My take on the Quillette vs Taleb debate

For the past couple weeks, Nassim Nicolas Taleb and the folks at Quillette have been having an epic Twitter battle. Any sort of friendly relationship ended completely when Taleb called Quillette founder Claire Lehmann a neo-Nazi. He went on to say that, after initially being friendly toward Quillette, "I realized I was wrong and Quillette has nothing to do with anything other than a cover for "race realism"." It is clear that Taleb believes Quillette is fundamentally a racist organization.

Before going on with my analysis of this discussion, I want to disclose my loyalties. I quote Taleb more than Charlie Chan quoted Confucius. I read his entire Incerto at least once a year. There are few living authors that have had anywhere near the impact on my life. I don't agree with everything he has to say (disagree with much of what he says about religion) but I appreciate the hell out of most of what he says. When my wife and I walk the dog at night, she had to create a 'no-Taleb-talk' rule.

Quillette (and Claire Lehmann) on the other hand, I am much less familiar with. I've read a few articles. Some I have enjoyed. Others not so much. In my brain, Quillette was somewhere next to National Review or the Weekly Standard. Intellectual. Somewhat conservative. Some part of me was glad they were out there but, honestly, I didn't think much about it at all. They were very much on the peripheral of my attention.

The only reason I was even aware of this dust up was because I follow Taleb on Twitter. Following Taleb on twitter is fantastic, by the way. His tweets are everything you could hope for from a favorite author: interesting, thought provoking, funny, and combative with all the right people. For example, check out his interactions with Mary Beard for a good taste.

Generally speaking, Taleb punches up. He hits best selling authors like Steven Pinker.  Pinker is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist who teaches at Harvard. He has over a 500 thousand followers. About Pinker, Taleb wrote, "I decided to look for scientistojournalistic fallacies so I went to Steven Pinker's twitter account. I immediately found one there." This is the sort of delightful punching up that Taleb does.

His shots are always at people he calls BS vendors or IYIs (intellectual yet idiot). Always at people whose careers depend on having a reputation of being an expert at something.

Is Taleb arrogant? Sure. Is he funny? Yes. Is he usually right with his criticism? Almost always.

When I saw the shot at Claire Lehmann, I was a little surprised because I had thought that Taleb was friendly with Quillette. But Lehmann made the mistake of tweeting something supporting IQ and I knew Taleb's thoughts on IQ. Taleb says, "IQ is largely a pseudoscientific swindle." He makes this argument on the grounds that IQ is bad math and bad at predicting anything meaningful.

And, readers of this blog will know, that I agree with most of what he has to say on this.

[You can read my excellent and interesting posts here and here to learn more. Also, if you prefer to listen, I did a podcast on this.]

So... on the substance of the debate, I agree with Taleb.

But... I do not agree that Claire Lehmann is a Nazi. Or that Quillette is a racist organization. Now that this debate has taken place, I have spent time on their website and scrolled through countless articles. There is a wide spectrum of articles on almost every subject. Some seem interesting. Some seem helpful. Some I disagree with (especially the IQ stuff). You could argue that some of these posts have racist implications, but that is different than saying that this is the focus or the thrust of the website.

And here is the thing. I am convinced that our society has some pretty big problems right now. I think we have slipped into sort of an Orwellian madness. It is a madness of thinking facts do not matter. It is a madness of thinking that scientific studies that do not agree with the Soviet-Harvard left need to be silenced or denounced regardless of their validity. It is a madness that prevents people from acknowledging simple truths like, "Women don't have penises." We are living in a truly Bizarro world. And suddenly, due to this madness, very strange bed fellows have been made. Social conservatives are finding themselves agreeing with radical feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia because these feminists are willing to say that, no, men cannot become women. Atheists like Sam Harris and Bill Maher have become respected by evangelical Christians because they are willing to admit that religion and behavior might be linked.

Our society is an epic battle. There are forces that are hell bent on making sure that no one points out that the emperor has no clothes.  Everyone that fails to get in line with the 'woke' agenda is a racist. A Nazi. A fascist. People are getting doxxed. People are getting swatted. People are getting fired from their jobs. People are having their lives destroyed. Not for being actual Nazis but for simply saying things that 20 years ago were the most normal things in the world. Orwell's memory hole is in full operation.

And social media, mainstream media, and the government are conspiring to keep this Orwellian world going. Youtube is deplatforming comedians. Twitter is shutting down the account of the Senate Majority Leader! It is insane.

Scary times.

And it appears that Claire Lehmann's efforts at Quillette have been largely to provide a forum to counteract the memory hole. To allow knowledge to flow freely again. It allows people to say whatever they want without danger of censorship.

And I find that refreshing.

Now, of course, simply because speech is free and non-PC things are once allowed to be published does not mean that this speech is true or that the non-PC things cannot slip into truly hateful things. With freedom comes responsibility. I think that in a world of censorship and PC culture, there is a tendency to listen to non-PC stuff that you should not listen to. Quillette has too much crap from psychologists and social scientists. Too much BS that the world would be better off without. And some BS, like the IQ stuff, that is downright harmful.

But in this world, at this moment, I am sort of glad they are there.

And I would love to see Taleb write some articles for Quillette on IQ.


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