Aug 102017

One of the things I really like about the Rationalist community is that it doesn’t care about forcing anyone into any sort of roles. I’ve gotten so used to it, that I was recently shocked to encounter enforced binaries out in the wide world again. (I haven’t been forced to interact with anyone I don’t want to since my lay off).

In the midst of the Google Memo kerfuffle I participated in some interesting conversation that changed my mind about the memo itself. Which is what conversation is for, in my community.

However in some places it appears that much of conversation is to signal loyalty rather than refine knowledge. I guess in the wider world there are only two positions one can have on the memo: it is either a sexist screed, or a brave thesis. This breaks the world into the two political camps – Left and Right.

The interesting part is that one is not allowed to hold to the tenants of the Left – that gender equality is a good thing, that society still has some issues there, and that equal rights are a great thing to fight for – while simultaneously holding that the memo isn’t a clarion call for raging sexism. Even giving the writer the benefit of the doubt, and pointing out that some things being claimed in the media didn’t seem to have a basis in the text of the memo, immediately marks the person saying so as a Rightist by those who believe in the political binary.

The really shitty part of this is that those who believe in the political binary also believe that those on the Other Side are morally reprehensible, and therefore any signs that someone isn’t on Our Side are interpreted as proof of moral decrepitude. Which, nowadays, is license for hatred, blacklisting, and violence. Because apparently the wider world is too damn stupid to think that maybe one can hold that there are some differences between groups while also believing that all people are equally deserving of respect, all rights are universal and inalienable, and someone’s physical characteristics or emotional disposition or intellect has no bearing on their worth as a human.

Well you know what? Screw anyone trying to force me into a political binary like that. If someone’s position is that people deserve equality and respect only because they are indistinguishable in aptitude, they have a horrible fucking philosophy. If someone’s position can be reduced to “sexism is OK if the sexes are different,” than no wonder they have to silence any research into sex differences. It’s like the church tying their position of “Murder is bad” to “The sun revolves around the earth.” It’s only in their deranged minds that someone interested in heliocentricism will cause the collapse of social order and rampant murder in the populace. Any decent person is able to say “Maybe the sun circles the earth, or maybe it’s the other way around, but that is an empirical question and has NOTHING to do with whether it’s OK to murder people, WTF is wrong with you??”

I am politically non-binary. I can question whether the minimum wage is harmful on a empirical level without that implying that I think “the poors” deserve to starve and wealth is a sign of strength of character. They are unrelated. I can state that street violence without due process is a bad idea without believing that minorities should be ejected. They are unrelated. And I can believe God is a figment of the collective imagination without believing that murder and rape are fine if you can get away with them. Those are unrelated.

Stop trying to force me into your political binary.

  3 Responses to “Politically Non-Binary”

  1. I respect taking positions based on their correctness and on their likely consequences and I hold many beliefs which are outside the mainstream of my political affiliation.

    Based on your post though, I feel I need to ask a clarifying question, did you read the memo yourself? I mean read every word, all 10 pages of it, in its entirety?

    Did you think, as a writer, about how the document fit together as a whole? About which pieces were integral and which pieces were extraneous to the main point, like scenes that don’t really advance a story but that an author thinks are just too cool to cut?

    Did you recollect on your time working in corporate America about what is appropriate and inappropriate at work? When you disagreed with company policy or with a bosses decision how did you address it? Did you schedule a meeting to discuss it in private with your boss, raise it through a channel where employees were specifically told to present outside the box ideas and suggestions? Did you think about the states of mind that would make someone more or less likely to take different paths for raising objections to company policy?

    Politically one side has incentives to say the author is reasonable and the other side has incentives to say it reflects significant bias. But there is only one state of the world. There is only one underlying process that produces observable evidence. As a person acting in the world you don’t have to say or perform anything. But as a person who aspires to model the world, there is some evidence, the 10 pages of document and the decisions and processes chosen by its writer around its creation and dissemination, and if you really think about it critically and examine it as a work of writing, then you will come to conclusions about the distribution of probabilistic of underlying world states.

    • First, I want to thank you for this excellent and well-written reply. You have all my <3s!

      In answer to your questions, I did read the whole memo, and I had an initial reaction that was largely informed by my own experiences rather than what the memo meant in the context it had been presented in. When the memo topic came up for discussion in my group, many of the things you have mentioned were brought up. It didn't take very long for me to update significantly in the direction of "the memo was written in a very sloppy manner, and disregarded the environment it was being tossed into to such a degree that it is actively harmful." While I still sorta sympathize with the author, he REALLY should have known better. He screwed the hell out of this pooch, and I can't defend his actions.

      I love my community, and I love that we help each other update like this. I am extremely displeased with the people outside of my community who saw this as a great time to attack people who didn't either A. immediately see the full situation as they did, or B. reflexively toe the party line regardless of their own apprehensions.

      • I have to say I am a little jealous here. I haven’t had much luck in trying to find a rationalist community in my city; and not having many conversations like the one you described is the main reason why. Glad you have this in your life.

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