The power of gardens

Note: This is a long post and it is not about gardening. 

I could probably start anywhere: The Baltimore riots, #Gamergate, the Sad Puppies and the Hugo-versy, human nature, ingroups and outgroups, social media activists, etcetera, and on and on, and so forth.

I suppose I'll start with Through the Worhmhole, season 6, episode 1: Are We All Bigots? This episode is suspiciously and fantastically salient right now.

It was particularly cringe-inducing for me at first, because I remembered a conversation cut short that I initiated with an African-American.

Having been a poli-sci major I tend to have politics and topics of national debate not far from the front of my mind. It's all too easy to reach into that well of poison in an attempt to be topical and raconteur. Years ago, during this conversation I said, "you know, on some level, I think we are all a little bit racist or prejudiced." I was thinking about human history and its tribalist nature, but I see how it could be interpreted very differently. My undiplomatic mouth and the resulting angry stare I got ended what was an otherwise interesting and cordial dialogue. Every time I think about that moment I cringe.

Then this show, hosted by Morgan Freeman no less, comes on and asks (and answers) the same damn thing. Short answer: yes, we are all racist scumbags.

Longer answer: A lot of it is subconscious, and is both learned through cultural exposure and a part of human, even mammalian, nature. This seems obvious to me. But we're not talking about the KKK or making a minority sit in the back of the bus, we're talking about non-overt stuff in modern civilization from millions of people adding up over time where we end up with huge disparities. And it's not just race, it's religion, nationality, sports teams; it's all tribalism. Ingroup vs. outgroup stuff. It's how humans behave. It's how monkeys behave. It's how rats behave!

We have a lot of groups in Western civilization. Western civilization itself is a group. I am a member of that group. I am also a member of the U.S. group, the white group, the male group, the dogs-lover group, the right-handed group, the sci-fi geeky fan group, etc. I am a member of a lot of different groups mostly with parallel, complimentary, and/or non-conflicting interests. Rarely do those interests conflict; more often, obviously, groups with demographically distinct memberships and different interests conflict. I guess you could try to stay out of it, but typically people get at least emotionally invested in a conflict their group is engaged in. Because human mammalian nature.

A relatively harmless example can be the airing of eSports on ESPN. Traditionally, ESPN has aired mostly athletic sports competitions. Although they have on occasion aired poker championships. There's nothing athletic about poker, but it is a sport that a lot of people are interested in. It's a good bet that many fans of athletic competitions (ACF for short) are also poker game enthusiasts (PGE). For ESPN to air a poker game is like Michael Jordan going golfing. No big thing.

But times, they are a changin'. The other day ESPN aired teams competing against each other in the video game, Heroes of the Storm, on one of its channels and I'd venture to guess that the older ACFs and PGEs are generally not fans of this new video game, nor any competitions in it. Which prompted such people to say, "It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition…. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports." That was ESPN president John Skipper. And one of ESPN's hosts, Colin Cowherd had more colorful things to say about covering eSports. Ingroup vs. outgroup.

While I don't care much about Heroes of the Storm or MOBA competitions personally, I do like games and the idea of watching intense video game competitions by pro-gamers. So, not only am I in agreement with TotalBiscuit's sentiment in his video below, but with his specific point--that it doesn't matter whether or not it's called a sport. What matters is that eSports/gamers already has a lot of people in its group, and that group pays the bills by watching.

So yeah, I'm a member of the eSports/gamers group. I was a member of the more traditional ACF group in my youth, paying close attention to my favorite NBA teams, as well as playing Mario and Zelda as often as I could. While I still can identify with the ACF group, I felt the urge to take a side in this little conflict. Go eSports coverage! Yay more-relevant-to-me ingroup!

We tend to think of tribalism as inherently bad, but I don't think it is. I think tribalism is more like gravity. It's amoral. It just is. What we do with tribalism can be either good or bad. Lately it seems, as some of us intend to promote a kind of civility with the tools and weapons of tribalism, we're becoming demonstrably uncivil.

