Thursday, August 14, 2008 54 Comments

Resartus: a social revision engine

Thanks to all UR readers who have returned for our fall term. No, it is not September yet, but the air is full of fog and brown apple moths, and little Sibyl Carlyle is at five months. I am delighted to report that she holds her own bottle. She also has a brutal, laserlike, almost creepy stare, and Mrs. Moldbug fervently denies that she in any way resembles Hitler. I suppose her hair is lighter.

And thanks again to those who contributed comments in the OL series. I still intend to edit, or at least select, the comments to construct a coherent thread of response. Or at least one as coherent as the essays themselves. I also will tie up the many loose ends left dangling. But not, as St. Augustine put it, just yet.

Many interesting things have happened over the last month. I will discuss these things, but again, not yet. The next UR post will appear not on the 21st but the 28th, and it will be called something like "US foreign policy from Hamilton to Herron to Holbrooke: two centuries of mendacious, counterproductive bungling." But in the meantime, there's always the War Nerd.

Today, though, we're going to look a little more at the solution I proposed: Resartus. A couple of people have built systems roughly related to the proposal: Lex Libra at resartus.thinkernews.com, Daniel Nagy and Baldvin Kovacs at thiblo.com. Lex has also started a Google group, resartus. Please join this group if you're interested in contributing.

I have registered resartus.org, but I have no intention of running the project. Since the golden rule of software is that who writes the code makes the rules, my suggestions are just that: suggestions. Following the old Roman design of the dual executive, I appoint Daniel and Lex the consuls of Resartus, with joint plenary power. It is their bag, man.

The consulate is permanent, or at least indefinite. Each consul is free to appoint his or her own successor at any time for any reason. I will assign the domain in accordance with the consuls' wishes, no matter how corrupt, incompetent or tyrannical they may prove to be.

Let's take a moment to meet these people. Dr. Nagy, of course, is a frequent commenter here at UR. His homepage is here. So is his PGP key. Daniel is that kind of guy.

As for Lex, I have no idea who he is. I have never met him. (I've never met Daniel, either, but at least we've Skyped.) Lex's handle is only slightly less ominous than mine. And while I promised to protect his privacy, I can't resist revealing this short biography, which may of course be entirely fraudulent:
I currently do coding and product design for a venture backed startup in Cambridge, MA. Like you, I was once a prototypical progressive. I attended high school at [not Andover - MM] and then majored in history at [not Princeton] (graduated 2006). During college I interned on Capitol Hill, volunteered on campaigns, worked in [] City Hall etc. Gradually, I observed firsthand the many pathologies of government. Midway through [not Princeton] I taught myself to code and dove into the tech startup world. It's amazing how your perspective on politics changes when you start asking, "How can I start a business to solve this problem?" rather than "How could a government program solve this problem?" That change, along with numerous Navrozov moments, soured me on both the university and progressivism.

I think I first found your blog last February when someone submitted your post about the financial crisis to programming.reddit. I followed your links and started reading Rothbard and DeSoto, plus Hoppe, Leoni, Szabo, Sailer, Stefan Zweig, Grand Duke Alexander, etc.. It's been a fascinating trip. So thank you!
You see the grade of young minds we're corrupting here at UR. Quality over quantity. If Lex gives you any trouble, however, you can address him derisively as "Princeton."

In any case, Resartus is theirs - to (a) see through, (b) screw up or (c) let die on the shelf. The idea is out there, and if they don't do it I suspect someone else will. If you are not interested in working with Lex and Daniel, even if they are not interested in working with each other, DNS has no shortage of names. Feel free to fork. I will use this space to promote anyone who builds anything even vaguely inspired by the idea.

But I do want to use this week's post to clarify my own "vision" of Resartus. After this, I will butt out. Since Daniel and Lex have irrevocable plenary power, they are of course free to ignore anything I say. They are also free to ignore anything you say. My impression, though, is that they are sensible people who know how to listen, and I expect they will listen to you as well as to me. Obviously, nothing like Resartus can happen without an enormous community contribution, in design and administration as well as mere content.

For simplicity, I'll describe Resartus in the present unconditional tense, as though it actually existed and I, not Lex and Daniel, was its designer and administrator. Please remember that neither of these statements is true. The consuls may or may not use any of the ideas below. If you don't like their decisions, please don't complain to me.

Resartus is a social revision engine. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is to explain what it is not. Here is an example of what Resartus is not: createdebate.com. (Thanks to Alan Gooding for pointing me to this site.)

Here is the first "debate" I saw when clicking there today. Its creators, who I suspect are young men very like Lex, and who have clearly put a lot of hard work into the venture, must be tearing their hair out over "Who is the badest Celebertiy?" and its like. But what can they do? Alea jacta est. The Onion, as so often, nails it.

A social revision engine is not a chat board. If it degenerates into a chat board, it is dead. The world has no shortage of chat boards. It may even have an excess. Resartus is designed to complement Wikipedia - a remarkably valuable and useful service, though untrustworthy in general and often malignantly deceptive on controversial issues. Think of it as Wikipedia for controversial material and (perhaps eventually) original research, and you won't be too far off.

One of the conclusions this leads me to is that Resartus, at least as such, is not cut out to be a classic "Web 2.0" or YCombinator style startup, like the unfortunate createdebate.com. Ie: it cannot be corporate. It needs to be transparent. It could have a corporate side and a transparent side, but it needs to separate them awfully well. Imagine how many people would have contributed content to La Wik if its domain had been, say, cyberpedia.com, and their articles had been sucked into a one-way database and surrounded by ads. Google may be able to get away with this, but you can't.

(As a veteran of more than one Silicon Valley bubble, my feeling is that the Web 2.0 era is starting to feel a little played out, anyway. One large problem is that, with "cloud" services like Google App Engine, Amazon EC2, etc, hosting an application is starting to verge on the trivial. The lower the fixed cost, the more the community model outcompetes the capitalist model - no capital, no capitalism. Another problem - especially for Resartus - is that smart people don't click on ads, at least not unless they're actually searching for products and services. Over time, I expect transparent social networks to outcompete corporate ones. Maybe it's time for Web 3.0.)

This is not to say that a buck cannot be made off the thing, if it succeeds. Look at the antics of Jimbo and his friends. But success is a prerequisite, and it's my impression that resartus.org would outcompete resartus.com, even if the latter was not owned by some spammer. If you are full of piss and vinegar, please feel free to prove me wrong.

In any case: on to the product. It may not be commercial, but it remains a product. This means it deserves what, in the biz, we jokingly call a "PRD." I will avoid elaborating on this acronym. Trust me, you don't want to go there. Let's do more or less the same thing, but make it fun.

A social revision engine exists to help you, the reader, make up your mind about a controversial issue without appealing to external authority. For example, Wikipedia's policy suggests:
Material that has been vetted by the scholarly community is regarded as reliable; this means published in peer-reviewed sources, and reviewed and judged acceptable scholarship by the academic journals.

Material from mainstream news organizations is welcomed, particularly the high-quality end of the market, such as The Washington Post, The Times in Britain, and The Associated Press.
Here at UR, we refer to these fine institutions collectively as the Cathedral. Note that La Wik does not stoop to filling us in as to why we should believe the Cathedral. It is simply infallible, like the Vatican. Om mane padme hum. "Trust the computer. The computer is your friend."

