The simulation hypothesis is a bad argument

Maki Naro and Matthew Francis make an interesting argument against the simulation hypothesis, the idea that we’re all constructs living in a super-duper computer program. I don’t believe in that nonsense at all, but I don’t know that I find his argument particularly persuasive: it rests largely on the idea that the simulation hypothesis implies that undesirable consequences must be the product of intent.

farfromideal

Then I look at the crude simulations we currently produce, like, say, Call of Duty, and I’d have to argue that yeah, if we were the creators of a universal simulator, it would be a shithole universe full of helpless innocents and murderous villains, all intended to be targets of a small number of privileged a-holes with superpowers, and I think that is kind of in alignment with what we see in this world.

I’d also worry about where that argument would lead: to the idea that obviously the wealthy and well-off are the player characters for whom the world was made, while being poor and sick and helpless clearly marks one as an NPC, with no real agency and only the simulated appearance of being a ‘real’ person.

What I find the more useful argument is to go back to the beginning of Naro’s comic, where he quotes Elon Musk:

whatswrongwitharg

That is the wrong question. He asserts The odds we’re in base reality is one in billions. Instead we should ask, “what simulated ass did you pull those odds out of?”, because he’s got no rational justification for that claim. We could just as well claim that since we can imagine billions of gods, the odds that we evolved by way of natural mechanisms, rather than some divine fiat, is one in billions. It’s simply faulty reasoning. The responsibility does not lie on me to show why his fantasy is false, it’s on him and Nick Bostrom to demonstrate some actual evidence that it is true.

Then, of course, there’s some babbling about how if the simulation hypothesis is true, we should look for glitches in the matrix, little examples deep inside physics where we detect violations of natural law. This is exactly backwards. First you find observations that don’t fit predictions from existing theory, then you develop alternative theories to accommodate those observations — you don’t first invent an unfounded hypothesis and demand expensive, difficult, unlikely-to-succeed experiments to justify it. Especially since the simulation hypothesis is infinitely flexible and can be contorted to fit any observation made. Is there anything the promoters of this bullshit can imagine that would disprove their hypothesis? That’s what they ought to be discussing, rather than how they can twist quantum physics to support their model.

Then there’s this:

simordie

While being completely unable to imagine any test of their idea, and building it entirely on a framework of speculation, they still lock themselves into a bogus binary: civilizations will either be able to simulate a universe, or they’ll go extinct. Seriously, dude? You’re living in a non-extinct civilization that can’t simulate a universe, and you can’t imagine any other alternatives?

I also have to point out that all civilizations and species will ultimately go extinct, so this argument is basically between an inevitable and unavoidable (if undesirable) outcome, and accepting your personal, idiosyncratic, weird notion. No problem.

“You should hope that I’m right, because either we’re going to build a chrysalis made of the skins of kitty cats and puppy dogs and metamorphose into angelic beings of pure light, or you’re going to die someday.” I don’t like it, but we’re all going to die someday, and going on a rampage and slaughtering kittens and puppies is not a logical alternative at all.

One thing Naro’s comic does illustrate well, though, is the elitist psychology of tech billionaires.

I get email

Oh, joy. It’s a proof-of-god email.

I have proof that there is a God. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I think you are a good person who is confused. I worry for your salvation. I think the fact that as humans we share the same biology proves there’s a God. Think about it, there are racist, sexist and bigots, all who miss this point. But to God he gave us the same biology.

There is a saying “you think your shit don’t stink?” But to God everyones shit stinks. Which is the point, that were all equal in his eyes. That’s why he made humans shit and he added humor by making shit stink.

I call this your shit stinks theory proof of God. If there was no God than the queen of England wouldn’t shit. People of high status wouldn’t shit, and they would be categorically better that the rest of the shitters. Yet god made all living things shit for the most part. This is the clue he gave us of his existence. Yet people keep missing this part. If your Indian you shit, if your white you shit, if you’re an attractive woman you shit, if you’re a conservative you shit and if you’re a billionaire you shit. No matter what class of person you are your shit stink.

This can’t be a coincidence. Theologians are to polite to say this. It’s not politically correct. I know this is proof of God. I think once you think about this you will see the light Mr Myers and give yourself to Jesus. Please let me know if you convert to Christianity as a result of this proof.

I didn’t.

Alternative observation: plants don’t shit. Therefore, all the flowers are independent, godless, evolved entities.

