Because you're just barely too neurotic about your brilliance (mostly kidding, it's a wellspring of fruitful introspection at a high personal cost)
Edit for clarity, by mostly kidding I meant to imply the correct direction is to be less neurotic and own your brilliance, it's probably the only thing holding you back if anything is.
Edit 2: I sometimes over compliment, but since people are more sparing with praise than criticism I felt like hedging against that and don't feel at all abashed about describing you as brilliant.
Well there are only so many good ideas out there
The links on "I continue to post some vaguely anti-woke stuff (1, 2, 3)," seem to be partly incorrect: both 2 & 3 go to https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/too-good-to-check-a-play-in-three .
this is very insightful and i'm curious to see what you do in the next phase. personally i really enjoyed Unsong, perhaps something in that direction. Encoding your worldview and insights into fictional worlds might be a reasonable next step, right?
I may be young at 31, but I'd still greatly, greatly enjoy you writing new blog posts about religion, abortion, etc
It seems like it's always going to be an ask to keep people quite as engaged and excited as they were at the beginning and I would expect almost all of the feeling has to result from 'point 1' sort of considerations. I felt bad reading that reddit thread and knowing you'd see it! I still think your thoughts are worth more than the price of a subscription and hope you know a lot of people still really enjoy your posts :'(
You are, in fact, using simulated annealing wrong. It's the complement of what you describe, which is a classic technique to find a local optimum. SA is adding noise to your small steps, so that you do not get stuck in a local optimum but have the chance to find a better one (even the global optimum) using the random jumps to luckily go over local barriers and fall in neighbor (hopefully better) optimums ;-)
So maybe you should use SA if you feel trapped in comfortable routine but suspect you could maybe do better: just do crazy things from time to time :-p
Since you live in a rationalist group-home, I'm skeptical of your claim that not interacting much means you won't be affected much.
Maybe there's an actual name for the phenomenon I'm about to describe. I call it "new vs best".
When you write a new post, people tend to compare it to the best work you've ever done (Moloch, or whatever). Statistically, the new post is almost always going to be worse. So it looks like you've fallen off in quality.
But that's an unfair comparison. A fairer one would be to put one of your newer posts against a random SSC post from 2015 - if you do that, I'm confident that your newer writing holds up, and has maybe gotten better.
Another factor is that (in my opinion) things were actually more interesting in 2015. Take neoreaction. Whether you agreed with it or not, that was a fascinating thing that was fun to talk about. It's hard to find an analog for it 2022.
We live in a media landscape where 80% of the air is sucked up by COVID and vaccines and Trump. It's actually boring as hell and I can't wait for it all to end.
I don't think you suck, or that you have gotten worse. I've been reading you since, I believe, "The Toxoplasma of Rage," and that has been awhile. You have your hobbyhorses (AI risk, prediction markets, predictive processing), but hey, who doesn't? Like you, I've thought about the big high-level stuff, and know those debates as deeply as I want to. Grand pronouncements aren't needed. I'm here for the insight porn--give me that on any topic, any level, and I'll be delighted to read it.
This is probably not a very central case, but: my now-husband introduced me to SSC in 2018. He and I used to read aloud SSC articles to each other while hanging out on a Sunday afternoon. We are definitely NOT grey tribe / rationalist folk, but sitting down to read one of your articles always felt very cozy, like just hanging out with a friend who was earnest, thoughtful, funny, and way smarter than us. I still get excited when I see a new AXC newsletter, but the impression I'm getting is that the content is growing more niche, and more and more I find both it and the community around it a little alienating. Still net positive for me though!
Scott, I sincerely admire your brilliance and your achievements. I'm only posting this in response to your direct question.
I learned from you, and now try to practice as a life principle : let what I say be truthful, necessary, and kind. On this basis, I was dismayed by your jokey headline, "My Ex is a Shit-eating Whore". It didn't seem very necessary or kind.
You're great, your blog is great. People just want more and better of every good thing.
One other factor you didn't mention but I think was a factor in my own perception of slowed insights was that when first reading ACX I got to consume your best written and most insightful posts of the last 7-8 years in 3-4 weeks. Twice per week I got to read one your top 10 posts. But now that I've caught up, these posts only come once a year which definitely feels slower by comparison.
I wonder if many folks in your audience are at similar places on their developmental timelines as you, and are projecting changes (less excitement) they feel about themselves onto you.
A totally different theory, I wonder if the hiatus you took after the NYT brouhaha actually undid some optimizations, and you're finding your way back to the local minimum. (In other words, you were a bit rusty for a while.) But this doesn't match my impression of your writing.
Finally, you also have other things going on in your life. People famously get a bit more boring after they get married and have kids.
I found out about you from the NYTimes brouhaha. I don't think you suck. For example, I really like the use of the word 'brouhaha' there.
Remember the somewhat rambling post about the cliche where various colored pills gave superpowers and you fleshed out a world where certain people took those pills and that BRUTE STRENGTH won the day upon the heat death of the universe? That was such a fun thing to read, and the kind of thing I'd totally read more of even though it wasn't particularly intellectual. (I love the intellectual stuff too, but those fun posts are the kinds of things I think people are missing)
Perhaps this is tangential to what you're writing here, but... I have to actually write this out at some point, but while I've always had my issues with the rationalist community, when it was a smaller niche it was always rigorous. I could always expect real grappling with evidence and an acknowledgement of the complexity of the world. And while I can't say that any individual has changed for the worse (and am not accusing you of this), I think that as the community has grown it has become, for lack of a better term, a meme community. By that I mean that the larger rationalist community seems to me to be more and more defined by a collection of REFERENCES rather than a mode of thinking. So where once a reference to motte and bailey was taking advantage of a useful acrostic for beginning a conversation, one that recognized that there are limits to those kinds of metaphors for thinking, now that point is merely to say the term to indicate insider status. It's a devolution into magic words philosophy, where people launder incuriosity through these terms and ideas. The holy texts cease to be invitations to complicated conversations and become instead places in which to hide, intellectually.
The thing is... I don't think there's any way that an intellectual tradition like rationalism can grow without that happening. It's an inevitable artifact of getting more popular. There's still tons of great and stimulating conversations happening under the banner. But part of my reservations about Julia Galef's book lies in this seemingly unavoidable consequence of broadening the appeal, the tendency to fall into "one weird trick" approaches to critical inquiry.
For the record I don't think your work is any worse than it has been in the time I've been consuming it. I do think the commenting community reflects the meme philosophy I'm talking about, sometimes, though I can't pretend to be a very rigorous reader of the comments.
Another reason that you suck is just the winnowing effect of memory. People remember the most salient parts of the past, i.e. only your best posts from that time, and compare it to the present, which includes your median posts from now, and are disappointed by the comparison. This might have a larger effect on how your recent work is perceived than anything you mention!
1. I think you're the best blogger out there.
2. If I had an ask congruent with the above, it'd be for more brain-breaking fiction pieces. Not a lot of them, mind you, but they are the bulgogi sauce on the beef.
3. I personally am fine with whatever you write. If I saw "I Replaced a Lightbulb," I'd assume it was 4,400 words of excellence before clicking on it.
4. You arsonist, you, putting periods outside quotation marks. This ought to be right, of course, and is consistent with the programmer vibe ACT emits, but is proscribed by US grammatical standards. (I felt this overall comment had insufficient hate given the topic is "Why Scott Sucks," so included it.)
Re: it being tougher to explore random thoughts without having a good sense where they’ll end up.
This is one of many reasons that I've always enjoyed your book reviews. It seems to be a good format for asides or speculation, since you review such a diverse range of books. Some other big reasons I like your reviews are 1) the often-playful of tone combined with 2) cursory fact checking and 3) your ability to situate conceptual models within a landscape populated with ideas that might not be familiar to me. So, I'm in favor of more book reviews and you sharing random thoughts, even about your day-to-day life!
That said, I think you're great. No need to overthink things and risk paralysis by analysis.
I subjectively enjoy the experience of reading this blog less than SSC, but I'm almost certain that's down to the font. It's very unpleasant to read, like a staircase with with a tread that's a liiiittle too deep.
"A Bokoninist!" - KVJ & Kilgore Trout are in the house. Represent!
First time commenter here, so sorry if this is a tired old point, but I'm new to SSC/ACX and would love to see either a "Best Of" collection or a book which synthesises as much of your older ideas as possible. Does any such thing exist?
I think number 1 is big. The dictator stuff is a good example. It's interesting subject matter, and you're thoughtful about it, and overall I liked the posts, but simply due to not accumulating the thinking time and knowledge around the area, your content was a little weaker. (I hope you continue exploring that stuff, though, and maybe solve that problem.)
Counterpoint: I'm pretty hard on you, pretty often. But there's things you can do better than anyone else, and I'm not sure if you are weighting that correctly.