Enter the Prussian, speaking on the recent Hugo awards controversy, who is simultaneously upset and dismissive of SJWs:
Author Larry Correia (not read him, yet) attended one of their cons when he was starting out, and what he found was what he described as a whispering campaign against one of his books.  Not because of the book, mind you, but because of his politics.  Hence he was smeared as racist, misogynist, homophobe and all the rest of I – to the point that his wife started getting concerned phone calls from people worried that she was living with a wife beater.

All of this is drearily familiar to anyone who has experienced the tolerance and fairness of the western left, above all the American left.  The bad faith, the vicious insults, the attitude of throw anything at all and hope some of it sticks – it’s boring and routine at this point.  Forget those of us who are loud and proud rightists, we’ve seen this guff dished out against such bona fide lefties as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens…

In effect, anyone who didn’t toe the extremely thin and boring line of the US center-left was being ostracized and kept out of the awards – there were apparently organized cliques getting together to work out what books to nominate and put forward, and that decision was strongly driven by politics . . .
. . . Despite all their viciousness, SJWs are paper tigers. . . . if you are relying on SJWs to defend issues that actually matter – anti-racialism, women’s emancipation, free speech, the defense of civilization – you are relying on people who cannot even rig an award competently.
I sort of both agree and disagree with him. They're not very good people for using the blunt tools of tribalism like shaming, name-calling, harassment, and general thuggish outgrouping just because they disagree with their victims' ideas. And to some extent, they are paper tigers. But in the internet age, even a small group of paper tigers can make a loud voice and cause a lot of problems.

The Hugo thing was about leftists vs. the at-least-not-overtly-left-enough. Or from the perspective of the SJWs: Decent human beings who happen to be good authors vs. racist/sexist/bigoted people who may or may not be good authors. In the world of tribalism and ingroups vs. outgroups, the sci-fi/fantasy fan group was beset and torn by other warring groups who happened to have members in the sci-fi/fantasy fan group (much like #gamergate). The Worldcon and Hugo award group, for good or ill, deliberately or not, was commandeered for other sociopolitical interests. Rightist and non-leftist members of the group took notice and responded in kind with the Puppies. Whether or not the Sad and Rabid Puppies were justified (I tend to think they were), the Hugo awards will never be the same and will always have that stink of corruption.

Suffice it to say that the leftists occupying other groups use the tools of tribalism to prod those other groups in a direction they want it to go. Don't get me wrong, everybody engages in  tribalism. The problem is that the relatively recent prodding isn't so gentle, or civil; it might be even be quiet and secret. It's not always a rightist group that reacts and fights the prodding, it can be any group content with the way their group is/was. Sometimes rightist groups will take notice and join forces with the prodded group. Other times the prodded will surrender.

And the prodding is Oh-my-God-freaking everywhere. It's the outrage of the day, it's the national shame campaign. But why is it a bad thing? It's taking peoples reputations and ruining them, it's destroying careers. You can't have an old-fashioned opinion and say it out loud anymore. You can't think outside the sociopolitical box without the shame campaign threatening your job. And these are over little more than social faux pas! The ingroups and outgroups will clash, the rhetoric and tactics get sharper with every use. What's next?

Whatever it is, it can't be good. Indeed, the logical leap to the next level has already been mentally considered and accepted by at least one of the prodding leftists.

I'm going to quote Scott Alexander at length, and I hope that's okay with him (you should read his entire post anyway). Here he is at SSC quoting (and responding) to a somewhat-famous leftist:
That post [the one debunking false rape statistics] is exactly my problem with Scott. He seems to honestly think that it’s a worthwhile use of his time, energy and mental effort to download evil people’s evil worldviews into his mind and try to analytically debate them with statistics and cost-benefit analyses.

He gets *mad* at people whom he detachedly intellectually agrees with but who are willing to back up their beliefs with war and fire rather than pussyfooting around with debate-team nonsense.

