lets him do so. It seems a very questionable principle to attempt to govern by, but the issue in any case is between it and him, and none of my business. So much for “free speech”.
The matter is not about rights or freedoms. It is about politics. The statement made by Alex Miller, organiser of the conference, said
A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis’s writings objectionable. I have not personally read them. I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.
What is important about all this is the “large number of current and former speakers and attendees”. They objected, not to hearing about Moldbug’s ideas (Yarvin has never presented them under his real name, so there would be no possibility of that), but to Yarvin’s being considered an acceptable person to have any kind of contact with at all. To them, it is an absolute requirement that anyone who utters opinions they consider unacceptable must be excluded from their society. It is a matter, initially of political tactics, but internalised to the point of being an emotional disgust reaction. They “would not feel comfortable” being forced to treat him as a respectable human being.
As a matter of tactics, this is perfectly reasonable. After all, the people we are talking about are communists.
Yes, really. A few of them actually identify as Marxists, but that is extra. If, one day in the future, neoreactionaries ran the world, the ideas we are arguing for would not be known as neoreactionary ideas. They would just be normal. If we succeeded to the extent that most of our ideas had become widely accepted, but one or two hadn’t, then those who believed in the widely accepted ideas would not be regarded as neoreactionaries. They might even be seen as opponents of neoreactionaries, if that remained the label for those still pushing the few still non-widely-accepted ideas.
But, from our point of view here, all these people believing, like everyone around them, that sovereignty must be concentrated and tightly defined, that nobody should have influence over government who wasn’t officially part of government, and the rest of it would be neoreactionaries. Similarly, today, with the exception of a few points of economics, the ideas that almost everyone in communion with Harvard University believes are communist ideas, and would have been labelled as such even fifty years ago.
It is, as I said, perfectly reasonable for communists to employ this tactic to reduce the influence of their political enemies in society. It is pointless to complain about it. The thing to complain about them is that they are communists, and communism is wrong and harmful. But that’s a long argument.
Miller’s statement does not, however, give us the impression that he is motivated by communism. He seems to go out of his way not to make any political judgement at all. All he says is that he wants to do technology, not politics, and if having Yarvin speak would mean politics, then no Yarvin.
I have no complaint about communists using blacklisting tactics against their enemies, and I have no complaint about Miller trying to do technology instead of politics. What, then, is there to complain about?
Nothing. But I do have some observations to make, about lies. Where things were done wrong was not Strange Loop 2015, but about PyCon 2013. That was no doubt part of a larger pattern, but it is the place to focus.
PyCon 2013 was of course the venue for DongleGate. The accusations and responses over Urbit, Moldbug and Strange Loop are all quite beside the point, and can be harmlessly ignored, but I urge everyone to read about DongleGate. Ars Technica has a fairly careful overview, and Wired one giving a wider view of the cultural conflict involved.
The hard core of the tech industry—people like Alex Miller—might not be too bothered by what a programmer blogs about off hours under another name, but they were much more concerned about “inappropriate sexual behaviour at the conference“.
That is understandable. The claim that was made was that women would not be able to get into technology because the environment was hostile to them. By removing this hostility, women (and others) who would otherwise be kept out of the industry and out of conferences, would be able to participate and contribute. Conferences, and technology, would be better.
The claim was made.
In a blog post explaining the story in her own words, Richards wrote about how, over the course of the jokes, she moved from “I was going to let it go” to “I realized I had to do something.” The moment of decision came after seeing a picture of a young girl on the main stage who had attended a Young Coders workshop. “She would never have the chance to learn and love programming,” Richards wrote, “because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.”
Ken Fisher at Ars says, “Clearly, this is hyperbole.” He is mistaken. It was not hyperbole, it was a lie.
Why was Adria Richards lying? Because that’s her job. As some guy wrote, “It’s a mistake to think these people have opinions. They have careers.” Her career was to go around technology events, and fuck them up in the name of women’s access.
Why? Whatever is the point of that? The point of that is to create a line of control from political activists to industry. Because of Adria Richards, and the many like her before and since, everyone in the technology industry knows that they cannot afford to upset far-left activists. They only succeeded in this, though, because people like Alex Miller believed their lies—that these misdemeanours against political correctness, such as making similar jokes to those aired in Superbowl commercials, are responsible for a 5:1 male–female ratio or whatever in technology. They let the political activists into the decision-making process on the promise that that would get them more and better technology. Today, we see that the motivation of the activists is not more and better technology, it is the capability to blacklist their political enemies.
I do not criticise their tactics, but I expose their lies.
Finally, I refer back to my first blog post, on Progressivism, Reaction and Symmetry. Because Yarvin is only the beginning. Of course, as Moldbug, he really is an extremist. Not all that many technologists are actual supporters of bringing back monarchy and give consideration to the merits of slavery. And most of us are more careful than Moldbug was when he started leaking Yarvin’s tech ideas into his political blog. The purpose of blackballing Yarvin is not merely to hurt one fairly harmless reactionary (I say harmless because Moldbug explicitly endorses passivism, staying out of conflict with the current order until it destroys itself). The purpose is to create a hostile environment for conservatives. Now it is established that spare-time right-wing politicial opinions can get you blackballed, the criteria for exclusion will inevitably become broader. Once conservatives are knocked out, moderates will be turned on.
Again, tactics. No complaints from me, I’m a political extremist myself. But neutral parties might want to consider what future they want for technology.
What should have happened was the activists being told to get lost five years ago, when the “inclusiveness” crusade began. Neutral technologists, if they knew then what they will know eventually, would have done that. But they believed the lies. As a result, they now have negligibly greater contributions from “the oppressed”, but they are losing out on contributions from conservatives—extreme conservatives now, but moderate conservatives later. In the end they will have nothing.
We don’t lie. Not because it is an unfair tactic, but because it doesn’t work for us. Our whole political platform consists of seeing the world for what it is. Our aim is a society where government does not control what people believe, because it doesn’t need to. Where “they say what they want, and I do what I want”—separation of information apparatus and state. We do not want to fight a culture war with the communists, because fighting it would necessarily turn us into a copy of them. Let them turn technology, and the rest of society, into an intellectual wasteland of Lysenkoism and let it collapse under its own insanity—then those who have read our works will see what they should have done and what they need to do. Only the truth can serve us.
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