An Examination of My Failures of Rationality
Is my defensive reaction to wokeism mind-killing me? Well yes, obviously to some extent. How bad of a mental massacre is it, though? Let's do a post-mortem on a recent failure (or semi-failure?) to find out.
First and foremost, I wish to thank Walter & James, of Rationality: From AI to Zombies podcast fame, for making this possible. One or both of them did a fair bit of research work on a previous statement of mine, and this would not be possible with that work. I am grateful to them, and I mean this sincerely!
1. The Tweet
May 18th I heard on a daily humorous/weird news podcast about three 13-year-old boys being investigated for sexual assault because they wouldn't use they/them pronouns for a classmate. I thought it was more disturbing than funny TBH, so I googled up a link and shared it on Twitter. I pasted relevant text from the article, with the comment "wtf."
Perhaps more importantly, I also talked about it and opined quite a bit more about the situation on The Mind Killer podcast.
2. The Rejoinder
Today (June 3rd) Walter & James posted a reply thread in Twitter, in the hopes of helping me to see how my prejudices are effecting my ability to model the world correctly. I really do appreciate this! I do think I made a few errors, some bigger than others. I also think that a couple places where W&J see errors, I believe I'm correct. So, let's see what I can learn.
I hope @EneaszWrites will forgive me for the public call-in thread, but it's an example as clear as fresh spring water of a point we have been trying to make.
Nothing here needs forgiveness, you're putting forth an argument about something I posted publicly. Honestly, having someone engage me online with a thing I said online is what I'm here for in the first place. :) You are also super polite and reasonable about it, which is a heckin' cool bonus!
I continue to hold no ill will against him and ultimately, his involvement is only incidental.
Cheers! Me too.
Before we continue, I want to pull out a later tweet to address something up front -- my source was The Lad Bible.
the journalistic titan that is LADbible (ಠ_ಠ)
This was basically the UK version of Maxim when it launched. It's evolved a bit, so there's no longer titties and butts, but its primary market is still the equivalentof a Frat Bro, and it retains that vibe. Why did I use this source?
Because I didn't have any better one. I was made aware of this story by a funny-news podcast. When I searched for a link to share, mostly what I got was a bunch of right wing newsites which I am loathe to link to, because I detest most of their politics. Many of them were very aggro about the story, and very hostile to the school district. There was not a single left wing source that covered this story in any way. It is a sign of my continued naivety that I was surprised by this. I should have figured that of course no left wing source would cover blatantinjustice perpetratedin the name of wokeism. But still, it sucks that they left the field open to just the crazies that were foaming about it. :/
Lad Bible was the most non-hostile source I could find. I was working to avoid blood libel and vitriol. I believe I mostly succeeded. The article definitely shares the anti-woke perspective (more below), but it isn't hostile or deliberately inflamatory like the other sources were. It did, however, get some key things wrong. Let's continue.
a criminal charge of sexual harassment for a single wrong pronoun would be ridiculous (!).
How Much Bullying?
This bullying is not limited to using the incorrect pronouns (!). The parent of the student in question reports that their child came home in tears "as they’ve been the target of homophobic slurs and harassment".
I don't want to sound insensitive, but I'm about to say two things that are kinda insensitive, so uh.... good luck to me.
First, this isn't evidence of bullying. Every day there are thousands of incidents of culture warriors declaring they are "in tears," "literally shaking," "feeling nauseous," and that's just from watching a milquetoast award show. I'm pretty sure tears and shaking are the standard reactions of any failure of the world to live up to fully utopian ideals. It's completely consistent with past evidence that a child would come home in tears because they couldn't bully someone into using they/them pronouns. Actual evidence of actual acts that went beyond rejection of they/them pronoun requests is requested, ty.
Second, these are 13 year olds in middle school. This is the worst time in the life of any American adolescent, in an incredibly dysfunction environment. Middle school is actively damaging to the mental and emotional health of kids, it's a fucking social warzone. No one should be subjected to it, and the fact that adults allow this institution to continue to exist is an indictment of our entire civilization. It's not surprising when any child comes home in tears. I don't want to make excuses for anyone involved in bullying. But also, maybe don't send your children to hellish part-time prisons.
They/Them Pronoun Requests
That school has an evidently queer student, that asked their classmates to use they/them pronouns.
The student is not evidently queer. In fact, they seem to be straight and cis. I assume so because if they were gay or trans, it would be shouted from every leftist source. Instead all sources I can find are very tight-lipped about this. While I realize "queer" can now refer to straight cis people, it's misleading to use that context here.
And I will absolutely defend the notion that deliberately calling people by the wrong name or the wrong pronouns counts as bullying and harassment.
Here I think we've identified a major crux. I agree that deliberately calling people by the wrong name or the wrong pronouns counts as harassment. But, importantly, they/them pronouns are never correct pronouns for a person whose sex isn't ambiguous. An obviously cis person can request to be referredto by they/them pronouns. Others can humor them if they wish. It is not bullying to not refer to someone by the wrong pronouns.
