Against opposing SJ activism/cancellations

by ChichikoBendeliani1 min read18th Jun 202027 comments


ETA: I am NOT saying we're currently living in a cultural revolution, or that the current trajectory of things will lead to a cultural revolution with probability 1. However, I place greater than 1% but less than 10% chance that the US will end up in something not too far away from the cultural revolution in our generation, and that this is correlated with the rest of the Anglophone world (~70%). To the extent that wrongful cancellations matter to our movement at all, I think almost all of the harm will be in the tails.

In response to posts like this one.

Strong opinion, loosely held:

I think it’d be bad for large groups of EAs or rationalists to wade in on social justice issues, particularly defending “problematic” people who might be cancelled or decrying dangers of guilt by association.

Suppose you’re an abolitionist in the late 17th century. Your number one rallying cry is slavery delenda est. Every waking moment, you champion the end of the hideous blot to humanity. You have a small number of allies and some sympathizers, but a lot of respectable people are embarrassed to be around you, and you’ve certainly made some powerful enemies (though none are near you).

Recently, you hear something about witches and witch-hunters, where a small number of people are accused of being witches, and worse, even “witch-sympathizers” are censured and denigrated (though no witch-sympathizer has been burned...yet). A distant acquaintance of an acquaintance of yours is accused of being a witch. You’re pretty sure witches aren’t real, and besides, your acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance is a perfectly fine person. Should you go to town hall in support of her? If so, should you rally your fellow abolitionists to also help defend purported witches?

I think it’s pretty obvious that in many situations you shouldn’t do this, since the risk of damage to your movement (and honestly, likely the personal risk) is probably not worth the extremely marginal decrease in the probability of the alleged witch being burned. I feel more strongly about group actions than I do about individual actions.

A friend of mine has parents who lived through the cultural revolution. At least one grandparent made a minor political misplay (his supervisor wanted him to cover up embezzling resources, he refused) and had his entire family history (including minor land ownership in an ancestor) dragged out of him. He was demoted, berated for years, had trash thrown at him etc. This seemed unfortunate, and likely limited his altruistic impact.

As experiences with the Cultural Revolution goes, this was also likely one of the lighter ones. Other people were not nearly so lucky.

As a general strategy, it seems much better for most people in the community to watch what they say in public somewhat, be careful with their public associations, and minimize public contact with any associations that could be seen as potentially problematic.

Individuals can do so as part of a power play to the right/anti-SJ left, or because of their own convictions/spare time interests/personal friendships and loyalties, but doing so as a group is a dangerous correlated risk to the movement.

This is before getting into substantive critiques of whether the person in question is wrongfully accused. If witches are real, straying away from your mission is even less cost-effective.

ETA: If people do not wish to disagree with me publicly, happy to copy and paste comments from others if you PM me here. You can also ask forum moderators to relay comments.