Ending Online Outrage Mobs

Conservatives appear to be conflicted about the whole James Gunn uproar.  After numerous old tweets joking (at least I pray he was joking) about pedophilia were uncovered, Disney fired the director from the third Guardians of the Galaxy film.  The left has not been happy about this.  As of this writing, a petition to rehire the director has just shy of 300,000 signatures, and, interestingly enough, it's getting some support from mainstream right-wing pundits.

James Gunn's tweets were "100 percent offensive and gross," according to David French, "but this is not how we judge people.  This is not how we determine the fate of a person's career."  Ben Shapiro stated that "[I] think that firing him for vile old joke tweets is bad precedent and a mistake," and Glenn Beck opined that "I stand with you [James Gunn].  We all make mistakes, we must come together as each of us grow and change."  But as Scott Greer noted, they were all behind firing Roseanne for one racist tweet.  Is standing with your opponents but not your allies the "principles" many on the right talk so much about?

And of course, conservatives (or just the so-called "normies") have had numerous online hate mobs directed against them and been fired for private jokes about dongles, a racist joke on Twitter (to around 100 followers), and sending out an internal memo backed by numerous scientific citations – and let us not forget those Christian bakers trying to uphold their faith.

Across the pond in Britain, conservatives have outright been arrested for quoting Winston Churchill in public, live-streaming outside a rape trial, making a comedic YouTube video with a Nazi pug, and mean tweets.

Libertarian Robby Soave calls those behind this conservative hate mob directed at James Gunn "hypocrites" for complaining about left-wing outrage culture for so long only to engage in it themselves now.  But is this an apt analogy?  After all, if the "cultural war" has anything in common with an actual war, at some point, you have to fight back.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has made a great point in his new book Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life – namely, that in order for society or institution to function properly, those who make decisions should bear the responsibility if that decision leads to bad results.  He describes Skin in the Game as follows:

The phrase is often mistaken for one-sided incentives: the promise of a bonus will make someone work harder for you.  For the central attribute is symmetry: the balancing of incentives and disincentives, people should also [be] penalized if something for which they are responsible goes wrong and hurts others: he or she who wants a share of the benefits needs to also share some of the risks.

Throughout his book, Taleb gives one example after another of how badly things can go if those making decisions (and profiting from them) don't also bear the risk of those decisions.  The most illustrative example he gives is that of mortgage-brokers and banks who made a commission originating shady loans only to sell them off to larger institutions who would then repackage them into various, overly complex, and nonsensical financial instruments, only then to sell those off to people and institutions that, as Niall Ferguson put it, were "least able to understand" them.  While there were many other reasons for the crash, and many having to do with the government, the awful incentives outlined above are too obvious to merit elaboration.

But this concept can be applied to a whole host of different things, one of which is public civility and the willingness to accept an apology.  The left has simply rejected the premise that an apology is ever sufficient while fully endorsing the online persecution of those who step out of line.  If the left won't accept an apology, why on Earth should the right?

This goes hand in hand with another concept Taleb discusses in his book: the intolerant minority.  Now, "intolerant" doesn't necessarily mean bad, but it does mean that this group will vigorously demand something and not accept any alternative.  Taleb notes that it takes nowhere near a majority to create societal change.  The majority is relatively apathetic on most issues, but an intolerant minority can create an enormous amount of pressure.  One example he gives is that of kosher and halal foods.  As he puts it:

The Kosher population represents less than three tenth of a percent of the residents of the United States.  Yet, it appears that almost all drinks are Kosher.  Why?  Simply because going full Kosher allows the producer, grocer, restaurant, to not have to distinguish between Kosher and nonkosher for liquids, with special markers, separate aisles, separate inventories, different stocking sub-facilities. And the simple rule that changes the total is as follows:

A Kosher (or halal) eater will never eat nonkosher (or nonhalal) food , but a nonkosher eater isn't banned from eating kosher.

One might ask why there was no other option but to either fire Roseanne for one awful tweet or just let it go.  Why not suspend her or dock her salary or some other punishment that would give her a chance to "grow and change"?  It's because the intolerant minority is quite intolerant, indeed.  Nothing quenches its bloodlust but complete capitulation.

Most people on the left don't particularly like this online outrage culture.  Dave Rubin, Brett Weinstein, Sam Harris, Heather Heying, and many others have all but quit the left because of it.  But the outrage mobs continue all the same because they don't require anything close to a majority.  All that this online outrage culture requires is an intolerant minority with no skin in the game.

The only way to get this nonsense to stop is to force the intolerant minority on the left to have some skin in the game.  At some point, negotiations and diplomacy must come to an end, and the "culture war" has to actually begin.  That involves firing back.  Once that intolerant minority starts feeling the pain, it might think twice about the next rage mob to fire and ostracize someone over one misstep – just as a mortgage-broker might think twice about approving a loan to someone without a job and terrible credit if he knew he would be held partially responsible if that loan went sideways.

Perhaps an apology and suspension will be sufficient for those who need to "learn and grow."

I don't want to live in a society where one misstep costs you your job, reputation, and livelihood.  I would much prefer to simply demand an apology and perhaps a suspension for those who need to "learn and grow."  But such a society won't come from mere capitulation.  As John Nolte put it, "[i]f someone with some sway on the left called for the cessation of online mobs, the right is willing to discuss an armistice."