The process by which the "scholarly community" and the "mainstream news organizations" produce their reliable material is quite different from the process by which the Vatican produces its. The claim that the former is infallible - or even nearly infallible, or even fallible but eventually convergent toward the truth - is not one to be scoffed at. The Cathedral is a grand old edifice, a fabulous achievement of Western civilization. It is full of many fine people, many of whom do excellent work. As a whole, I don't trust it at all and I think it needs to go. But this is just my own two cents. If you do trust the Cathedral, you have much less need for Resartus.

Need? Well, need is a strong word. You don't need anything, besides oxygen and oat mush. But you should want to use Resartus. Or at least someone should. As with any product, we need to start by considering the users. No users, no traffic, no nothing.

Users of Resartus come in three categories: readers, writers, and developers. The developers are the people who build and administer the site - such as Daniel and Lex. Developers should not be writers; this is a conflict of interest.

Initially, everyone who visits Resartus will be a writer. The elusive "pure reader" will only arrive after a considerable degree of success. Nonetheless we discuss this individual, because every plan is a plan for success.

The Resartus reader - call her Janet - wants to make up her mind on some controversial issue. This issue is relevant (important enough to be worth Janet's time). It is binary (it can be defined as a question whose answer is "yes" or "no.") And it is disputed (plenty of people are strongly convinced of each side of the question). For example, "who is the badest Celebertiy?" is clearly disputed, but it is neither relevant nor binary.

Janet reads Resartus because she is confident that it provides her with the best available perspectives on both sides of this controversy. Moreover, these arguments need not be excavated from a comment thread, or even from two comment threads. They are structured and organized for Janet's benefit.

I like the word trial, or (interchangeably) case, for a dispute on Resartus. The site is certainly not designed to be used for trials in the judicial sense of the word - at least, this is not a market requirement. However, a judicial proceeding is the epitome of relevant, binary and disputed. Janet is a juror in the case. For whatever reason - perhaps she just wants to know the truth - she intends to decide it. (This is her job, not Resartus's. We produce no verdicts.)

In my opinion the rocket should be a considerable distance from the ground before anyone tries to use it to second-guess the actual judicial system. Think of the libel issues. But there are some exceptions already: I think Resartus would be a fine tool for exploring the cases of Bruce Ivins or Floyd Landis. (Indeed, the Trust But Verify blog has taken a very Resartus-like approach to the Landis case.) And do we really know who killed the Kennedys?

Every rocket, however, must start on the ground. With no flammable materials nearby. So I think the best subjects for initial Resartus trials are scientific and technical controversies, preferably ones which have not (such as global warming) experienced democratic polarization.

Technical trials are as far from the "badest Celebertiy" as we can imagine. I am especially fond of them because in many cases, I simply have no idea who is right. For me these cases include string theory, peak oil, and polywell fusion. Each of these can be phrased as a triable proposition: string theory is not a science, global petrochemical production is likely to decrease in the near future, Bussard's polywell may be a viable solution for energy generation. These are not issues which Joe Sixpack has much of an opinion on, but they are certainly relevant and more or less binary, and you will certainly find strong views on both sides of each.

Social networks, in general, degrade over time. I am very conscious of this because my first social network was Usenet. Usenet in, say, 1990 had some excellent things going for it: (a) the average IQ of someone with a Usenet account was about 120, and (b) almost all accounts were administratively responsible. When this changed, Usenet was no longer viable. There is really nothing like the old Usenet today.

Resartus needs mechanisms to prevent such degradation. Many mechanisms. As many mechanisms as possible. The simplest one: start at the top. If you can resolve controversies in high-energy physics, you can deal with global warming. If you can deal with global warming, you can deal with the Russo-Georgian war. But if you start with the "badest Celebertiy," or anything close, there is no hope.

It may be hard to round up a quorum of high-energy physicists. So another fine source of early trials is our old friend, the software industry. Emacs versus vi would be a fun trial. Or Python versus Ruby. Or even Linux versus Windows. The relevance here is debatable, but fun is often a good replacement for relevance.

But I am assuming a non-obvious design decision here. There is another way Resartus, at least at first, is different from createdebate.com: it hosts one main trial at a time. Think of Resartus as a hall of justice, with one courtroom. All cases are tried, sequentially of course, in that one room. Eventually the hall may expand and have several courtrooms, but not until necessary.

Why? Our goal is to create a critical mass of high-quality discussion. To do this, we need a critical mass of high-quality writers, preferably generalists who can dive into as many different subjects as possible. Especially at first, this is a very limited group. If we divert this group off into 74 different permanent ongoing arguments, we have no critical mass in any of them. Imagine creating Usenet all over again: how would you do it? You would start with one group, misc.general, then split it and split it again as the thing became unwieldy.

(Moreover, if we only have one courtroom, we have an excuse to put deadlines on our trials, which should focus the attention wonderfully. Two weeks, for example, should be enough to solidify the major points on just about anything.)

Of course, completed trials are not deleted. They are moved to the back burner. Discussion may not even need to be closed, although it probably should at first. Ideally, in a successful Resartus, a wide variety of trials are continually maintained and updated, so that Janet can get the dirt on whatever subject she wants to understand. For example, the ultimate use of Resartus might be a complete revision of modern history, with trials on every political controversy for the last 200 years. Who was right in the War of 1812? I really don't know. And I would like to. But the rocket has to get off the ground first, and creating a community is like making gunpowder explode: it takes compression.

For scheduled trials, you need a scheduler. Initially, at least, this must be the developers. Lex and Daniel do not just write code; they decide what Resartus is going to focus on, when. They schedule, configure and administer the trials. They do not rely on random IP addresses to submit questions like "who is the badest Celebertiy?" Crowdsourcing has its limits.

Moreover, we have yet to answer the difficult problem: how to ensure that, from a world of random IP addresses, we somehow construct the strongest possible arguments on both sides. This is a mission-critical feature for Resartus. If Janet cannot be confident that she is seeing the best case on each side, Resartus is useless to her. She has no way of knowing that she is watching the string theory C-team go up against the loop quantum gravity A-team. She may know an ass-kicking when she sees one, but this kind of ass-kicking tells her nothing.

It may be possible to solve this problem with a karma system, like Slashdot's, in which quality is determined entirely from peer votes. I am not a believer in democracy, but Slashdot has done a pretty decent job with their moderation system. So have Reddit and Hacker News. Certainly Resartus needs something of the kind. There are many problems with nondirected moderation, but one of the main ones is that people vote for content rather than quality. It goes without saying, or should, that plaintiff's lawyers should not be voting defense lawyers up and down. Since the general Resartus approach is to separate the sides of a case - more on this shortly - we avoid this deadly pitfall.

There is another mechanism, however: human editors. I would like to think it's possible to construct a quality filtering system which is entirely user-generated. But the only way to test this is to compare it to the work of a human, and a good one.

In other words: it may be possible to produce a flat, purely crowdsourced trial which still satisfies Janet's needs. It is a goal. It may be possible to reach this goal. Or not. If so, it will take a lot of tuning and community-building.

Before this point, however, scheduling a trial involves securing the time of at least one editor. Following the judicial metaphor, the editor is like the attorney. (Attorneys in a normal judicial trial do not solicit input from the spectators, but there's a first time for everything.) Editors are appointed by the developers for each trial. They may be experienced Resartus writers, or guest experts from outside the community.

For example, a trial of string theory is one thing. A trial of string theory in which the prosecution is edited by Peter Woit and Lee Smolin, and the defense is edited by Luboš Motl, is quite another. You might get the same results without the celebrities. But you might not.

