His blog, Slate Star Codex, is very popular, as well it should have been based on content, and yet somewhat surprising based on length. Scott Alexander’s posts are, well, long. Much as he is an excellent and interesting writer, it is a serious dedication of time to read what he wrote. It is usually worth it, but had he worked a bit harder, he could have accomplished the same thing in far fewer words. Then again, who am I to call the kettle black?
What he was not was close-minded, which was perhaps his undoing. A subreddit to discuss his posts was created, and as he describes it (since I’ve never read it), some people with outlier views used it as their platform. While they were a small minority of redditors, they became the focus of the perpetually outraged and their connection to Alexander via a subreddit empowered the attribution of their views to him.
In their twisted rationalizations, the fact that a handful of people with bizarre (if civil) views took comfort in a subreddit about him, he must be complicit. At the very least, he should have silenced wrongthinkers and made clear he was a warrior for social justice, for failure to do so is tantamount to all the bad things they despise and must punch you for. Then came the attack of the killer tomatoes.
People would message me on Twitter to shame me for my Nazism. People who linked my blog on social media would get replies from people “educating” them that they were supporting Nazism, or asking them to justify why they thought it was appropriate to share Nazi sites. I wrote a silly blog post about mathematics and corn-eating. It reached the front page of a math subreddit and got a lot of upvotes. Somebody found it, asked if people knew that the blog post about corn was from a pro-alt-right neo-Nazi site that tolerated racists and sexists. There was a big argument in the comments about whether it should ever be acceptable to link to or read my website. Any further conversation about math and corn was abandoned. This kept happening, to the point where I wouldn’t even read Reddit discussions of my work anymore.
Some people started an article about me on a left-wing wiki that listed the most offensive things I have ever said, and the most offensive things that have ever been said by anyone on the SSC subreddit and CW thread over its three years of activity, all presented in the most damning context possible; it started steadily rising in the Google search results for my name. A subreddit devoted to insulting and mocking me personally and Culture War thread participants in general got started; it now has over 2,000 readers. People started threatening to use my bad reputation to discredit the communities I was in and the causes I cared about most.
Some people found my real name and started posting it on Twitter. Some people made entire accounts devoted to doxxing me in Twitter discussions whenever an opportunity came up. A few people just messaged me letting me know they knew my real name and reminding me that they could do this if they wanted to.
Some people started messaging my real-life friends, telling them to stop being friends with me because I supported racists and sexists and Nazis. Somebody posted a monetary reward for information that could be used to discredit me.
One person called the clinic where I worked, pretended to be a patient, and tried to get me fired.
It didn’t matter what he said, wrote or thought. He was a Nazi to the woke because as fair as he was, as rational as he was, he wasn’t on their team. He was a heretic, and popular heretics must be destroyed. What started as the usual name-calling online invaded his real life.
I don’t want to claim martyrdom. None of these things actually hurt me in real life. My blog continues to be popular, my friends stuck by me, and my clinic didn’t let me go. I am not going to be able to set up a classy new FiredForTruth.com website like James Damore did. What actually happened was much more prosaic: I had a nervous breakdown.
He seeks neither sympathy nor martyrdom, and I believe him. Rather, he tells his story as a warning to anyone trying to maintain an open mind and principled, rational views in the midst of the Culture War. As I fancy myself similarly situated in many respects, I want to add a coda to the eight takeaways he offers, with his astute recognition of the futility of trying to make a rational point to an irrational mob.
I would like to offer one final, admittedly from-a-position-of-weakness, f**k you at everyone who contributed to this. I think you’re bad people, and you make me really sad. Not in a joking performative Internet sadness way. In an actual, I-think-you-made-my-life-and-the-world-worse way. I realize I’m mostly talking to the sort of people who delight in others’ distress and so this won’t register.
The putatitive distinction between the hard right and hard left is that the latter rationalizes its actions by claiming the mantle of morality. The left is the side of virtue, so doing bad to achieve good justifies their punching Scott Alexander. As the self-proclaimed saviors of morality, the immoral must be crushed at all costs. For people who wrap themselves up in their education and critical theory gibberish, because they’re the smart team, they’re deaf, dumb and blind.
Like Alexander, I’ve been called all the bad names that people can devise. Unlike Alexander, likely because his popularity, and therefore influence, extends well beyond mine, it hasn’t gone nearly as deep into my real life that it has presented a threat that can’t be shrugged off. I have no plans of having a nervous breakdown anytime soon.
But that doesn’t mean the crazy hasn’t made me wonder, almost daily, why putting myself in the line of fire isn’t a foolish and futile act.
I also want to stress that I’m not going to stop writing about controversial topics completely – but I do want to have some control over when and where I have to deal with this, and want the privilege of being hung for my own opinions rather than for those of other people I am tangentially associated with.
It’s a nice thought, but Scott’s smart enough to realize that’s not how it works anymore, as his heresy will give rise to any excuse to punch him. He doesn’t get to approve of it.