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In the fight against Reddit bigotry, don’t forget about misogyny

He’s not the only problem

By David Futrelle

Reddit is in the midst of a peculiar three-sided civil war. On one side there are tens of thousands of Reddit users who want the site to cleanse itself of racism and hate speech; opposing them are seemingly similar numbers of Redditors who want the site’s shittiest users to be allowed to spew their hatreds unmolested. Hovering over these two armies of users are the site’s administrators, who claim to be on the side of the angels but who have a long history of doing fuck-all about the hatred that permeates their site.

The current battle in this long-running war was triggered by a tone-deaf statement in early June from Reddit CEO Steve Huffman offering symbolic support for Black Lives Matter and declaring that Reddit staff “do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence.”

Bullshit, a chorus of Reddit users declared in unison: Reddit “tolerates” and has tolerated various forms of bigotry and hate speech with no trouble since the site’s very inception.

Huffman’s statement inspired an open letter from one of the moderators of r/AgainstHateSubreddits demanding that Hoffman put his policy where his mouth is and actually do something about the hatred he claims to be against. So far the letter has gotten more then 25,000 upvotes and support from the moderators of some 800 subreddits. The document puts forth a list of eminently reasonable demands, from banning hate subreddits and hateful users to diversifying Reddit’s staff. There’s no good reason for Reddit not to do all of the things the open letter suggests.

The Open Letter is a tremendously positive step — as is the media coverage it has gotten. (Reddit only seems to act to fix its problems when the media starts to pay attention to them.) But there’s one important word missing from the Open Letter: misogyny.

As I’ve documented on this blog over many years, Reddit is home to some of the vilest misogyny this side of Incels.co; there are misogynistic screeds in the Men Going Their Own Way subreddit that are as hateful and vicious as any racist screed in the long-ago-banned r/Coontown.

Of course r/MGTOW is also suffused with racism and antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, as I have also tried to show in numerous posts. These things tend to go together, as someone who is a bigot about one thing will also tend to be a bigot about other things.(See my various quizzes here for innumerable examples of this.)

You can’t fight bigotry without fighting all of its forms — racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism and all the other hatreds that have found such a hospitable home on Reddit over the years. But too often, misogyny is treated as a lesser form of hatred than, say, straight-up race hate or antisemitism; it’s somehow seen as more innocent or excusable.

It’s not, and can’t be left out of any broad campaign for progressive change, on Reddit or elsewhere. Certainly it makes sense for more focused activist movements like Black Lives Matter to center their activism around a single form of bigotry (just as this blog does with misogyny). But movements directed against hate speech online have to take into consideration all the different kinds of hate speech out there. Misogyny counts.

For more on the current Reddit civil war and some further background on it, check out Kaitlyn Tiffany’s coverage in The Atlantic and this article in Fortune.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

who claim to be on the side of the angels but who have a long history of doing fuck-all about the hatred that permeates their site.

Yeah, I don’t think the mods are fooling anyone by claiming to be against hate. There are subreddits which when combined would potentially make Reddit home to the largest white nationalist forum on the Internet. Or the r/Jailbait saga, which only got taken down when they realized they could face consequences from law enforcement (and it was replaced by new subreddits within hours). Reddit invites hate because that brings them money. They don’t care about anything else.

misogyny is treated as a lesser form of hatred than, say, straight-up race hate or antisemitism

This is probably because it is normalized. We live in a misogynist culture like air: most people don’t ever notice it because they breathe it each day without paying attention. This is why so many people don’t see misogyny in its many forms as a real issue.

