A Tale of Two Tyrannies

In the midst of all this controversy over Mr. Yarvin, something has come up that I feel the need to talk about.

One of the main points of the critics of Yarvin, of Lambdaconf, and of Status451’s actions is the idea that his attendance will create an emotionally unsafe environment, which will in turn prevent people who want to attend from attending. Because Mr. Yarvin is believed to have publicly supported the US institution of slavery, his presense will be alarming to people whos’ families were impacted by this dark history.

The official position of Lambdaconf, and the one that Status451 supports is twofold. First, that it is impractical and immoral to engage in thought policing, but easy and generally beneficial to engage in behaviour policing. As long as Mr. Yarvin refrains from harassing or antagonizing anyone while he is present, and stays on the topic of technology, he is welcome to give a relevant talk.

The second is the idea of defining social boundaries between different communities. The Lambdaconf community is a community separate from other communities, and will not hold people’s reputations in other communities against them in this one. This is a contentious position (a quick twitter search for our IGG page confirms this), but we believe a reasonable one. We come to this position because we recognize that people have a wide variety of beliefs, some diametrically opposed to others. Accepting this burden in the case of Mr. Yarvin obligates us either to accept this burden in other cases (forcing us to exclude large numbers of people), or to decide that Mr. Yarvin is a special case, and other peoples’ concerns do not matter. All of these alternatives involve excluding larger numbers of people, and enforce a conformity that threatens the diverse, pluralistic community that Lambdaconf wants to be.

Many people online have rejected the reasoning of that last paragraph, and most of the arguments are some variation of “can’t you see that slavery and racism are so much worse than everything else?”. The history of racism in the US is a great tragedy (worse even than our own history with Native Americans), but this argument betrays an ignorance at some of the atrocities that the rest of us have suffered. We quite reasonably get upset at instances of racism, because we’ve seen enough of its evil to develop the appropriate memetic immune response. But our immune system is not perfect, and has a few alarming gaps.

I support the consensus of Status451 on this issue. Not because I’m a cold, heartless person who ignores the emotional pain that our critics are experiencing. Far from it, I understand this pain. Because I understand it, I see all the other instances of it that don’t have people willing to engage in supportive activism. I see the tradeoffs being made when conference organizers support one group of disadvantaged people and ignore the other. The only way to avoid the tradeoff is to do what Mr. De Goes has done: define a simple, enforcable, uniform code of conduct, hold everyone to it, and make people responsible for settling everything else on their own terms. Anything else takes a side, for one group of people, against another.

“This is all fine and good”, I hear you say, “but we don’t care if we hurt some racist’s feelings. We even prefer it that way. Why are you wasting your time fighting for his rights?” I couldn’t care less about his unqualified reservations. He’s 99% off his rocker, and the 1% of useful ideas is buried beneath so much verbosity that it’s not worth looking for. It’s not him I’m concerned about. It’s people who have gone through the same hell that my family has. A hell that few know or understand, and none care to give us support for.

I’m fortunate enough to live in a wonderful place, filled with kind people. A place where few let ideology drive the agenda, and most people are pragmatists with their hearts in the right place. My grandparents, though, were not so lucky. Between my dad’s Russian family, and my mom’s Chinese, we got to enjoy not one, but two communist revolutions.

On the Russian front, we had the unfortunate situation of being an ethnic minority. Nobody cares much for minorities when the nation is in open rebellion. They’re dangerous. They’re outsiders. They were probably responsible for all the terrible things in the first place. GET THEM! On the Chinese side, well… it’s a really, really bad idea to be a landowner during a communist revolution.

Many of my male family members were murdered. Many of my female family members were raped. The ones who got through it had most of their things confiscated. Many were forced to keep their heads down and shut up or else. Some didn’t, and found out what or-else the powers that be had in store for them.

Somehow through it all, my parents made it through and escaped to the west, where I was able to have a better life than they did. I’m thankful every day that I’m one of the lucky ones.

So, when I see that Lambdaconf will be hosting a speaker who openly speaks about sending landlords to gulags, to say I feel emotionally unsafe would be an understatement. A quick trip to Mr. Sterling’s twitter account has him proudly showing off a hammer and sickle in his display name. To my family, that symbol might as well be a swastika, for all the pain and suffering it’s caused.