In general, at least one side of a Resartus trial will be in some way revisionist - ie, inconsistent with the wise and holy teachings of the Cathedral. The revisionist side is either attacking some canonical belief, or promoting some unconventional one. Either way, without an editor, we can expect the case to be hopelessly disorganized and mispresented. The opposite, canonical side has a much better chance of being able to get by with mere crowd moderation.

I've described the ingredients of a trial. Now let's zoom in a little and take a closer look at the process itself. These details are more shaky than the broad strokes above, and I wouldn't be surprised if Daniel and Lex just throw them all out.

Like a modern Western trial, a Resartus case is asymmetric. Again, the burden of argument falls on the revisionist, who needs to make a case that the canonical interpretation of reality is wrong. Few will bother, at least at first, using this tool to make a case for the conventional wisdom. By definition, it has no shortage of defenders.

Thus we can describe the revisionist editor (or editors) as a prosecutor (or prosecutors). If this reminds you pleasantly of Cicero and his ilk, it should. Although in the end it was abused and resulted in a few too many decapitations, the Roman idea that anyone could prosecute anyone for anything was one of great coolness. Certainly the Verreses of our day could use a Cicero or two. And in Resartus there are no verdicts, and certainly no proscriptions.

The prosecutor opens the trial by stating a brief, but explosive, conclusion. For example:
String theory is pathological science.
Floyd Landis is a clean, upstanding young man.
America would be a better place without [ethnic group].
Emacs is a more powerful editor than vi.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a stooge of the Knights Templars.
To support this claim, the prosecutor then composes a statement. The statement should be short, but no shorter than necessary. It explains all the logic and facts necessary to understand the connection between Oswald and the Templars, or other revisionist argument.

The content of the trial is an annotation tree against the prosecutor's statement. Annotations can be added by either prosecution or opposition. They may be local to some part of the statement, in which case they are marked (as unobtrusively as possible) much as footnotes. Or they may be global, with no such connection. Janet may want to follow local annotations, or she may just want to see a list of all annotations.

There are three classes of annotation: exhibits, queries, and objections.

An exhibit is a document that expresses some fact pertaining to the case. The document is to be taken on its own merit; there are no "reliable sources." However, links to non-Resartus sites need to be archival quality: there should be a reasonable guarantee that the target of the URL will not change, that the URL is not and will not be firewalled, etc, etc. The developers maintain a list of archival-quality link targets. To exhibit a document from a non-archival source, copy it to Resartus.

A query is a sincere request for additional information or clarification. A rhetorical question is not a query. The difference between objections and queries is a matter of taste, of course. But taste matters, which is why we have the category.

An objection is an arbitrary counter-statement. Like the original statement, it is open-ended. It should be short and to the point.

The response to a query is a clarification, which can then be annotated as if it was part of the original statement. The response to an objection is a set of counter-annotations. Thus the annotation ping-pong continues recursively on down, until both sides are satisfied that their point has been made and their opponents are simply dense. At that point, they leave it to Janet.

One of the basic principles of Resartus is that stonewalling is not an effective defense. If Verres does not show up for the event, Cicero can still create a trial that is every bit as damning.

Protection against stonewalling is provided by auto-annotation. If Verres does not query or object to Cicero's statement of his atrocious crimes, Cicero can add his own queries and objections, and answer them himself. Autoqueries (so familiar in the FAQ form) and autoobjections should be colored, labeled or otherwise distinguished, because like any rhetorical technique they can be abused. However, there is nothing more humiliating than discovering that one's opponent has anticipated all of one's objections.

The problem of producing this annotation tree is essentially a collaborative editing process. But unlike most collaborative editing processes, it is the product of two groups, not one. There is no reason to expect the prosecution and the opposition to be able to collaborate, or even engage in a civil conversation. They are enemies. Their aim is to humiliate and destroy each other. Verres' head is on the block, as is Cicero's reputation.

Within each side, we can expect great amity and civility to prevail. Both the prosecution and the opposition are teams. All are working for the same victory. The prosecution has the advantage of an editor, and probably for early trials the opposition should have one as well. (Otherwise, the task of prioritizing, editing and (perhaps hardest) unifying annotations must be left to good old voting.)

Prosecution and opposition also need separate discussion boards. Messages on these boards are not annotations. They will not be seen by Janet. They are for internal purposes only. To participate in these discussions, or to enter annotations, a Resartus user needs to pick a team. There is no crossing over. If you decide halfway through the trial that your side is actually wrong, dropping out is your only recourse. Adversarial discipline is essential.

If Janet really exists - ie, once undecided readers actually show up - it may be desirable to have a third discussion board, for the undecided reader. Undecideds can share their questions and concerns, which will probably be scanned by both prosecution and opposition and raked into the annotation tree. Once they reach a conclusion, however, they must post it and drop out.

Why the separation? Because I have been reading Internet boards for (god help me) more than half my life, and I have never once seen a productive group discussion between two factions. At least, I have never seen such a discussion that couldn't obviously have been improved by providing a private board for each faction, and a structured arena for them to explore the disagreement. And I also have never seen this technique applied, which means that it either (a) sucks and is stupid, or (b) is totally cool and will take over the world.

Which one is it? That's for you to find out, if you're interested. Hopefully someone is. In any case, I think I have laid out enough details to make it clear what I mean by "Resartus." The actual Resartus is in the hands of Lex and Daniel. Hopefully it will be something cool.

The next UR post will appear on August 28, 2008.

54 Comments:

Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Daniel and Lex:

MM's division of discussion boards section is his strongest point here. Thoughts?

Also, I think that "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is not poetry but 2d art" would be an excellent case.

M

August 14, 2008 at 3:10 AM  
Anonymous c23 said...

To participate in these discussions, or to enter annotations, a Resartus user needs to pick a team. There is no crossing over. If you decide halfway through the trial that your side is actually wrong, dropping out is your only recourse. Adversarial discipline is essential.

Why? Weren't you hoping to turn people against the Cathedral in the first place? Why not let them switch sides?

I would be banned from the Internet if there had been a rule in place banning side-switching 3-4 years ago, because of the baleful influence of people like Sailer and Auster. Of course, some people would probably consider that a good thing.

August 14, 2008 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Thanks, MM!

Well, let us eat our own dog-food:

If you want to discuss the specifics of MM's article (by adding local annotations), you're welcome to try out Thiblo's engine:
http://nagydani-test.thiblo.com/2008/08/14/resartus-social-revision-engine

Since Thiblo cannot, at the moment, handle global comments, they are best kept here. We're working on those, too.

I am not sure which is MM's strongest point here, but there is definitely much food for thought.

August 14, 2008 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

c23:

May I ask you to make this same comment over at Thiblo? You can do that just by clicking on "There is no crossing over." and there is no need to copy any of the original text.

Thanks in advance!

August 14, 2008 at 6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another mechanism, however: human editors. I would like to think it's possible to construct a quality filtering system which is entirely user-generated. But the only way to test this is to compare it to the work of a human, and a good one...

Before this point, however, scheduling a trial involves securing the time of at least one editor. Following the judicial metaphor, the editor is like the attorney. (Attorneys in a normal judicial trial do not solicit input from the spectators, but there's a first time for everything.) Editors are appointed by the developers for each trial. They may be experienced Resartus writers, or guest experts from outside the community.


The "editor" is exactly the problem at Wiki. Wiki editors are pointmen for the Cathedral:

In theory Wikipedia is a “people’s encyclopedia” written and edited by the people who read it — anyone with an Internet connection. So on controversial topics, one might expect to see a broad range of opinion.