Certainly it makes sense for more focused activist movements like Black Lives Matter to center their activism around a single form of bigotry

Even then, IIRC BLM has been explicitly anti other kinds of bigotry as well. Racism is their main focus, but it’s possible to focus on more than one thing at once, and intersectionality of oppression is real. Many people involved with BLM are also involved with other kinds of activism like LGBT rights and feminism.

cubist
6 months ago

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Damn straight, Reddit needs to do something about its misogynous subreddits. But then it also needs to do something about all the other hate-focused subreddits. If they only want to explicitly shut down one particular flavor of haterade, fine. That’s one less flavor of haterade available from Reddit. Kudos for that! But don’t let that be all that happens. Keep the friggin’ pressure on for all the other flavors of haterade that didn’t get shut down this time!

TL;DR—”Good start. Stay the course!”

Alex
Alex
6 months ago

Brianna Wu had a thread on Twitter a couple of days ago where she drew a line from Gamergate through election manipulation and Christchurch to our present boogaloo. She asks readers to imagine an alternate timeline in which the harassment and online toxicity incubators had been taken seriously. It’s so true and yet I remember how so many women were just ignored no matter how they tried to raise the alarm. https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1274343193228840966.html

kupo
kupo
6 months ago

This is probably because it is normalized. We live in a misogynist culture like air: most people don’t ever notice it because they breathe it each day without paying attention. This is why so many people don’t see misogyny in its many forms as a real issue.

I feel like this is the reason we get so much pushback whenever we call out the “there but by the grace of God” commentary like in the other thread. It’s normalized to feel hatred for women, so some people’s reaction to us rightfully calling that out is to double-down on how that behavior isn’t bad, of course, it’s just normal.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

I’ve long thought that misogynistically motivated violence needs to be considered a hate crime. It won’t just be women that will be better off for it if we take misogyny more seriously. As has been noted on this site many times, most mass shooters have a history of violence against women. But all too often, even on the left, misogyny is treated as a distraction and an afterthought, something only rich white women bring up to get attention – as if misogyny doesn’t affect poor women and women of color.

impudentinfidel
impudentinfidel
6 months ago

@Alex I am a bit skeptical of tracing it back only to Gamergate. At the time it took a while to even notice something unusual was happening because the He Man Woman Hater part of the gaming community was throwing some new tantrum with accompanying harassment campaign seemingly every other week.

KindaSortaHarmless
KindaSortaHarmless
6 months ago

@impudentinfidel

I think that’s why she started it there. That was where it got to the point where it couldn’t be ignored, where it was egregious even for the He Man Woman Haters of gaming.

Crip Dyke
6 months ago

@weirwoodtreehugger:

Fun fact! The major impediment to passing laws creating sentencing enhancement for bias-motivated crimes motivated by misogyny has been men saying that if we used sentencing enhancement for misogyny-motivated crimes, then suddenly every heterosexual man who abuses his woman partner or wife will treated as someone who committed a hate crime!

They never stop to ask, if misogyny is really motivating thousands of everyday crimes, maybe we should be doing more to oppose misogyny?

Nope, it’s just, “You can’t lock men up for violent assaults motivated by hatred of women!” because the freedom to hate women is a white American man’s right, I guess.

(BTW: I believe that they have, in fact, updated the hate crimes law to include gender at the federal level when they passed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Act in 2010 or so, but i’m talking about where the resistance comes from, not whether it was ultimately successful.)

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
6 months ago

Some police forces here do categorise misogyny as a hate crime.

https://www.nottinghamshire.police.uk/hatecrime

However as Crip Dyke points out, that’s only really relevant if that’s reflected in sentencing.

That gets a bit complicated. With regards to the sentencing guidelines judges use, there are general aggravating features, statutory aggravating features, and some crimes where the motive is one of the elements of the office.

But more here if anyone is interested.

https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/hate-crime/

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
6 months ago

Leaving aside the fact that the current administration has made seeking asylum in the United States much more difficult, there are (technically) many reasons why someone can seek to move to the United States under an asylum visa. If your life is in danger due to gang activity in your home country, for instance, or if your life is in danger due to political repression. But one thing notably missing is if your life is in danger due to gender-based oppression. If your intimate partner is going to murder you if you go back home, the US will happily ship you back home and deny your asylum request.