Thing is, I see things like this in tech communities all the time. There are lots of people who advocate communism, and more than a handful who brag about their Marxist affiliation. And nobody is stepping up to defend us, to give us safe spaces away from this. Moldbug’s writings are absurd and offensive, but at least they didn’t motivate the murder of millions.

But you know, I get it. It all falls back to the memetic immune response. Slavery was a horrifying atrocity. It caused untold amounts of human suffering, and to this day we still grapple with it’s legacy. That suffering is personal, real, for many people, and so of course we’re hyper-vigilant on this subject.

But for most of you, my atrocities aren’t real. They’re abstract. They’re facts you learned about in school. A million deaths is a statistic, after all. You studied the ideologies neutrally, while some people winked suggestively and said “Well, you know, capitalism isn’t that great either.” You can all think of this as abstract history in a far away land. I don’t have that privilege.

To the people asking Lambdaconf to ban Mr. Yarvin on the basis of his blog posts: do you support banning Mr. Sterling on the basis of his Twitter account? I don’t. The casual admiration of Marxist leaders is hurtful to me, but I don’t think he understands the impact his actions have. He certainly doesn’t mean me malice, and I don’t for a second think he wants to send me to the gulag, the way his intellectual heroes did to my family.

This is why Lambdaconf has made the decision that it has made. It’s a position born out of respect for the people like me, who don’t have anybody defending our safety in the same way. Mr. De Goes doesn’t decide to protect one group and not the other. He does the best he can and asserts his right to political neutrality. He can’t accommodate all of our tragic histories, and playing oppression olympics to decide whose concerns take priority is not reasonable. Instead, he asserts a simple rule: There are expectations regarding civil behaviour at his conference. He will make sure that, at his conference, we are all welcome and we are all safe. He can’t police what we do outside of his space, and so he won’t make promises he can’t keep.

If you think about it, this is a very appropriate policy for a technology conference. Core to most programming langauges is the idea of interfaces and encapsulation. A programmer defines an interface, a strict requirement that all programs must satisfy in order to talk to each other. This interface allows programs to hide the details of their operation, as long as they conform to the interface. Encapsulation.

Lambdaconf’s pledge of conduct is the interface that supports encapsulation. Nobody needs to know or care what you do outside the conference. Inside the conference, they get a guarantee that you will act within the scope of the pledge. This enforces safety and civility for everyone, while respecting peoples’ rights to have a private life. Respecting their rights to believe in crazy, offensive, or otherwise antagonistic things. I don’t have to worry about whether or not Mr. Sterling thinks I should be murdered. As long as I’m at Lambdaconf, I know he won’t do it.

Please, the next time you want to advocate against a policy you see as negative, check your own privilege and consider how you might be hurting others, before you cast blame.

About Simon Penner

Injecting compassion and humanity into political discussion. Disagreements welcome, but you must be kind and charitable.
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33 Responses to A Tale of Two Tyrannies

  1. Edward Oxenford says:

    The situation is even worse than this post describes. It is not communists vs. racist slavery advocates. It is open, proud communists vs. someone who does not advocate slavery and has never advocated slavery.

    The essay being used to substantiate the “slavery advocate” charge involves Moldbug (Yarvin’s pseudonymous alter-ego) paraphrasing historian Thomas Carlyle. It is analysis, not advocacy. And as far as the “racist” charge goes, I think we can safely say that at least 1/3 of Americans, and probably more like 2/3 (or more), would be considered racists by the likes of communist Jon Sterling and his progressive fellow-travelers. (Their response would no doubt involve moving the goalposts to “but Yarvin is really racist!” Where they, of course, get to decide where the goalposts are set.)

    So even the “both sides are bad but both should be tolerated” narrative is false. One side is bad: the side that wants Yarvin no-platformed. It is hammer-and-sickle–toting communists vs. a writer who accepts the latest scientific results in human biology and once paraphrased Thomas Carlyle.

    If Sterling had his way, there’s no way 1/3 of black men would end up in prison, because they would be unleashed on a racist society that I’m sure, in his mind, deserves what it would get. All America would be Baltimore and Detroit.

    If Moldbug had his way, there’s no way 1/3 of black men would end up in prison, because they would live in a high-trust, highly ordered society, and would have good jobs as farmhands, artisans, and yes, as functional programmers. All America would be Switzerland and Japan.