It honestly makes me kind of sick. It is exactly the kind of thing that “social justice” activists like me *intend* to attack and “trigger” when we use “triggery” catchphrases about the mewling pusillanimity of privileged white allies.
In other words, if a fight is important to you, fight nasty. If that means lying, lie. If that means insults, insult. If that means silencing people, silence. . . .
Compare to the following two critiques: “The Catholic Church wastes so much energy getting upset about heretics who believe mostly the same things as they do, when there are literally millions of Hindus over in India who don’t believe in Catholicism at all! What dumb priorities!”

Or “How could Joseph McCarthy get angry about a couple of people who might have been Communists in the US movie industry, when over in Moscow there were thousands of people who were openly super Communist all the time?”

There might be foot-long giant centipedes in the Amazon, but I am a lot more worried about boll weevils in my walled garden.

Creationists lie. Homeopaths lie. Anti-vaxxers lie. This is part of the Great Circle of Life. It is not necessary to call out every lie by a creationist, because the sort of person who is still listening to creationists is not the sort of person who is likely to be moved by call-outs. There is a role for organized action against creationists, like preventing them from getting their opinions taught in schools, but the marginal blog post “debunking” a creationist something something is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things rationally has already formed a walled garden and locked the creationists outside of it.

Anti-Semites fight nasty. The Ku Klux Klan fights nasty. Neo-Nazis fight nasty. We dismiss them with equanamity, in accordance with the ancient proverb: “Haters gonna hate”. There is a role for organized opposition to these groups, like making sure they can’t actually terrorize anyone, but the marginal blog post condemning Nazism is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things charitably and compassionately has already formed a walled garden and locked the Nazis outside of it.

People who want to discuss things rationally and charitably have not yet locked Charles Clymer out of their walled garden.

He is not a heathen, he is a heretic. He is not a foreigner, he is a traitor. He comes in talking all liberalism and statistics, and then he betrays the signals he has just sent. He is not just some guy who defects in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. He is the guy who defects while wearing the “I COOPERATE IN PRISONERS DILEMMAS” t-shirt.

What really, really bothered me wasn’t Clymer at all: it was that rationalists were taking him seriously. Smart people, kind people! I even said so in my article. Boll weevils in our beautiful walled garden!

Why am I always harping on feminism? I feel like we’ve got a good thing going, we’ve ratified our Platonic contract to be intellectually honest and charitable to each other, we are going about perma-cooperating in the Prisoner’s Dilemma and reaping gains from trade.

And then someone says “Except that of course regardless of all that I reserve the right to still use lies and insults and harassment and dark epistemology to spread feminism”. Sometimes they do this explicitly, like Andrew did. Other times they use a more nuanced argument like “Surely you didn’t think the same rules against lies and insults and harassment should apply to oppressed and privileged people, did you?” And other times they don’t say anything, but just show their true colors by reblogging an awful article with false statistics.
. . .

But then someone else says “Well, if they get their exception, I deserve my exception,” and then someone else says “Well, if those two get exceptions, I’m out”, and you have no idea how difficult it is to successfully renegotiate the terms of a timeless Platonic contract that doesn’t literally exist.

No! I am Exception Nazi! NO EXCEPTION FOR YOU! Civilization didn’t conquer the world by forbidding you to murder your enemies unless they are actually unrighteous in which case go ahead and kill them all. Liberals didn’t give their lives in the battle against tyranny to end discrimination against all religions except Jansenism because seriously fuck Jansenists. Here we have built our Schelling fence and here we are defending it to the bitter end. [Emphasis mine]
Scott uses the apt metaphor of the walled garden (a group/tribe/community), and the uncivil tribalists as boll weevils. As both supporters of a classically liberal society, Scott and I might disagree on the finer points in its execution and the occasional issue here and there, but I feel we're a part of a polite and healthy garden where disagreement on many things are acceptable provided both parties remain civil, which includes intellectual honesty.

(At risk of mixing metaphors I'll continue using "gardens.")