Not on global warming. On global warming we get consensus, Gore-style: a consensus forged by censorship, intimidation, and deceit.

I first noticed this when I entered a correction to a Wikipedia page on the work of Naomi Oreskes, author of the now-infamous paper, published in the prestigious journal Science, claiming to have exhaustively reviewed the scientific literature and found not one single article dissenting from the alarmist version of global warming.

Of course Oreskes’s conclusions were absurd, and have been widely ridiculed. I myself have profiled dozens of truly world-eminent scientists whose work casts doubt on the Gore-U.N. version of global warming. Following the references in my book The Deniers, one can find hundreds of refereed papers that cast doubt on some aspect of the Gore/U.N. case, and that only scratches the surface.

Naturally I was surprised to read on Wikipedia that Oreskes’s work had been vindicated and that, for instance, one of her most thorough critics, British scientist and publisher Bennie Peiser, not only had been discredited but had grudgingly conceded Oreskes was right.

I checked with Peiser, who said he had done no such thing. I then corrected the Wikipedia entry, and advised Peiser that I had done so.

Peiser wrote back saying he couldn’t see my corrections on the Wikipedia page. I made the changes again, and this time confirmed that the changes had been saved. But then, in a twinkle, they were gone again. I made other changes. And others. They all disappeared shortly after they were made.

Turns out that on Wikipedia some folks are more equal than others. Kim Dabelstein Petersen is a Wikipedia “editor” who seems to devote a large part of his life to editing reams and reams of Wikipedia pages to pump the assertions of global-warming alarmists and deprecate or make disappear the arguments of skeptics.

I soon found others who had the same experience: They would try to squeeze in any dissent, or even correct an obvious slander against a dissenter, and Petersen or some other censor would immediately snuff them out.

Now Petersen is merely a Wikipedia “editor.” Holding the far more prestigious and powerful position of “administrator” is William Connolley. Connolley is a software engineer and sometime climatologist (he used to hold a job in the British Antarctic Survey), as well as a serial (but so far unsuccessful) office seeker for England’s Green party.

And yet by virtue of his power at Wikipedia, Connolley, a ruthless enforcer of the doomsday consensus, may be the world’s most influential person in the global warming debate after Al Gore. Connolley routinely uses his editorial clout to tear down scientists of great accomplishment such as Fred Singer, the first director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service and a scientist with dazzling achievements. Under Connolley’s supervision, Wikipedia relentlessly smears Singer as a kook who believes in Martians and a hack in the pay of the oil industry.

Wikipedia is full of rules that editors are supposed to follow, and it has a code of civility. Those rules and codes don’t apply to Connolley, or to those he favors.

“Peisers crap shouldn’t be in here,” Connolley wrote several weeks ago, in berating a Wikipedian colleague during an “edit war,” as they’re called. Trumping Wikipedia’s stated rules, Connelly used his authority to ensure Wikipedia readers saw only what he wanted them to see. Any reference, anywhere among Wikipedia’s 2.5 million English-language pages, that casts doubt on the consequences of climate change will be bent to Connolley’s bidding.

Nor are Wikipedia’s ideological biases limited to global warming. As an environmentalist I find myself with allies and adversaries on both sides of the aisle, Left and Right. But there is no doubt where Wikipedia stands: firmly on the Left. Try out Wikipedia’s entries on say, Roe v. Wade or Intelligent Design, and you will see that Wikipedia is the people’s encyclopedia only if those people are not conservatives.


So the obvious question is, how will restartus avoid being captured by the Cathedral? Every organization that does not explicitly and aggressively assert its independence from the Cathedral will eventually be captured by the Cathedral!

c23, what did Auster do to you?

August 14, 2008 at 7:13 AM  
Anonymous c23 said...

Nagy: Done.

Last anonymous: I was a good progressive (with a few misgivings) before some writers, most importantly Sailer and Auster, convinced me that progressivism is a suicide cult.

August 14, 2008 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Adversarial discipline is essential.

I also want to focus on this a little bit. I can see myself wanting to use something like Resartus, including possibly throwing in questions and whatnot or challenging assertions made in an argument. I sometimes have a firm enough opinion on something to join a side. But often, not. But I don't see why I should have to join a side to do some things.

Let's go meta: consider the proposition "Adversarial discipline is essential". I'm tending to think it is not, but I am still open to arguments that it is. Nonetheless, I want to add a query to it, to ask why that is. I want to read an argument about it, seeing the best arguments on both sides. Now, I suppose I can just sit around, and wait for someone who is willing to commit, forever, to the proposition "Resartus is not exactly as described by MM" to challenge that assertion, or whatever. But I want to do that, now, myself, without commiting to either side.

Putting things a bit stronger: on a lot of issues, I expect that most of the most intelligent people are actually undecided. Consider global warming; in my opinion there's something to it, but also there's clearly a lot of politicization, and so I'm pretty skeptical. This strikes me as a very reasonable attitude given what I know, and my interest level (not high) in really plumbing the issue.

August 14, 2008 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Leonard:

May I also invite you over to thiblo?

If you want to comment on some specifics, like "Adversarial discipline is essential", thiblo gives you a much better interface than blogger. You simply click on the phrase and type in your comment. No need to copy parts of the original. Could you please make this same comment there as well?

August 14, 2008 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

A global comment, I suppose: this strikes me a much more limited, but (or should that be "and thus"?) probably much more feasible, idea than the original broad outlines of Resartus/Revipedia (which IIRC included arbitrary sides to all issues, many-many faction membership, etc.). It's a good start, IOW, and probably has a much better chance of getting off the ground.
BTW, I found the comments about Usenet midway through amusing, as the first thing I thought of when I read the "No, it is not September yet" at the beginning was "But it's always September!"
Oh, and to Nagy/Dani, a big fat raspberry for the Safari hate.

August 14, 2008 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Bill Mill said...

Daniel:

It's nice that I can follow a chronological listing of comments here, as opposed to at Thibilo. Once I've looked at the comments there, if I return, how do I know what's new?

August 14, 2008 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Could you please make this same comment there as well?

I guess. Though I have to say with the interface as it is over there, IMO you're not going to succeed. Heirarchical nesting is a problem, and I'm not saying I have a solution because I don't. But the comments break up the flow of the text in a very unsatisfying way.

I think I would prefer more of a hypertext, where (most) phrases or sentences are links that take you to another page. I suppose I am thinking more wikiish, and less blog-comment. The interface you have strikes me as reasonable for "footnote" type comments, but not good for developing arguments.

By the way, for me at least, the comment box appears at the top of the page, not at the top of my browser. That is, to comment on anything beyond the first page's worth of text, I have to click, then use the scrollbar to return to the top of the page. When you click on a line (beyond the first few paras) you cannot tell that anything has happened, and most users will probably think that it does not work. (I thought that until I happened to get lucky and click on some of the stuff at the top of the page.) This is terrible UI; I can only imagine that in IE it works right. (I'm using firefox 2.0.0.11.)

August 14, 2008 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Contra MM there is no reason to expect that "Within each side, we can expect great amity and civility to prevail". This may be true of many propositions, but certainly not all.

Consider a debate over the proposition "Roe vs Wade was adjudicated correctly", a team comprising both libertarians (angry at Roe as Federal overreach, the Feds exceeding their delegated powers), and conservatives (angry at Roe for establishing killing babies as Federal policy). Both have reasons to be on the same side, but their arguments are very different. In fact the libertarian argument negates both the progressive argument and the conservative one, since both mainstream groups share the idea that there are no limits on Federal power!