There's an aspect of "Oh, Freddie and Bari can write about that better" in some of this. And Freddie can write! But to the extent you tell me Scott Alexander and Freddie Deboer wrote, say, an article about some aspect of abortion or wokeness or something, I know what Freddie's conclusion is already (it's "more socialism"). But I don't know what yours is; I'm probably going to disagree with it but I'll have to *work* to disagree with it. There will be points in there I will have to think about and refute.
Your approach to topics is notably different from anyone elses, you tend to do more work on them, and you hit angles other people don't hit. That doesn't mean you MUST write about topic A, but it does mean that if you write about topic A you are going to bring added-value to it nobody else brings. It doesn't have to change your conclusions re: write about it or not, but it should be part of the calculation.
I guess I'm still woke in the sense that I think teaching about structural racism is good and that sort of thing. Your anti-woke posts were never the thing I was around for and I'd be pretty disappointed if that's what people are desperate for, because frankly that all seems a bit preaching-to-the-choirey to me these days.
If there's anything I want more of it's just the super detailed deep dives on niche topics, which you still do sometimes but I guess could do more of? I don't really have a strong criticism here.
I thought about it myself a few months ago (I love scott and his writing, but do feel that an arbitrary new post on ACX is less appealing to me than one from SSC), and my personal estimation was that it is mostly the "low hanging fruits have been picked" effect.
For me, a person who is way more excited by novel concepts and cognitive tools than facts of a particular subject matter (e.g. the idea of slack vs. all the posts on covid), this is doubly true.
Scott can probably write tons more book reviews or "much more than you wanted to know"s, but not endless valuable theoretical musings. And the subjects themselves, say super cool mind blowing books to review, also suffer from the same effect.
not to be a bastard wearing you down, but i found the old ssc a little uncomfortable to read at times because the distinction between 'contrarian by impulse' and 'contrarian because the minority idea is interesting' sometimes seemed blurred to me. but on the other hand articles like 'the categories were made for man, not man for the categories' have changed how i tackle so many issues at work - and frankly, have helped me ease transphobic tensions among my family. 'contrarian' framing of ideas that might at first glance belong in the 'woke' category are extremely useful.
anyways there are a couple examples like that from the old blog and this one, but my expectations are nothing more than to read some interesting ideas and talk to people about them. the old blog still exists, ACT hasn't subtracted from it.
adding guest authors to the substack could continue to be a good way to embrace the more incremental nature of your updated beliefs - outsource hot takes to others, then act as moderator/critic. some people don't like this idea of an 'agglomerator' but my favorite blog of old was roger eberts, and this is the blog that reminds me most of his. the hard part of a critic's job isn't the negative criticism, it's the defense of the new and beautiful. your posts defending the new always resonate most with me.
I don't think you suck. But I do read this less than the old blog.
I think you used to be more of a risk taker. More of a heretic. Now, after getting beaten up by the paper of record and during a time when the pressure for conformity is super high, you've become less of a risk taker and less of a heretic. To me that's disappointing.
But we have to act in the world for ourselves, not through our favorite blog writers.
My impression from speaking to some people who said they prefer the classic SSC is that they are over-weighting certain classic posts and under-weighting the many posts from these years they've forgotten about. I share the view that disproportionately many of the 'all time best' posts are from the early years, but I don't think that the quality of the median post is lower than it was then (maybe the contrary).
As to the reason why so many of the 'all time great' posts are from earlier years. I think your post alluded to the things I think are the main two factors: i) many of them concerned identity politics/culture war issues, ii) many of these were covering pretty basic issues, not in the sense of being simple (although maybe they were that too), but of being foundational, and it's hard to keep generating foundational insights at the same rate year-on-year as the lowest hanging fruit gets picked.
This all rings true and matches my own experience of intellectually maturing as well. Fundamental questions do not seem interesting anymore. The frustrating thing, for me at least, is that with age comes additional responsibilities and the speed at which one can delve into the nifty nitty-gritty side-quests of industrial policy, or in my case the domain-dependence of literacy, I think also decreases. But maybe that is also having toddlers in the house!
And since we are doing confessions about why we suck, I think much of my suckiness is caused by impatience. I have an idea and want it to bloom quickly, so I leap into the idea for 24 hours, realize I don't have time to bring to fruition and then retreat, ego wounded, for a week; or I see a blog post which I think reinvents the wheel, and I critique it for such criminality when that critique is equivalent to being mad at someone for not having the same prior knowledge as me. What a waste.
Lastly, thank you for the idea that SJW is dead. I would love to see this idea explored more, because though it matches my experience, I just figured my bubble shifted its Overton Window.
How has regression to the mean not been mentioned yet? If you like something a lot (say enough to subscribe to a blog and keep reading it for years ...), you're just naturally likely to start liking it less.
Pshaw, bunch of Johnny-come-latelys, I've thought you sucked since you switched from LiveJournal.
(j/k, you don't suck)
Is it possible that you are getting less insights from your new line of work than you did as an intern/in-person psychiatrist? I know one of my favorites from you was:
> Some of the good ideas I came up with in my 20s now feel extremely basic, to the point where I’m surprised other people found them helpful. If the discourse wants ideas at that level of basic-ness, I’m no longer producing them - it would feel like talking down to people. I realize it’s self-serving to write a post on why you suck and transition to “maybe I’m just too good for everyone”. But I think I’m more sophisticated than I was ten years ago, and people ten years ago seemed to find me the right level of sophistication, so maybe lack of sophistication sells.
This seems to be a common pattern, especially in the "intellectual travelogue" mode of writing. The earlier audiences are mostly selected among folks who find the beginning explorations valuable, and as you say those tend to have a much wider focus and so can cast a larger net. 'Sophistication' comes with having working answers to the common questions, and a richer set of established ideas to work with that allows for easier detail work at the cost of an inferential gap for newcomers. But even if that means more powerful insights in less-explored questions, it also shuts the door on the fingers of anyone whose answers to those earlier questions are incompatible.
It's shades of 'This is not a 101 space' and the explore v. exploit dichotomy that lay under some of the Sequences. I don't think there's an *answer* per se since it's the result of an inevitable shift in focus (and the price of regression is stagnation, with even less path forward than now), but ISTM the healthiest strategy is to accept that one has found a set of hammers that fit their hand quite well, and keep checking that the nails are doing useful work.
The main thing I miss from SSC is your occasional short fiction. I think your nonfiction posts here are similar in quality to the older ones.
This is DEFINITELY why you suck: This is my explanation for why so many smart intellectuals, upon being thrust into punditry superstardom, lose all their good qualities and turn into partisan hacks (many such cases!)
I really enjoyed the old "thinking out loud" posts. One of the articles that got me hooked was "Meditations on Slack".
You say you're worried about a general audience taking tentative conclusions without a grain of salt. But SSC used to have an "epistemic confidence" number at the top of each post (always too small a number IMHO); I'm not sure why you couldn't bring that back.
Isn't it a numbers thing? The more fans you have the more haters you have. I wonder if your 60% approval was the same at your old place, but even if you bothered to do a poll then, the haters wouldn't even bother taking the poll. But now that your audience is bigger, there's more haters in hard numbers even if the percentage is the same. AND there's more "clout" in hate reading you or anyone popular. So those haters have more incentive to hate actively. No?
> Who’s woke anymore? Are there really still woke people? Other than all corporations, every government agency, and all media properties, I mean. Those don’t count. Any real people? I guess I know one or two SJWs. But I also know one or two Catholics. Doesn’t mean they’re not the intellectual equivalent of out-of-place artifacts.
This seems like it might be selection bias on your acquaintances. I encounter what feels like more than ever right now.
Something something Lindy. Your best work is the stuff that people share (and that was listed on STC EDIT: I meant under "recommended reading"), the rest is just forgotten. But if you then follow you become the filter.
The NYT-thing had me already dig up the drums of war until you unfortunately called us back - reason is that I was waiting daily for articles to read while procrastinating on my shitty job back then. Well, there will be other willing targets for game-theories' pandaemonium, kek.
Also everyone sucks, it's normal. It's probably just something to do with Dunning-Krueger. I still read you and even started paying now (something I normally never do as long as it can be avoided, I'm not *that* financially illiterate).
This post makes me very sad but I'm glad you wrote it. It formalizes that this is no longer a space for me, and you are no longer writing things that I want to read. While I have a tinge of bitterness to this, I don't say this to disparage you. Nobody can be all things to all people, and you have chosen others over me. Many such cases.
I understand what you are saying, and I understand that you see it differently, but the essay I just read has three or four moments where you say something that simplifies to "I would rather spread lies than get criticized by important people". I get it. I not only _would_ do this, but I _have_ done this. I used to have a blog and I'm 90% sure you read it. One day I got doxxed, privately, by a coworker, who did not post it online, and within an hour of finding out, I removed every trace of my blogging identity from the internet. That's how I react to the situation you find yourself in, and so I want to say that I get it and I'm not judging you negatively for it.