There are many overlapping gardens, but some gardeners don't seem to mind the boll weevils, and even assist them at times.

So far, I've mostly discussed shaming and what basically amounts to ad hominem attacks as the methods of which the uncivil prodding tribalists employ. Mostly to punish mildly sexist, racist, or anti-gay marriage opinions. But there are boll weevils and there are BOLL WEEVILS.

This comes sharply into focus when you look at the two biggest feuding tribes in America, the Republicans and the Democrats, or more broadly the liberal/progressive left and the conservative right.

When a conflict takes on a political characteristic, whether real or imagined, things get out of control and your garden becomes untenable:

It's getting harder and harder to maintain a civil garden because Everything is Political. Video games are now politicized. Glorified book clubs. Wedding cakes. Commencement speeches. Bad jokes. innocuous-looking T-shirts are politicized.

And where does that leave real, dyed-in-the-wool, actual politics? Are the loyal opposition members safe? You might think so, given our robust constitutional political protections. But I wouldn't be so sure:
Don’t call your lawyer.

Don’t tell anyone about this raid. Not even your mother, your father, or your closest friends.

The entire neighborhood could see the police around their house, but they had to remain silent. This was not the “right to remain silent” as uttered by every cop on every legal drama on television — the right against self-incrimination. They couldn’t mount a public defense if they wanted — or even offer an explanation to family and friends. . . .
Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do?

This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform.

Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer. The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the “misconduct” being investigated isn’t misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights.
That, along with the IRS scandal, are extreme examples of what happens when powerful people with different opinions use the weapons of tribalism to punish the outgroup. The prosecutor behind the Wisconsin raids, John Chisholm is just ahead of his time. Maybe. But that's escalation, that is the next logical step.

So it doesn't surprise me that people want to avoid all this nastiness they see in the not-so-distant future and request a divorce. The blogger Ace, tweeted the rationale behind his idea:
there is a pragmatic value to liberalism-- liberalism permits strongly-disagreeing peoples to live among each other peacefully.
if we no longer have this sort of liberalism--if the left is determined to simply "win"--then we shall no longer live together peacefully
that's not a threat, that's just an obvious observation.
I think it's pretty clear the left no longer wishes to live peacefully among us, and, for my part: The sentiment is shared.
i think we're beyond electoral matters.
notice the lack of "that's crazy-talk" responses
I don't see this working, geographically or otherwise.

Even if there were a smooth way to secede, conflicts will still arise, the differences are still there. It's just that now there's a bunch of innocent bystanders who are no longer considered innocent nor bystanders. While that may be good for political participation, it would be bad for civility. The boll weevils, or the prodding tribalists would be in charge, unencumbered by considerations for outgroup feelings, emboldened by their newfound situation and ripe for group polarization.

But we already live in our own ideological garden sanctuaries. We may wish the walls held up better with fewer shame campaigns and less name-calling, we don't want to suffer the externalities nor direct attacks from discordant groups.

And so we often just sort of excommunicate the people who're mucking it all up:

What the video doesn't show is what happens after everyone catches on to the repeat takers. The sharers move to another table eventually becoming a big table full of sharers, and the takers are left to themselves. This is the ideal walled garden where everyone reaps the rewards from cooperation. It's the divine grace Scott references.

Yes, we must be kind and civil, especially in disagreement. And when the boll weevils or the prodding tribalists don't cooperate, well, just ignore them.

But if we can't ignore them, everybody loses and it's time to start creating new countries and breaking up families and watch out for thought police and our gardens go to crap.

May 3rd update: So that's how it's going to be, then:
A 250-strong meetup of GamerGate supporters, which included game developers, journalists and think-tank scholars were evacuated from a bar in Washington D.C on Friday after an anonymous bomb threat was made against the gathering.
Is it possible the uncivil activists fail to realize that the double-edged sword they insist upon using does, in fact, cut both ways? Do they expect by starting a war, the other side just quietly goes away? 


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