Generally, a debate should be able to have as many sides as necessary. But I can see that limiting it to two sides would work a lot of the time. I'd just be very careful to not assume that. It would also be nice to at least consider the generalization of the tool from 2-way to N-way before building it, so that you don't build in problems if you do decide you want N-way later on.

August 14, 2008 at 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generally, a debate should be able to have as many sides as necessary. But I can see that limiting it to two sides would work a lot of the time.

If there are more than two sides, perhaps the question hasn't been phrased correctly.

August 14, 2008 at 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Stirner said...

I very much appreciate the idea of Resartus, but I think MM is on the wrong track of limiting the time for head to head debate for specific timeframes. While that would be great for a mature and popular Resartus, I find it hard to see how a fledgling start-up Resartus could gain enough high power thinkers and experts – from both sides – to really generate good content. Perhaps that approach should be back burnered for Resartus 2.0.

In the meantime, Resartus could function as a very useful site for debunking/counter-debunking. In a sense, that is its core purpose, and especially on blogs various disputes involve debaters constantly hauling out their anecdotal evidence. Resartus could be a repository for arguments on both sides of the debate, so when someone makes a certain assertion, you just point them to the relevant branch of that topic tree, which already contains the full counterargument to that point. The global warmers have already done something along these lines with their “How to talk to a climate sceptic” webpages. It really is a fine piece of work (even though decidedly wrong), and is definitely worth checking out as a potential model: http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/07/how_to_talk_to_a_sceptic.php.

Of course, it is only one side of the debate, and they get to choose the arguments and weigh the claims of the skeptics, but what I envision for Resartus is something along the lines of having a global proposition at the top of the page, and then the outline of the Pro claims running down the left of the page, and then an outline of the Con claims running down the right of the page. Clicking on each of the subclaims of the argument would open up another page containing that subclaim, and pull up the claims and counterclaims on each side of the page. This could be an iterate process that iterates to smaller and smaller claims, over time. One thing that comes to mind for structuring these debates is the Geometric Proof model, with very formal modes for making and proving propositions. Perhaps what Resartus is at the core is a framework for unfolding Rhetorical Proofs.

There are a ton of writings by Sailer, Auster, Stephen McIntyre (google “Caspar and the Jesus paper”) that reactionary types can extract and pour into a Resartus framework. And furthermore, find some of the best arguments of the other side, and put them in as well, using MM’s excellent notion of auto-annotation. Hopefully, this would eventually enrage some “open minded progressives” and the debates could begin in earnest.

One other issue. I partly disagree with MM about his assertion that “Cathedral” style scholarship should be downplayed. I’m sorry, but many scholars are conduits for useful information, and it would be very limiting to exclude that type of evidence. However, what may be even more important is to put that scholarship in a more useful context. The sourcing of information should have a hierarchy of credibility that ranges from iron-clad to raw assertion (which is fine, because bare assertions can get revised in fullness of time, Wiki-style). The trick will be to put “empirical fact” at the top of the credibility hierarchy, following by replicable quantitative models, followed by experts from the softer social science, followed by non-expert writers (both media and bloggers, co-equal), etc. Thus the quality of the evidence could be compared side by side, and these different modes of credibility could have their own text colors, tags, etc. If the facts are on our side, we have nothing to fear – we just have to insure that the facts trump the assertions-of-experts-that-are-taken-for-facts.

August 14, 2008 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

stirner, your last para reminded me of something I was thinking when reading MM. He does not make clear the ownership structure of the pages. (I am thinking of them as wiki pages here.) Anyway, here's my take on it.

First off, the structure of a trial is not a tree. It is a directed acyclic graph. Here links mean, roughly, either "supported by" or "refuted by". Note that back links ("supports", "refutes") should also be maintained. So the user can crawl up and down the graph, probably via hyperlinks.

Each page is owned by a team, or by the server. Only a team can change its own pages, and only the server can mark up pages, and it does so automatically. Server-owned pages cannot be changed by anyone but may only be revised by the server.

Every substring of a page's text has exactly one of three statuses, relative to each team: affirmed, contested, or not evaluated. When a page is created by a team, it and all of its substrings are considered as affirmed by that team. (This may create conflicts; a team is allowed to agree with a string on one page and disagree on another.) All other teams may mark up the page with their own affirmations or contests to any substrings, if they want. By default they have the state "not evaluated".

The page as a whole also has a status wrt each team, which is composed from the status of substrings. The rule for this, I think, should be that refutation is stronger than non evaluation is stronger than agreement. If any string is one class, then all superstrings of that string are in the same class unless:
(a) they are explicitly given a class by a team,
(b) some other substring has been classed with a higher strength.
So, for example, if the string "MM is a fool" is contested by my team in a particular page, then the page as a whole will be considered contested by my team, unless there's a larger unit of text containing that string which we have affirmed or "de evaluated".

When a team wishes to contest a text string on a page not owned by them, they can, by default creating a new page for the argument. (A page may be a redirect, ala wiki.) The server should then automatically insert links and backlinks.

A "shared page" is a page that more than one team has affirmed. A "fact page" is a page that all teams have affirmed. (The two concepts collapse into one iff there are only two teams.) No team is allowed to edit shared pages. If a team wants to edit a shared page, it must fork the page: it removes its affirmation of the page and copies it; the server updates any links and backlinks. The original page then reverts to being shared by the other team(s); if there is only one team left affirming it, then it takes ownership of the page.

August 14, 2008 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

If there are more than two sides, perhaps the question hasn't been phrased correctly.

I suppose it would be possible to limit things to such a degree, but I suspect that doing so would be fatal to the project. Consider again the Roe v. Wade example. Presumably, we might tighten up the language some, saying something like this:
Given that:
(1) the Federal government has the de-facto power to do whatever it wants, (2) the Supreme Court should use the Constitution as a vague and general guideline (but not so much as to contradict (1)),
Resolved: Roe v. Wade was adjudicated correctly.


I dunno... not very satisfying to me, because in general F-->T is not that interesting. T can be anything. But maybe that would be enough to hold down the sides to two, or a least to remove any libertarians from causing dissent.

August 14, 2008 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Votes or Semen said...

I believe the purpose of keeping resartus binary (at least at the beginning) is to keep it focused. A project this ambitious can easily fall prey to spreading itself far too thin too quickly. Having just a few arguments that truly have the best of both sides presented will be more valuable than having dozens or hundreds with weak arguments. The idea here is to get a reactionary community to focus its entire force momentarily on the facts of one particular subject.

In the long run, limiting issues to a two-value system will be a handicap, but in the short term it is probably necessary. Start simple.

Also: I see nothing wrong with switching position. Isn't that the whole point? To make sure that people are exposed to the most potent arguments of each side. If that is accomplished we will have many conversions over the course of a trial in both directions.

August 14, 2008 at 5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One additional thing to consider: most differences I've had with other people required an enormous level of squabbling over semantics. It might be useful to provide a mechanism to reuse some of the semantic clarifications, generated in earlier trials, in later ones.

August 14, 2008 at 6:08 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

anon --

a defined dictionary might be helpful but it would be a fair nest of vipers as well. . .

m

August 14, 2008 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Interesting projects, I've registered for both. The main fundamental problem I see is that it's difficult to agree on what represents the "best" argument for a given position, since people could be on one "side" of a binary issue for very different reasons.

I think I prefer the "uberfact" model where, rather than just having two "sides", there could be any number of "factions", each of which could enter its own set of arguments.

August 14, 2008 at 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Libra said...

