Why don’t I trust Scott Alexander?

— (31 min read)

In a 2014 email made public in 2021, Scott Alexander wrote to explain why he reads, writes about, and cultivates goodwill among a cluster of online writers then known as neoreactionaries.a a This label is a bit dated. As far as I can tell, these figures have at this point dissolved into a variety of movements one would now call alt-right. The role of their thought here is nonetheless continuous with that of their contemporary equivalents.

I will say up front that I have read a number of these writers, and I find their thinking severely deficient. I also object to their distinctive ethical commitments, but I am comfortable withholding judgment while exploring difficult ideas for the sake of my own intellectual growth. In the end, I feel I had little to gain from taking the neoreactionaries seriously. In this, Alexander and I differ, but I want to emphasize that my criticism below isn’t about taking bad ideas too seriously. I am criticizing lying about what you are doing.

Alexander wrote that email eight years ago.b b He also tags one section with "(I will appreciate if you NEVER TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS, not even in confidence. And by "appreciate", I mean that if you ever do, I'll probably either leave the Internet forever or seek some sort of horrible revenge.)" He wrote this email with a desire for privacy. I would not publicize it further if I just thought it would make him look bad. It's important because it's a key to making sense of his writing that he goes to some lengths to hide. He didn’t acknowledge it being published, as far as I know. That was probably the right way to deal with it, honestly, whatever his stance today. So maybe this is all obsolete. But my read of his current blogging is that little has changed, and I don’t feel I can give him the benefit of the doubt. As a result, I hold a great deal of what he writes under suspicion by default.

I’ll also say that my stance towards Alexander is rooted in some gestalt impressions from reading him over the years, some of which are hard to convey in an essay meant to be as charitable as possible and based on fully contextual close readings. I don’t think those impressions are necessary to establish what I’m saying here. The considerations below are independently pivotal to me, but maybe I was already too far gone by the time I came to them to bridge our gap.

What does Alexander believe?

Alexander’s list of reasons for his posture toward neoreactionaries begins:

  1. HBD is probably partially correct or at least very non-provably not-correct.

HBD is “human biodiversity”, a strain of thought common among the neoreactionaries that emphasizes genetic variation, particularly between races, as a causal factor in disparate social outcomes. To be clear about what he means, Alexander links a blog post by John Fuerst, “The facts that need to be explained”:c c Taking that post at face value will mislead you about the state of scientific knowledge. If you follow that link, I'd also suggest this pair of articles by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett for a more current and less selective picture. For a critical perspective on the tradition Fuerst is coming from, see here.

In the US, there is a large stubborn Black-White differential in intelligence (section A). This differential, on the individual and population level, explains a large portion of the social outcome difference. Within populations, intelligence is highly heritable. As such, the behavioral genetic default is that this differential also has a high heritability (section N). It could be otherwise, though. As such, facts on the ground were explored and environmental explanations were evaluated.

He also links a post by Steve Sailer, Survey of psychometricians finds iSteve [Sailer’s blog at the time] one of 3 best journalistic outlets in the world for intelligence coverage, which besides the result in the title also calls out the average response to “What are the sources of U.S. black-white differences in IQ?” of 47% genetic (SD=31%).d d From the published analyses, one quickly infers that participation bias is fatal to interpreting this as an average of expert opinion. The response rate for the survey as a whole was about 20% (265 of 1345), and it was below 8% (102) for every individual question on which data was published across three papers (on international differences, the Flynn effect, and controversial issues). On the specific question quoted, there were 86 respondents, but on similar questions about cross-national differences, there were between 46 and 64 responses, which on average attributed 20% of cognitive differences to genes. The number of people who rated Steve Sailer's blog for accuracy in reporting on intelligence research was 26. Not having seen the underlying data, I would venture that a group of respondents who tended to follow Sailer's blog also shared idiosyncratic opinions on U.S. racial differences in intelligence. The existence of such a group within the community in question is not surprising. (The survey remained open for a few months after Sailer's post—I'm using the final published numbers here, but there's not much difference.)

HBD is often labeled a euphemism for scientific racism. I feel that reputation is deserved. The arguments made by this community that I’ve looked into fall apart on inspection, and given the history surrounding these ideas, it’s natural to suspect the entire enterprise falls apart without motivated reasoning. Let’s set that aside.

