Science Says Sam Harris is Alt-Right

Unsupervised sorting algorithms group free thinkers with the extreme right for a reason.

This article first appeared on Medium on December 8th, 2020, but is increasingly explanatory for why left wing people and groups are getting scooped up in The Purge.

The scientific inclusion of deeply left wing thinkers in the far right YouTube ideological bubble signifies not a rise of the right, but a fundamental change in the political axes themselves, and portends even deeper change in the cultural outlook for the 21st century.

To explain why, we need to look at media echo chambers, behavioral indoctrination paths, the culture war, The Singularity, and the meaning of God in the networked superorganism into which humankind is transforming. We will need to reference a lot of prior HWFO work, and go pretty futurist and pretty weird. If that’s your thing, read on. This intellectual carnival starts with a new study released last week.

The Study

On the 25th of November, 2020, a host of authors released a very interesting, very well done, and entirely commendable research study on YouTube media consumption among channels they consider to be “right” and “far right.” This study was largely undertaken to test the hypothesis that the YouTube recommendation engine is creating a far-right echo chamber, a claim that was very popular in 2019 across many sources. They find:

(i) Total consumption of any news -related content on YouTube accounts for only 11% of overall consumption, similar to previous estimates of news consumption across both web and TV [25], and is dominated by mainstream or moderate sources.

(ii) Nonetheless, the fraction of YouTube users strongly engaged with far-right channels has increased over the last four years, where consumers of far-right channels tend to show a more-extreme engagement pattern on YouTube, compared to individuals whose majority of consumption is from channels with other political orientations.

(iii) The pathways by which users reach far-right videos are diverse and only a fraction can plausibly be attributed to platform recommendations.

(iv) Within sessions of consecutive video viewership, we see no trend toward more extreme content, indicating that consumption of this content is determined more by user preferences than by recommendation.

In short, the “YouTube’s recommendation engine radicalizes people” claim is not true for the right or far right, nor for any other category. How they determined what was “far left,” “left,” “center,” “right,” and “far right” is fascinating. They appeared to have drawn their labels from prior work by other studies.

They further classified other channels which weren’t in prior lists by an unsupervised clustering algorithm, which acts as a sort of a mathematical echo chamber identification bot.

The inclusion of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) in the ‘far right’ category stands out as a huge, screaming error to anyone who is a fan of folks like Sam Harris or Bret Weinstein, who are unabashedly extreme lefties, and that very social freakout within their fanbase drew my attention to the study. That inclusion seems to have been based on two prior studies, references [20] and [23] in the table and text, which I have not heavily vetted. But when Homa Housseinmardi et al. go by the categorization table above, they find very tight clustering with the IDW fans and the “far right” specifically in terms of their media consumption, justifying their inclusion in that category. Sorry Sam. For all I know I suffer the same effects here on Medium.

This academic study and it’s priors have and will continue to be used to paint Sam Harris fans as right wingers, which will no doubt drive Sam completely batshit insane, but the IDW’s traffic inclusion inside this “far right” echo space actually signals something far more interesting that needs to be unpacked.

This isn’t the first study to be published which claims media from the “intellectual dark web” and similar outlets, up to and even possibly including people like Jesse Singal, are “gateways to the alt-right.” Rolling Stone and other outlets jumped on the bandwagon of one of the reference studies linked above in 2019, tagging Jordan Peterson and others as gateways to alt-right-ness via YouTube, based on the UFMG study. What that study failed to show, however, is causality. It tracked comments from IDW and what it categorized as “alt lite” channels, and saw that commenters tracked over to alt-right channels over time, but it didn’t seem to analyze reverse flow at all, and it focused purely on the sort of people who comment, which is itself a kind of selection bias. Peterson used to say during his 2018 heyday that many of his fans came from the other direction. They’d start out as alt-right 4chan trolls, see his stuff, and migrate to a more wholesome and positive lifestyle by finally “cleaning their room.”

Regardless, the inclusion of these thinkers in the far right bucket seems validated by the most recent study, and the interesting question to me is not whether the study was wrong (it seems valid) but to ask why that would be true. Having sampled all of these intellectual spaces, I feel I can say with authority that Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Bret Weinstein, Joe Rogan, Reason TV, Count Dankula, Benjamin Boyce, and even true neoreactionary alt-right people such as Mencius Moldbug, have only one thing in common. They analyze and question the dogma of the Woke. The actual echo chamber identified in this study is not a “far right” echo chamber at all, it is an Anti-Woke echo chamber that has been mislabeled.

