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EBASF2 - Impulsiveness is the Greatest Sin
Parts of this series were inspired by Richard Hanania’s self-reflection on his moral instincts. After reading that piece, I thought about my moral instincts. I don’t have any remotely strong ones on the left or right, such as envy of inequality, nativism, etc., which probably explains why my politics are more scattershot. I really only identify two: hatred of fakers and hatred of impulsiveness. Both of these are quite powerful at predicting my political stances. The former drives my disdain for midwits, bureaucracies, self-censorship, Trump, identity politics, and academia. The latter drives my disdain for Trump, identity politics, “the current thing”, anti-vaxxers, nativists, safetyism, populism, social media, narrative journalism, legacy media in general, and any of the “think of the children” people.
Anti-biographical Fact 2: It’s absurd to treat impulsiveness as a moral good
I should be clear that I have no problem with impulsiveness when it’s divorced from power. Hit a punching bag, cry in your room, or f*ck like rabbits, I don’t care. It’s a completely different story if it impacts other people. If you’re going to commit yourself to wielding power, a difficult task on its own, you better be performing your best. And impulsiveness is the simplest way not to perform your best. If I recognize that I’m acting on emotion, I take a step back and come back to the debate later. If someone raises the possibility, I at least consider it seriously.
What makes matters worse is the valorization of impulsiveness. This is typically done with words like moral clarity, empathy, or emotional safety. These words, when applied to, and especially when demanded of, someone with power or influence, should all be read as “impaired judgement” and nothing else. This doesn’t mean that you are a bad person for feeling such things. You should simply step back and remove yourself from the situation until you’ve calmed down. Close twitter. Turn off your phone. I do so frequently. There’s no shame in admitting you have those impulses nor in backing down from an argument because you’re not in the emotional state to make your case.
What there is shame in is barreling through and ultimately making poor arguments or worse, poor decisions with power. Impulsiveness is the most avoidable type of incompetence. Avoiding it does not require iq, domain knowledge, or anything else that might be inaccessible. Sure, there may be biological differences and influence of medical conditions, but taking yourself out of the situation is the least that we can expect. Fortunately enough, we already hold these standards for most types of impulsiveness. People are expected to control their drive to violence, jealousy, sexual desires, etc. These are all good and examples of a functional society. In my view, any ideology which encourages more impulsiveness on these fronts belongs at the bottom of the moral dumpster. We should have a similar reaction, though perhaps a milder one, when people insist decisions be made under the influence of impulsiveness. It is the equivalent of telling politicians to get drunk before a vote.
I can’t really even steelman the case for politicians making decisions based on empathy or emotional safety because it is complete nonsense to me. One argument is that politicians who show no empathy and such are psychopaths, but this is also nonsense. First of all psychopaths would clearly be able to fake emotionality and manipulate these circumstances to better serve themselves. Secondly, many great historical moments consist of leaders demonstrating emotion, and then going on to make a decision which refutes those natural instincts. Another is a kind of appeal to populism, where if the public wants irrationality, they should get it. Maybe this is an inevitable consequence of electoral politics, but if it is, this to me is an incredibly strong case against electoral politics.
Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without a Hanania-esque turning of the spotlight. To be fair, I think emotionality in politics is an even bigger deal than “wokeness”. That being said, should I really be concerned about neurotic and emotional politics when I could be building software or something? In the long term, most of the improvements to the world are unrelated to politics at all, and are instead novel inventions and step changes that sidestep government and media altogether (although this can be impeded by government, as I discuss with roon around the 40 minute mark). Moreover, despite some success posting, I still think I’m a much better mathematician, researcher, or programmer than writer or political thinker.
The real killer point is this though: I’ve had contempt for emotionality in decision-making since long before I cared about politics at all. Every time a friend made a serious life decision under the (emotional) influence, I’ve spent excessive amounts of time somewhere between criticising and berating him, despite knowing there’s a low likelihood of changing his mind. Ultimately, this is because I believe being a competent decision maker is one of, if not the most, important moral responsibility in life. This doesn’t mean I think you can’t be moral if you’re low IQ, but it does mean doing the best with what you have and recusing yourself from decisions that you are unable to make accurately. Basically, a combination of responsibility and humility. This lines up with my contempt for both midwit epidemiologists and populist politicians, as they are not only trying to apply obviously dimwitted solutions, they are doing it to massive scale problems that affect millions of other people’s lives. I don’t have the same kind of reaction that some (let’s face it, mostly left-wing) technocrats have when they see their uncle post some truly deranged conspiracy theory. I’ll make fun of conspiracy theories and have some curiosity about them. I’ll say they’re low IQ and as conformist as the “sheep” they critique. If forced to comment on their morality, I would say it would be better for them and the people around them to snap out of it. But in the end I’m not really fired up about them at all. And that’s because in the end, the 99+% of them that aren’t deeply ill in some way will accept being left alone in their fantasy world.
I think the root drive of my hatred of midwit bureaucrats in particular is that I feel a deep disorder in the world if I am subjugated beneath someone clearly inferior to me. I don’t really think about this often, but if forced to answer whether I feel superior to a random stranger on the internet, or a second-rate journalist, or a mid-level bureaucrat, the answer would almost always be yes. I do feel some irrational sense of disorder when I dwell on this for a long time. It is profane to me to grant power to a transparently impaired person or ideology. This is the root cause of why I hate Trump, wokeness, the FDA, most bitcoin personalities, bureaucrats, and Tiktok. They step into the decision-making arena impaired, while I do it sober, and step out if I’m not. Therefore I am superior to them and they should be relieved of their power until they can do the same.
I do think there’s a strong utilitarian case to be made that this type of morality is not only better than our status quo, which subjugates comptence under universal humanity explicitly, and under victimhood implicitly, but would account for significant changes in regulation, economics, and innovation. I start to make this case in an interview with Benjamin Boyce, which I don’t think is out yet. I’ll also write an article on this topic, either in this series or as a standalone. Otherwise I would probably end up tripling the length of the article you’re reading now.
One last interesting thing is how I’m not really able to construct an internal monologue for myself. I tried and came up with something coherent and similar to my writing above, but I abandoned it because it doesn’t feel true to how I think at all. This is somewhat an add-on to my previous article, but I really don’t think in narratives or monologues at all. I just go around and rotate between different related topics, I usually process a few ideas in parallel, and turning that into writing is not usually helpful for anyone. Maybe a coherent representation would look something like an engineering board, with arrows going from one structure to a substructure. Shape rotator isn’t exactly right, but to be honest I’m happy to be called that.