Scott Alexander believes the main thrust here is probably partially correct—or, if it’s not correct, it’s very hard to prove as much—and that this “spreads into a vast variety of interesting but less-well-supported HBD-type hypotheses which should probably be more strongly investigated if we accept some of the bigger ones are correct.”

For now, let’s meet Alexander where he is—“2. The public response to this is abysmally horrible”, and “3. Reactionaries are almost the only people discussing the object-level problem AND the only people discussing the meta-level problem. Many of their insights seem important”—and consider his view on why it all matters:

  1. These things are actually important

I suspect that race issues helped lead to the discrediting of IQ tests which helped lead to college degrees as the sole determinant of worth which helped lead to everyone having to go to a four-year college which helped lead to massive debt crises, poverty, and social immobility (I am assuming you can fill in the holes in this argument).

I think they’re correct that “you are racist and sexist” is a very strong club used to bludgeon any group that strays too far from the mainstream - like Silicon Valley tech culture, libertarians, computer scientists, atheists, rationalists, et cetera. For complicated reasons these groups are disproportionately white and male, meaning that they have to spend an annoying amount of time and energy apologizing for this. I’m not sure how much this retards their growth, but my highball estimate is “a lot”.

This is at odds with how Alexander intentionally presents himself.

How does Alexander present himself?

I’ll take a couple examples from his explicit characterization of where he stands in response to criticism.

Alignment with Charles Murray

In 2021, the New York Times published a piece about Slate Star Codex, the rationalist community, and Silicon Valley. It described the blog in some ways that Alexander objected to, as he wrote on his new Substack:

I want to respond to four main negative claims in the article – there are more, but these should give a general sketch of why I feel it was unfair:

  1. The article tries to connect me to Charles Murray and The Bell Curve, saying:

In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and IQ in “The Bell Curve.” In another, he pointed out that Murray believes Black people “are genetically less intelligent than white people.”

This is true only insofar as I once expressed agreement with an unrelated position of Charles Murray’s, where he thinks that telling poor people “learn to code” is not a compassionate or sufficient response for dealing with poverty, and that we need to act more decisively by providing poor people with a stable income. You can read the full post involved by following the link, but the paragraph that mentions Murray 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 Times points out that I agreed with Murray that poverty was bad, and that also at some other point in my life noted that Murray had offensive views on race, and heavily implies this means I agree with Murray’s offensive views on race. This seems like a weirdly brazen type of falsehood for a major newspaper.

It’s hard to square Alexander’s objection to the NYT passage with his hedged claim that HBD is probably partially correct, his specific examples of which were about “black-white differences in IQ” being 50% genetic (perfectly in line with Murray, who estimates 40%–80% heritability of cognitive abilitye e As far as I'm aware, Murray only explicitly advances a claim that group differences are at least partly genetic, so the HBD position is arguably more extreme, if you take Murray's reticence on this point as scientific caution. (In light of his writings as a whole, it seems to me more strategic than cautious. I'm not going to make that case here, but I mean to be clear about where I stand.) ), particularly together with his statement that talking about claims like these is important because he suspects race issues helped discredit IQ testing.

I agree that this NYT paragraph makes little sense unless you understand it with respect to that section’s thesis—“Part of the appeal of Slate Star Codex, faithful readers said, was Mr. Siskind’s wilingness to step outside acceptable topics. But he wrote in a wordy, often roundabout way that left many wondering what he really believed”—as implying that Alexander may be sympathetic to Murray’s views on race. I agree that it’s a leap, given no other context. It’s also, apparently, more or less correct. I don’t think the NYT just got lucky here, or that this is an illegitimate rhetorical move in context.

It’s worth continuing Alexander’s self-quote of the Murray passage:

[Murray’s] solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too. Not because I have great answers to all of the QZ article’s problems [with universal basic income]. But just because I don’t have any better ideas.

This last sentence has two footnotes. The first is about the rest of the world, and the second—“Obviously invent genetic engineering and create a post-scarcity society, but until then we have to deal with this stuff.” This is somewhat tongue in cheek, I imagine. A bit above these paragraphs, Alexander writes, “I think that a lot of variation in class and income is due to genetics and really deep cultural factors”, linking to his review of Albion’s Seed.f f Albion's Seed is one of his two examples of the "vast variety of interesting but less-well-supported HBD-type hypotheses which should probably be more strongly investigated if we accept some of the bigger ones are correct." The HBD view is that these deep cultural factors are also genetic in origin, although Alexander seems not to buy that—more below.