Defining the Intentionally Undefinable

Defining anti-Woke is hard, because it’s a negative definition. And defining Woke is hard because the ideologies that make up Wokeness constantly change. I’ll give you an example of how quickly they shift, if you haven’t been following along.

In 2016 the dating app Tinder rolled out 37 gender options instead of two, after accusations by a group of people that they were transphobic for not doing so. This group of people were The Woke, although we didn’t call them that then. In 2016 The Woke concluded that there were a specific finite number of genders that exceeded the two we’ve been using for the past ten thousand years, that each gender had it’s own pronoun, each had it’s own gender symbol, and part of “basic human decency” was to commit this chart to memory and ask everyone you meet which of these 37 genders they were before you conducted a conversation with them. Here’s a slightly earlier chart featuring 32.

This was a real thing. But it’s hard to even find a clean version of this chart anymore on a google image search for several reasons. One, the online publications which promoted this chart have gone back and scrubbed it, and two, the people who promoted this chart got viciously trolled on the internet. Like this:

And so this particular universal truth of 2016 “basic human decency” within the woke faded away. The official Woke line said 37 wasn’t inclusive enough; the actual number of genders had been underestimated and should be considered “infinite,” with a corresponding infinite number of unique pronouns, and they still do this “my pronouns are” thing on Twitter today. From two genders to three to thirty-seven to infinite in the span of less than a decade. I don’t know if Tinder still has the 37 gender options, but I do know some trans women aren’t using them, because the last time I messed around with that app I bumped into them on it. Now they’re just using ‘woman’ and clarifying (or not) in their profile. The whole thing was originally rolled out for trans inclusivity, but has been largely replaced in 2020 by “trans women are women.” The Woke in 2020 want to go back to two, to help trans women get dates.

And there’s no way to predict where this particular dogmatic element of The Woke will be five years from now, because these indoctrinations are developed organically online within Woke social media spaces, buttressed by idea laundering woke academics, tested in the fires of internet Darwinism, and discarded once they fall out of fashion.

And fashion itself is a good model for this behavior. From the National Review:

The pseudo-activism of social media and membership in the self-deputized sheriff’s posse of political correctness provide some of the same benefits as genuine civic engagement — without the need to attend all those tedious meetings. The displacement of “Latino” by “Latinx” does not achieve anything of genuine value for anybody with Spanish-speaking ancestry, but it does create new opportunities for rarefied psychic consumption, giving a new generation of consumers (overwhelmingly college-educated white people) an opportunity to enjoy the taste of being in a vanguard, an exquisitely refined psychic product that is necessarily rivalrous in consumption.

I might go further. The Woke are a culture of cool. Whoever is closer to its center, nearest the source of the feed, finds out what the feed is saying first and adopts it. Others then adopt that, and it spills down the line just like gaudy fashion trends. People don’t wear a $200 Versace T Shirt for function, they wear it as a status signal to their peer group. Virtue signaling becomes the social currency of The Woke, and the drive to elevate one’s own status, by seeking that virtue, by plugging into that signal, is the gasoline that fuels the engine. Except instead of clothes, it is the “new rules of basic human decency” being constantly revised.

We could bundle a list of Woke ideologies here in this article, and doing so may be useful, but there’s no guarantee they’ll hold up for a month or a year or a decade. Furthermore, any such bundle will have varying degrees of support within The Woke of today, so before we do so, we must caution that this list is purely a late 2020 snapshot. Some of these may be on the way out, to be replaced in the future by something new, like hyperaggressive veganism or such.

Trans women are women. There’s no such thing as IQ. Tabula Rasa / Blank Slate. Healthy at any size. All whites are racist. Gender is a social construct. Biological sex is a social construct. (Everything else) is a social construct. Silence is violence. Front Holes. Literally shaking. Believe all women. Hormone blockers in children. Fragility. All politics is identity politics. ACAB. Diversity and inclusion. Cishet. Cultural appropriation. Privilege. Marginalization. Safe space. Punch Nazis. Toxic masculinity. Triggered. Unconscious bias. Equity. Intersectional Matrix of Oppression. Systemic racism. Sit down and listen. Lived Experience. Patriarchy. Believe Science. Cheez-Whiz.

But a grab bag like that doesn’t describe The Woke because any one of those things might get punted and replaced in the future. Instead we need to dig a little deeper to understand why the grab bag happens to look like that today. “Believe Science” is the biggest tell. “Believe Science” is the Woke’s mantra against people who deny global warming, but they shelf science when “healthy at any size” hits the table because the science about weight and health might make someone feel bad about being fat. Or more charitably, they find more “basic human decency” in denying the science than in rubbing the science in the face of fat people.