It seems most questions can be rephrased as several binary questions. The only complication is that the refutations might end up looking the same to each question. For example, say the overall question was, "Why did crime rates rise in American cities during the 1970's?" You would have to have a bunch of different binary debates: "Resolve: Crime rates rose due to the baby boom", "Crime rates rose due to the great migration", "Crime rates rose due to racism and white flight", "Crime rates rose due to urban renewal disasters", etc, etc. These would get quite repetitive.

At any rate, VotesOrSemen gets it right when he says that the best idea is to start simple. Complication can always be added later.

c23-
The sides would be locked just for that particular debate. So it wouldn't be permanent. I'm still not sure it's a great idea. You could also do a compromise, where you'd need permissions from the editors to switch side.

August 14, 2008 at 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stirner:

Here is an interesting clip from that website...

http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2006/03/hockey-stick-is-broken.php

For myself, I will confess immediately that the technical issues are over my head, I don't know PCA from R^2 from a hole in the ground.

So...this guy is basically someone unable to actually understand the raw data, yet has strong enough opinions on the science that he has a whole website devoted to it.

Reminds me a great deal of the IQ debate. There too the "common sense" arguments are met with a barrage of Lewontonian pseudoscience. I'm not sure what the equivalent of genome sequencing will be for climate change though -- in the sense of a technolgoical trump card that will overturn the casuistry. Only the passing of time, perhaps? But warming might always be around the corner!

Oh well, there's always China.

August 14, 2008 at 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Libra said...

anon-

I think it would be useful at some point (far down the road) for Resartus to have a web interface for doing statistical analysis. The idea would be that you could audit any piece of statistical science or social science. The data and equations would all be stored on the Resartus server. Any web site visitor could tweak the calculations, examine the assumptions, etc, and rerun the analysis.

Of course the trouble is that only about .001% of the population would be able to analyze the data accurately. So most people would still have to rely on authority figures to interpret the bird entrails, I mean, the statistics.

August 14, 2008 at 10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the commentators here whinging about not being able to change sides don't seem to know about the law and jurisprudence.

It isn't about what you personally believe.

Jesus, separate your personal beliefs and emotions from truth and argument for a second (you are beginning to sound like progressives).

It is about making a position as strong as possible so it gets the fairest case. If the strong position you built up, that you don't necessarily believe in, gets knocked down, then good. You've done your job to the best of your ability and given a certain position the STRONGEST possible argument that the laymen and specialist SHOULD agree on.

If you build up a case and decide in the middle of it that your argument is wrong and let it to die without building it up then the smart guys and gals who are reading that argument aren't going to be convinced of the weak final product.

Mencius is right. You need lawyers, debaters, logicians, philosophers, and subject-matter experts to write the debates. People who can separate themselves for a moment from the issue and see all arguments and build up an argument for one side.

If you can't separate your own position from the philosophical nature of jurisprudence, then don't become a writer at resartus. Wait it out and be a reader. You'll do more harm than good being a writer.

August 15, 2008 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

My prediction is that nothing will come of Resartus, as with Revipedia or whatever name MM came up with before. If it does get critical mass it will be like Conservapedia because only weirdos will write and read there.

The third edition of Moldbug transcripts is out earlier than planned so it could be linked at TAOTP. Read it here.

August 17, 2008 at 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Moldbug Transcripts are further proof that No Child Left Behind can never work. Some Children should be Left Behind, because they are never going to get it no matter how many times you patiently explain it to them. MM's patience with that exchange is amazing...

August 18, 2008 at 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Blode said...

"progressivism is a suicide cult."

Good stuff. Now I wish I had real access, instead of just intermittent access to my wife's work computer ... then I could participate. Frown!

August 18, 2008 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger drank said...

I'm very skeptical of the ability of Resartus to supply more light than heat on any issue that it tackles. Most online argument is hopelessly confused, and riddled with poor logic and evidence on all sides of any given question. Usenet, the supposed inspiration for this idea, was horrible in this regard. I can't think of any usenet argument that settled any question other than "which side has more time to waste writing replies".

I also strongly suspect that many writers and most readers would come to Resartus lacking a level of understanding of epistemology and cognitive biases to evaluate the claims that both sides make. If the site itself does not try to correct this, I find it hard to believe that very compelling debates will result. For example, any argument about a "social science" question is likely to see both sides bringing in some statistics and studies. How persuaded should the reader be by such evidence? What are examples of strong and weak criticisms of such data? Will each such discussion need to "read into the record" a whole course on statistics (which itself will be incomprehensible to many readers) to arrive at an irrefutable statement of their point?

I agree with the comments above that the online AGW debate provides us with an example of what a successful Resartus discussion might look like. Sites like Climate Audit and "How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic" seem like fine templates. But my sense is that neither side manages to persuade anyone of very much. Both can claim some victories on some points, but neither side can score a knockout because the question is not decidable - nobody can say with 100% certainty what the climate will be doing in 20, 50 or 100 years, and even if you could, your choice of what to do about it is going to come from a bunch of unarguable premises you hold about economic growth, technological progress, risk management, government, and so forth.

And, to address the underlying point, has such a discussion done anything to weaken the Cathedral's position on AGW? If anything, the existence of visible "deniers" seems to have strengthened the Cathedral's determination to fight this one to the death. When you read about scientists who want to put their intellectual opponents on trial for crimes against humanity, and journalists who want to criminalize speech that advocates certain positions, it's clear that we've moved well past the realm of debate and into hominid territorial power struggles. There probably is some long-term gain from making the power relationships visible in this fashion, but it seems like it will actually be counterproductive to achieving the policies the skeptics favor.

August 18, 2008 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

There probably is some long-term gain from making the power relationships visible in this fashion,

Yes. If we can expose the progressives as blindly religious on this issue (and that's what wanting to prosecute people for pre-crimes against humanity is), then we can, at least, put the most ridiculous ideas back out beyond the pale where they belong.

but it seems like it will actually be counterproductive to achieving the policies the skeptics favor.

?? I'm not sure what you are saying here. If the skeptics don't fight, the progressives will just roll on. Only by offering intellectual ammunition to the other side is there any hope of stopping the progressives.

There's a logic in politics that goes something like this: in the short term, all sorts of things trump ideological forces. Money, self-interest, power, etc. all can impel men to do what they think is wrong. But in the long run, those forces don't win; people can have enough money; they can occasionally be selfless, they want to make a splash before they retire from power. In the long run, only ideas win. And that's why we must fight the progressives ideologically, when they are wrong.

August 19, 2008 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Erich said...

I have come in late to this discussion, and I have not yet read all the relevant materials.

Secondly, I can already see I am not in the same league, nor even world, of the author and the commenters: I am unfamiliar with most of the technical terms and knowledge you have about the Internet in terms of this overall issue.

My perspective on an on-line encyclopedia is old-fashioned, classical: There are two primary functions for any encyclopedia, whether on- or off-line:

1. Balancing comprehensiveness with brevity while presenting a summary of a given point or topic. It must include sufficient information (comprehensiveness) but not bog the reader down with too much (brevity). The inevitable problem with this balance, even if successful, is that it will fail to do justice to any given topic of any significant historical or intellectual complexity.

2. This leads to the second function. The encyclopedia entry must provide primary sources for every claim it makes. I have noticed that many Wikipedia authors do not seem to know the difference between primary and secondary sources -- or they don't care. But, because of the inevitable deficiency of any encyclopedia article (given the realistic conditions of #1), the citation of primary sources for claims will help the reader to track down further information to verify (and amplify) the article, at least to some extent: a sine qua non of the article's usefulness.