That said, this bothers me greatly. First off, precisely because I come to your blog to get _unfiltered_ truth. I don't want people with lower IQs than me employed at news media pre-digesting things they don't understand for me. You, on the other hand, are clearly smarter than me and so when _you_ commentate, it's valuable. If you're intentionally no longer doing that, then the core value your blog delivers to me is no longer there
But this is made worse by the events of the past two years. For two fucking years, I have watched everyone around me go crazy. I have watched everyone around me do complete 180s on 'deeply held beliefs' multiple times per month, as the narrative changes. I have watched _**dozens**_ of doctors and public health officials say things that contradict basic public resources like biology textbooks, without any explanation or even acknowledgement of this (ie "I know usually this would be a bad sign but trust me this one is different").
And every time I would try to raise this to people, I'd get slandered as a conspiracy theorist, an anti-vaxxer, an evil Trump voter (I can't legally vote in the US). People who I KNOW know better would all suddenly go insane.
So when you post this
> A simple example: suppose I look over vaccine effectiveness data and find something that doesn’t make sense. In a personal diary or a small blog, I can easily write “today I was looking over the vaccine data, it didn’t make sense to me, yours, Scott”. In a large blog or newspaper of record, that speculation takes on aspects of a speech act: “Well-known blogger questions vaccine data!” if not “Local doctor says vaccine data is garbage!”. That makes it tougher to explore random thoughts without having a good sense where they’ll end up.
> My blog had a very slight but nonzero influence on at least one country’s coronavirus policies. Once you know you can do that, you start optimizing pretty heavily for that, even if that means saying a lot of things which bore the majority of your readers. It could be worse. I once talked to a very prestigious journalist who said he sometimes knows exactly which Biden administration official he’s writing a particular article to catch the attention of
What I'm seeing is that you think your influence over people is more important than speaking honest truth when it's unpleasant.
Maybe it is! After all, I laid out above what I would do in your shoes. Your blog still exists, so you're braver and more principled than I.
But I read that, and you know what I hear? I hear a smart and influential person pretty much openly saying that they won't publish anything controversial, _even when it's the truth_, because they'll get in too much shit from corrupt evil leaders. Does anybody stop and think what happens if this generalizes? If every other public commentator runs the same program? It gets us to a world in which every single leader and 'expert' all echo trendy misinformation in unison while loudly and aggressively punishing all dissent. After all, if you say the wrong thing, you might fuck up your chance to influence the president. Not the false thing. The wrong thing.
I appreciate your honesty and self-reflection, but what I'm reading is the story of someone who has finally been welcomed into the halls of power and wealth, and has now decided that his popular and powerful friends are more important than the truth. So be it. I will continue to find truth elsewhere.
I wish you all the best, and should you ever be in Texas, I'll buy you a drink. I'm not going to any local meetups though; that's a long story for another time
I'm probably misreading this, but it sounds like you're saying you are no longer an atheist?
In this sentence: "I feel like whatever personality quirk of mine made that decision [(to not talk about atheism)] saved me a lot of retroactive embarrassment, and I want to nurture and encourage it." Also there's another reference to this.
Am I misreading or did I miss something?
Regarding 8 specifically, I think that these basic debates are the ones that have the biggest direct impact. You might think that you'd do a bad job covering them, but it certainly won't be worse than most of the others in this space. I considered your post on not voting for Trump very important and it was the strongest influence on my final vote out of anything else I read. I think the world will have a slightly improved perspective on any issues that you write about, and that's how you might have the largest positive impact on the world.
That said, your other points are convincing and I respect that you write about things that you find enjoyable first.
There is one criticism/request that I strongly agree with: please, right more fiction.
Well look, there's the simple fact that nothing blog-length that anyone writes will ever top the "Which Pill Do You Choose?" story. So of course everything since will seem downhill. That's ok, it's still pretty great.
I agree with the chorus of commenters who say "You don't suck!"
One thing I'd add to your list is the selection effects in your feedback. The community of Very Online Posters is enriched for contrarian temperaments and strong ideological priors. I suspect if you were able to do a longitudinal time series of your SSC/ACX community, you'd see a dropout of people as they age/have children/mellow, who are replaced by a younger cohort still high on the thrill of something being wrong on the Internet.
I also expect that this selection effect took a huge bump from the NYT controversy, which drew people primarily interested in Woke War Punditry and not a long series of guest posts on Georgist land taxes.
Someone asked me a similar question. (Why you, Scott Alexander, now suck. Not why I suck.) My answer was basically two things: Firstly, you're not really a fighter. And if you're prominent and not a fighter then the experience of fighting is just getting punched in the face a lot. This means you're less likely to say risky, truth to power things because they're more likely to get noticed and you don't want to spend your time in fights over that kind of thing.
Secondly, you've mined out your life experience and are now suffering from what I call Avril Lavigne Syndrome. Avril Lavigne got really big connecting with the experiences of a sort of average social outcast girl in her music. No doubt part of that was from her own experiences as the kind of girl who wears black makeup and looks kind of punk. But her success made her famous and then she wasn't like one of those girls anymore. She had no new relatable experiences to mine. The new experiences she was having were out of character for her brand. They were the experience of being rich and famous which isn't relatable to enough people. She was also just too big to be indie.
This put her on the horns of a dilemma. She could change her brand but this would cause her to lose a lot of her fandom and was further apart what she got into music to do. (A shift Taylor Swift succeeded at but Lavigne didn't.) Or she could try to connect with her old fanbase but have trouble with getting outflanked by artists with more genuine and recent experiences to mine. She tried the latter and it blew up in her face.
Your experiences have gone from the trenches of internet culture to being A Brand(tm). You're now a prominent coastal essayist. And your brand is not being a prominent coastal essayist or anything like that.
The solution is to do new things and to mine new veins. To understand who you are and synthesize that into your brand. Or to sell out if you want to sell out.
This is, in my opinion, why artists have periods. They find or make new rich veins from a variety of things. Breakups are a common one for songwriters. Orwell volunteered to fight in some wars. I bet ACX would get a lot better if you volunteered to fight in Ukraine.* You (sensibly) don't want to do that. But you should find some new source to mine. The old one is tapped out not just because you've already plumbed its depths but because it's about the you that you were a decade ago, not the you that you are now.
*For whatever prediction points are worth I mentioned Ukraine specifically and this conversation was all the way back in like March or April.
I’d say 8, the arrogant version, accounts for a lot. In particular, that your ACX tone has a tendency to *sound* more arrogant than you did at SSC. Being arrogant and full of yourself is part and parcel of blogging, but one needn’t come across that way.
You don’t suck in absolute terms, but your blind spots manifest themselves disturbingly frequently so the quality level here is volatile.
I won’t speculate about the reasons for them (too many reasons suggest themselves), but
1) you should be much more ruthless about ignoring mainstream puppets and parrots who have demonstrated their unreliability and bad faith; despite knowing all about Gell-Mann amnesia you still fall prey to it
2) avoiding partisan issues is fine, but you should write more about issues where BOTH parties, and most of the American mainstream, are wrong (related to point 1, hard to know about these if you have let media and tech companies filter your information a lot)
3) Get on the case for fluvoxamine for COVID right now, the agency foot-dragging is intolerable, can’t think of a better immediate use of your clout
Ironically, considering the topic of this post, this post is one of your best I've read in a while
Maybe has something to do with a soother phase
I propose a variant of 1. Good ideas are hard to come by, and the conditions to come up with them are fragile, highly personal, poorly understood. So, this is a finite resource that at some point just... dries up. Tell me, do you think that compared to the past, you are mainly sharing your own ideas, or translating others? This isn't bad, you are an excellent translator and inventor of words (For me, the name and post about "epistemic minor leagues" is one of the highlights of ACX) ... Maybe you should try getting back to the part of you that disagrees with or is unrelated to the rationalists. Revisit some old post, and see whether the times have changed. Has lovecraftian fiction fallen to irony, or is authenticity in renaissance? What do advances in VR mean for micronationalism? What's up with Abraham Lincoln, anyway? Part of me maybe getting Unsong in a publishable state and starting to think about a sequel (or a fiction novel with a similar style).
I would strongly encourage you to find ways to test the even more basic hypothesis of, “I liked your posts back when they were in the old template on SSC, and this new template looks different, and most humans dislike change.” Call it the new box label hypothesis.
I don't remember seeing that question on the reader survey. If I had seen it, i would have said 'hell no, acx is great. I like it more than SSC'. I read every email you sent out, but i didn't see that question. Is it possible that you putting the question into that big survey biased the results towards people who are predisposed to take long reader surveys?