    This is not leftist evil vs. rightist evil. It is evil vs. good. Don’t be embarrassed to choose good.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Twisted Reactions says:

      I fully agree with both your comment and the blogpost. This might seem odd but I think that the blogpost is correct in using the bad vs bad argument mostly because of the implied kneejerk reaction that you get when choosing sides.

      Ideologically I agree with your analysis and find it strange and even sickening that these ‘progressives’ seem to be able to define people and ideas racist whenever they feel like it without doing proper analysis of their own ideas. However, Status451 is doing the smart thing and rising above the question about who is right or who is wrong to just state, regardless of what ideas we would be discussing in the future, that you can’t pick side as an organizer in this.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Bibliotheca Servare says:

        What you said. Although, I feel I have to add, slavery was not a problem isolated to the United States. Far from it. (Yes, I’m sure you know that…what can I say? I have a compulsive need to point out the obvious)(Of course, “was” might be a poor choice of words, considering that slavery is still a massive, horrific problem to this day, even arguably worse…but I’m speaking of history, so “was” seems the appropriate word.) The United States was a recipient of approximately three percent of the people victimized by the slave trade from Africa. Approximately ninety percent of the people taken from Africa to become slaves were sent to the Caribbean and South America. Also, considering *direct* as opposed to *indirect* deaths, more human beings lost their lives in (and because of) the Civil War than died because of the slave trade to the United States. This estimate depends on data that are inevitably flawed, but also the best we have right now. Of course if the *global* slave trade were compared to Civil War deaths, the numbers would look different…but we’re/I am discussing the *United States* part in that atrocity, so such a comparison would be meaningless. There are many other sources better than this one, but this is the link I could find easily, heh. Here: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/mar/18/jon-stewart/jon-stewart-slave-trade-caused-5-million-deaths/ It doesn’t discuss the difference between the death tolls explicitly, and it hints that the numbers it uses to arrive at a conclusion are probably incomplete, but…well, I’ll let you read it. Slavery is evil, yes unquestionably. But Communism is at *least* as evil and people (well respected people! College professors for f*cks sake!) still worship *that* ideology *today*! How many more hundreds of millions will have to die before Communism is as loathed and viscerally disgusting a concept as slavery? Evidently quite a few more. God help us. I’ll shut up now. 🙂


    • Fred Durst says:

      It’s also worth noting Sterling doesn’t just use the hammer and sickle as a casual flair like many Twitter programmer-communists. No, he has integrated communist symbolism as his own personal branding, from the vector art image of his face wearing a red star beret drawn by his friend Getty Ritter, to the red star logo for everything JonPRL-related, to handouts for his JonConf/PRLconf using vector art images of famous communist idealogues, and so forth. He refers to his “red” proof refinement system as a revolution, quotes Mao in its GitHub issues, refers to contributors as comrades, etc.

      This isn’t a casual or ignorant dalliance, he claims to be well-read on communist writings and is a true believer. I wouldn’t want this guy waving around Stalin’s blue pencil, like he joked about on Twitter.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. wu-wei says:

    Good article. There seem to be two types of people in this world: those who believe in basilisks, and those who don’t. If a person chooses to believe that anything vaguely right-wing is an info-hazard and an existential threat to society, you’re never going to convince them otherwise by reason alone.

    I’m sure that in a parallel universe the roles would be flipped, but funnily enough in twenty-first century America there doesn’t seem to be anything Stalinist-retarded enough you can say that will get you banned from an organization itself not explicitly right-wing – as comrade Sterling clearly demonstrates. What kind of country is America again… Progressive…? Or was there another word for it…

    But OP, I strongly advise you to prog-signal more heavily in the future concerning your view of the extensive vile and unrepentant racism associated with Moldbug. You wouldn’t want to make yourself a target of the prog-mob, like Yudkowsky has.

    Liked by 2 people

    • no says:

      Good lord. This new left of extremist bigots is cringeworthy and needs to be stopped, but I’m not going to join with someone who wants to replace left identity politics with right identity politics. It’s the most vile form of poison and I consider both to be my enemy.


  3. matrice says:

    It wouldn’t be possible for me to agree more.


