Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Aaronson - Feminist Dialogue

Culture war explosions are interesting from an adaptive group theory level.  Progressive sin battles are especially informative.  It gives academics the chance to observe the emergence and coalescent process of adaptive groups.  Plus, it's a chance to put to use esoteric historical context knowledge: the foils are endless.  The Aaronson - Penny dialogue is, in this regard, fascinating.


The Chronicle on Higher Education sums up the situation:

  • A famous MIT physics professor is "convicted" by a University committee of severe online sexual harassment.  His popular online lectures are taken down and his emeritus professorship is revoked.
  • Another professor suggests this level of shaming goes to far.  Even heinous crimes don't magically cause the validity/utility of the accused's speech/works in other area to disappear.  There is an issue of non-overlapping magisteria.
  • Many feminist bloggers attack this stance.
  • The professor "comes out of the closet" to disclose the extent to which he as a nerd has been marginalized.
  • Many feminist bloggers employ a "privilege" argument to minimize the dissenting voice.
Here's the initial post, the most coherent & fair initial rebuttal, and a long but very worthwhile re-rebuttal.

The basic gist is that one side is claiming a structural privilege argument while the other is saying universalized gendered & racial groupings are too coarse of a granularity for privilege arguments.  Coarse granularity encourages abuse, especially when using one-dimensional zero sum reasoning.  Shaming techniques used for social equity ends cause tremendous damage to vulnerable sub-groups, especially when zero-sum arguments based on statistically supported over-generalizations are used.


What we're seeing can't be separated from the recent contexts of shirtstorm, gamergate and UVA rape implosion.  As the Aaronson - Structural privilege dialogue goes viral we're seeing a coalescence of an adaptive level "nerd" group.  I suspect the polarizing attacks and responses to shirtstorm raised the stakes of the game.  Similarly the very real threat of unsubstantiated sexual assault, misconduct charges has raised the stakes of the game.  Nerds, who as Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex suggests, are hypersensitive, based on their history, to having their voices and culture shamed. Thus what we see is emergent collective push-back to the here-to-fore unchallenged feminist structural privilege argument and shaming tactic.The emerging severity of consequences for being on the wrong side of progressivism facilitate the emergence of groups who provide some sort of defence.

Individual arguments countering the privilege argument haven't gotten much traction.  They are typically dismissed as coming from privilege.  Thus counter-arguments are inverted to support the very assumption they are critiquing. While rational logic and the scientific method are theorized to solve every issue, it's pretty clear rhetoric and power are trump.

Thus we have an empowered emergent group (feminist structuralists) with sacrosanct sin based norms of power employing religious like shaming techniques on a hitherto unstructured (in the adaptive sense) sub-group of theoretically privileged nerds. 

To function as an adaptive group academic literature suggests the new emergent nerd group should start to: 
  • rally around a collective purpose
  • establish clear ways of distinguishing in-group from out-group
  • subsume some individual self-interest for group-interest.
Additionally, science of religion suggests the emergent group may gain additional adaptive depth by:
  • creating a moralizing purpose (and norms) which operates with some degree of embodiment
  • supporting costly commitment displays
  • establishing sacralized routines and rituals.


If you're a group social psychologist, sociologist, or just an interested nerd, the extent to which this confrontation engenders adaptive group formation is extremely interesting.  Here's what I would look for:
  • Nerds rally around a stigma story (we are an oppressed group that is ridiculed when we don't have power and when we do).  Think of this as the equivalent of the Judeo-Christian Egypt exodus story or the Mormon pioneer story.
  • Nerds increasingly signal group membership via easily discernible signals such as clothing, hair, or other costume artifacts.
  • A coherent, rationalized worldview story starts to emerge.  This could be something like a libertarian political meme interfused with some odds and ends.
  • Self-sacrifice acts will increase.  This may involve things like wearing sexist shirts, direct confrontation with politically correct academic power structures (HR departments, feminist departments, etc.).  In the formation of adaptive groups, this is a key point.  It creates feedback that strengthens group commitment and self-justifying belief.
  • Nerds as well as the general population will start to suggest that nerds are indeed a clear and distinct sub-group of the white male patriarchy. Once the feminist structural privilege argument is no longer seen as applying to the nerd-sub-group, then the group will be able to recruit new members because their grouping functions as a protective barrier for feminist structural privilege and shaming attacks

1 comment:

  1. Here's part of another post from SlateStarCodex. I think it sums up how adaptive groups can form: if a series of individual have nothing to lose against a foe, it makes sense to get together to increase one's chances, or to weaken the enemy to increase the chances for the next guy/girl.

    The moral of the story is that if you are maximally mean to innocent people, then eventually bad things will happen to you. First, because you have no room to punish people any more for actually hurting you. Second, because people will figure if they’re doomed anyway, they can at least get the consolation of feeling like they’re doing you some damage on their way down.

    "This seems to me to be the position that lonely men are in online. People will tell them they’re evil misogynist rapists – as the articles above did – no matter what. In what is apparently shocking news to a lot of people, this makes them hurt and angry. As someone currently working on learning psychotherapy, I can confidently say that receiving a constant stream of hatred and put-downs throughout your most formative years can really screw you up. And so these people try to lash out at the people who are doing it to them, secure in the knowledge that there’s no room left for people to hate them even more."

    Of course once you start getting into a negative sum game and self-sacrifice starts to emerge, the chances of forming an adaptive group increase. The feedback effects of self-sacrifice for group interests is well studied.