Conservatives appear to be conflicted about the whole James Gunn uproar.  After numerous old tweets joking (at least I pray he was joking) about pedophilia were uncovered, Disney fired the director from the third Guardians of the Galaxy film.  The left has not been happy about this.  As of this writing, a petition to rehire the director has just shy of 300,000 signatures, and, interestingly enough, it's getting some support from mainstream right-wing pundits.

James Gunn's tweets were "100 percent offensive and gross," according to David French, "but this is not how we judge people.  This is not how we determine the fate of a person's career."  Ben Shapiro stated that "[I] think that firing him for vile old joke tweets is bad precedent and a mistake," and Glenn Beck opined that "I stand with you [James Gunn].  We all make mistakes, we must come together as each of us grow and change."  But as Scott Greer noted, they were all behind firing Roseanne for one racist tweet.  Is standing with your opponents but not your allies the "principles" many on the right talk so much about?

And of course, conservatives (or just the so-called "normies") have had numerous online hate mobs directed against them and been fired for private jokes about dongles, a racist joke on Twitter (to around 100 followers), and sending out an internal memo backed by numerous scientific citations – and let us not forget those Christian bakers trying to uphold their faith.

Across the pond in Britain, conservatives have outright been arrested for quoting Winston Churchill in public, live-streaming outside a rape trial, making a comedic YouTube video with a Nazi pug, and mean tweets.

Libertarian Robby Soave calls those behind this conservative hate mob directed at James Gunn "hypocrites" for complaining about left-wing outrage culture for so long only to engage in it themselves now.  But is this an apt analogy?  After all, if the "cultural war" has anything in common with an actual war, at some point, you have to fight back.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has made a great point in his new book Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life – namely, that in order for society or institution to function properly, those who make decisions should bear the responsibility if that decision leads to bad results.  He describes Skin in the Game as follows:

The phrase is often mistaken for one-sided incentives: the promise of a bonus will make someone work harder for you.  For the central attribute is symmetry: the balancing of incentives and disincentives, people should also [be] penalized if something for which they are responsible goes wrong and hurts others: he or she who wants a share of the benefits needs to also share some of the risks.

Throughout his book, Taleb gives one example after another of how badly things can go if those making decisions (and profiting from them) don't also bear the risk of those decisions.  The most illustrative example he gives is that of mortgage-brokers and banks who made a commission originating shady loans only to sell them off to larger institutions who would then repackage them into various, overly complex, and nonsensical financial instruments, only then to sell those off to people and institutions that, as Niall Ferguson put it, were "least able to understand" them.  While there were many other reasons for the crash, and many having to do with the government, the awful incentives outlined above are too obvious to merit elaboration.

But this concept can be applied to a whole host of different things, one of which is public civility and the willingness to accept an apology.  The left has simply rejected the premise that an apology is ever sufficient while fully endorsing the online persecution of those who step out of line.  If the left won't accept an apology, why on Earth should the right?

This goes hand in hand with another concept Taleb discusses in his book: the intolerant minority.  Now, "intolerant" doesn't necessarily mean bad, but it does mean that this group will vigorously demand something and not accept any alternative.  Taleb notes that it takes nowhere near a majority to create societal change.  The majority is relatively apathetic on most issues, but an intolerant minority can create an enormous amount of pressure.  One example he gives is that of kosher and halal foods.  As he puts it:

The Kosher population represents less than three tenth of a percent of the residents of the United States.  Yet, it appears that almost all drinks are Kosher.  Why?  Simply because going full Kosher allows the producer, grocer, restaurant, to not have to distinguish between Kosher and nonkosher for liquids, with special markers, separate aisles, separate inventories, different stocking sub-facilities. And the simple rule that changes the total is as follows:

A Kosher (or halal) eater will never eat nonkosher (or nonhalal) food , but a nonkosher eater isn't banned from eating kosher.

One might ask why there was no other option but to either fire Roseanne for one awful tweet or just let it go.  Why not suspend her or dock her salary or some other punishment that would give her a chance to "grow and change"?  It's because the intolerant minority is quite intolerant, indeed.  Nothing quenches its bloodlust but complete capitulation.

Most people on the left don't particularly like this online outrage culture.  Dave Rubin, Brett Weinstein, Sam Harris, Heather Heying, and many others have all but quit the left because of it.  But the outrage mobs continue all the same because they don't require anything close to a majority.  All that this online outrage culture requires is an intolerant minority with no skin in the game.

The only way to get this nonsense to stop is to force the intolerant minority on the left to have some skin in the game.  At some point, negotiations and diplomacy must come to an end, and the "culture war" has to actually begin.  That involves firing back.  Once that intolerant minority starts feeling the pain, it might think twice about the next rage mob to fire and ostracize someone over one misstep – just as a mortgage-broker might think twice about approving a loan to someone without a job and terrible credit if he knew he would be held partially responsible if that loan went sideways.

Perhaps an apology and suspension will be sufficient for those who need to "learn and grow."

I don't want to live in a society where one misstep costs you your job, reputation, and livelihood.  I would much prefer to simply demand an apology and perhaps a suspension for those who need to "learn and grow."  But such a society won't come from mere capitulation.  As John Nolte put it, "[i]f someone with some sway on the left called for the cessation of online mobs, the right is willing to discuss an armistice."