The best line on the rationalists, said to me once: these are the people who read the New York Times and took it seriously. What follows next is the response to that disappointment...
Effective Altruism is the most obvious (the Times says first world philanthropy will save the third, and yet it hasn’t happened yet); multiple different diagnoses for Neoreaction, I think.
A lot of people want to trace things back to SV culture, but this seems wrong. E.g., early Paul Graham essays, which are mostly about how to make money on startups, or inside baseball about code.
In the end, the surface level of rationalism—tech stuff, Bayesianism—is a bit of a distraction; it seems much more related to the prior generation of USENET atheism...
Which was mostly about battling an earlier invention of the New York Times: the Creationist Movement which turned out, in the end, not to be the biggest threat to American education.
The Hegelian dialectic turns, however, and the rationalists found themselves to be counter-reformation defenders of the true religion, against a now-heretical New York Times.
This account leaves out some really interesting players (e.g., the cypherpunks, the extropians, and early-90s mailing list culture). But I think these are not actually constitutive.
Scott Alexander is the ideal figure—SA’s politics and Overton window is basically mid-1990s New York Times, so it’s amusing to watch Metz try to cancel him. Basically every objectionable opinion that SA has can be hyperlinked to an article from that era in the Times itself.
Why did they form a cult around the 1990s? Two answers: (1) neoliberalism is, actually, an ideology that you can learn, (2) say anything you like but the 1990s has serious cross-decade temporal soft power.
Like Western AM radio penetrating Eastern Germany, the optimism of 1995’s Tuesday Science Section calls to us in this Facebook hellscape. Sadly, the past is not a place you can visit.
Yes, it’s obvious that they would care about the NYT, but also interesting to ask why they do care. The group understands both itself and the Times as normal-liberal, so I think it’s genuinely puzzling for them.
In retrospect it’s hard to see how it wasn’t? In terms of harmless and marginal, it was top-ten at least.
“Grey Tribe” may just be a synonym for late-90s normal (college) liberal.
...yup.
Maybe? But the best stuff to come out of the 90s *was* insane...

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More from @SimonDeDeo

13 Feb
What's the earliest you could have predicted that Python would be one of the top five programming languages? (Round to nearest year.)
I’m going to say 1995, but hear me out. (1) We already knew that attacking problems with computers, in a sort of ad hoc fashion, was going to be a big deal. *All* problems had a computational side, not just a special class.
(2) We knew that domain knowledge mattered—that the more the “ordinary” practitioner had direct access, the greater the payoff. No separate “computer group”.
Read 5 tweets
6 Feb
Thoughts on tails and Hayekian (neo) liberal economics. The standard story is that markets “learn”—absorbing trades and propagating the implicit information by setting prices. It’s sufficiently intelligent to bring me tea from Japan. But tails *can’t* be learned... Image
They don’t occur often enough to train the reenforcement algorithm that the price system runs. When they do, their surface logic is unrepeatable (GameStop, really?)
Tails can, however, be reasoned about. We can think about what would be out of scope, even if we can’t anticipate its details. We can ask if this or that profit is on some sense “unreasonable”, emphasis on reason, not inference.
Read 14 tweets
18 Jan
Someone tosses a coin ten times; it comes up heads every time. What's the probability it comes up heads on the next toss? (Pretty darn high—part of @nntaleb's work is unprogramming you from your high-school rules of thumb.) Now consider the (related) Gambler's fallacy...
In this case, it's a theory about compensation: the worse one's luck is, the more likely it is to see a reversal. On the surface, it's irrational. The more bad luck you have, the more you accumulate evidence that the system is rigged.
But there's also an anthropic component. If the luck is bad enough, it starts to become inconsistent with your survival. You've accumulated evidence for correlations in the environment, but these correlations (may be) inconsistent with (people like you) being in this environment.
Read 18 tweets
18 Jan
Say we gain complete control over genetics—we can code development like Python. After 10,000 years, which is the most likely outcome of our decision-making?
Can’t believe the elimination of men and permanent sexual immaturity/liminal stage are getting so few votes.
I don’t think speciation events are likely. Silicon software has been converging on near-total comparability for decades.
Read 5 tweets
30 Dec 20
2021 predictions (🧵)
Student loans will (finally) be understood as a bubble on a par with the housing market in 2008.
Some of the fallout will be temporarily explained away by COVID, but many universities below the billion-dollar endowment mark (and some above) will find themselves short.
Read 22 tweets
29 Dec 20
You guys told me julia was cool, but it turns out that it indexes arrays beginning with one? I'm sort of not joking—what possible justification is there to violate the near-universal standard?
This is very Bluebeard's Castle. What else is in the cupboard, "Julia"?
One-indexing considered harmful. cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/ewd0…
Read 10 tweets

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