A friend sold me on your blog as "he looks at a big complex question, and instead of going HERE IS THE ANSWER IDIOTS, he comes up with a few theories, then compares them with data, and then generally just kind of shrugs." I feel like ACX has had many more posts like that. One of the main takeaways i get from your blog is like the opposite of 'this reinforces my priors' - it's more like, 'Geeze, this thing i thought i kind of understood is much more complicated than i imagined. I'm glad i don't need to have an opinion here.'
I wasn't aware of your sucktitude. Thank you for letting us know.
You are awesome. Literally. Your writing literally inspires awe.
And challenging yourself by suggesting that you suck, as you full well know, is fundamental to being awesome.
Scott, to be honest, I think you're writing has overall gotten better at communicating over the years, and has actually kinda followed my interests quite a bit. Maybe the sheer quantity has gone down, but I still love most of it (I generally skip your stuff about psychiatry because the field doesn't interest me much).
Though I find it interesting that you're surrounded by more anti-woke people than woke people these days. I feel like I didn't know nearly as many woke people 5-6 years ago as I do now. Right now, I can't avoid woke rhetoric in my company's meetings and chat rooms -- and my company is made up of mostly conservative but mild-mannered Christian mid-westerners. The loud minority is super-woke, and they've made a culture of fear. I'm part of nearly a dozen chat groups in Signal and other similar platforms that are just made up of co-workers that want the ability to talk candidly without being shouted down in public or reported to HR. And I never observed this level of fear prior to, say, 2014.
I would posit that, for all of Substack's good qualities, the commenting experience is worse here. Which may be coloring commenters' overall impressions.
> Do you suck because you moved to California, with its climate of conformist liberalism?
Related hypothesis: do you suck because more of the social needs you met through blogging you meet irl now? Or because you are so respected in your irl social group now you aren’t as motivated to do crack blogging?
Still my favorite blogger :)
It seems like there was a decrease in spicy culture war posts during the Trump administration. The culture war thread spun off halfway through it. Then ACX started the day after Biden's inauguration, and I doubted it was a coincidence.
* You wouldn't want an anti-woke post to be construed as pro-Trump, so you sorta held back while Trump was in office.
* The haters of those sorts of posts were on extra high alert during the Trump administration, and sometimes the haters get to you.
* Book review contests facilitate taking discussions into spicy directions without taking so much heat from haters.
Re. "I’m not exactly in this for the money, but I’m in it for a lot of things that follow the same dynamics": That's a great summary of some complex correlations, with wide applicability.
I'm in the minority (apparently) that definitely prefers ACT. While I think you had some really eye-opening posts at SSC, I also never got into the blog qua blog nature of it. So the absence of "blogginess" in terms of the content is really satisfying to me. It seems like the better aspects of being a blog (freedom, audience capture, community) got kept, but personal details on the more trivial side, as well as half-formed thoughts, have been left behind.
Another "reason why you suck" (though you don't) is that you're no longer reporting from the front lines of absurd medical care. Because you're quite sensibly striking out on your own to make your specialty less absurd.
But it does mean we hear less about the bizarre freebies pharma reps try to woo hospitals with, the absurdities resulting from reasonable requests that don't fit into any Official Medical Slot, and so on.
> I continue to post some vaguely anti-woke stuff (1, 2, 3),
Link 2 and 3 redirect to the same article, https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/too-good-to-check-a-play-in-three.
This makes me want to visit your old blog. I have saved the link to 2 highly useful subjects you have written about thoroughly. One is on what eating healthy means. Another is on ADHD, which many kids I teach seem to think they have (is it real?!). These are big questions and you were thorough.
Maybe you're just running out of the big questions.
I was fascinated to hear you think the woke movement is not cool anymore. I don't see evidence of that. You mean we will soon go back to a time when most Americans want to seriously protect what they might personally see as hate speech?
1 - (whole life first book) Probably has a lot to do with it. (Tho I haven't noticed a decline in quality.)
2 - (great rationalist community) I think this is a real effect. I've seen it in my own life - ideas that were new and wonderful when I was 30 are commonplaces now (I'm 60). This is a good thing - it represents progress.
3 - (things have gotten better) NO. Just NO. The media has NOT gotten better, and I don't think it will in the foreseeable future. If you preceive otherwise, the change is in you. (To be fair there may be an element of #2 here - to the extent media has caught some of the ideas that used to be new, you may perceive it as better. But it's not - media is just as bad at absorbing new ideas as ever.)
4 - (no longer need to criticize wokeness) That's maturity + rational response to changing circumstances. Hardly anybody who thinks supports wokeness now - the stupidity has become obvious - wasn't true 3 years ago.
5 - (illegitimi non carborundum) Maybe; I don't know you well enough to tell. Your overreaction (IMHO) to the NYT article makes me think maybe you're too sensitive here.
6 - (simulated annealing) Yes, I think so. That's maturity and wisdom growing over time. Ideas that you've proven to yourself as stupid are no longer interesting.
7 - (big vs little name bloggers) - Only you know. You say:
>realistically I’m going to do more good by funding important charities,
>highlighting new voices, and helping build strong communities than
>by posting yet another hot take"
I think you're probably wrong here. Lots of other people can do those things - only you can write the way you do. [This is the one that made me bother to post a reply.]
8 - (intellectual progress) I think you're confusing this with #6 (and maybe #1 and #2).
Scott, seems like your recent review of "Don't Look Up" generated a lot of engagement and comments. Have you considered trying yourself as a media critic on the side? To stay relevant with the younger generation and to attract new audience, you could even give some thought to anime. "Psycho-Pass" is set in a futuristic society where people's minds are continuously monitored by AI and severe mental deviations (e.g. criminality) are grounds for termination. As someone interested in psychiatry and utilitarianism, I can see you being intrigued by what it has to say.
My take is that "Scott Alexander" missed the boat with regard to COVID and Russiagate.
While there haven't been as many "bangers" at ACX, I did enjoy Fussell on Class and the Erdogan biography review.
I definitely thought Bounded Distrust was a misstep though, it seems quite possible that there are cases where the actual truth cannot be gleaned from careful analysis of experts' biases.
Pretty brave post. My only gripe with you and most the rationalist community has been more or less going along with the official pandemic response/attitude. I thought I mostly shared your worldview but learned through this pandemic that I do not. Ditto for most the rationalist community. I feel pretty intellectually homeless today.
To be honest I most look forward to your book reviews these days. And pretty much anything economics! If I may point you to a potentially interesting topic it would be currently existing wars (why do they exist and how to end them).
When it comes to x-risk/AI I find my mind is too firmly made up about them now. For the increasing depths of psychology too esoteric for me to be interested. And of course all the community related posts.
When the good posts come they are still just as good but it's completely understandable why you can't produce them at the same rate. No-one could.
I'd LOVE it if you started a side-blog with less pressure on seriousness and you can freely write about the day you had and stuff. That'd really be a good complement to ACX.
One other thing I really miss about yesteryears is that you had posts about something you thought about psychology/psychiatry after some event/patient/etc at your workplace and you'd go to some place with that insight. Now that you're unanonymous (what's the correct word, nonymous? English is not my main language) you cannot do that anymore I guess. There's not much to do about this probably, unless you just cut out the part where you had the insight and directly start with the insight and beyond.
Anyway, keep up the good work man you're a bright spot in the internet landscape. And I hope you were a communist of sorts :)
According to this article I found in the WashPost, most artists hit their creative peak in their late 30's or early 40's:
"And the numbers show a remarkable degree of uniformity across the three domains of art, music and literature. On average, Nobel Prize-winning writers produce their best work at age 45. Painters peak at age 42. And classical composers produce their most popular works at age 39."
Maybe you're just more like a rock star, Scott. You're approaching 40, so you're no longer "cool" to the kids anymore, because now you're their dad's age. On top of that, your fan base is getting older, getting married and buying houses, and you don't quite know how to keep their attention, now that they no longer want to rock and roll all night or party everyday. It happens to all of us, sooner or later (I'm the same age as you, actually, so I'm not cool anymore, either). Maybe it's time to try the blogging equivalent of putting out an acoustic album or collaborate with some younger musicians on a series of duets?
Note: this comment is entirely tongue-in-cheek. I think your stuff is still damn good.
"They’ll feel it’s insulting for you to have opinions about a field when there are hundreds of experts who have written thousands of books about the field which you haven’t read."
My experience is that these are some of the most useful posts out there. Expert opinion, whatever else it has, is full of blind spots - fields get ossified, academics go down ever-narrowing rabbit holes, extraordinarily tight bubbles become echo chambers, etc.