It’s been suggested more than once that the United States should alter this policy, but the argument has always been that if it did, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay lots of women would be able to take advantage of it to get into the US. Way too many to handle, and they would clog up the asylum hearing courts.

The argument against fighting misogyny on an international basis, then, is that it is so prevalent, and too many women are in too much danger to do anything about it, even the minimal effort of offering them asylum.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@kupo

I feel like this is the reason we get so much pushback whenever we call out the “there but by the grace of God” commentary like in the other thread. It’s normalized to feel hatred for women, so some people’s reaction to us rightfully calling that out is to double-down on how that behavior isn’t bad, of course, it’s just normal.

Whenever that happens here, it reminds me of the whole “boys will be boys” defense of misogyny and violence. We are told to accept when men are misogynists so they get upset when told not to do it. And it starts at a young age, hence the “boys” reference.

@WWTH

But all too often, even on the left, misogyny is treated as a distraction and an afterthought, something only rich white women bring up to get attention – as if misogyny doesn’t affect poor women and women of color.

This is especially common among the Dirtbag Left. They repeatedly try to silence discussion of misogyny because they think it disrupts “class solidarity” without acknowledging how it affects working class women.

Speaking of which, Peter Coffin continues his descent into edgelordiness by having a talk with Milo Yiannopoulos. This is just flat out irresponsible. But Milo is also another example of this: women pointed out his misogyny a long time ago and nobody listened until it was too late.

Shadowplay
6 months ago

The argument against fighting misogyny on an international basis, then, is that it is so prevalent, and too many women are in too much danger to do anything about it, even the minimal effort of offering them asylum.

WTF?

Brainfreeze.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

O/T, but relevant to male entitlement and misogyny:
A man is suing Twitch for $25,000,000 for showing him attractive female streamers which he claims have made him addicted to masturbation and damaged his computer.

Shadowplay
6 months ago

Dude needs better aim and clean-up skills, not $25 mil.

Nequam
Nequam
6 months ago

Guy’s a serial/”professional” plaintiff and doesn’t exactly come off as in touch with reality. He’s also been doing stuff like this at least as far back as 2009.

https://www.kotaku.com.au/2020/06/the-new-lawsuit-against-twitch-is-completely-wild/

Catalpa
Catalpa
6 months ago

Speaking of which, Peter Coffin continues his descent into edgelordiness by having a talk with Milo Yiannopoulos.

I think that Peter goes by they/them pronouns.

I think the most telling thing about their tweet is that Peter Coffin is like “hey, I announced that I’ll be debating (and agreeing with) fascists three whole hours ago and no one has #cancelled me yet! Come on! I need you to confirm my narrative that the intersectional left are a bunch of oversensitive, cancel-happy snowflakes! Pay attention to meeeee!”

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Catalpa

I think that Peter goes by they/them pronouns.

Oops, forgot about that. Sorry, I’ll make sure to use the proper pronouns next time.

Peter Coffin is like “hey, I announced that I’ll be debating (and agreeing with) fascists three whole hours ago and no one has #cancelled me yet! Come on! I need you to confirm my narrative that the intersectional left are a bunch of oversensitive, cancel-happy snowflakes! Pay attention to meeeee!”

This is very similar to how ContraPoints makes a big deal about being “cancelled” and leveraged the idea to get more opportunities. I think the reason nobody is “cancelling” Peter this time is because we’ve been trying to point out the issues with them this whole time and so this isn’t really all that surprising.

@Shadowplay
Or at least he needs to learn self restraint around Twitch.

Shadowplay
6 months ago

@Naglfar

Or at least he needs to learn self restraint around Twitch.

’bout as likely as him learning to clean up after himself, sadly. What, HE shoud change?!!!!!

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Shadowplay
Maybe someone can cut the internet access to his house and then it will be as if Twitch is gone for him?