This simple strand of thread binds all the concepts in the bag together. A non-woke person might understand it’s “indecent” to criticize someone for their weight even though science clearly says that weight and health are integrally related. But The Woke’s fixture on the evolving landscape of decency forces them to reverse-adopt an anti-science mantra while also pretending to believe science. This same theme appears in many of the other woke ideologies, such as their approach to IQ.

That the Woke patrol their boundaries with virtue and shame by “cancel culture” shouldn’t be surprising because religions throughout the ages worked the same way, via excommunication of those whose views are deemed “problematic.”

The important thing to understand about The Woke is that in a decade, half these ideologies may be round-filed and replaced with something else, like what happened to 37 Genders, or perhaps Rachel Dolezal “identifying as black,” but the people among the Woke will still be here, still behaving the same way, catching their ideological updates on the feed.

There are only two ways to keep up with whatever The Woke currently think encapsulates “basic human decency.” One is to plug into their feed and become Woke. The other is to find another feed that’s talking about them.

The Emerging Woke / Anti-Woke Axis

At the height of Jordan Peterson’s widely discussed Patreon earnings phase, he was pulling down $80,000 a month in raw donations from his fans. He once quipped in an interview that he had discovered a gold mine — that all he had to do to keep making money was argue with feminists. While his overall product includes “self-authoring” programs, lectures on biblical allegory, college professorship, and multiple books, the milkshake that brings the boys to the yard is Anti-Wokeness.

Eric Weinstein started The Portal to talk about a wide range of topics including physics, jazz music, bio-hacking, and such, but he would have no fans and no following had he not gotten his start from Anti-Wokeness.

His brother Bret and his brother’s wife Heather Heying were but simple evolutionary biology professors until they were chased from the campus of Evergreen State College in Washington by a mob of Wokes with pitchforks and burning brooms.

I’ve spoken at length with Benjamin Boyce, appeared on his podcast, follow him on Twitter, and there is no substantial issue on which this man falls on the “right” or “extreme right.” My appearance on his show was largely about guns. But if you sort his YouTube channel by traffic, his traffic honeypot is material about Evergreen and transgenderism.

The emerging picture looks like this. A growing group of people have decided that “it’s not enough to be Not Woke, you have to be Actively Anti-Woke.” And this group is the actual group identified by the study way up top. The old ideological alignments are crumbling under Woke Pressure, and within the internet social media currents a new axis is emerging, that of The Woke and Everyone Else. Ordinarily this axial realignment would have taken half a decade, but the 2020 BLM protests accelerated it. What began with peaceful protests by black community organizers got steadily and increasingly hijacked by angry Woke window breakers. The indoctrination paths jumped from academic Critical Theory departments into corporate “anti-racism” training focused largely on Woke Thought Conformance. As people researched Wokeness, they discovered alternate groups of thought from across a wide spectrum of other beliefs, unified in their objection to the means, methods, and ideologies of the Woke.

The new media of Woke Tracking is a permanent fixture, and a good business to be in. Whenever a new ideology bubbles up from within The Woke, someone Anti-Woke must identify it, convey it to their followers, explain it, and prepare them for the next fusillade in the Woke / Anti-Woke culture war front.

But unlike the Woke, the Anti-Woke are not a culture. Among them you find immigrants, atheists, second wave feminists, rationalists, Christians, conservatives, Muslims, libertarians, older liberals, Blacks, Latinos, racists, Asians, white nationalists, Jews, neoreactionary alt-right thinkers, female athletes, and whatever counts as a Nazi these days. They can’t get their Anti-Woke updates from a peer group, because they aren’t peers, so they must get it from media, largely YouTube. The study way up top doesn’t track right or left at all, it tracks the echo chambers of media feeding indoctrinations to the Woke and to the Anti-Woke.

American Gods

In the Aztec Empire, it was “basic human decency” to sacrifice a virgin to make the sun come up. In feudal Japan, it was “basic human decency” to cut your own bowels out with a sword if you dishonored your family. In modern orthodox Jewish culture it’s “basic human decency” for a priest to cut your son’s foreskin off while you throw a party, and in Woke culture it’s “basic human decency” to give that same son hormone blockers in anticipation of cutting his entire penis off if he plays with too many Barbie dolls and likes the color pink. It is not my place, nor the intention of this publication, to decide which if any of these cultures are “right,” but rather to point out that some of these things we no longer do, some we still do, and some are things that some of us just recently started doing. These curious behaviors are the brands of culture. The battles over which behaviors are “right” are culture wars. Sometimes culture wars are decided with the sword instead of the pen, particularly when two cultures are both proximate, and irreconcilable. The internet makes everything proximate, and kites people down rabbit holes until their cultures become irreconcilable. This publication focuses on explaining this and suggesting that our readers should arm themselves and keep their heads low, and not get swept up in this stuff.