One of the best examples of Scott's writing on this is "California, Water you Doing?" here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/05/11/california-water-you-doing/ - as somebody with an advanced degree in Agricultural Economics, I can say that this article blows most of the "expert" commentary in the field out of the water, and I think it's precisely because Scott approaches it in a different way.
So for whatever it's worth, my one vote out of 40,000 is that there's tremendous value to the posts that might be avoided for reason #5.
Alternative explanation: you suck less, it’s just that people remember new stuff better. They remember all of ACX (because it’s recent) but only good parts of SSC (why would one remember old stuff which sucks?).
That’s similar to why modern movies suck (for me). For old stuff, I can just open https://www.bfi.org.uk/sight-and-sound/greatest-films-all-time and each one of those is a carefully selected masterpiece. For modern movies, there are some great once as well, but, as I am exposed to an average, rather than to the best, they seem to suck more.
Simple, reductive theory for why the posts have decreased in apparent significance: Scott's reading fewer weird/old/ultra-niche texts and more of-the-moment blogs, think pieces, etc. and so not experiencing the kind of disparate-ideas-from-diverse-domains synthesis that results in a high number of original and paradigm-shifting ideas.
I expect this is a major cause of many superstar pundit's intellectual stagnations. They simply become too busy to read widely, and in a sense 'riskily' in apparently unrelated and unfashionable domains.
I do think you and everyone else in the writing world is in a place where the average of debates in generated by "Aztec chanting guy". It doesn't make your writing worse but it does lower the amount of interesting things you can write because lots of the things you might want to write about IQ, Education, Crime, Immigration etc would end up with you debunking morons rather than actually making interesting points.
Maybe you should do more steelmanning so you actually have a competent case put forward to argue against.
I like the new stuff too! I miss your fun fiction posts, though. Like the one with the pills or the one with Greek gods. Those have stuck with me even when the ideas have become less cutting edge.
I'm in a similar phase of life as you and I look forward to ACX parenting content. Also life-advice-for-kids content. You could do that now - think about what life advice you'd give a hypothetical smart 12 year old or high school kid and write about it. You don't have to wait until your actual kids are actually of appropriate age.
I think the only one of these possible reasons that really holds water for me is the travelogue analogy. For my money, you've still been producing some outstanding posts in the past year, probably even at about the same rate as you ever used to. Not every one is a banger, but never was that the case. As you as a writer and I as a reader have both progressed, there are fewer exotic locations of note out there that one of us hasn't heard about, and digging further down into a problem is almost always less fun than witnessing it for the first time and being struck by its beauty.
One thing I do think has seriously gone downhill for me personally is the participation aspect, and that's just because the comments section has just gotten tooooo biiiiiig. Getting your comment noticed is hard, keeping up with the others is hard and lately I've just given up trying. The comments here used to feel a lot like an epistemic little league, and I adored that. I believe you asked at one point whether you could mirror people onto multiple smaller comments sections and I was very attracted to that idea. Maybe that's still something worth considering? It could be an opt-in option or something.
> If you have a small blog, and you have a cool thought or insight, you can post your cool thought or insight. People will say “interesting, I never thought of that before” and have vaguely positive feelings about you. If you have a big blog, people will get angry. They’ll feel it’s insulting for you to have opinions about a field when there are hundreds of experts who have written thousands of books about the field which you haven’t read. Unless you cite a dozen sources, it will be “armchair speculation” and you’ll be “speaking over real academics”. If anyone has ever had the same thought before, you’re plagiarizing them, or “reinventing the wheel”, or acting like a “guru”, or claiming that all knowledge springs Athena-like from your head with no prior influences.
The best way to prevent this kind of pull-back is to practice wrongspeak early and often. Establish a pattern where people know you do this and it can't be used against you. Call it the Elon method. It's for the best of the world, since all other roads lead to the fallacy of thinking you can predict the full results of your writings, which nobody can. It will lead to pundit-level quality output though, as your utterances become more and more tactical. Practicing truth telling, come what may, seems to me the only long-term defensible strategy. It's a game with many turns, and you never know when people trusting you to say exactly what you think may come in handy. Keep it simple.
Too much cock, not enough balls?
In general your writing seems to have gotten better on many subjects. The topic selection might be an issue for readers like me that are used to reading backlog.
When I was still consuming SSC backlog I could just glance over "diatribe over wokeness" and carefully read "post on some facet of neruoscience", nowadays that's not possible. But it doesn't mean the blog is worst, it just means there's not enough content that interests me because there's no backlog... and that's fine. Replace those 2 with what other people prefer and you get the point, this generalizes to everyone (potentially)
Switching to substack may have caused more people to go from "read the backlog" to "follow new posts" and thus could have caused a spike.
As an aside, at the time of that survey I remember saying "SSC was better" because it came in the wake of (what seemed to me) to be a lot of US - politics posts (which I dislike), there might be some sort of recency bias going on, would be worth while at least aggregating the numbers from 2-3 of these posted at different times and seeing if the "SSC was better" overlap.
Just my two cents, for what it's worth I voted that SSC was better but in hindsight I'm wrong, I actually noticed some marked improvement in the last year of writing (and for what it's worth I voted with my money to keep that going)
"My blog had a very slight but nonzero influence on at least one country’s coronavirus policies." - ooh? I'm curious about this
Some of my favorite SSC posts were book reviews (Albion's Seed, Surfing Uncertainty). Perhaps you could start reading more controversial/challenging books?
I read a comment in the last post about you hitting yourself really hard as an experiment and I smiled widely and laughed abs felt genuine affection toward you for whatever that’s worth.
Scott blog posts are like any genre of writing. Anyone new gets a deluge of the best stuff first. All the old stuff that was forgettable is, properly, forgotten. Then new stuff is a similar quality but not filtered for only the absolute best stuff. Sometimes there is a gem for certain people that reads average to others. But the illusion is created of decline when that isn't the case.
I think "5: Sometimes the bastards do grind you down" is a huge societal problems. I've read takes from high-ranking politicians to semi-unknown youtubers and they all agree that having the mob against you is fucking terrible. Most likely, several of the top decision makers in your life right now spend half their waking time worrying about what journalists and internet randos will write about them next.
I think there's a very high impact opportunity available in solving this. (I've should have sent in for a grant proposal!) If we could decrease the impact of mob hate by 90%, a lot of important and high-impact people could be way more efficient. Hopefully, we can make an ML system that filters out the negativity: it would strengthen filter bubbles but I definitely think it's worth it. (I guess this is what the mainstream is talking about when they're talking about "online harassment" but the target is kind of off and the mainstream solutions all look bad.)
Scott (or anyone else famous enough to have this problem), do you have any ideas for how to make things better? Do you want me to go trough your mail and filter out hate?
I think you're great.
But surely, if you think you've gotten into a bit of a rut, there are plenty of things a person can do to get more exploratory.
Just my opinion, but I don't think people get more set in their ways as they get older. I don't think they make smaller jumps.
Ok, I've been lurking for a while, but I have to say: I don't think you suck. Your posts are interesting, and spark arguments and discussion among my weirdo "friends who like to argue" group. You have a good variety of topics, your commenting community remains excellent, and you're one of the few bloggers I continue to follow.
You're a timesuck, but you do not suck!
Scott decidedly does not suck. But his working hypotheses for why he might suck are all about him. Maybe some of his readers think he has gone downhill for their own subjective reasons. For example, they may miss the impossible-to-repeat golden nostalgic feeling of having first discovered his blog when they were younger . . . ah, the good old days. Or, maybe, there are just declining marginal benefits to rationalism. They have learned all they can learn about Bayes Theorem and now it's time for them to spread their wings and adjust their priors to new experience all on their own.
But just having a solid body of work behind you guarantees that some people will like the old stuff better. They will dis you for playing the single off your new album instead of their old favorites, and will stand in the back chanting "Freebird!"
Jeez Marie to live in the era of ubiquitous and infinite complaints and demands would exhaust a deity and I ain't one of those. What you do is just fine. If people don't like it they should change the channel
Still love the blog, definitely feel like it’s been pretty consistent. It does feel like that even as the blog is better known, I see far fewer ACX posts consistently linked. I do think regardless of content your writing style feels a bit less ambitious now. Always had the In-depth scientific summaries, book reviews, and short insightful blog posts, less multi-part extended analogies with mysticism and shocking twists and turns. Less emotion in general . There’s a tendency to mellow as well as mature with age so probably pretty natural and mostly related to what you’ve described. Also wonder if personal struggles in 2013-15 with residency, being isolated and romantically frustrated may have played into your writing.
In a society full of racists, nobody comments on racism; even if you aren't racist, you could go your entire life without once noticing a racist comment.
In a society full of anti-racists, everybody comments on racism; you will observe racist comments brought to the public attention constantly.
Same thing for wokeness. The fact that we see it everywhere means that peak wokeness has already passed.