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
6 months ago

If Reddit (or Farcebook, or Twatter, or….) can address an issue by modifying a mathematical algorithm, they MIGHT make an attempt.

If they can’t address the issue with math, they will ignore it, justify it, deny it, and any other response they can do for free.

The geek culture believes they are using algorithms to manipulate information. They are not. They are using algorithms to manipulate CONTENT, NOT INFORMATION.

Unfortunately, the culture has convinced itself that content and information are the same thing.

I have long held that the worst things we ever invented were money, metal weapons and church…. It’s clear to me now, that social media is orders of magnitude more dangerous than the other three.

Shadowplay
6 months ago

They are using algorithms to manipulate CONTENT, NOT INFORMATION.

I know it’s OT, but mind expanding on this some if/when you’ve got the time?
I tend to be of the mind that all content is information – of varying degrees of accuracy and correctness. (What the entire internet needs more than anything else in my mind is a shitload of librarians!)

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 months ago

I am not sure of what Eddie mean, but trying to overuse algorithms to try to solve problem that computers are horrible at and human are good at is a big problem in the tech culture.

In particular, it’s impossible to moderate social media without a shitton of human going through the complaints. Currently, Facebook and co avoid human moderation as much as possible, probably in no small part because they would need to ban thousands after thousands people to drain the sewers and make sure people understands the do and don’t of social media.

And their bottom line hate the concept of recruiting 50.000 peoples, ban severals millions users, and have quite a bit of thoses recruits with PTSD and/or other permanent traumas.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
6 months ago

@Crip Dyke:

[…] if we used sentencing enhancement for misogyny-motivated crimes, then suddenly every heterosexual man who abuses his woman partner or wife will treated as someone who committed a hate crime!

It’s like that bit I remember years ago that when it was suggested at one point that having a domestic violence charge should be grounds for a ban on gun ownership, police unions were some of the loudest people shouting it down… because in a number of cities, something like half the police force would have been forbidden from using a gun.

Dalillama
Dalillama
6 months ago

@Naglfar

Reddit invites hate because that brings them money. They don’t care about anything else.

No, it’s because the people in charge are bigots. It was never about the money.

rv97
rv97
6 months ago

@Dalillama

What do you think motivated Reddit in the first place. I agree it’s both reasons – hate against the left and money as a nice side effect.

banned@4chan.org
banned@4chan.org
6 months ago

Vitriol is still traffic. Reddit has to “balance” what degree of hatred it’s willing to tolerate against how badly bannings will effect its ad revenue.

Clever4agirl
Clever4agirl
6 months ago

@ohlmann, I did content moderation for social media. And yes, the hours are shit, the quotas are high, the pay is low and I did lose quite a few coworkers to anxiety and ptsd.

Part of the problem is burnout, when you only have a few hundred videos between you and freedom for one more night you stop giving a shit and start tagging in a way that’ll get you done the fastest.

epitome of incomprehensibility

Yes, this makes excellent points! It’s frustrating that when misogyny isn’t taken seriously, the excuse is that it’d be inconvenient to do so. Sure. That’s a reason. 🙁

Also, I was just reading another article linking the attitudes of people in charge with hate speech/acts: https://ricochet.media/en/3197/quebecs-discriminatory-law-21-could-start-a-new-chapter-of-violence

Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
6 months ago

@Kupo, Naglfar:

This is probably because it is normalized. We live in a misogynist culture like air: most people don’t ever notice it because they breathe it each day without paying attention. This is why so many people don’t see misogyny in its many forms as a real issue.

I feel like this is the reason we get so much pushback whenever we call out the “there but by the grace of God” commentary like in the other thread. It’s normalized to feel hatred for women, so some people’s reaction to us rightfully calling that out is to double-down on how that behavior isn’t bad, of course, it’s just normal.