A 13 year old weeb may request that everyone call him "Eneasz-sama." It is cool of people to do so. It is not harassment if the people who don't like Eneasz-sama don't want to play along. If Eneasz-sama begins to verbally attack people, or even assault them, unless they refer to him as Eneasz-sama, then Eneasz is the bully.
From original article
[The accuser] "had been screaming at one of Braden’s friends to use proper pronouns, calling him profanity, and this friend is very soft-spoken, and kind of just sunk down into his chair,"
So my counter-claim is that demanding that people call you by incorrect pronouns counts as bullying and harassment.
Before I am accused of trolling, please be assured I mean this completely and literally. I am personally harmed (a very small amount) when others ask me to use wrong pronouns. For my friends, I absorb this cost, because I like them and I want them to be happy, even if that means a bit of suffering on my part. I am not willing to suffer for my enemies. Demands that I suffer for their comfort is an attempt at domination. It is a demand that I degrade myself, to appease my betters, and I won't stand for it. It amplifies what was a small hurt into a major attack. Repeatedly doing so, while using threats of social, reputational, or physical attacks, is bullying and harassment.
simply respecting a queer teen's chosen name and pronouns correlates amazingly with lower incidence of depression and suicide rate. Pronouns are suicide prevention!
I defy the data. There is a similar lie that is propagated regularly at the highest levels of society. The statistics linked by W&J is a single 3-bar graph that purports to summarizean online survey of 34,759 respondents. No other data or details are available at the link unless I fork over $40. Based on prior experience and general incredulity, I don't believe this stat.
Next, the music teacher (!) notices the ongoing harassment and decides to file a Title IX complaint with the school district. Title IX forbids any harassment or discrimination 'based on sex'. This probably only referred to biology for Nixon, but has included discrimination based on gender identity at least since Obama. Including deliberate misgendering is a fair interpretation.
Whether not complying with they/them pronoun demands is good reason to file a Title IX complaint is a question I'll leave up to the reader. I will, however, draw the readers attention to the fact that the school district decided it was not, and dropped the action.
The school district now has a Title IX complaint in their hands. This sets legal machinery in motion, such as informing the students involved about the investigation and their presumption of innocence. The school district _by law_ has to open such an investigation, once a complaint is filed, if it wants to stay federally funded. It was not a political decision, it was a legal necessity.
This is the first place I feel I could have done better. I did not know that an investigation must be launched after every and any filed complaint out of legal necessity. I wish I had known this. I wish any of the sources I had gone through had mentioned this. I was unaware, and it seems that the sources either didn't know or didn't care. For me, this is moderately embarrassing. For the sources it should be either very embarrassing, or a sign that they are bad actors and wanted to funnel anger at the school. (I assume Lad Bible didn't know the details of US discrimination law)
If I had known this, I wouldn't have expressed anger/exasperation at the school district enforcing woke lunacy on The Mind-Killer podcast. I would have instead expressed anger/exasperation at a legal system that took a directive meant to protect trans people from bigotry and now could credibly threaten a school district if they didn't investigating kids standing up to pronoun-aggressionbullies. To no one's surprise, I blame Wokeism for this corruption of justice. (But I acknowledge it's maybe been going on for much longer).
I would have likely also expressed anger/exasperation at a music teacher (!) being so wrapped up in woke extremism that he or she would file a freakin Title IX complaint against kids refusing a they/them pronoun request! This teacher should, morally, be fired. But legally, probably cannot be. Ideally, the families should be able to file a civil suit, but I doubt that's possible.
So, yes, I was wrong in who I blamed. :(
The Courts Were Not Involved
This investigation by a school district, however, is not the same as the kids or anyone being "taken to court". [...] nothing like criminal charges against them existed. Only the T-IX complaint.
This is absolutely correct. Again, this was my failure. I did not know T-IX procedure. My sources were wrong, and I hadn't done additional investigation. T-IX demands that the institution conduct an investigation, and then take appropriate action, which could just be "find the charges are BS and drop the whole matter." No harm no foul.
No harm no foul?
nothing like criminal charges against them existed. Only the T-IX complaint.
A T-IX complaint isn't a criminal case, this is true. There are some downsides to this. Schools use a lower standard of proof than criminal courts. Often they demand proof of innocence rather than proof of guilt. They are mostly biased against the accused. In the universities, this is because "a fair process might lead to a not-guilty finding — which, if leaked to the public, might bring bad publicity." (A 2nd Circuit appeals court ruled this is no defence for the school, fortunately.) Being a target of a T-IX investigation is dangerous even if you're ridiculously innocent.
In this case it doesn't matter, because they boys are totally guilty of refusing a they/them request. Which is fine. It's like being guilty of watching every Marvel movie. Everyone can get behind watching Spiderman: No Way Home, but did you REALLY need to watch Eternals?