  4. matrice says:

    I also find the composure and objectivity you displayed when confronted with a delusional, brazen support for totalitarianism and tyranny admirable, particularly considering your personal history.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. matrice says:

    At the same time, a side of me also thinks that Jon would probably benefit from getting a taste of his own medicine, i.e. at least made aware of how he comes across to people whose personal lives were changed by the genocidal consequences of those ideologies. I simply think that he lacks any sense of self awareness regarding how he is being perceived, and that that probably stems from the fact that nobody ever confronted him about that.


  6. LapsedPacifist says:

    Well said!

    I’d just like to point out, regarding Communism, that the reason it isn’t as reviled as slavery is, is because you can conceptualize a benign Communism[1], while a benign slavery is incomprehensible. Now, I fully grant that for a large percentage of people this conception of benign communism is a motte-and-bailey trick. Whenever you get caught writing panegyrics about Stalin, you scoot back to ‘from each according to ability &c.’ However, there is a possibility for someone to support a form of rare resource distribution that’s not based on the primacy of private property without wanting to enforce this worldview with violence, oppression, and hate.

    Being a fan of Stalin who, by all accounts was as terrible a human being as has ever lived, rather clinches which type Sterling is, however.

    [1] Not all places are the Soviet Union and China. Places like Yugoslavia made communism[2] work in a fairly inoffensive manner without sending any landlords to gulags. Or, indeed, having gulags. They had issues: with ethnic tensions, obviously, but it showed that communism works… okay. Just okay. There wasn’t a case of Red Plenty and utopia, but there weren’t any lines for toilet paper, either.
    [2] Actually if you dig up what they said about themselves, they claimed they were socialist and not communist. But that’s not entirely relevant to this point.


    • wu-wei says:

      Communist retard: “All hail Stalin, the Great and Wise Inspirer!”
      Concerned citizen: “Excuse me, sir? What’s all this about abolishing prison sentencing and killing the renters?”
      Communist retard: “Hey, man, ‘progressivism’ is about equality. You’re not a RACIST, are you?”
      Concerned citizen: “Oh, I, uh, no; of course not! Carry on then!” *wonders off*
      Communist retard: “Death to the bourgeois!”
      Und so weiter.


    • Erik says:

      “…you can conceptualize a benign Communism[1], while a benign slavery is incomprehensible.”

      Only if you define slavery to be malign. Benign slavery seems like it should be comprehensible if you haven’t begged the question wrt what constitutes slavery.

      Try this on for size: imagine that my great-aunt has severe Alzheimers. After a disastrous episode where she nearly gets scammed out of her pension by a telephone salesman, I speak with her at length and we eventually arrange for her to move to a special pension place for people with Alzheimers disease, where she gets assigned a minder with veto power over her decisions of contract, sale and purchase. She can plan her own schedule only within the pensionery and its adjoining properties; the minder escorts her if she wants to go outside and can veto her from doing so.

      In two words, my great-aunt is a dependent adult: she is over the age of majority and yet she is not free and independent to make her own decisions, run her own life, or administer her own property.

      In one word, my great-aunt is a slave, which I consider it not unreasonable to define as essentially “dependent adult”.

      If you find this scenario incomprehensible, I’m curious where your understanding breaks down.
      If you find this malign, I’m curious what you find malign about it.


    • Hector_St_Clare says:

      Yugoslavia claimed to be communist to at least as great a degree as other communist states, and I’d say they had a good case.

      The late Soviet Union (post-1956) was in most ways quite a decent society to live as well. Cuba, East Germany, Czechoslovakia as well. Of course, Stalin and Mao, themselves, were both terrible.

      I’d self describe as a communist of sorts, so I’ll flesh this out a bit more: I don’t think any landlords, capitalists, etc. who surrender their property and submit to a communist state ought to be punished, but if you resist the government then that’s a crime and you will (and should) be punished as any other criminal would be punished.


  7. Paul Phillips says:

    A fact which has gone almost completely unrecognized and which says everything about the principles of these parties is that Jon Sterling is employed by John de Goes. Yes, while Jon hoists the hammer and sickle and agitates to send the landlord class to the gulag, he happily accepts a paycheck from the man whose conference he works to destroy. Meanwhile, not only does John de Goes not fire him, he never mentions their professional relationship.

    If the roles were reversed, what do you think Jon Sterling would do?

