It is the exodus from the universities that explains what is happening in the larger culture

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

Russell Jacoby argued — in The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, back in 1987 — that public intellectuals had ensconced themselves in the universities, where the politics of tenure loom larger than the politics of culture:

But my critics and I both missed something that might not have been obvious 30 years ago. By the late 1990s the rapid expansion of the universities came to a halt, especially in the humanities. Faculty openings slowed or stopped in many fields. Graduate enrollment cratered. In my own department in 10 years we went from accepting over a hundred students for graduate study to under 20 for a simple reason. We could not place our students. The hordes who took courses in critical pedagogy, insurgent sociology, gender studies, radical anthropology, Marxist cinema theory, and postmodernism could no longer hope for university careers.

What became of them? No single answer is possible. They joined the work force. Some became baristas, tech supporters, Amazon staffers and real estate agents. Others with intellectual ambitions found positions with the remaining newspapers and online periodicals, but most often they landed jobs as writers or researchers with liberal government agencies, foundations, or NGOs. In all these capacities they brought along the sensibilities and jargon they learned on campus.

It is the exodus from the universities that explains what is happening in the larger culture. The leftists who would have vanished as assistant professors in conferences on narratology and gender fluidity or disappeared as law professors with unreadable essays on misogynist hegemony and intersectionality have been pushed out into the larger culture. They staff the ballooning diversity and inclusion commissariats that assault us with vapid statements and inane programs couched in the language they learned in school. We are witnessing the invasion of the public square by the campus, an intrusion of academic terms and sensibilities that has leaped the ivy-covered walls aided by social media. The buzz words of the campus—diversity, inclusion, microaggression, power differential, white privilege, group safety—have become the buzz words in public life. Already confusing on campus, they become noxious off campus. “The slovenliness of our language,” declared Orwell in his classic 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” makes it “easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

As Peter Turchin notes, this is textbook elite overproduction.

The Media very rarely lies

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

The Media very rarely lies, Scott Alexander argues:

With a title like that, obviously I will be making a nitpicky technical point. I’ll start by making the point, then explain why I think it matters.

The point is: the media rarely lies explicitly and directly. Reporters rarely say specific things they know to be false. When the media misinforms people, it does so by misinterpreting things, excluding context, or signal-boosting some events while ignoring others, not by participating in some bright-line category called “misinformation”.


So Infowars often provides accurate data, but interprets it incorrectly, without necessary context. They’re not alone in this; it’s much like how the New York Times reports on real child EEG data but interprets it incorrectly, or how Scientific American reports real data on women in STEM but interprets it incorrectly, etc. This doesn’t mean these establishment papers are exactly as bad as Infowars; just that when they do err, it’s by committing a more venial version of the same sin Infowars commits.


Okay, that’s my nitpicky point. Who cares? Obviously all of this kind of stuff is more than deceptive enough to in fact leave a bunch of people misinformed. So why do I care if it misinforms them by lying, or by misinterpreting things and taking them out of context?

I care because there’s a lazy argument for censorship which goes: don’t worry, we’re not going to censor honest disagreement. We just want to do you a favor by getting rid of misinformation, liars saying completely false things. Once everybody has been given the true facts — which we can do in a totally objective, unbiased way — then we can freely debate how to interpret those facts.

But people — including the very worst perpetrators of misinformation — very rarely say false facts. Instead, they say true things without enough context. But nobody will ever agree what context is necessary and which context is redundant.


But lots of people seem to think that Infowars deserves to be censored for asserting lots of things like their context-sparse vaccine data claim, but NYT doesn’t deserve to be censored for asserting lots of things like their context-sparse police shooting claim. I don’t see a huge difference in the level of deceptiveness here. Maybe you disagree and do think that one is worse than the other. But I would argue this is honest disagreement — exactly the sort of disagreement that needs to be resolved by the marketplace of ideas, rather than by there being some easy objective definition of “enough context” which a censor can interpret mechanically in some fair, value-neutral way.

Nobody will ever be able to provide 100% of relevant context for any story. It’s an editorial decision which caveats to include and how many possible objections to address. But that means there isn’t a bright-line distinction between “misinformation” (stories that don’t include enough context) and “good information” (stories that do include enough context). Censorship — even the “safe” kind of censorship that just blocks “fake news” — will always involve a judgment call by a person in power enforcing their values.

After a week of looking over people’s objections, he concluded, sorry, I still think I am right about the Media very rarely lying:

I think all of us — not just censors — want to maintain the comforting illusion that the bad people are doing something fundamentally different than the good people, something that marks them as Obviously Bad in bright neon paint. If conspiracy theories only happen when someone literally makes up a total lie, then we — who avoid doing this, and always double-check our sources — know we are of the Elect, who never have to worry about this. But if wrong people (even the most wrong people) are just trying to reason under uncertainty and evaluate the relative strength of different sources of evidence — well, that’s the same thing we’re doing! Seems bad!

I think a lot of people will interrupt at this point and say “No, those people are biased and using motivated reasoning, not just failing honestly!” But Confirmation Bias Is Just A Misfire Of Normal Bayesian Reasoning, and Motivated Reasoning Is Just Mis-Applied Reinforcement Learning. It’s all just gears turning in the brain, sometimes smoothly, sometimes getting jammed up, but gears nonetheless. People want so much for one of the gears to be clearly labeled BE DUMB AND EVIL, and if they just avoid that gear they’re always fine. They want this so, so hard, and it will never happen.

Popular Posts of 2022

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2022. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, two of which are new, eight of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. It is difficult to understand why this should be such a formidable task
  3. IQ Shredders
  4. Both sons also later attempted suicide
  5. Garibaldi didn’t unite Italy
  6. No Western artillery system is as capable and none apparently has the accuracy offered by GIS Arta (new)
  7. Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths
  8. He-Man Opening Monologue
  9. Between them, they control the commanding heights of politics and culture (new)
  10. The Pros and Cons of Empires

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2022 and not from an earlier year:

  1. No Western artillery system is as capable and none apparently has the accuracy offered by GIS Arta
  2. Between them, they control the commanding heights of politics and culture
  3. They yelled, fought, had fires, used power tools, and behaved in various undesirable ways
  4. Participants lost one-fifth of their body weight
  5. We’re applying the secret genius sauce solely to the kids who aren’t going to be geniuses
  6. Mencius Moldbug might have hijacked a few more brains
  7. The omission was glaring
  8. Castle design assumes the enemy will reach the walls
  9. The mere act entitled women to respite from all other physical and social responsibility
  10. The traditional yeomanry is losing out
  11. You can see shadows of the future already being cast
  12. True autonomy is worth almost nothing

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Borepatch, and Z Man.