If you’re familiar with Murray’s oeuvre, you may have noticed that his views on poverty, genetics, class, culture, and race are all intertwined in a way that always leads to the recommendation of replacing social services with basic income. If Murray stands alone in his quadrant, or if he’s the only exemplar that comes to mind for Alexander, then aligning with Murray on the cultural and genetic intractability of poverty carries more weight than merely agreeing with Murray that poverty is bad.

Proximity to neoreactionaries

Alexander also objects:

  1. They further presented a more general case that I am six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-style linked to right-wing / pro-Trump figures in Silicon Valley like Peter Thiel. This is true – I can think of a friend of mine who also knows Peter Thiel. In fact, I met Peter Thiel once, kind of unexpectedly, at a party, long before Trump was in the news, and exchanged about two sentences of conversation with him (I don’t think he had the slightest idea who I was, nor was there any reason he should have). I have never personally met the other right-wing figures named in the article. I wrote a 30,000 word condemnation of one of them on my blog a few years ago, and we have since had some email exchanges about to what degree this was unfair. I received a sympathetic email from another of them about the Times article. Others I have had literally no contact with. Again, it would not surprise me if I was a few degrees of social separation from some of these people. I don’t feel like this means I have done anything wrong, and I assume most people are a few degrees of social separation away from a Republican or Trump supporter. I myself am a Democrat, voted Warren (IIRC) in the primary, and Biden in the general.

The NYT article links that 30,000 word condemnation: “He denounced the neoreactionaries, the anti-democratic, often racist movement popularized by Curtis Yarvin. But he also gave them a platform.” This seems straightforwardly true.g g The email introduced above was originally published by Alexander's correspondent because they felt he was misrepresenting his intellectual relationship with the neoreactionaries in his response to the NYT.

I don’t read the NYT article as setting out to tar Alexander by association or social proximity. I can believe the juxtaposition is enough to put some people off. But the article is very explicitly pointing to his community as a the epicenter of a creative and influential intellectual movement, some of whose strengths come from a high tolerance for entertaining weird or disreputable ideas, where that same tolerance leads to platforming extreme views that don’t get aired elsewhere. Some of that platforming is in giving these ideas the publicity of a rebuttal, or in advocating the fraction he agrees with. Some of that is in the discussions he hosts, and some in what he links to.h h The article also notes a perception that the same charity extended to neoreactionaries is not extended to social justice, SJ being too censorious to tolerate—but I'd add that leftist thought is broadly a blind spot for Alexander and the community, in a way that doesn't betoken a search for insight from a variety of sources bounded mainly by a high-minded concern for protecting open, non-judgmental discourse.

As I wrote above, I want to set aside judgment of that approach for now. I can certainly see how a laissez-faire intellectual community could be valuable. But such a community succeeds or not on the good faith of its participants—on trust that is fundamentally violated when you misrepresent your beliefs and your reasons for your beliefs.

The public intellectual’s curse

Maybe that’s not obvious. The problem here is genuinely thorny. There’s a sort of curse for those who become well known for an ideological position—as you become stronger and more entrenched, you lose credibility with those who disagree. You lose the power for your judgment to be evidence, because doing your best to make your thinking on the subject correct also makes you predictable.

Say you’ve spent a long time studying climate science, and you’ve come to the conclusion that a carbon tax would be a good idea.i i I do think it would, by the way. If you want to persuade someone skeptical of anthropogenic climate change to vote for a carbon tax, you’ll want to be careful not to alienate them.

Unfortunately, let’s say, this person has a different view of what evidence is valid and who can be trusted. If you tell them you’re a climate scientist, they won’t listen to you—to them, climate scientists will always lie to get people on their side and protect their funding. If you tell them about the results of climate simulations, they’ll think you’re gullible—they say simulations just get tweaked until they give the answer scientists want. And so you’re nearly as bad again as a climate scientist—any argument you make or evidence you cite might have been given to you in bad faith, and your judgment of it is no substitute for their own.

Maybe you come to them as undecided, or even as a fellow skeptic. Over time, you let them watch you change your mind in response to evidence you’ve picked out for the purpose, step by step. They’ll follow. You don’t even need to walk all the way back to carbon taxes yourself—get them curious enough and they’ll take it from there.