    I know it must be hard to believe, so have a look at https://gitter.im/slamdata/slamdata to see Sterling in action, and http://slamdata.com/the-team/ to see them both.


    • ankushnarula says:

      As much as I appreciate your anger (and believe me I do) wouldn’t it be more effective to criticize their shitty ideas? Aren’t we resorting to their tactics when we delve into personal characterizations and innuendo?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paul Phillips says:

        Jon Sterling’s livelihood depends on the very compartmentalization or his professional life which he rejects for another. Gross hypocrisy is of material interest in matters of principle.

        And I don’t know what you mean by personal characterizations or innuendo. I wrote what I intended to write. There’s no hidden message.


    • lliamander says:

      I was definitely intrigued to find that out, but I think its best if they resolve any dispute between them privately, or at least within the confines of the company, rather than broadcast it to the world. We all like to watch other people’s drama, but I think the nature of their professional relationship is not our business.

      For my part, I hope they continue to employ Mr. Sterling. Obviously, employers need to be free to fire employees who actively work to disrupt their business, but I think a demonstrated willingness to extend charity and forgiveness to those who would not reciprocate will leave no doubt in our minds as to who has the moral high ground.

      We should not get too hung up on one person. Shaming and censure can be very useful tools for encouraging civilized behavior, but we should not indulge in them for purely cathartic purposes. Give him a glimpse of the world in which he gets the treatment he advocates for others, and then let him go about his business. If he is wise, he will be more charitable to his opponents. If not, there are other options.

      I am sometimes frightened when people like Mr. Sterling exercise influence in my profession, but it is heartening to realize that there are many more people who see the ridiculousness for what it is. What I hope for is a world where he and Mr. Yarvin can both continue to contribute interesting and useful software despite their differences.

      Liked by 2 people

    • ankushnarula says:

      I think I understand what you’re saying. But from what I gather, someone working from within the system to fight some perceived injustice would not consider himself “hypocritical”. On the contrary the SJ progressives legitimize this as “punching upwards” in the system while viewing someone as “privileged” as Yarvin as “punching downwards” by even thinking out loud. However misguided this thinking might be this is what they seem to believe. I doubt they see it but the MoonConf organizers have somewhat myopically limited their future conference participation options and quite possibly their career options as well. Maybe there is some justice in this thought.


      • Paul Phillips says:

        Hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” Whether Jon Sterling’s own behavior conforms to the moral standards he is pushing is for each individual to estimate. I never expected Jon to see any conflict there, but I have a bit more hope for the rest of the world.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Trimegistus says:

        The fact that they are unaware of their hypocrisy, or rationalize it away with vapid slogans, doesn’t change the fact that they are hypocrites.


      • ankushnarula says:

        What do you achieve by calling them hypocrites? They are aware of what we call “their hypocrisy” but they justify their thinking and behavior based on their belief that they will use whatever tools necessary to fight an “oppressive system of harm”. This dangerous thinking suspends some portion of morality, ethics, or decency to achieve an ends. This means that collateral damage is acceptable. This means terms like micro-aggression and white male privilege can be used as tripwires. And terms like racist and sexist can be thrown around like land mines. The body count of innocents is irrelevant as long as “progress” is achieved.

        I want to emphasize that I don’t think this is some devious planned effort – I just think it’s a culture that has emerged as a result of runaway progressive rhetoric. So labeling people based on our own perceptions is exactly what they are doing. Let’s not fall into that trap. That’s all I was saying. Can we examine the situation dispassionately instead?



      • Trimegistus says:

        What I achieve by calling them hypocrites? Telling the truth, that’s what. Hypocrisy, deception, and fraud thrive when people are afraid of telling the truth. (Note, by the way, that I am using an obvious pseudonym to do so.)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. ankushnarula says:

    Nice essay Simon. Thanks for sharing these experiences with such candor.


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  10. Skythe says:

    The fact that John De Goes felt obligated to write a 4600+ words article begging SJW trolls to not ruin his conference is all we need to take away from this farce.

    We, as a society, are wasting our time on non-issues. Rape culture, patriarchy, violence at conferences, unisex toilets.

    I refuse to applaud De Goes and his fellow organizers if they accept speakers with differing opinions only “since he also supports a lot of feminist issues”. That is no tolerance. That’s bullcrap.

    13x Programming

    15x Diversity
    17x Inclusion


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