Trad, the final frontier

About the strange and wonderful rationalism to trad pipeline.

If you’d have asked me even five months ago if I was trad, I probably wouldn't have known what you meant. Trad seems to be the category you fall into if you stray from the Yass Kween school of the 24/7 female neoliberal empowerment firehose, tell people it's good and proper to want kids or don’t think tokenizing genitals is that fun of a vision for the employment prospects of girls.

Overall, I think it’s probably reasonably representative of my views, though I think my reasons for holding these views aren't very trad in themselves. 

I don't come from a religious or traditional background, have no particular love for skirts, corsets, and flower crowns, and if I do like cooking, canning, and foraging, it's less for the cottagecore aesthetics but just because I grew up doing it and it's relaxing and just lovely to have homecooked meals. 

I'm pretty much a fallen rationalist, and I think a lot of my appeal to the rationalist & post-rationalist crowd is simply that I'm not the only sheep that's lost. 

Very fine meme, thank you @thinkagainer 

I believe a lot of rationalists are slowly waking up to some stark realities that aren't that different from my own realizations:  

  1. Though knowable to some extent, the world has always been, but is now especially, a place of extreme complexity. Overlapping network effects, positive and negative externalities, misaligned incentives, and a rat king of other factors pull our reality into ever more un-modellable directions.

    Our window onto the world gives the illusion of completeness because this is the parlor trick of the mind, but it is actually a 2/2cm keyhole where you get to peek at highly filtered, chromatically aberrant still frames of reality. Your whole being is interpretation, and evolution has crafted the script. 

  2. The death of expertise and the transparent politics of Science that we're currently seeing in the wake of the pandemic are just a few signs of the things to come. Though reason is nature's gift and her scalpel, Reason, our God, is a denaturation of this inheritance. Science is a miraculous tool, but a demented master.

  3. That the body, nature, evolution, seen by much of rationalist discourse as mere constraints and a flesh armor for the real individual, are much more than that. They are indistinguishable from the individual.

    The individual, the rational choice machine, a few informed choices away from happiness and world peace, is an inadequate model. Rationalists are starting to see that the naive dualism that many arguments are premised on - the mind a sort of all-knowing puppeteer pulling the strings of a rigid body from behind the eyes - is BS.

    Life as a series of rational choices also looks less and less rational when you see how well many people are faring who live *rationally*. My personal experience with the rationalist community: a colorful bundle of red flags backed by an endless reservoir of drama and cope. #Notall, of course, but if you had a heatmap of human suffering, it would not be hard to spot the rationalist knitting group.  

  4. That proximal utilitarianism - what feels good and massages your neurotransmitters most effectively, is a dead end not only for society but for the individual as well. It's a game that ratchets up, like any addiction, only to have you fall from a height and break your neck. 

  5. That "choice" as a guiding principle is suspect in itself. It's downstream from hundreds of factors that have nothing to do with reason. Anything from a leg cramp to an insult at work can alter the "rational" substrate significantly. Building civilizations on the quicksand of human whim is hubris defined. 

  6. That the "Live And Let Live" of free choice is a coordination nightmare. Every individual choice is linked to every other individual's choice in a system like human society. We are social creatures. Things like informal norms and mimetic desire are at the roots of our cultures and at the basis of our coordination. Without coordination and collaboration, societies crumble, and rational *free* choice goes along with them. Someone doesn't choose sex work or not having kids in a vacuum - humans and lemmings are driven by not too dissimilar urges. 

Why is Trad one of the possible answers to this? 

Because time-tested heuristics are robust. Through millennia of iterations, selective pressures have created equilibria that account for unknown unknowns that, as the name implies, don't - and possibly, can't - show up in the models. 

A lot of it is the opposite of rational, it’s “mindless” embodied practice. From working with your hands to honoring obligations to a community or holding things sacred like the miracle of birth, these are phenomena beyond the mind. It’s no wonder that in our hyper-cerebral world, these have fallen off the map.

Beyond having a better implicit understanding of what "an individual" is, trad also encodes pro-social values through informal norms and expectations. If you bring religion or at least some form of virtue ethics into the mix, you have a basis for solving larger-scale coordination problems. Also, and a very non-trivial thing it is, Trad also encodes for the elusive substance of Meaning (will write more about this in another post). 

Even though a lot of what's considered Trad is playing with aesthetics, romanticizing a nonexistent past, and essentially LARPing an ahistorical 1950s, I think it's got good instincts. It's a LARP with useful coordinates and a stable starting point.