Sure, you lie to them about where you stand, but at no point do you present invalid evidence or arguments. Every inference obeys the laws of rationality. This can only be good for our collective knowledge—

—if you’re infallible.

You’re filtering arguments and evidence, maybe unwittingly, without letting the skeptic treat you, rationally, as an adversarial source of information. You’re filling in argumentative gaps with bits of your worldview, unexamined or not, that slip by the skeptic who waives the scrutiny you deserve. You are inviting people to the table who, on average, exert a hostile force on the skeptic’s information ecosystem.

If you’re right, you’re doing the world a service. But you’re looting the commons to do so. You’re undermining our collective ability to not waste one another’s time double-checking evidence and dissecting arguments. Our capacity to combine the intellectual powers of individuals may be the bottleneck in human progress, and now we’re all back to looking over our shoulders. And, of course, maybe you’re wrong.

Alexander is under no obligation to enumerate his opinions for the benefit of suspicious readers. But if he believes in the power of truth to win out given the chance,j j That's a major thrust of his Conflict vs Mistake from 2018, for example. he should be honest about where he’s coming from.

In this sense, the problem isn’t platforming neoreactionaries as a consequence of liberal discourse norms, as that’s not what Alexander is doing.

What is Alexander doing?

In his words:

  1. My behavior is the most appropriate response to these facts

I am monitoring Reactionaries to try to take advantage of their insight and learn from them. I am also strongly criticizing Reactionaries for several reasons.

First is a purely selfish reason - my blog gets about 5x more hits and new followers when I write about Reaction or gender than it does when I write about anything else, and writing about gender is horrible. Blog followers are useful to me because they expand my ability to spread important ideas and network with important people.

I’ll give Alexander credit here—I think he’s become more deliberate about resisting these incentives and rationing controversial posts.

Second is goodwill to the Reactionary community. I want to improve their thinking so that they become stronger and keep what is correct while throwing out the garbage. A reactionary movement that kept the high intellectual standard (which you seem to admit they have), the correct criticisms of class and of social justice, and few other things while dropping the monarchy-talk and the cathedral-talk and the traditional gender-talk and the feudalism-talk - would be really useful people to have around. So I criticize the monarchy-talk etc, and this seems to be working - as far as I can tell a lot of Reactionaries have quietly started talking about monarchy and feudalism a lot less (still haven’t gotten many results about the Cathedral or traditional gender).

Third is that I want to spread the good parts of Reactionary thought. Becoming a Reactionary would both be stupid and decrease my ability to spread things to non-Reactionary readers. Criticizing the stupid parts of Reaction while also mentioning my appreciation for the good parts of their thought seems like the optimal way to inform people of them. And in fact I think it’s possible (though I can’t prove) that my FAQ inspired some of the recent media interest in Reactionaries.

Finally, there’s a social aspect. They tend to be extremely unusual and very smart people who have a lot of stuff to offer me. I am happy to have some of them (not Jim!) as blog commenters who are constantly informing me of cool new things (like nydwracu linking me to the McDonalds article yesterday)

Alexander is by various means spreading parts of their thought that he agrees with while denying the extent of his agreement, where his motivation for advocating these ideas resides.

I’d like to recommend you stop here and read his 2017 piece on Kolmogorov Complicity in its entirety, since it’s an articulate defense of what he may see himself as doing.

What does that look like in practice?

I can’t know for sure, which is part of why I feel it’s best to take Scott’s writing provisionally or filter it out entirely.

Albion’s Seed

If I had to guess, there’s his 2016 review of Albion’s Seed, mentioned previously. He emphasizes culture over genetics, although the comment section makes it clear that this book is an HBD favorite, with advocates given room to make and defend their case against modest disagreement from the host. For example, Alexander writes in one reply,

If we agree that acculturation distinguishes me from my religious family members 200 years ago, isn’t it simpler to say that’s also what distinguishes me from my very distant relatives in Orthodox communities who are still orthodox today?

And the same applies to Puritans who were super-religious and conservative 400 years ago, and whose descendants are secular and liberal today. Genetic evolution over that timescale doesn’t make much sense; cultural evolution makes perfect sense.

(Yes, gene-culture coevolution is a thing, but I’m not denying the genetic half of it and I’m not sure if you’re denying the cultural half.)