That said, there is a meta-level thing I'd be curious to see a post about, which is the tendency of a movement, when it has passed that peak, to be full of people complaining when people accuse them of trying to do the stuff the movement tries to do, because it's somehow unfair to hold a movement responsible for the stuff it tries but fails to accomplish; like, as in wokeness, comedians who weren't successfully silenced talking about how people attempted to silence them (particularly when the people complaining about this also complain about the fact that the attempt was unsuccessful). And also the counterarguments, because, also, when a movement holds no power, overly public complaints about it trying to do stuff it has no power to do serve as kind of a tinman in public discourse.
100% honesty here, and probably something I should work on instead of just admitting it and moving on:
Your content is almost certainly much much better than it ever has been. But it's also about more niche/productive topics, and then about nitty-gritty specifics I need education on. It's very easy to read a post like https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/bounded-distrust and say "oh neat, I kind of already knew this, I agree with it, and it makes me feel very intelligent to have that opinion validated."
It's much more difficult to read something like: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/ancient-plagues
This is a subject on which I have absolutely no information, where I'll have to think very hard about the information I'm being presented, and where nobody in my social circle will care if I have an opinion on it.
There seem to be many more of the latter recently. That's probably not a decline in quality, it's probably just not reaching for the low-hanging fruit. But my motivation for reading things like that has to come from a sincere desire to be more knowledgeable, instead of a desire to feel more knowledgeable, a desire to see a person I consider intelligent agree with me, or a desire to gather new arguments for things I already think. Probably you'd be much more successful if you went back to the culture wars well a lot, but I don't know that you'd be happier or that your output would be better.
For what it's worth, your book reviews are as good as ever.
As someone who just let their Substack subscription lapse with no immediate intention to re-up I can tell you that quality was never an issue for me. I was a longtime reader of the old blog and close follower of the new. What I perceived as changing was your tone. I used to see you as an individual voice with clarity on a variety of subjects and while I was not necessarily in agreement, I enjoyed looking at things through your eyes. However in the last year you seem to me to be more and more a voice of a particular community, speaking to the converted and dismissive of other points of view. (Maybe that is what you've been all along and I just became more immersed as a subscriber?)
Your occasional references to supporters with deep pockets, The recent grant giving and the traveling about for meet-ups you've organized all made me uncomfortable mostly because of the lack of transparency and unclear intent. Is this a club?
Finally, frankly a fair number of your subscribers scare me. I gave up reading the subscriber only comment threads in hopes of getting past the company I was keeping, alas it didn't work.
So, who changed? You or me? Probably both.
It seems minor but tbh this site isnt nearly as pleasant on the eyes as your old site.
I think my single most favorite one of your posts is the Atomic Dog post from 2012:
"One solution is a pain auction. The artist puts all prospective buyers in a sauna, then gradually turns up the temperature until it is painfully, scaldingly hot. Prospective buyers may leave the sauna at any time, but the last person remaining in the sauna gets the painting. The person who wants the painting the most will stay in the sauna the longest and win (given the false assumption that everyone has the same heat tolerance).
Now this is a terrible idea. It shares two of the worst features of the dollar auction. First, everyone sacrifices, not just the final winner. Second, one may sacrifice much more than the prize is worth. Suppose the painting is worth 100 utils to you, and every minute in the sauna costs 10 utils. If you've been in the sauna ten minutes, and there's only one other person in, you may stay in the sauna an extra minute in the hope that he will drop out and you will win, ending up with -10 utils instead of -100.
But it does have some attraction for solving the dog problem. If being in the environment of screams and insults is painful just like being in the sauna, eventually whichever partner hates walking the dog less will break and go walk the dog.
If interpersonal utility comparison doesn't work, a pain auction might be a next-best (by which I mean vastly worse) alternative that solves the same problem."
Two other possible contributing factors that I didn't see suggested when I skimmed the comments:
1) You stand out less because there are many more people writing good stuff on the Internet in a related style. Certainly there seem to be more than when I started reading SSC about 6 years ago (others may disagree depending on
2) The readers (as individuals, not the cohort) have changed and shouldn't expect your new blog posts to have the same effect on them as the old ones. I remember finding SSC and binge reading loads of it (my job was boring and quiet at the time) and it's changed the way I think (for the better probably). That can't happen every time you publish something new. Or shouldn't anyway, that seems like it would be kind of weird.
I would lean towards 2 personally. I don't think you suck now (I'm still reading clearly), but even your best posts now aren't going to have the same impact as the first ones I read.
An obvious point, but as well as you growing older the people who liked your blog in 2013 have also grown older, and so everything seems worse. I tend to assume that most statements of the form “X has declined badly since 10 years ago” are proxies for “I have way less sex than I was having 10 years ago”.
To work out how much you actually suck, you need to ask them how they feel about their favourite sports team, restaurant / parent etc.
Still love you a lot.
But whatever made you delete the "carthago delenda est" and Nick Land mentions from Meditations on Moloch, is probably a big part of the answer to your question.
I'm probably not the typical reader, but I read you mostly for the great jokes. The posts the past year have seemed less humorous, but I'm still a big fan!
I find it refreshing that the official no. 1 science blogger of substack shares his thoughts of why he may suck at writing.
I can relate very much, because I have also found my tiny niche (nothing big like science blogging) where I am probably better than every other person on earth, and I still have frequent doubts on whether I am good enough. I have learned to ignore these thoughts, so they are no more than a small itching, but they never go away completely. If you also feel them, let me tell you: you are doing fine! In fact, you happen to be the best science blogger that I know, but for you it should not matter whether you are the best. The important thing is that you are doing good, it's plain and simple as that.
For what it's worth, I've never commented on ACX or SSC, I don't follow other rationalists, I've hardly read LessWrong, and I gladly pay $100 for the unique experience of reading at least one person on earth who is prepared to approach most topics with impartiality and makes it fun. So, thank you.
You're better than ever, I don't know what people want but you should ignore them.
Hey! I’m a Bokonist! We’re all one big happy Karass, reaching for that big ol’ ice-nine pie in the sky.
As a non-paid subscriber take this with a grain of salt, but I prefer modern era to SSC. For years and years I've periodically read your work, but the ideas are more mature (smaller jumps?). Young SSC is great, but a lot of the time you're left shouting at the screen "but you missed 214234 other issues!", now the ideas (and writing) flow a lot better.
I think your first point is probably the best explainer, of whatever it is.
Also: In the early days of SSC, there's a feeling of wild excitement and unpredictability that definitely existed, and is definitely part of the appeal for me upon re-read (I don't think consciously trying to recapture this feeling would be a good idea, Comeback Albums suck). Your very first post talked about Chesterton and complained about there being no muse for blogging, and then the second and third were bizarre theories about Abraham Lincoln. Some others have said this but there don't seem to be as many *really random* posts these days; the tone is more formal in general.
In an even earlier blog, you gave us a lot more clues about your personal life. You were a confused kid, then you were gaining more confidence and more of a place in the world, then you were doing deeper thinking and gaining the respect of a bunch of people who you respected. And then you went silent for three months or something, and then popped back up, and when you started writing again it was like an explosion. You wrote this really long and interesting post about how we believe what we believe, that in retrospect seems like the big breakthrough that let you write the early SSC posts, and then you referenced Leah Libresco a lot and your responses to her posts were so insightful that she noticed you and started referencing your blog. It must've seemed like you could do anything.
When I read early SSC, I read the writing of someone who knows that he's arrived in the world, and is thoroughly enjoying it. That raw excitement is the secret ingredient, I suspect. It's something I've tasted a couple of times in my life, and it veritably oozes from the early years of SSC.
For what it's worth, I think you're doing *exactly* the right thing now. The book review contest was great, and writing long, thoughtful posts trying to figure out what is really true is something we will always need more of. And hey, I'm never going to actually read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, I need someone smart to explain it to me so that I can get the good ideas out of it.
So where is Scott's secret small blog where he posts all the real juicy stuff? We all know he changed blogs twice in the past so that means probably along the way he made a backup. Scott is too talented to not accidentally grow in influence, so it must be a blog with quickly growing readership. I expect in 10 years or so most of the widely read blogs on the internet will be Scott's aliases.
I wrote a comment and then deleted it in favor of saying something different.
I think this social moment here in the US is like when the tsunami is drawing all the water out away from the shore. We are seeing a very low tide, Scott is seeing a low tide (nothing to fight with, nothing to fight about).
But that stage doesn't last. There's a subsequent stage, which is inundation. There's a feeling of artificial calm lately - and it correlates with a stage in Scott's life and artistic trajectory, so here we are looking for correlations and causations.
Maybe he's feeling the massive ebb. We're feeling the ebb. There's an ebb going on. Media-driven, US-election-driven.