This. I feel like this and “that’s just the way people thought/acted back then“ are some of the most transparent yet least questioned excuses I’ve heard.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

O/T, but relevant to hate on Reddit:
TERFs have now embraced the white supremacist idea that “diversity is anti white” (the thread contains other TERF crap as well, but the first tweet is a Reddit screenshot showing the cross-pollination of TERFs and Nazis on said site).

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
6 months ago

@ Shadowplay:

I know it’s OT, but mind expanding on this some if/when you’ve got the time?

Sure. It was WAY more of a rant than a well-thought-out argument, tho. It addresses the idea that it’s supremely difficult to write an algorithm that checks for human values , like “meaning,” “intent,” etc.

It’s also irrelevant to this discussion, because Reddit does use moderators, and of course, as @ Dalillama said:

…the people in charge are bigots. It was never about the money.

We all know Reddit has been LESS THAN ENTHUSIASTIC about policing their site for the hate they clearly know is there.

Shadowplay
6 months ago

@Weird Eddie

It addresses the idea that it’s supremely difficult to write an algorithm that checks for human values , like “meaning,” “intent,” etc.

Ah, got it. Thank you. It is librarians! 🙂

It’ll happen someday. Just not for a fair while.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Weird Eddie

It addresses the idea that it’s supremely difficult to write an algorithm that checks for human values , like “meaning,” “intent,” etc.

And this is why techbro engineers need to take humanities. I recognize that it is difficult to write these algorithms, but not many people try because they don’t recognize the value. This ignorance of human values is what got us to where we are.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 months ago

@Shadowplay : we actually aren’t sure that computer will ever get roughly as good as humans for that kind of task. The current way is trying to brute force it by writing thousand of random programs and keeping the one that seem to do the job, which is obviously a very bad way to do it, and give us no visibility on what can or cannot be done.

A lot of people theorize that we will be able to write programs able to drive safely on roads, or to assign sentiments to messages, or discuss in an intelligent way. There’s litteraly 0 proof that it’s even possible with a computer.

@Naglfar : techbros need a lesson in humility in particular. Their worldviews is that they have a very nice hammer (computers), and that every and all problems is actually a nail.

That being said, maybe I don’t know the right persons, but apparently nobody have a decent, non-intuitive understanding of how intent and meaning work in human language. I have seen some say that you cannot express in human language how the human language work, which seem actual a possibility.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Ohlmann

I have seen some say that you cannot express in human language how the human language work, which seem actual a possibility.

My first language was English and when I was younger I had a hard time understanding theoretical aspects of grammar, but I understood it a lot better when I started learning other languages in school. It’s very hard to discuss the grammar of a language without the frame of reference provided by others, learning other languages helped me understand a lot about how English worked through comparisons. I’m not sure if it’s impossible to explain in one language exactly how it works, but it’s hard without anything to compare to.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
6 months ago

@Ohlmann:

we actually aren’t sure that computer will ever get roughly as good as humans for that kind of task

It’s likely they will. Certainly there’s no technical barrier, so reverse-engineering of the brain should result in such a thing eventually. The big “if” here would seem to be whether civilization can survive for long enough for this to happen.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 months ago

@Surplus : it’s not likely. It’s possible, but we have no idea if it’s doable.

There is a very simple technical barrier, called “we don’t know if a computer can do what a brain can do”. I work with machine learning specialized workers, and that’s what I have taken from what they say.

You take as granted that brains can be reduced to mathematics, which is what computers can do. It have never been proven, and we don’t even know how brains work exactly. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s false, and we can make a new kind of device who is able to emulate a brain. Maybe it’s just false and impossible.

Don’t buy the techbro propaganda. Most of the “miraculous” applications of artificial intelligence is straight up not working the way people it do. For example, we don’t actually have a solid path to self driving car, despite what Tesla say, and we genuingly don’t know if it’s possible, and self driving cars are basically a big scam.