Fair enough, I suppose, although in the review text he mentions the role of genetics only once, as an ambient “reasonable speculation” for some aspects of “deep culture”.k k Plus a speculation in the conclusion, maybe again tongue in cheek, about genetic engineering as a solution to American cultural deadlock. (August 2022 addendum: Well, it sounds less like a joke every time—"Like, a 2.5 point decline in IQ could be pretty bad. But if we can’t genetic engineer superbabies with arbitrary IQs by 2100, we have failed so overwhelmingly as a civilization that we deserve whatever kind of terrible discourse our idiot grandchildren inflict on us.")

Whither Tartaria?

There’s his 2021 piece “Whither Tartaria” on what happened to contemporary art:

Best-case scenario, you want a field that talks to itself enough that you get status for impressing other experts with your expertise, not for impressing the public with demagoguery.

But if you talk to yourself too much, you risk becoming completely self-referential, falling into loops of weird internal status-signaling.

This is of interest here because when Alexander listed some scattered things he believed the neoreactionaries were correct about (heading 5 in his email), one was “Moldbug’s theory of why modern poetry is so atrocious, which I will not bore you by asking you to read”. I can only assume he means this:l l To Moldbug, this is a symptom of "the New Deal state", the irredeemability of U.S. academic humanism, and his own answer to "Whither Tartaria?": "The great disaster was this enormous expansion of higher education in the '60s and '70s. There is a reason so many college campuses have that abominable Brutalist architecture… The overwhelming force behind this expansion was a massive injection of Federal subsidies. (Of course this was the Great Society rather than the New Deal proper—I hope you'll excuse me for seeing the whole as a single, gigantic 75-year-old octopus.)" Alexander is more circumspect about the broader relevance.

And what has entirely disappeared, as the quotes above should make quite clear, is any sense of a mutually critical aristocratic elite…

There is not even a concept of what it would mean to “succeed” outside this system. There is simply no independent pool of taste.

You don’t need to be a monarchist to believe something like this—academics and artists themselves critique their fields’ involution often enough. It’s just a shallow analysis on Alexander’s part that happens to land where he was convinced years ago.

The 2020 Homicide Spike

His recent post What Caused The 2020 Homicide Spike? is similarly loosely argued—it relies on eyeballing some graphs and invoking priors about crime.m m Alexander gets the eyeballing wrong, dismissing week-early spikes as an artifact of a 7-day moving average, when the averaging actually shifts the timing another week in the wrong direction. He observes that his points have already been made in right-wing sources, but the only one he links doesn’t go any deeper than his own analysis. There’s no argument about causality here, let alone a convincing one, but Alexander writes as though there is.n n I'm not the only one who noticed this. Still, when a commenter describes a statistical test they performed,o o still not causal Alexander replies, “Can you link the specific analysis you’re using? (I’m aware of Steve Sailer’s version, but I’m specifically trying NOT to cite Steve Sailer here)”.

There’s a bit of a double bind here, right? If he cites Steve Sailer, he’ll be dismissed out of hand by the people who need persuading. If he doesn’t, he’ll get criticized for laundering Sailer’s ideas. Luckily, there’s a way out, but it involves considering the possibility that Sailer is wrong.

Again, I’m not demanding he double check and reanalyze every source he’s come to trust whenever someone else might be skeptical of that source. I’m suggesting he respect his audience enough to give them the full story, so that they can evaluate for themselves how much to trust the conclusion. That doesn’t have to be just relaying Sailer’s analysis—I’d be satisfied with something likep p A version of this that's true, obviously. I don't know what happened here.

I read the mainstream and liberal media explanations for the spike. I felt they were obfuscating how much we can say about the relative importance of different factors, while right-wing sources had clear emphasis. In this case, Steve Sailer’s analysis convinced me there was something here. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Sailer, and I have a good feel for when I can trust him and how much I ought to verify myself. But I understand that much of my audience sees him as at best a broken clock on race and crime. So I’ll try to present an independent case, because I think it’s important to show a path to this conclusion without what I expect people to dismiss as cherry-picked data and questionable assumptions. Since this isn’t the line of analysis that convinced me, there might be additional flaws in it I’m too biased to see. But if I can’t make the case on my own, then maybe it’s for the best.

