Some Random Thoughts On “Sneer Culture”

by MugaSofer

What is “sneer culture”? It’s … a thing … oddly, I can’t find where I first heard the term defined.

Try this:

When I think of sneer culture, I think of people who would never donate a cent of their own money to help the fight against AIDS, but will always go out of their way to mock HIV denialists and make them feel stupid, even if they’re minding their own business and not bothering anybody. This seems to me unvirtuous – I explained part of the reason here. But I think another reason is that when there are nonconformist beliefs that seem correct to me, or at least to have some fragments of correctness in them that are worth teasing out, the sneer culture people mock them just as hard as the HIV denialism. And when there are popular beliefs that are just as wrong as HIV denialism but would take some courage to go up against, then they don’t contradict them at all.

There’s correcting false beliefs as a terminal goal – which is rarely best achieved by mocking people – and there’s mocking people as a terminal goal – for which it is often useful to choose targets with false belief. People who have mocking people as a terminal goal scare me.

Or this:

What sneer culture members have in common is that they’re strongly reinforced by sneering, seek out provided info that they can sneer at, and hang out with other people who sneer at things in a group where they know they have an approved target.  There are more skillful professional sneerers who specialize in feeding those audiences, but the masses below are just as much a part of the culture.  “Lol homeopathy” skepticism is sneer culture, just as “Burn down the churches” atheism is hate culture, but neither of these are apex predators of Blue-coded spaces (if I understand correctly what that term means).

When I was writing the Sequences I was, in retrospect, flirting perilously close to sneer culture about religion, even though I had guardrails against ad hominem (there is nowhere I was flirting with hate culture, I think; I knew what Diane Duane would say about that).  I would not write “The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy” again, knowing what I know now.  It is too dangerous to seem to be inviting other people to laugh with you at an approved target.

Personally, my favourite definition is this.

Feh. I just typed up a whole thing on Sneer Culture and then my computer crashed and I lost it. I’ll probably write something shorter and stick it on Tumblr instead.

Anyway, I can assure anyone who’s wondering that there is Sneer Culture in the Red Tribe.

Red Tribe media works pretty much the same (terrible) way Blue Tribe media does. There are Red Tribers who will helpfully explain to you that there are studies disproving gay marriage, environmentalism, anti-racism and anti-sexism, abortion, taxes, every “sex-positive” thing; in fact, pretty much everything controversial (except for gun control, for some reason, the debate around which runs on Obvious Truisms.) A lot of transphobia runs on Sneer Culture; practically all of it, in fact. There’s a lot of sneering at the idea of feminists proudly dressing like “sluts” and then getting angry at anyone who helpfully suggests this might attract rapists.

I think Sneer Culture is extremely bad for it’s members, but arguably a useful resource, in that it’s existence can helpfully point out the weak points in essentially any movement. This requires people to actually seek out and engage with the actual criticism of their own ideology, however.

If you’re dealing with a certain kind of scrupulosity-type thing, I find reminding yourself that the Hated Enemy actually does contain plenty of terrible people can be useful for the purposes of helping you steelman the stupider people on your own side. Of course, you should only do this if you’re already being at least this charitable to the other side.

In conclusion: ner ner neh ner ner, Christians were talking about this problem and devising countermeasures before your civilization’s antecedents first arose. The recommended countermeasure is “humility” (not congratulating yourself on ow much more humble you are!), and remembering that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, especially you. IOW: you are anaspiring rationalist, not a True Rationalist, and you are wrong about some things you are currently very confident in.