Restating this case in its entirety would require a huge article, or perhaps even a book, but we’ll do it here with the magic of hyperlinks.

If you are an American citizen, there is a 37% chance of you getting stuck in a violent revolution against the ruling government at some point in your life, based on a historical frequency analysis. [1]

The history of society is a history of cultural Darwinism, where the cultures who better emulate the behavior of ants out-compete the cultures who don’t. Agriculture, money, social hierarchies, division of labor, civilization, war, slavery, and genocide, all flow from game theory. [2]

Our modern media traffic engine maximizes traffic by maximizing controversy, so the media entities become “culture war arms dealers.” [3]

These arms dealers leverage the dopamine feedback loops within social media to compete within a “Tragedy of the Commons” within the overall “Attention Economy,” resulting in a false sense of resource scarcity, activating our latent genetic programming for war and genocide just like the ants. [4]

Our societal addiction to these media sources constantly erupts in irreconcilable cultural differences over simple events, that are tied to our evolved biology. [5]

The current state of the social media network could not be more finely tuned to create these situations, because we have inadvertently webbed ourselves into a functional approximation of an Artificial Neural Network of Freakoutery — a thinking thing who’s brainwaves are measured in virility of media. Your feed is your dendrites, liking and sharing an article or meme fires the idea down your axon to other dendrites. You are a neuron in the New Singularity. [6]

This network of Freakoutery is stable and cannot be broken, because it’s profitable. [7]

The network of Freakoutery capitalizes on emerging forms of “idea data compression.” [8]

This is a recipe for insanity, by the very definition of insanity, as different groups increasingly catch their behavioral indoctrinations from different, cloistered, non-intersecting sources. [9]

Humans mostly don’t think at all, because thinking is hard. We mostly just enact our behavioral indoctrinations. In this way, the Frankfurt School deconstructionists were almost “right.” Yes, human behavior is largely driven by abstract layers of behavioral indoctrination. But they failed to understand that humans are tools wielded by these abstractions, not the other way around. [10]

Stipulative definition: An abstraction that wields humans as its tools is a God.

The modern internet is a petri dish for new sets of indoctrinated behavior to emerge and buttress themselves. Every echo chamber has within it a new cultural beast waging war with the others, a new God, using humans as its tools for war. [11]

Humans need these indoctrination sets in order to survive, because thinking is hard. Most of us just run behavioral scripts, and in the wake of America abandoning its prior operating script (classic religion) many of the newly atheist banded together leveraging social media to create a replacement, that of Wokeness. [12]

The Woke God is a god of semantics. [13]

The Woke God is a god of discrimination. [14]

The Woke God is a trickster. [15]

The emerging intellectual Anti-Woke groups have no centralized god, and don’t seem to want one. [16]

While the Woke are enacting every bit of the behavior identified Eric Hoffer’s True Believer regarding their God, the avatar of the Anti-Woke became, almost entirely by circumstance, Donald Trump. [17]

And while he didn’t win the election, this Anti-Woke Avatar quality is at least partially responsible for why he exceeded expectations. [18]

And that entire chain of explanation is key to understanding that YouTube study, way up top. It’s tracking the emerging neural network of the anti-woke, into which a new God will surely form. It must. The Woke have the most robust system for culture war ever devised, because the Woke God pushes out updates on the feed. And the only way to oppose it is to create its mirror. The 21st Century will be a century not of atheism, but one of God Building.

The Future

If Eric Hoffer were alive today, he wouldn’t be diving into the culture war, yammering on about which side is right and which side is wrong. He would be frantically writing everything down. It would be as if a time traveler plucked him from the San Francisco docks after the publishing of True Believer and carried him back to Weimar Germany so he could watch the thing he’d written about happen in real time.

We lack a modern Eric Hoffer. The “intellectual dark web” and their periphery cast of thinkers come close, but they too are slogging through the trenches of the culture war, because they get their clicks the same way everyone else does. The Homa Housseinmardi et al. study linked at the beginning is a snapshot of the early development of a New God to oppose the Woke God, per our stipulative definition, and the form it takes will dictate the culture war landscape of the next decade.

And it’s not every day you get to watch the birth of a God.

Keep your eyes peeled, you might miss it.

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