If this affects how people read him, that should be a good thing by his lights. He’d be doing collective rationality a favor by fostering an environment where it could work.q q To be clear, I do expect this would lead to more people dismissing him out of hand on the margin, even if Alexander's reputation is already set. I also think that would be a good thing. I myself might skip the article rather than spend time checking it only to conclude that, yes, the reasoning here is poor—or I might think my critique less likely to be ignored and therefore more worth my time.

Highlights from the comments

Since I originally wrote this post, he followed up with Highlights From The Comments On The 2020 Homicide Spike. He attempts to clarify:r r This section is adapted from my comment on that post.

I am agnostic to the exact causal pathway between the events of May 25 2020 and the homicide spike; all I’m trying to show is that the spike did begin around that time and seems connected.

This isn’t consistent with the language he uses throughout this or the original post. Everyone can see that there was a spike around the time of the protests. His specific critique of mainstream articles was that they acknowledged this but were agnostic as to causation.

He does acknowledge that his interpretation of the moving average put the spike two weeks late, but decides that he was right anyway:

Also, what would be the explanation for why this trend would start on May 20 or something? There isn’t more pandemic that day. There aren’t more guns that day. It’s not even especially warm that day. I think it’s got to be an artifact.

That’s supposed to be exactly the question he’s interested in answering, and as far as I can tell he’s just assuming his preferred answer here. Lockdowns were lifted and temperatures passed a “warm” threshold for the first time that year around that time (exactly May 20 in the case of Minneapolis weather).

He also marks the date of Floyd’s death on his graphs too early. Eyeballing times series like this barely works for ordering things in time if you do it right. It tells you almost nothing about causation. Going through a list of possible other explanations and finding a piece of weak contrary evidence for each isn’t enough to reach the confidence he claims. Maybe some kind of discontinuity analysis would be more convincing, but again, the only one we get a hint of is from Steve Sailer.

Hive Mind thesis

In Slightly Against Underpopulation Worries, Alexander presents his perspective on “dysgenics”:

I think societies are probably hyper-sensitive to small changes in average IQ, so I’m not excited about this, but I don’t expect it to directly be apocalyptic.

This sensitivity is the thesis of Hive Mind by Garett Jones, and the link is to Alexander’s 2015 review of the book, which concludes:

Overall, I thought this book showcased some really neat results, had some good economics in it, and was very readable, but I didn’t come out of it feeling like its thesis was very proven.

Alexander avoids embracing the thesis in his review and doesn’t touch questions of race or eugenics,s s although he does throw in a pair of links to early HBD blogger "La Griffe du Lion" but the commenters (including, prominently, Steve Sailer) are predictably less shy.

It’s plausible that Alexander gained confidence in Hive Mind in the seven ensuing years but has not made the time to update his evaluation. It’s also consistent with a strategy of spreading “the good parts of Reactionary thought” without staking his own credibility on it.

Postscript

In 2012, Alexander wrote:

So it may be scary when your opponent is unaware of your arguments, but it is much scarier when your opponent has a sort of vague dreamlike awareness of your arguments, which immediately pattern-match cached thoughts about how horrible a person you would have to be to make them.

But this is still not the scariest thing.

Because if your opponent brings out the Bingo card, you can just tell them exactly what I am saying here…

No, the scariest thing would be if one of those bingo cards had, in the free space in the middle: “You are just pattern-matching my responses. I swear that I have something legitimate to tell you which is not just a rehash of the straw-man arguments you’ve heard before, so please just keep an open mind and hear me out.”

I believe that truth matters. I believe that curiosity, humility, and impartiality are, situationally and among others, important virtues in the pursuit of truth. I regret immensely that appeals to these virtues, and to free expression and debate, are received with suspicion or derision. Or, more precisely, I regret that we’ve found ourselves in a world where such a reaction is entirely reasonable. I wish that free space in the middle didn’t have to exist.

I also think that Alexander has done some good for the quality of online discourse. There are certainly others in his class that are more poisonously hypocritical. It just particularly pains me that, at one time, there might have been a chance for the kind of idealized epistemic ecosystem he occasionally eloquently describes to grow in the space now filled by his community.

For all I know, Alexander isn’t even being Machiavellian. He just believes he’s right. But when people talk about open discourse and rationality being a front for bad faith, this is what they mean. Yes, they’re talking about Ben Shapiro, about “debate me”, “I’m just asking questions”, concern trolling, and other more obvious swindles. But, Scott, they are also—and I hope you can find the perspective to see this clearly—talking about you.

Muireall