The trolley problem, for all the amusing meme it generated, give the wrong idea we are close to have computers with moral problems, but computer programs aren’t closer to emulate a brain than in the 1990’s.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
6 months ago

Brains aren’t magic. They’re physical mechanisms, and as such they can be reverse engineered. It’s only a question of difficulty and thus of when, not if.

Please tell me you don’t subscribe to some sort of neo-vitalistic ideas or worse, Cartesian dualism?

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 months ago

@Surplus : brain aren’t magic, and they can be reverse-engineered (but haven’t), but computers aren’t magic either, and they can’t do everything. In fact they can only do mathematics. Minds might not be mathematical.

You’re buying in techbro propaganda if you think computers can solve everything. That’s what they want us to believe to prop up their claims of being able to do everything with software programmers.

An important note is that physic currently seem to be very deeply modelizable via mathematics, but it’s not a given that every physic thing can be mathematiced ; and biological process have proven much, much, MUCH harder to mathematicize. There’s no equation that give the shape of a lung, there is an equation that give the form of an atom.

Since you do know what neo-vitalistic crank ideas here, I think you should think of mathematics and informatic as a stand in to the concept of soul used by thoses cranks. Unlike soul, it have some measure of success and at least some partial connection, but there is no known law of physic, or biology for that matter, that force everything to be reducable to calculations.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
6 months ago

Physics itself is mathematical, and so is everything in it. Including brains. If necessary we could, in principle, go to a lattice QCD emulation of the entire 1300 or so cubic centimeters of space inside a human cranium … but I very much doubt we’ll need to go anywhere close to that level of fidelity to capture the essence of what’s going on, any more than we do to make weather forecasts.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
6 months ago

There’s an interesting philosophical question about human brains being reducible to physics, because if true it would mean that we can’t hold anyone accountable for anything, or credit anyone for anything. If every event has a cause, and that cause inevitably leads to the event, then every thought we have and action we take was fixed based on what came before, and we have no choices to make. Even if quantum physics are involved, of which there is no evidence, then we are still not making choices but instead are slaves to probability and chance.

Just throwing that out there that determinism is a consequence of the belief that physics are all we are and nothing more.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@PoM
That sounds rather reminiscent of BF Skinner. Therefore another issue with this view is that it gives credence to ideas like ABA that are often justified in terms of Skinnerian behaviorism.

opposablethumbs
opposablethumbs
6 months ago

Wondering if (well, hoping that) a more knowledgeable person than I am might like to chime in on where emergent properties/emergent behaviours come into attempts to understand/model the brain. Presumably there are a lot that cannot (even in theory???) be predicted from the properties of the components.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
6 months ago

@Surplus

Wait, I thought that hidden variables were disproven pretty thoroughly?

But yeah I think AGI based on human brains would be… a lot more difficult than you think. Like, a LOT. Human brains rely extensively on feedback loops with the rest of the body. Just for starters there’s evidence that intestinal flora play an important role in mood, and good luck emulating a biome containing orders of magnitude more cells than the body itself.

Impossible? No. But, like, the human body is a kludge. It’s more tightly integrated than one of those Dell minitowers from the early 2000s. You don’t get to just emulate neurons, you also have to emulate support cells, hormonal axes, microbiomes. There are hundreds of neurotransmitters discovered so far, and I’m sure there are more. Biology is hard.

To be blunt, this is what Ohlmann means by techbro propaganda. It’s not just a matter of physics and math. The number of variables and inputs involves is immense. It’s the same sort of problem as with sociology, e.g. STEM people looking at some set of test results from women vs. men and being like “Yeah women are worse at X and Y.” It ignores so many known factors, let alone unknown ones, that it’s not even wrong.

Sincerely,
A former techbro

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
6 months ago

And like to be clear I’m not saying any of the above is impossible. It’s all material universe stuff. But the material universe is more complicated than computer people give credit for.