When the tsunami comes, there will be more than enough to be contrary about. These issues that feel solved for a second - they're not. It's just a break from us being flogged with it.
Scott, I think you write very well, you think very carefully, you share your process, and this whole blog is invaluable in all its stages. The good old Grateful Dead "When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door." Why aren't you fighting? Why aren't we all fighting? It doesn't feel like fight-time, right this minute. Probably, though, it will feel like fight-time again in the relatively near future. There have been no signs that things are actually "over." It's a lull.
You'll have plenty of new material by January 2023 - 85% confidence. Your experienced and nuanced approach to contrarianism will be necessary and in demand. I really think this. Rest up! And thank you for all of this.
I think I suck sometimes. I think there were too many times I was lazy about proofreading, organizing my thoughts, and digging up links to supporting evidence. Some people hate me for opinions I no longer have. Sometimes I bring up CW topics unnecessarily. My previous twitter career of google image searching for graphs of politically incorrect data and smugly replying to random celebrities who said something woke that contradicted the data, was kind of just preaching to the choir, rarely convincing anyone, probably causing blowback on the scientists who collected the data. (also it seemed to lead to google image search censoring graphs that show up on known thoughtcrime domains even if the same image is also on valid scholarly sources) I need more attention to the emotional side of things rather than just robotically tweeting graphical counterevidence at people who say incorrect things. People have to be in the right frame of mind to update on evidence, and "confronted by other-tribe on twitter" is not it. If they're not in the right state of mind when they first see the evidence, they likely develop cowpox-like immunity to it.
I’m still enjoying the blog. I have a few complaints. There seem to be too many open threads, not enough content coming from you, Scott. I like the idea of a book review contest but the last one had way too many contestants. Also I would be interested in seeing more book reviews written by you.
Well, I don't think you suck.
However, I will add that I don't read the majority of what you have put out.
Most of it is either stuff that I don't care about (a la Biden and American voters),
or esoteric stuff that I care little about (also a la Biden and American voters),
or PMC stuff like the vast majority of book reviews.
I like what you do with the big topics that I care about: COVID, Georgism etc.
This isn't a complaint - it is your blog and you do what you want to do.
But it is feedback.
I'm glad you referenced Bokononism.
Lets' all sing along with Bokonon, in one of the two songs Kurt Vonnegut quotes in full:
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly,
Man got to sit and wonder why, why, why?
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land,
Man got to tell himself he understand.
Funny though it would be if you were to spend the next decade on your equivalent of The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, I don't think we need to worry yet. As you say, you're more influential than you've ever been, your essays are consistently fascinating, and you're still better than anyone else. I would have thought you've got enough friends on the spectrum that people you trust will tell you if Nobel Syndrome has set in, you won't need to rely on internet commenters to do it.
My experience with your blog is that the quality per unit time has absolutely *increased* since you moved to substack. It seems like you post quite a bit more now so, while in the old days, it felt like a larger portion of your posts were super insightful gems they were also really frustratingly rare. I personally find that I'm getting a lot more overall value from your posts now than I was before.
A lot of the value you provide is in terms of filtering and explaining ideas from other people and I don't think other people are really generating ideas at a much different rate and, if anything, you are encountering them with equal frequency.
The only thing I would add is that I don't think it's a good use of your time to do much community management. Find someone who isn't famous in rationalist circles and have them do it. You have a really strong comparative advantage in explaining ideas in ways that both convey the arguments well and strongly but don't have the alienating qualities that most of us rationalists seem unable to avoid inserting when we argue and I'm not sure you have any comparative organizational ability (but maybe this is just because I don't live in CA or otherwise benefit from your organizing efforts but like the writing).
Though, I think your strongest comparative advantage is really psychological insight. It's frustratingly rare, even for people in mental health, but you seem to have a greater ability than most to both understand why other people feel the way they do and convey that to others.
I'd have to be one of the ones who agree with the change on tone, style, and how hard you bring down the logic hammer on ideas you reject. But your explanation makes a lot of sense. I wouldn't say 'you suck' and even an 80% as good personal experience of you is still 5 times better than almost anything else I read...so what can I complain about!
You've addressed the main points and the ones where you're simply getting older, have made up your mind about more things, and have shot your accumulated idea ammunition dry from well developed ideas all match up and are now on new voyages where more eyes are upon you.
I'd say one word which describes the change for me, and there is no reason to boil things down like that!....is struggle. Less struggle.
I feel like in the earlier articles you were deeply personally struggling with ideas that 'mattered' to you like many young people do. That energy natural fades, changes, matures, and your tone changes direction over time - there would probably be something wrong with you if you didn't mature or ever settle down on answers after struggling so much. This is quite natural and to be expected. I know I hardly care about most of the things I used to care about when I was younger.
All of that Jacob wrestling with god stuff kind of falls away as you give up the fight and land upon answers you can live with. That these long running issues of social dynamics, how we pass along and create knowledge, etc. have been around for many thousands of years and the intelligent though ignorant young people butt up against more and more of the scale, scope, and magnitude of 'the problem' which is more like 'the reality of human existence'..much more so than a 'problem' to be solved, improved, or optimised. Facing that huge world and knowing that the biggest change you could make, the latest impact, the most prominent of positions, and even then if you were a thought leader 1,000x times bigger...the small versions of impacts desired might still be far out of reach. And yet many minds and readers, such as myself, have greatly benefited from your efforts.
It is more of a rhythm to be lived and it changes you a lot more than you can ever change it.
Perhaps the writing doesn't have the same force as it once did with 'the great struggle' partially resolved for the life you're going to be living. The world isn't a huge unknown thing and it contains perhaps fewer brand new ideas to churn through where you're trying to develop your mental models from limited experiences of the process of developing other mental models for other aspects of life and the ideascape.
I'd note one thing too...some of it is that 'we suck' just as much. Anyone who can comment on your blog's changes, like I can as a long time reader going back into the early SSC days when you had links to your old live journal or whatever it was called....we've also changed too.
The audience is also 8 or 9 years older than they were back then. Sure while the culture has moved on, the ideas are more common, and there are other bloggers to read...we're different too.
Besides yourself changing and the media/cultural landscape changing....so have we as the audience...not just in that collective cultural way, but directly as individuals who went on our own journeys and on that journey and struggle with you when Less Wrong and Rationalist ideas and such were new to us too.
What is a far worse outcome than me having an 80% enjoyment level was the dark period when you were not writing at all between SSC and ACX! Please keep going!
Probably should should mention regression towards the mean. If you write the best blog in the world for a few years, you're never going to maintain that level indefinitely.
This is right. You've plucked your low-hanging fruit. None of us grow new ideas as fast as we can talk.
Of course it feels deeply weird. Superficially a "new post" looks like it's set up to have as much new value as an older post. It's the same form factor, so it must have the same value, right? ...nope.
I guess there might be ways you could adapt to spend more effort on hunting new ideas, or to signal when you're rehashing old ones.
But your diagnosis seems correct. You're not failing at your game; you're just on a different game mode now.
A line that never made the final folio of Hamlet.
I'm going to embrace my inner autistic bitch, and suggest that part of the problem is mentioned in your very first paragraph:
>> I recently ran a subscriber-only AMA <<
Being paid changes incentives, which changes behaviour. The behaviour your SSC followers liked was produced while you were pretty much actively discouraging people from funding you. AFAIK, there was nothing produced exclusively for subscribers.
Also, and probably not coincidentally, the software platform was better than substack for running a blog with a large active commentariat. Substack is optimized for something much closer to a newspaper's regular feature, with commenting ability but far less opportunity for interaction among commenters.
Paying for something also changes people's evaluations. On the one hand, they don't want to feel like a chump, paying good money for something utterly worthless, so their "fast" system will rate you as better than rubbish. But on the other hand, the salient comparison group is now professionals, not amateurs. Worse, it's probably memorable professionals who they consider worthy of their hard earned money, not professionals they happily don't subscribe to.
Those of us who are free subscribers have a slightly different calculus, but our "fast" system automatically rates this blog as less good than whatever each of us pays for - otherwise we'd feel like chumps. Worse, we have a list in our head of what we'd like to subscribe to, budget permitting, and you have a specific place in that list, probably behind a few other public intellectuals.
Also, we may want to justify our decision not to subscribe - "the grapes were sour anyway". Or we may resent what appears to us to be inflated, unreasonable, 1% level renumeration - believe you should be paid, but not as much as you now are. $400 K per annum looks like a lot of money to many of us. When asked "is this guy any good", we may well answer instead "is this guy worth $400 K per annum" - and do so in the negative. (I suspect some quantity of paying subscribers may do the same.)
All this sets aside questions of whether you actually suck, or whether your writing has gotten worse since SSC. But works-for-hire have different incentives than works-for-love or works-to-influence-people, let alone works-for-a-few-friends. Some of those incentives encourage improvements, but others encourage replacing quality with quantity and timeliness.