Alternative explanation: shitting is a consequence of having a digestive tract, that is, being a particular kind of heterotroph, and the production of waste material is a necessary consequence of inefficiencies in the digestion of consumed material. We are all descendants of creatures with digestive tracts, which sufficiently explains the shared attribute without invoking supernatural entities.

Further observation: this approach will not work on the kind of person who will consider your joke seriously and dissect it dispassionately. Especially not on a day on which he is kind of grouchy.

Which is every day.

Critical thinking is more important now than ever

I just read this masterful summary of “#pizzagate”. It’s appalling. There are people all over the country who think that, because 4chan said so, a slice of pizza is a symbol of pedophilia, and they’ve been harrassing a pizzeria for harboring a child sex ring, in the complete absence of any credible evidence, and in spite of all evidence and reason to the contrary.

What was finally real was Edgar Welch, driving from North Carolina to Washington to rescue sexually abused children he believed were hidden in mysterious tunnels beneath a neighborhood pizza joint.

What was real was Welch — a father, former firefighter and sometime movie actor who was drawn to dark mysteries he found on the Internet — terrifying customers and workers with his assault rifle as he searched Comet Ping Pong, police said. He found no hidden children, no secret chambers, no evidence of a child sex ring run by the failed Democratic candidate for president of the United States, or by her campaign chief, or by the owner of the pizza place.

What was false were the rumors he had read, stories that crisscrossed the globe about a charming little pizza place that features ping-pong tables in its back room.

The story of Pizzagate is about what is fake and what is real. It’s a tale of a scandal that never was, and of a fear that has spread through channels that did not even exist until recently.

Pizzagate — the belief that code words and satanic symbols point to a sordid underground along an ordinary retail strip in the nation’s capital — is possible only because science has produced the most powerful tools ever invented to find and disseminate information.

It reminds me of the McMartin ritual abuse case: it was another set of outrageous stories that people willingly believed. Small children were induced to claim that they’d been sexually molested while at their day care; and then they also told investigators there were secret tunnels under the school, that they’d been taken on round-trips on hot air balloons, that they witnessed animals being sacrificed, that babies were killed and burned, that they saw witches flying on broomsticks. It was absurd. Under the banner of “protect the children!”, though, people accepted these ever-escalating and increasingly outrageous claims, and never considered the possibility that children are extremely suggestible and eager to please.

And now we get the same thing. In this case, though, it is intentionally fueled by malicious trolls on the chans, by conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, and by masturbatory social media like reddit. We should appreciate that those are not trustworthy sources. They have a history of bad faith argument and ulterior motives. When an accusation is made by a victim, of course you should believe it and investigate it, open to the possibility that it will be found wrong but also that it may be a window into a serious problem…but when the accusation is made by ethically bankrupt professional instigators like 4/8chan, InfoWars, or a random reddit subforum, you should first consider the source, which should lead you to dismiss it as vicious noise.

If users of those media are distressed by the blanket rejection of their pronouncements, the responsibility is theirs to enforce the integrity of their forum and build up some credibility. That won’t happen. A haphazard collection of obsessed users united only by their antipathy to some arbitrary entity and willing to say anything to do harm aren’t going to suddenly find some scruples.

You are not entitled to your opinion

I once had an indignant student tell me that what I was teaching in class about evolution was “just my opinion” and that they had a different opinion, and therefore they were justified in rejecting a major chunk of the class subject matter. I think I just gave them the standard line — you are allowed to believe what you want, but in this class, you have to demonstrate an understanding of the science, even if you disagree with it — but over the years, I’ve evolved towards a somewhat harder stance. You don’t get to declare whatever you dislike to be an opinion. You don’t get to regard your opinions as somehow sacrosanct. I am going to give you the information that shows your opinion is wrong, and the purpose of my teaching is to get you to change your opinions to something more productive and correct, and more in line with reality. Those kinds of opinions should not survive an encounter with the facts.

So I’m already in agreement with this philosophical position that “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion”. There are different kinds of opinions, and this is a very useful explanation.

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”

I have to agree. The statements “I like chocolate ice cream” and “I think the earth is 6000 years old” are both opinions all right, in a shallow and colloquial sense, but they are qualitatively different. That I respect your right to have your own taste in ice cream should not imply that I also grant you the privilege to ignore our shared reality. The author, Patrick Stokes, explains all this with examples from anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers, but it’s true for lots of phenomena.