Not that I don’t have a vested interest in believing this either, mind. Would you want a bunch of straight white men to attain technology indistinguishable from magic? I wouldn’t. Mark Zuckerberg’s ilk make Haber from The Lathe of Heaven look downright humble.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 months ago

Surplus : aserting that physics is marhematic don’t make it true. It’s only an hypothesis who might be wrong.

A typical, mundane example is that computers cannot predict how sand flow. It’s not that sand have a soul, but only that it’s a category of problem that computer ate utterly bad at.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Cyborgette

To be blunt, this is what Ohlmann means by techbro propaganda. It’s not just a matter of physics and math. The number of variables and inputs involves is immense. It’s the same sort of problem as with sociology, e.g. STEM people looking at some set of test results from women vs. men and being like “Yeah women are worse at X and Y.” It ignores so many known factors, let alone unknown ones, that it’s not even wrong.

I think this is a variant of the Dunning Kruger effect: people in a certain field (computers) know very little about another field (biology) but think they’re experts who can solve all the problems. It seems especially common among people in computing and engineering, who often have a disdain for or ignorance towards biology.

Not that I don’t have a vested interest in believing this either, mind. Would you want a bunch of straight white men to attain technology indistinguishable from magic?

If such technology happens, like most other technology it will be created by marginalized groups and white cishet men will take the credit. I do fear that scenario.

@Ohlmann
Re: sand, we’re getting better at predicting how it flows. Not perfect now, but better than we were before. Of course, predicting sand flow is a very different task than emulating a brain.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
6 months ago

@Ohlmann

There’s a hypothesis(?) that “pure mathematics” is a reflection of how the physical world works, not the other way around. Greg Egan wrote his short story “Luminous” about that a while back. It’s a spectacularly flawed story, light on characterization and whatnot and IIRC with gaping plot holes, but still quite fun.

Anyway yeah, the idea of pure math lying at the center of everything seems like a bit of Platonism now that I think about it. YMMV.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
6 months ago

@Naglfar

I think this is a variant of the Dunning Kruger effect: people in a certain field (computers) know very little about another field (biology) but think they’re experts who can solve all the problems. It seems especially common among people in computing and engineering, who often have a disdain for or ignorance towards biology.

Oh fucking tell me about it! Back when I worked in tech I got into an argument with a senior developer who thought we’d find a way around the second law of thermodynamics eventually. I forget exactly how it went, I think I’d brought up something about a thing being a waste of electricity and he was like “Oh that doesn’t matter, we’re going to have nuclear fusion and unlimited power soon, and that will end all resource scarcity.” And things ballooned from there.

It’s amazing TBH, and horrifying. These guys understand Marxism as a cult, but are completely blind to the cultish aspects of their own worldview, trying to see literally everything through one completely inadequate lens. Technological solutionism is pure fucking poison, as much so as nationalism and religious fundamentalism IMO, and we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t kill most of us this century.

Edit: and before anyone jumps in with it – LOL no I’m not anti-science, I’m anti-scientism. I’m not anti-technology; I’m anti technological solutionism. There is a huge, huge difference between having a tool and knowing how to use it, and believing it can be used for everything.

Naglfar
Naglfar
6 months ago

@Cyborgette

Back when I worked in tech I got into an argument with a senior developer who thought we’d find a way around the second law of thermodynamics eventually.

This is also a danger to non-tech people, as many people will hear that and believe it without a second thought, and pin all their hopes on it. So many people who don’t know much about physics hear these things from Elon Musk et al and immediately take it as gospel, so there are now people who think he’s a genius when he’s a pompous asshole.

Sorry you had to go through that.

Edit: and before anyone jumps in with it – LOL no I’m not anti-science, I’m anti-scientism. I’m not anti-technology; I’m anti technological solutionism. There is a huge, huge difference between having a tool and knowing how to use it, and believing it can be used for everything.

Agree 100%. I love some of the things technology lets me do, and I like learning about science and how things work, but I am very cautious about any sort of panacea promise.