Personally, I find the ACX experience less good than that of SSC, but I can't disentangle how much of that is the substandard user interface. You always posted some things that I regarded as essentially rubbish. You still do. But I never paid enough attention to figure out the proportions. Probably there are more of those now, since one of your regular features is in this category for me. But there are also more posts, so maybe the proportions are still the same.
Mostly, though, I now relate to you as a supplier, not a peer. I presume my opinion is only relevant to you in aggregate, and you probably don't read my comments. I don't expect you to be interested in my ideas. We aren't in this together - you re an Influencer (TM), and I'm a potential customer, and a potential source of referrals. Even though I've met you in person (at a local meetup), I don't have any kind of relationship with you. And for me that makes your work less interesting, less exciting, etc. etc.
Some of the things that are sometimes missed are the somewhat more abstract / experimental posts, ranging from Moloch to the small fiction ones. I have the feeling posts have slowly become more focused on concrete, "nuts and bolts/real world" stuff.
I don't think this effect comes from causes 3/4/5/7, because that kind of experimental post is not likely to trigger culture wars - it will probably elicit a "meh" from those looking for conflict. 1/2/6 may have a bit to do: maybe the more playful style was just a vehicle for that "simulated annealing", and now it is not useful anymore to converge. But 8 should not be it. It's true that going back to SSC one may find a few of them to be less "sophisticated", but normally best ideas come from having the playfulness to try and risk entering that thin zone between brilliance and cringe. I don't think sophistication has to stop one from going in there. If anything, it gives better tools to navigate it.
(That said, the old ones are not lost, and the reading the new remains as good a use of my time as ever.)
When you wrote "bokoninist" did you mean "bokononist"? Busy, busy, busy!
> Are there really still woke people?
I think this is the first time I feel envy because of someone's social bubble.
Since you bring up atheism and rationalism quite often, I thought I'd share this link about an ancient school of thought within Hinduism, called Carvaka, that sounds like rationalism to me. It is popular once again among well-educated Hindu youth nowadays, just as humanism is popular among American college kids nowadays :
Well now, since I"m a total newb to this place, I'm curious about the writings of Young Scott from Ages Gone By. But if I read those, maybe I'll end up thinking Current Day Scott sucks. Don't want that.
I'll just say that I only rarely read SSC, but regularly read ACX, I suppose because substack makes it easier to quickly read/comment. I think most claims of decline in quality is a rosy retrospective bias.
> It would be arrogant to say the reason I make fewer large updates now than I did at age 28 is because I’ve solved all the big problems. But I think I’ve found solutions for big problems that satisfy me. My jumps are smaller now, less “oh, I changed my mind about whether there’s a God” and more “let’s explore this sub-sub-cranny of utilitarianism”.
Might be fun and interesting every now and again to real delve into some topics as goatee-Scott, the mirrorverse version of you where you became, say, a virtue ethicist rather than a utilitarian. You often try to balance out your analysis in this way, but some deontological/virtue ethics pills can seem too hard to swallow if you're already committed to utilitarianism and you just back out. What if you swallowed those bitters pills and followed the rabbit hole all the way down?
I also had a funny thought: since you have more resources now, maybe find a volunteer or hire someone to train GPT-3 or other AI on your posts and see what AI-Scott would write about certain topics. Maybe even have a contest to see if the community can discern real-Scott from AI-Scott. It will probably have to be limited to short hot-takes for now, as anything longer will probably give the game away.
> It’s just no longer interesting. The same is true of religion vs. atheism, capitalism vs. communism, and a bunch of other things. I am bored of those debates.
Maybe an index of your position on various issues on your main page would be useful, particularly for newcomers?
"I felt like all my friends were social justice warriors, back when other people described barely knowing one or two.
[...]But it seems like I must still be near the top of the barberpole - because while everyone else is freaking out about wokeness, I’m starting to feel like all my friends are anti-woke."
Are these the same friends? Or did you lose the old ones and get new ones?
You don't suck, Scott, and I wouldn't say that the quality of your thought or writing has gone down. It's the *ambition* of your work which has diminished.
I think you devoted more essays at SSC to tackling bigger questions, both ethical and philosophical, as well as trying to develop useful concepts and heuristics which illuminated the world for folks. Your essays on ACX tend to be of the variety of mucking around in some literature and making a bunch of hedged guesses. Nothing wrong with that sort of work, but I don't think it's what originally attracted most readers.
TL;DR -- You spend a lot of time looking really hard at the absurd difficulty of things instead of being a mensch who reaches into the void to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Damn, looks like Eliezer started posting the Sequences at age 28, too. I'm turning 26 this year, so I guess there are only two more years before I have to start publishing a series of world-altering blogposts. Better get on that.
Also, your #1 is the reason that resonates with me the most. There are only so many insights as big as Mediations on Moloch (felt to me at the time). But I think there's also a flipside to your story about you growing up and not being as interested in the basic debates, which is that when I discovered SSC at the age of 18, I was a lot dumber than I am now — and the same will surely be true for many readers who have been following you all this time. At 18 I was still pretty interested in the capitalism vs communism question, didn't really have a handle on the basics of philosophy, and had never had to exist in the world as an adult. With that context, a lot of your blogposts felt completely fucking earth-shattering in a way that nothing I encounter nowadays does. But is that a fact about you or a fact about me (and the passage of time)?
In this post you repeatedly suggest a general antipathy towards 'woke' and 'leftist' sections of the culture and political wars, and talk about how many of your views have settled since you were younger.
In the part of the world and circles where I currently find myself, much of the woke/sjw debate focuses around gender issues. When someone around me complains about woke people, then, it is generally in this context. I have a crowd shouting in one ear that groups of extremist transphobes backed by conservative media want to put queer folk back in their closets with all the implications for quality of life, suicide rates etc that this entails; and a crowd shouting in my other ear that crazed perverts want to cancel and censor ordinary right-thinking folk so they can hide in women's loos and convince little children to mutilate their genitalia.
My own opinions on the subject were in part informed by your 2014 post, "the categories were made for man" - which I still find a very compelling argument for treating people as they say they wish to be treated rather than as others think they should be.
Hence the question - has your position shifted much in the years since that essay was written?
This might be something you've addressed already, but I'll spell it out anyway.
Before being doxxed, your identity and hence your reputation in society weren't entangled with your writings. Hence, you could afford to be inflammatory/write artistically flamboyant pieces. Now your identity has gotten entangled with your writing, and hence you must preserve your reputation. You incentives have changed. And changed incentives get to everyone. It is possible that you're not conscious of some of these processes, although now I am hypothesizing about your unconscious brain.
I think a lot of it is (1), and link to this piece that works through similar ideas, maybe a bit grimly (though probably at least as grimly for commenters). https://scholars-stage.org/public-intellectuals-have-short-shelf-lives-but-why/
(4) I think is also true. "I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup" was apparently from 2014?!? Now it's a good way to put a target on your back, but it's OK to be a Democrat, even a liberal Democrat, but point at some of the woke excesses and say "guys, this is crazy." John McWhorter may well owe his position at the NYT to this.
I'll also agree with similar comments to the effect that if any public intellectual writes 2-3 superb pieces per year, 8-10 very good ones, 25-30 that are fine, and some number of misses...people will look at the current year's output vs. the greatest hits from 3-8 years ago and see a decline.
I know this is indefensible, but I'm fairly sure you've missed the main reason. I don't mean the main reason you suck (because, among other things, you don't) but the reason people might experience a diminution of that 'Wow, Scott blew me away with another addition to the rationalist armory" feeling.
An analogy I'd make is to one of my favorite Tai Chi teachers (Ian Sinclair, as it happens) who talks and teaches and demonstrates and investigates concepts to do with central equilibrium. He describes how many years can be usefully devoted to exploring and refining this integral part of the philosophy and practice of Tai Chi, through Zazen, standing meditation and Chi Gung.
Sooner or later, though, you have to 'Take it on the Road' - go out into life with whatever degree of central equilibrium you have attained and put it into practice in the hubbub of human experience and human interaction. Then you can become a Tai Chi creature.
I feel the same thing about your blogging, Scott. Less and less is it about the ways and means of thinking sensibly, techniques for navigating our bias-ridden cognitive apparatus; More and more it is you taking-on-the-road whatever skills you've developed and putting them into practice. Applying them in a real world environment, and to real world issues.
Inevitably there is less drama and wowness about it all now, but it could not be any other way. Out of the abstract intellectual dojo and into the world where things matter. A lot of us are disappointed with this because we want to stay in the dojo - or playground - forever.
Well, bully for you, and all continued power to your elbow. And while I'm at it, good luck with your marriage - I wish you well.