A third point should be mentioned: any on-line encyclopedia currently cannot completely replace the sources of an actual library. Thus it is not unlikely that any given article's primary sources cited will necessitate the physical act of going to the library on both the author's part, and the reader's (if the latter wants verification, that is).

Perhaps in the future, the Internet will be able to completely supplant actual libraries; but to think it already has, reflects a most curious mindset about the nature of evidence in the liberal arts, in the sciences, and in journalism.

Primary Sources 101 and why Wikipedia should be renamed “Pseudopedia”

August 19, 2008 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

This series has covered a wonderful breadth of material and has truly stimulated me to think about many things. But, after all this, the solution to Death By Cathedral is ...

a website.

(If you can pardon my pessimism, I think I'll go back to restacking my cases of ammo and waiting for the shooting war to start. A website? I think this series must have been hijacked by Slashdot.)

August 19, 2008 at 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Cassius Cobalt said...

A "Roe v. Wade" debate is not that much different from a "Who is the badest Celebertiy?" debate. They are both debates that normal contemporaries never tire of, that you can find conducted in hundreds of places daily on the net, and if you start up such debates mundane moderns and pablum progressives is who you'll attract.

To weed out the hopelessly unreactionary I instead suggest topics that were once of great importance but that moderns have forgotten about or would deem hopelessly reactionary. My examples come from family issues, but you can find similarly "outrageous" topics to debate from many other areas of politics as well. Here are my proposed debate topics:

* Should we revive the death penalty for adultery? If so, should it apply just to wives and those who seduce wives?

* Should family law judges be required, like Catholic family law judges of old, to be celibate?

* Should white dresses at weddings be restricted to virgins by law, and if so can we come up with a biological test that is less intrusive and more accurate than the traditional test?

Whether from family issues or otherwise, good debate topics for Resartus produce the following incentives: not only will only the staunchest and must genuine reactionaries have any desire to take a serious "pro" side on the issue, but only people who take ancient institutions seriously will even want to bother to take the "anti" side. Good issues are debates of historical importance that are not being seriously conducted anywhere else on the net and that are guarunteed to produce high degrees of either outrage or dismissiveness from progressives, or indeed from anyone who genuflects to modern taboos.

August 19, 2008 at 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the solution to Death By Cathedral is ...

a website.


The Cathedral's power is the power to generate ideas and disseminate information via its stranglehold on academia and the media. Can you think of a better and cheaper way to counter the Cathedral than a website? It would be nice to establish a first-rate anti-Cathedral university, but that solution is a little out of my price range.

August 20, 2008 at 4:05 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Can you think of a better and cheaper way to counter the Cathedral than a website?

No. I can't. Matter of fact I can't think of any way to counter the Cathedral - cheap or otherwise. But I'm quite sure that JAW (Just Another Website) will have an impact that is measurable at precisely zero.

It's not as if this is the first Cathedral that any people have ever had to suffer under. There have been many. To my knowledge (and I'd love to hear of counterexamples, really) the only thing that has ever uprooted an entrenched Cathedral is essentially a complete collapse of civilization. TEOTWAWKI, more or less.

It would be nice to establish a first-rate anti-Cathedral university, but that solution is a little out of my price range.

Well, such things sorta exist. Pensacola Christian College is one example but I'm sure that's not what you had in mind. And its impact on the Cathedral is no better than JAW.

I don't think that the combined fortunes of all the Forbes inhabitants could build anything big enough to matter.

So if there is a realistic alternative to waiting for the inevitable EOTWAWKI I'm all ears. Honest.

Meanwhile, the vegetable garden needs tilling, the chickens need to be fed and, I have Python code to write.

August 20, 2008 at 7:23 AM  
Blogger drank said...

?? I'm not sure what you are saying here. If the skeptics don't fight, the progressives will just roll on. Only by offering intellectual ammunition to the other side is there any hope of stopping the progressives.

I think there is little hope of fighting the Cathedral, period. If Resartus merely gets people to notice the Cathedral, it will have done something worthwhile. A fight like AGW certainly achieves that - one can see the intellectual dishonesty, the thuggery, and the hostility to contrary views on full display.

But on non-political subjects, the Cathedral is often self-correcting. Think the Fed adjusting interest rates or something - it's just a technocratic exercise, and nobody cares if it contradicts what they believed last month or last year. This is more likely to lead to good policy on the topic in question. In contrast, the high-stakes AGW fight ensures that we will get harmful policies that take generations to reverse (ethanol comes to mind here) because the Cathedral is focused on beating the "deniers" at any cost.

August 20, 2008 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

the only thing that has ever uprooted an entrenched Cathedral is essentially a complete collapse of civilization.

Well, presumably there was no complete collapse of civilization between the pre-progressive era and the progressive era. The modern Cathedral was brought about by the advent of mass media within a political context of democracy. There was no revolution. The modern Cathedral will only be overthrown (really, gradually obsoleted) when its technological base has been superseded.

The internet is not a mass medium in the same sense as radio and TV. Although it can be used to support mass media style dissemination of information (one-to-many), it is fundamentally point to point. As such, it allows, but does not require, people to get information from non-Cathedral sources. Thus, it holds at least the possibility of displacing the Cathedral.

But the only way that can happen, is if somebody actually does build the non-Cathedral sources. I've argued before that it is already happening, before our eyes. Read Steve Sailer and tell me things have not changed. But that's not to say we can't do anything to speed things up.

August 20, 2008 at 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pensacola Christian College is one example but I'm sure that's not what you had in mind.

Yes - perhaps you didn't notice I said, "first rate". As in, competitive with the Ivy League both intellectually and in terms of prestige.

August 20, 2008 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Well, presumably there was no complete collapse of civilization between the pre-progressive era and the progressive era. The modern Cathedral was brought about by the advent of mass media within a political context of democracy. There was no revolution.

The move toward Cathedral has always been one of gradualism. I was speaking of getting rid of the Cathedral and that has always required something resembling catastrophism. I believe MM made the point something like that.

The modern Cathedral will only be overthrown (really, gradually obsoleted) when its technological base has been superseded.

I'm not convinced that the modern Cathedral is in any way a mere function of our technological base. Much of it preexists those technologies. And previous Cathedrals had no technology at all (relatively speaking).

As such, it allows, but does not require, people to get information from non-Cathedral sources. Thus, it holds at least the possibility of displacing the Cathedral.

Perhaps. But I suspect that is likely only in a universe where the Cathedral is willing to "go gentle into that good night".

But the only way that can happen, is if somebody actually does build the non-Cathedral sources. I've argued before that it is already happening, before our eyes. Read Steve Sailer and tell me things have not changed.

Well, it seems to me the information is already out there. In odd and sometimes unexpected places. I'm just not sure what great improvement will be made by collecting it in one place. On a level playing field it might be decisive. But the Cathedral will still have all the authoritative sources, the weight of the bureaucracy, the bully pulpits, and all the most beautiful and famous people to stump for it. The times in history when "mere ideas" could prevail against such have surely been rare.

I was unfamiliar with Sailer. He appears worth reading. Thanks for that.

August 20, 2008 at 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome, can we also have a separate resartus board for TGGP, wherein TGGP doesn't read any of the pros and cons of the trial but gives his opinion in no less than 30,000 words?

August 20, 2008 at 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Libra said...

Cassius-

It seems to me that all questions that have too big of a moral component, whether it be Roe v. Wade or "Should there be death penalty for adultery", make poor debate questions. Moral questions depend on a thousand bits of life experience and accumulated wisdom, which make them impossibly hard to debate.

