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Scott Alexander, the Hitpiece, and the Limits of Inquiry

February 13th, 2021 | 4 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

In certain moods I think that one of the greatest current social fights is the fight against the Grey Tribe ascendency, against the let’s-regard-humans-and-society-as-an-amoral-optimization-experiment approach to life. There are certain versions of this that are at the center of the NICE, the technocratic attempt to rule humans as things, rooting out all custom and beauty and history.

More specifically, I regard it as a huge part of my job in the world, aside from shoveling snow off my balcony and keeping the social world of New York City alive in a pandemic and keeping my parents from getting COVID, to fight as hard as I can against the understanding of natural law espoused by Nick Land and other neoreactionaries: it is essentially natural law read as might makes right, which is of course the inverse of what Christians have meant by natural law. If those ideas are carried to their logical conclusion, they do in fact lead to eugenics; certainly, the understanding of humans current in many rationalist circles utterly undermines human sacredness.

In many ways, in other words, many of the the people described in today’s Times hit piece on Scott Alexander are my worst enemies. And so I can say this very precisely: I would not treat the ideas of my worst enemies the way that that journalist treated the ideas of the people gathered around Slate Star Codex. And that’s not even getting at the doxxing issue.

One of the issues, I think, is that that journalist probably would not be able to say why it is that Nick Land’s GNON is wrong, even if he was able to describe it.

If he did take the time to understand the idea, a couple of things might happen. He might have a visceral moral reaction against the idea of a society where we call good the rule of the strong over the weak for the benefit of the strong. He might have a visceral attraction to the idea that strength is a good, and beauty is a good, and if he reads more in the worst version of the Creon-was-Right tradition (1)— if, for example, he ends up following up on the lolcats Nietzscheanism of Bronze Age Pervert — he might conclude that this attraction, this perception of a good, does mean that Western society has been thoroughly corrupted by Christian slave morality. He might of course then read more; he might read Actual Nietzsche; he might read even more, and think more, and realize that Nietzsche’s own take on Christianity was in fact a take on pietistic Kantianism, that the virtú of Aristotle is taken up in but not destroyed by Christian virtue, and that after all it turns out that the good of beauty and health and strength, and the good of caring for the weakest, are not at odds: that Christ, the Victim, went to the cross not out of bloodless duty but for the sake of the joy set before him.

He might end up a fascist or a Jansenist or a Thomist or a bodybuilder or a practitioner of effective altruism.

Where he ended up would matter.

But instead, he doesn’t even start: he simply uses guilt by association and thought-ending gestures to paint *hand waves* all those rationalists as tainted, and to reiterate the drawing of the lines of acceptable thought and inquiry.

This is not good enough.

It’s not good enough because I don’t want to have to choose between a world run by libertarian blood-drinking IQ fetishists making genetically optimized children in labs and a world where what we can think about is made smaller each day. I don’t want to have to choose between a Silicon Valley libertarian world with no taboos, including the taboo against, say, allowing rich couples to rent the uteruses of poor women, or the taboo against killing off children with developmental disabilities, or the taboo against private governments where a small class of shareholder-citizens is served by a large class of contract serfs, (2) on the one hand, and a world that’s all taboos and all guilt-by-association. I want to be able to think. And I think that means that I want even Nick Land to be able to write. And dangit I want New York Times profile writers to be more curious. (3)


(1) (for the best version of the Creon-was-Right take see Agnes here)

(2) (whoops too late taboo already gone)

(3) (see here for the work of a much more curious writer)


Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.