Except in this case, watching Eternals can get you kicked out of school permanently, and you end up labeled a sex offender for the rest of your life. Would this happen? Hard to say. It's happened before. Is getting kicked out of a public middle school that big of a deal? It's not as bad as getting kicked out of a university, but it'll definitely impose major costs on the families. Would the sex offender label be sealed behind minor-protection walls after they turn 18? Maybe not. And anyone who sees a Title-IX violation on a man's record knows that such violations are in response to sexual assault.
The idea that it is a proportionate and just response to kick three boys out of school and saddle them with a record as sex offenders for refusing to use they/them pronouns is not the position of ethically sound people. The fact that it's not a criminal case is good. It makes this less bad. It means they might not be put on official sex offender registries! Again, I failed by not realizing this was the case. But it's still bad.
So really, while not everything in the article is outright false, they paint a vastly different picture than what was actually happening.
But "Music teacher formally complaints to the school district about ongoing misgendering of a student" doesn't get the same outrage clicks.
I would rephrase this. While the article says things that are outright false, they are painting a roughly correct picture. "Music teacher uses legal system to harass students and threaten their future because they refused demands to mis-pronoun a student" gets outrage clicks, and is true. Lad Bible showed some major restraint in just saying "Teens Face Sexual Harassment Charges For Not Using A Student's Correct Pronouns" (sadly conceding to false framing of pronouns in the headline!)
I think this may be another major crux between our positions. You seem to think that filing a Title-IX complaint isn't a big deal. In America we have experience with it being weaponized to ruin innocent people. I'm not sure it's clear just how destructive being labeled a sex offender is in America. You will never have a normal life afterwards. Maybe this is justifiable punishment for actual offenders. It isn't for what these kids did. And sure, it's not clear that the boys would get the sex offender label. It's still evil to put them at risk of it for standing up for their rights.
Outrage Porn is Bad
A trap set by the medium, of course. LADbible wants you angry, so you'll share the article. The question is, why did so many skeptics/rationalists fall for it?
I acknowledge that this was their objective, and they succeeded. I try not to fall for this sort of thing very often. I do not want to become a blood-libel stooge. That being said, I spent many years looking the other way as woke extremists slowly grew bolder and bolder in pushing their bigotry. I did this both in the name of the greater good of social justice, and in the interest of not losing friends I valued. In the end, when I began to raise my voice in concern far too late, I lost both.
I try to moderate my advocacy. I do my best to keep in mind that the majority of these people either mean well, or are scared. They aren't evil mutants. But I think I do have to keep ringing the alarm bell for the sane liberals consistently. Because so few of us are, and it's good for people to know that there are people like them on their side that see what's happening. It's not all just right-wing lunatics doing their normal lunatic dance. And sure, maybe I'm overcompensating a bit for my previous silence.
Seeking Truth Takes a Village
Being virulently anti-"woke" makes you worse at truth-seeking. That should worry you.
It does worry me. That is why I appreciate checks like this one that W&J put together. I know I'm biased, and I do try to compensate for that. I want to encourage people (and W&J specifically) to continue to check me and other rationalists in this way. It keeps us honest. And it makes up for the fact that a single person, with their idiosyncratic biases and priors, can't ever fully trust themselves. Truth-seeking is done not as an individual alone, but as a network of people who have a wide spectrum of biases and priors.
I know I snark and take some shots in these posts, try to get in some zingers. 1 - I get passionate, and 2 - it makes this more fun. But they are meant in a comraderly way. I want people who disagree with me to have the freedom to analyze and criticise what I say. One of the things I most appreciate about the rationalist community is that it is widely tolerant of strange and divergent views. Some people see this is as a weakness, and wish we would root out the unclean. I see it as a strength, as these agents help us find error. Like W&J have here.
Lots of Evil Violent Fuckers are Anti-Woke
Since the complaint was filed, there have been - in less than two weeks (!) - no fewer than 6 (!!) bomb threats (!!!) against the school, the district, the city and various other institutions, with the demand to drop the Title IX investigation.
Jesus, that's awful. Repugnant. "Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever." I hope they catch the people who made these threats and punish them to the full extent of the law. If anyone has information about these people, I encourage them to contact the authorities. Even anonymously if they have to.
As far as I've seen (though happy to be proven wrong) neither the journalistic titan that is LADbible (ಠ_ಠ) nor Eneasz nor any other rationalist™ that shared the original story has said anything about this act of what can only be called terrorism. Why, I wonder?
I mean, I can just tell you, so you don't have to wonder. I didn't know any of this had happened. Now that I know, I join you in condeming these acts. Don't kill people. Don't threaten to kill people. That's not how any of this works.
A Happy Ending
the school district recently closed the investigation.
Huzzah! It's not over yet, as according to the linked article the lawyers are still riding the District to "ensure that the Title IX sexual harassment complaints are removed from the boys’ academic records.” But at this point, I expect the district will do the right thing.
Be careful about narratives about the newest terrible "woke" thing, everyone. It damages your ability to tell if this thing was even real, or actually as bad.
You're not immune to propaganda just because you call yourselves "rationalist".
I agree completely, and will try to boost this as well.