It’s the core of the Answers in Genesis claim that they are using the same facts, but different views (they prefer to use the word “worldviews” over “opinions”, but it’s the same thing). They think they’re entitled to their own opinions and interpretations of reality, and that they can look at a Cretaceous fossil and declare that, in their opinion, that dinosaur died in the Great Flood in 2304BC…they certainly have the right to say that, but they go further and demand that you respect that opinion as equally valid to that of a scientist.

We also see it in politics. Look at this claim by Scottie Nell Hughes:

“On one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go ‘No it’s true,’” Hughes said. “And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’— they’re not really facts.”

“Everybody has a way—It’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts,” she added.

I’m pretty sure Hughes would argue that the facts show that she is a mammalian humanoid, with records to show that she was born to fully human parents, but it is my opinion that she, and all the other Trump surrogates, are actually alien reptoids who hatched from eggs incubated in a dungheap. And apparently, she’d agree that her facts are useless and my interpretation is perfectly valid.

Unless, of course, we can agree that some opinions are falsifiable.

The Atheist War on Krampus

krampus1

Tonight is Krampusnacht. I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for fighting it, though; there aren’t any shared social customs that we atheists in America enjoy, and I don’t see anyone trying to force me to celebrate it in a religiously specific way.

I guess I’ll just half-heartedly say it’s a silly tradition, but you should feel free to celebrate it however you want and in any ethically reasonable way for any random reason. Hmm. That seems to be my stance on Christmas, too.

It’s that time of year again

Time for the critiquing of American Atheists’ Christmas billboards! I will say this: this year, they’re emphasizing a more cheerful message with a little bit of humor, but still, they desperately need a pro to design these things.

Here’s the first one, and I think, the worst one.

2016-billboard-1

Uh, no. Way too busy. Just the text on the right would be OK, but the four small text messages on the left? No one is going to be able to read those as they’re zipping by in a car, and all they’ll see is the shocked, pop-eyed black woman (we’re treading awfully close to racist tropes here) staring at her smug daughter, which is not a particularly good or informative look. Also, it looks more like a banner ad on a website, rather than a roadside sign. Scrap it.

The second one, I like. Clear, simple, a snarky reference to our recent presidential campaign, and nicely promoting a strong anti-church message (if you don’t like anti-clericism, you aren’t going to like anything from American Atheists). I’d have gone for a sans serif font, though, and not used all caps. Otherwise, I think this is one of the best billboards American Atheists have produced yet (which is not saying a lot).

2016-billboard-2

Of course, one lesson they’ve learned, unfortunately, is that the quality of the content doesn’t matter, because no matter what it is, sanctimonious Christians will tear it down. This one lasted less than 2 hours before it was removed.

Related comment from that link: shut the fuck up about “heart of the Bible belt”. It does not justify anything, and the “Bible belt” is a meaningless, empty geographical distinction. I’ve visited communities in Washington state and Florida, Texas and Minnesota, central Pennsylvania and Oregon, that all declare themselves part of the “Bible belt”. The entire goddamn country is apparently this vaguely defined “Bible belt”, and it extends up into central Canada.

I suppose if Mexicans were this insecure about their religion and needed to say they believed in their version of god because of where they were born, the Bible belt would also extend south and be more of a Bible cup.

The Fermi paradox is only interesting for the assumptions it exposes

The Fermi paradox is neither a problem nor a paradox, so it’s always baffling to me when it’s brought up. It’s like those annoying trolley problems: they’re stupid and unrealistic and pointless, except that they make you think about your assumptions. It’s only when people focus on the minute details of the question, rather than thinking about what the answer says about yourself, that you want to yell at people to shut up, they’re missing the point.

The Fermi ‘paradox’ was only fascinating to the physicists and engineers who were sitting around wondering about how they were going to get into space and explore strange new worlds because they assumed those strange new worlds were populated with other physicists and engineers who were thinking the same thing. In a rational world, they would have simply said, “Oh, my assumption must be wrong, let’s move on.” But no, instead they started inventing excuses for the absence of aliens, instead now assuming that there must be hordes of frustrated scientists and engineers out there who are pinin’ to visit Earth, but are stymied by the speed of light or their predilection for building nuclear weapons first and exterminating themselves or that they’re using some super-duper communications technology we haven’t invented yet. All their rationalizations seem grossly anthropocentric.