Resartus is best left for factual questions. It's not always possible to find the answer to factual questions, but at least the answer does not inherently depend on a person's view of the world.

Resartus could debate a question like, "The number of deaths from illegal abortion is overstated" because that is a factual question. You could also debate, "Punishing adultery with murder leads to greater male investment in children and family" and then provide historical evidence for the claim. But the ultimate decision about whether there should be such a rule is a moral debate that I don't think would be appropriate for Resartus.

August 20, 2008 at 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it seems to me the information is already out there. In odd and sometimes unexpected places. I'm just not sure what great improvement will be made by collecting it in one place.

Are you kidding? That would be huge! Especially if it were easily accessible for free on a website. Why do you think wiki is popular? It is a free, one-stop information shop for lazy people. If lazy people could quickly and easily access a counter to the Cathedral's lies, those lies would be much less powerful.

I assign my undergraduate history students to write five short papers a semester, each comparing two "Cathedral" viewpoints to a non-Cathedral viewpoint. In the late 1980s / early 1990s, students had no net access, and if they wanted to find the anti-establishment view (as I encouraged them to do), they had to go find the book I recommended they read, which was usually out of print and hard to get except via inter-library loan. So basically a lot of them didn't bother, and only the most highly motivated students would go hunt down the information. Now, they ALL have access to the net, and it is a LOT easier for them to find anti-establishment arguments. If those arguments were credible and collected in one place, I can assure you that my students would NEVER read another pro-Cathedral textbook. At the very least, they'd be able to ask the other professors tough questions that make them uncomfortable, which would amuse me to no end.

August 21, 2008 at 7:10 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Are you kidding? That would be huge!

No, I'm not kidding. But truly wish I were.

Let's face facts. The Cathedral in its current form is the largest, most powerful organization in all of human history. But it isn't really an organization at all, it is a massively parallel and distributed self-healing organism with innumerable built-in defense mechanisms. And it is almost global in scale. It makes a Borg mothership look like a soft target.

I don't think a website or an information campaign can bring it down or even so much as make a dent in it. And if this website did begin to be an irritant to the sprawling behemoth, it has a hundred convenient tools with which to shut it down, stifle it or discredit it.

Has anyone in any venue successfully poked a stick in the eye of the Cathedral and lived to tell of it?

Here's what I posit: The only thing that can bring down the Cathedral is the Cathedral. Corollary: The Cathedral will only fail when it collapses of its own weight from the innumerable bad policies and self defeating goals. Civilization will largely collapse with it because, in so many ways, it is civilization.

(MM's point that the US military could do it is probably also correct, but is so far outside the realm of possibility that there's no point wasting time on it.)

I assign my undergraduate history students to write five short papers a semester, each comparing two "Cathedral" viewpoints to a non-Cathedral viewpoint.

This is very encouraging and I give you my heartfelt respect not only for exposing the students to other ideas but possibly even teaching them some critical thinking skills. To say the least, we need more of it. Are you doing this under the nose of the Cathedral or in an institution somewhat isolated from it?

August 21, 2008 at 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you start from the assumption that defeat is inevitable no matter what you do, then yes, defeat is inevitable, and why do anything?

I teach at a large, urban, second-tier university, and I'll tell you, the students are desperate for the truth. They know the Cathedral is lying to them. Even if they can't completely define or identify the problems with the "official story", they know that it stinks to high heaven. And once you tell them the flaws in the Cathedral version of events, they will never again uncritically accept Cathedral-generated information.

A source of anti-Cathedral information able to reach a lot more people than I do (50 students a semester) would be tremendous. Don't sell it short!

August 21, 2008 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I teach at a large, urban, second-tier university, and I'll tell you, the students are desperate for the truth. They know the Cathedral is lying to them. Even if they can't completely define or identify the problems with the "official story", they know that it stinks to high heaven.

Apologies for being so generous with your time, but I'd love to hear more.

Are they really doubting the Cathedral's story. Or are they just chanting a version of "Bush lied...". Finding those who will go on about the flaws of this administration is easy. Finding people who can spot the similar (but possibly more long-term dangerous) flaws in all the different parts of the Cathedral hydra (media, elected government, bureaucracy, NGOs, universities, K12 education, corporations) is more difficult.

Are they as equally skeptical of the NYT as they are of Fox News? Can they see the NEA and the ACLU for what they really are? Do they realize that our whole foreign policy framework has been broken for at least a century and the Iraq war is just one manifestation of that?

Sorry for rambling. I just haven't seen that side of the sub-30 crowd. They seem as a group (when they're paying attention at all) to be heavily pro-Obama. (Note that I'm not wishing they'd switch to McCain, Heaven forbid). They just seem to be more prone to fads than any real interest in the truth.

It would make my day if you could tell me I'm all wrong.

August 21, 2008 at 1:26 PM  
Anonymous cassius cobalt said...

Libra, even if we debate nominally factual rather than nominally moral issues, we can make the same distinction of often-asked-and-biased vs. seldom-asked-and-fresh between these two examples:

Resartus could debate a question like, "The number of deaths from illegal abortion is overstated" because that is a factual question. You could also debate, "Punishing adultery with murder leads to greater male investment in children and family" and then provide historical evidence for the claim.

I suggest that the second claim, despite pertaining to an issue that was very important historically, does not get investigated much if at all by the Cathedral, while I'd bet there are many studies about the first issue, probably most of them Cathedral-biased. Abortion has been a hot topic over the last century while serious penalties for adultery have been considered a closed issue in the West since the decline of the Puritans and the canonization of Nathaniel Hawthorne. My argument is that it's far better to pursue the second kind of question, the important question for which the Cathedral has always assumed the answer, and thus has never really tried to study the question, than the first, a question in which it is easy for analysis to be drowned by the biased samplings of Cathedral studies.

BTW, substituting "murder" for "death" probably doesn't work, because we can expect murders motivated by adultery to be more prevelent where wives are less faithful, and we can expect poor parental investment in such societies, whereas death or other serious penalties under legal authority for adultery can be expected to increase the faithfulness of wives and the resulting investment by fathers in their children.

August 22, 2008 at 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

. Finding people who can spot the similar (but possibly more long-term dangerous) flaws in all the different parts of the Cathedral hydra (media, elected government, bureaucracy, NGOs, universities, K12 education, corporations) is more difficult.

Are they as equally skeptical of the NYT as they are of Fox News? Can they see the NEA and the ACLU for what they really are? Do they realize that our whole foreign policy framework has been broken for at least a century and the Iraq war is just one manifestation of that?


That's what I've been aiming to teach them, anyway!

I wouldn't want to generalize about "the under-30 crowd" based on my limited experience, of course, but I do what I can to get them to understand what the Cathedral is.

August 22, 2008 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Another approach to initial discussion material that occurred to me is to use issues that have existing, passionate supporters on one side but no organized opposition due to their obscurity or "obvious" known answers--basically factual issues stuck in the "ignore" or "ridicule" Gandhi stages. I'm thinking of things like AIDS skeptics, "classical" (non-Einsteinian) physicists, Velikovskians, Jaynesians, etc.--basically anyone saner than the Time Cube guy, but with less mainstream attention than the Flat Earthers.

The advantages are that you have a built-in constituency on one side that will usually be eager to participate, and that the Cathedral will completely ignore you since you're debating things it doesn't care about. The disadvantage is that you may become known as a site for arguing with crackpots. :)

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