Year 1 Redux – Friends and Rationalists

Welcome to day 14 of Putanumonit’s birthday week celebration! It’s time to wrap up the year-in-review and get ready for a couple of serious writing projects.



In Zero Agents and Plastic Men I tried to conjure up some new jargon, and it turned out kind of lame and confusing. My buddy Ryan and I came up with a better term for what I was talking about: the skunk whistle.

dog whistle is a phrase that sounds innocuous to the broad public but communicates a “secret” message to the intended audience, a message that outsiders would find objectionable . When Ted Cruz tells rural Texans he’s against “New York values” and they hear him saying “I hate Jews”, that’s a dog whistle. Of course, the people who assume that Cruz means “I hate Jews” when he talk about “New York” are mostly Jews from New York and not actual rural Texans. I guess “Ted Cruz uses anti-Semitic dog whistles” is a dog whistle for “I think all Republicans and their voters are bigots”. Everyone can play the dog whistle game!

A skunk  whistle is the parallel opposite: it’s a statement that sounds much worse to the broad public than the actual message it conveys to listeners “in the know”. Staying on the theme: when my Syrian acquaintance writes “I hate Jews” in the context of Assad being a Mossad spy it could be a skunk whistle for “I hate Bashar Assad” or simply “I am loyal to my country”.

The Trump example I gave, “Mexican immigrants are lazy and criminal”, could be either whistle:  it could be a skunk whistle for “I respect working class whites” or a dog whistle for “urban blacks are lazy and criminal”.

Point is: if you’re not the target audience for the secret message, don’t assume you know what the secret message is. And if you don’t know, give people the benefit of the doubt.

My calculation of how long it will take to catch each Pokemon didn’t address the four location specific Pokemon, like Mr. Mime in Europe and Farfetch’d in Japan. Last month, my girlfriend and I walked 120 miles on foot in Japan over 9 days. We saw a few robots, several cats, lots of monkeys, a throng of deer, and zero Farfetch’ds. So, overall, the trip was a disappointment.

kyoto monkey.jpg
Arashiyama Park, Kyoto

No one writes a blog for no reason, who are we doing this versus?

Despite being an arrogant, competitive, stubborn and tactless person, throughout my life I have mostly managed to avoid making enemies. When I criticize really abhorrent ideas I try to avoid mentioning people by name. When I do call out someone, it is always with the reasonable hope that they will redeem themselves. Some do, and some don’t.

And sometimes I get worked up in a blog post about the LessWrong Sequences and people think that David Chapman is my enemy.

First of all, I’m unendorsing the “Postrationality” section of that post. A lot of it is not true (e.g. about Tim Urban), a lot of it is unnecessary, and it is definitely unkind and uncharitable – most of all to David.

I singled out David because he’s a friend of the rationalist community, and I was hoping that everyone will realize the harm that friendly fire does to a community’s credibility. My prediction of David’s possible reactions was as follows: 70% that he will never hear of Putanumonit, 20% that he’ll get annoyed and ignore me, 10% that he’ll comment on that post and we could have a discussion. I thought that 10% was worth it. Instead, David followed Putanumonit without commenting and likes a lot of my post. So, maybe it was OK to be mean and our shared community norms prevented a critical post from turning into a beef? I hope that’s the case.

David also keeps banging out great articles on at a blistering pace. Instead of making fun of Julia Galef, who’s in my in-group, these articles make fun of Baby Boomer hippies and Evangelicals, which are totally my out-group. I thus endorse them with no reservations ;-)

But seriously: y’all should read the Sequences so y’all could join our awesome community with its epistemology-promoting norms.

Speaking of the community, now that is frozen in time a lot of really cool rationalists are group-blogging over at Map and Territory. They even invited me to the party! My first post will be a re-edit of the call against relying on empathy. I want to add a deeper exploration of the evolutionary psychology of empathy, tribalism and reciprocity based on reading Jonathan Haidt and some others.

My second writing project is a bit scary because of the subject. I wrote about subverting democracy, setting fire to the FDA, racial differences, gender wars, and God without Putanumonit erupting into flames. I’m going to push my luck and write about the one subject you’re really not allowed to write rationally about online. I’m going to take the time to make sure it’s good, and I reserve the right to chicken out on this post in the middle.

See y’all in year 2.

7 thoughts on “Year 1 Redux – Friends and Rationalists

  1. The Trump example I gave, “Mexican immigrants are lazy and criminal”
    If you put something in quotes, it should be a quote. Do you have a citation for Trump saying this?


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