As a biologist, we have a collection of assumptions, too, only our assumptions all seem to default to making the absence of aliens an entirely ordinary conclusion. Life is probably common in the universe — all it seems to require is redox chemistry (universal, obviously), proton gradients as an energy source, which can be easily generated in lots of ways, and time, which the universe has lots of. We don’t expect a multiplicity of engineers, because they’re not common even here on earth. We tend to expect bacteria-like and algae-like organisms, because those are ubiquitous here. But we’re unsurprised that they aren’t hailing us, because we similarly do not expect an algal population in Australia to launch a transcontinental probe, land it on my desk, and slither out to plant a flag and claim it in the name of their colony.

My assumptions could be wrong, but because they’re grounded in known science, I don’t expect them to be. To me, the Fermi paradox is simply confirmation of a reasonable inference.

Where this gets troublesome, though, is that some creationists use it as confirmation of what they think is a reasonable inference — that life exists nowhere else in the universe, but is the product of a unique creation event here on Earth.

In a sense, Christian presumptions and its claim of historicity for biblical miracles is more consistent with what should be happening given the premises of evolutionary science. A complex and powerful Godhead with anthropomorphic habits, dimension-jumping beings doing God’s bidding or working against it, frequent interventions in history accompanied by bizarre occurrences in nature—isn’t this what we’d expect in a universe given all the oddities of physics in the context of evolutionary randomness?

I’d grant the guy one thing: the absence of aliens is an observation compatible with the hypothesis that life only exists on one planet, ours. However, he’s wrong that we should accept the possibility that any outlandish scenario could occur in the history of the universe — there are natural laws that seem to be pretty consistent in their operation, which is going to constrain the range of possiblities — and he is even more wrong when he suggests that one particular bizarre scenario that just happens to coincide with his religious preconceptions ought to be “expected”. He really reaches to turn his mythology into a science-fiction story.

So, given the sheer magnitude of theoretical possibilities granted by known science, to say nothing of the unknown science waiting to be discovered, what is really so random and strange about, say, an alien being flooding the earth in order to destroy a genetic perversion of humanity bent on destroying the original species this same alien had crafted?

The answer, of course, is “nothing.” Yet, we suspect Dawkins et. al. would grant any alien scenario so long as it doesn’t involve a tri-conscious being making periodic manifestations among ancient Semitic peoples about 3,000 years ago, which in a rather singular case used as its avatar a first-century personage born in the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

I have to raise two objections to his fantasy.

  1. When Richard Dawkins and others suggest that they are open to the idea of aliens having intervened in the history of life, that acceptance is general — they are not inventing a convoluted, contrived series of events — and contingent on evidence for such an intervention being found. Are there phenomena we don’t understand yet? Yes. Could they have been important in the origin of life? Sure, but you have to be specific about the mechanism you are arguing for, and provide good evidence that it happened.

  2. Your scenario must be compatible with all of the reliable, available evidence. There was no global flood in the history of humanity, so a model that depends on a significant event that has already been falsified is garbage. We also know that humanity had a founder population much larger than 8 people, and that the young earth creationist timeline is incompatible with physics and geology and paleontology and even recorded human history.

Another revealing thing about this article: it purports to complain about science’s interpretation of the Fermi paradox, but it doesn’t cite any science — instead, the only sources the guy mentions are science fiction, and even at that he doesn’t mention any SF books, but only SF and horror movies.

I guess this should be no surprise, that someone who mangles logic and misunderstands a hypothesis doesn’t read any books (except, maybe the Bible) and definitely doesn’t read any real science. He doesn’t seem to recognize irony or projection, either.

Meanwhile, the aliens arising from the imagination of modern science fiction, because they have no affiliation whatsoever with the evidence at hand, have a little more than the whiff of blind faith associated with them. Unlike say, Christian faith, where powerful objective evidence creates an ongoing intellectual crisis calling one to abandon subjective thinking, blind faith in something lacking any objective basis leaves only the subject’s imagination as the focus of query.

If that was intentional, it’s kind of funny — “powerful objective evidence” for Christianity? Hah. I fear he’s being serious, though.

The sacrifices I make…

In order to criticize it, I ordered a free copy of Gregg Braden’s terrible book about “heart brains”, Resilience from the Heart. I just wanted to warn you all — DON’T DO IT. He’s now dunning me with multiple emails every day trying to get me to try his FREE video, first in a series, that will tell me how to access the language of your heart so you can tap into your heart’s wisdom. It’s such a terrible book that it really isn’t worth the 30 seconds I used to create a filter to automatically destroy all of his email.

I was also getting lots of email from his publisher, Hay House, which is also sending me all kinds of offers on fluffy New Age crapola.

There’s always a catch.

I’ll just plop this on the ground in front of you

Someone sent me this. They must hate me.


Evolution CAN’T B verified Jesus as creator&savior can&has been w/billions of experiments

I’m afraid to ask what the billions of experiments that verified Jesus as creator&savior were, because I’ve reached my limit of stupid today. I have this suspicion that @NormanDeArmond wouldn’t recognize an experiment if it knocked him out, dragged him into my subterranean lair, injected him with mutagens, and started surgically replacing his limbs with tentacles.

Connect the dots, and look at ourselves

I’ve been reading Scott Atran’s work for years; I initially thought he was too soft on religion, but that he was still carrying out compelling, insightful research on what makes people turn to terrorism. His key message was that you can’t simply blame religion. There’s something about young men in particular that makes them susceptible to radicalization, and it’s a cop-out to blame it on Islam, or mental illness, or economic hardship. I first heard him talking about soccer clubs — how young men isolated from other communities would room together, and begin to drift, thanks to Islamic propaganda, into increasingly radical attempts to find purpose in their lives.

Atran’s war zone research over the last few years, and interviews during the last decade with members of various groups engaged in militant jihad (or holy war in the name of Islamic law), give him a gritty perspective on this issue. He rejects popular assumptions that people frequently join up, fight and die for terrorist groups due to mental problems, poverty, brainwashing or savvy recruitment efforts by jihadist organizations.

Instead, he argues, young people adrift in a globalized world find their own way to ISIS, looking to don a social identity that gives their lives significance. Groups of dissatisfied young adult friends around the world — often with little knowledge of Islam but yearning for lives of profound meaning and glory — typically choose to become volunteers in the Islamic State army in Syria and Iraq, Atran contends. Many of these individuals connect via the internet and social media to form a global community of alienated youth seeking heroic sacrifice, he proposes.

This does not fit the media narrative. I’m sure you’ve noticed: the message they try to send is always that the terrorist, the mass murderer, is an alien outsider, someone wildly different from us — a lone wolf with a broken brain. His origin is incomprehensible, and we don’t try to understand it, but only to separate him from us, the normal people, and reassure ourselves that our social group is nothing like that.

Sarah Lyons-Padilla shares a similar view.

Researchers have long studied the motivations of terrorists, with psychologist Arie Kruglanski proposing a particularly compelling theory: people become terrorists to restore a sense of significance in their lives, a feeling that they matter. Extremist organizations like Isis are experts at giving their recruits that sense of purpose, through status, recognition, and the promise of eternal rewards in the afterlife.

My own survey work supports Kruglanski’s theory. I find that American Muslims who feel a lack of significance in their lives are more likely to support fundamentalist groups and extreme ideologies.

She also sees what sets people on the path to supporting terrorism: the isolation of smaller communities from the larger, the fastening of blame on innocent groups. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What we really need to know now is, what sets people on this path? How do people lose their sense of purpose?

My research reveals one answer: the more my survey respondents felt they or other Muslims had been discriminated against, the more they reported feeling a lack of meaning in their lives. Respondents who felt culturally homeless – not really American, but also not really a part of their own cultural community – were particularly jarred by messages that they don’t belong. Yet Muslim Americans who felt well integrated in both their American and Muslim communities were more resilient in the face of discrimination.

My results are not surprising to many social scientists, who know that we humans derive a great deal of self-worth from the groups we belong to. Our groups tell us who we are and make us feel good about ourselves. But feeling like we don’t belong to any group can really rattle our sense of self.

Take a look at America. We fear Islamic terrorism, so the first thing we do is condemn all Muslims, displacing them from our selves, isolating them, divorcing from the True American community, and reinforcing the very sociological conditions that foster radicalization.

This isn’t just about Islam, though. This seems to be a property of young men in all sorts of conditions. Abi Wilkinson writes about the online radicalisation of young, white men. She’s been reading the Internet.

No, not the bit you’re thinking of. Somewhere far worse. That loose network of blogs, forums, subreddits and alternative media publications colloquially known as the “manosphere”. An online subculture centred around hatred, anger and resentment of feminism specifically, and women more broadly. It’s grimly fascinating and now troubling relevant.

In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.

It turns out that Algerian soccer clubs, the Red Pill subreddit, and Breitbart have a lot in common: they’re all gathering places for frustrated men, who then proceed to reinforce each other’s views, starting with vaguely unpleasant dissatisfaction with, for instance, women, to increasingly vicious and dangerous forms of propaganda. I think you might recognize this tendency many men have to top each other’s stories, to exaggerate their dominance. It leads to increasingly awful stories…and the men in these groups, rather than condemning or rejecting their claims, instead strive to repeat even more outrageous claims.

Reading through the posting history of individual aliases, it’s possible to chart their progress from vague dissatisfaction, and desire for social status and sexual success, to full-blown adherence to a cohesive ideology of white supremacy and misogyny. Neofascists treat these websites as recruitment grounds. They find angry, frustrated young men and groom them in their own image. Yet there’s no Prevent equivalent to try to stamp this out.

Much has been written about financial hardship turning afflicted white communities into breeding grounds for white supremacist politics, but what about when dissatisfaction has little to do with economic circumstance? It’s hard to know what can be done to combat this phenomenon, but surely we have to start by taking the link between online hatred and resentment of women and the rise of neofascism seriously.

These communities create a kind of tension within themselves that seeks an outlet. In radical Islam, it might be to strap on a dynamite vest and kill yourself for glory. In the alt-right, it might be to raise a middle finger to the establishment and vote for Donald Trump. It’s arguable which is more disastrous for world stability.

We need to pay attention to how these radical movements develop. Avoid the cheap out of dismissing it as a consequence of the wicked other — it is us. White people are people, just like Muslims, and just as susceptible to being led down a dark path.

Speaking of introspection and examining ourselves, here’s someone else who was radicalized by a social movement — in this case, the dark side of atheism. Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Thunderf00t, Christopher Hitchens…these guys are gateways to the normalization of hatred.

I was curious as to the motives of leave voters. Surely they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful? I watched some debates on YouTube. Obvious points of concern about terrorism were brought up. A leaver cited Sam Harris as a source. I looked him up: this “intellectual, free-thinker” was very critical of Islam. Naturally my liberal kneejerk reaction was to be shocked, but I listened to his concerns and some of his debates.

This, I think, is where YouTube’s “suggested videos” can lead you down a rabbit hole. Moving on from Harris, I unlocked the Pandora’s box of “It’s not racist to criticise Islam!” content. Eventually I was introduced, by YouTube algorithms, to Milo Yiannopoulos and various “anti-SJW” videos (SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives). They were shocking at first, but always presented as innocuous criticism from people claiming to be liberals themselves, or centrists, sometimes “just a regular conservative” – but never, ever identifying as the dreaded “alt-right”.

For three months I watched this stuff grow steadily more fearful of Islam. “Not Muslims,” they would usually say, “individual Muslims are fine.” But Islam was presented as a “threat to western civilisation”. Fear-mongering content was presented in a compelling way by charismatic people who would distance themselves from the very movement of which they were a part.

Oh, man, that sounds so familiar. I felt the pull of this attitude myself, but at least was able to look ahead and see where it would lead me in the long run, to a belief in Western male exceptionalism that I find grossly repellent.

This morning, I got an email from someone who was in the same situation and got out. They warn of things to watch out for, that almost seduced them.

Here is a tactic to watch out for. They always justify given talking with these people as credible, by say “I disagree with what they say, but they’re nice people, not racist, bigots, sexist etc.”

Sam Harris thinks Black Lives Matter are awful and playing Identity politics. I wonder if Martin Luther king would have been dismissed as playing Identity politics. Anyways just thought I would add to the tactics these people use to lure impressionable white guys like me to the alt-right movement.

Take a look at the NY Times. Combative, Populist Steve Bannon in an article that tries to claim that he’s not a racist. Yet at the same time, it reports that…

One of his three former wives claimed in court papers that he had said he did not want their twin daughters to go to school with Jews who raise their children to be “whiny brats,” a claim Mr. Bannon denies. In a 2011 radio interview, he dismissed liberal women as “a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools.”

In a radio interview last year with Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon complained, inaccurately, that “two-thirds or three-quarters of the C.E.O.s in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia.” He has sometimes portrayed a grave threat to civilization not just from violent jihadists but from “Islam.” He once suggested to a colleague that perhaps only property owners should be allowed to vote. In an email to a Breitbart colleague in 2014, he dismissed Republican congressional leaders with an epithet and added, “Let the grass roots turn on the hate.”

Not racist! Not misogynist! Just a “combative populist”.

The seeds were sown early on, and we dismissed them, and now they’re bearing fruit, while the media tries to pretend that there’s no problem at all.

Let’s not do that. Let’s look at that work on the origins of radical Islamic terrorism and appreciate that it’s not solely about those brown people over there, it’s about human beings like the ones right here.