So in the biggest new of the week, Scott’s back. I have… complicated feelings on this.
First, the obvious: I’m glad he’s back. Objectively, it’s the best news we’ve had all week. It looks like 2021 is already taking a turn for the better, and I’m looking forward to reading the new blog.
But more honestly… I’m angry at him for abandoning us. It’s been a long hard crazy year, where everything in the world stopped making sense and most of us have been trapped indoors, often alone, often barely talking to anyone except online, and even doing that less and less. And Slate Star Codex, when we had it, was a place where the world made sense, where we felt less alone and less crazy. To quote Scott himself:
I remember the sheer relief when I came across a few bloggers – I most clearly remember Eliezer Yudkowsky – who seemed to be tuned exactly to my wavelength, people who were making sense when the entire rest of the world was saying vague fuzzy things that almost but not quite connected with the millions of questions I had about everything. These people weren’t perfect, and they didn’t have all the answers, but their existence reassured me that I wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t alone.
We needed that. And then last March, right when we needed it most, he closed it down and left us.
And there’s the obvious objection of hey wait, Scott had good reasons to shut down the blog. And he doesn’t actually owe us anything! And to this I say, respectively, mostly yes and sort of no.
For the first, Scott’s gone into his reasons for shutting down the blog at length. I understand his purpose. I agree with his goals, and I don’t think they’re wrong, or even really that he went too far with them. But also… I wouldn’t have done the same if I was him, even with everything involved. There’s a scene in HPMOR where an old Godric Gryffindor says
…he didn’t regret any of it, and he was not warning his students not to follow in his footsteps, no one was ever to say he’d told anyone not to follow in his footsteps. If it had been the right thing for him to do, then he wouldn’t tell anyone else to choose wrongly, not even the youngest student in Hogwarts."
And I guess that’s how I feel about that (except I guess our positions are reversed, with Scott being much bigger than me). I can’t exactly say that no, Scott should have just said he was going to keep blogging and ignore any doxing or consequences and to hell with the NYT and any personal fears or problems he would have. But I know it’s what I would have done, so I can’t say that he shouldn’t have done that, either.
For the second point… it’s true he doesn’t technically owe us anything, from a formal viewpoint. But I think there’s a more subtle way in which he kind of does.
Blogging is kind of an implicit bargain for attention. You have something to say, other people want to listen to you, and you (like most people), want to be heard. And if you’re a very talented writer with a lot of very good ideas, some people will listen to you, and you’ll be heard.
This level of writing is incredibly rare. In Scott’s absence, a lot of us looked for other writers to fill the void. Some people got more into transit planning. A weird number of ratsphere people got interested in ancient history analysis of popular fiction. I tried writing more myself, although I’m pretty sure hardly anyone actually reads this stuff. And… it wasn’t enough. There was a gap.
So I’m jealous. Scott can actually do that thing we all wish we could – write what he has to say, and have thousands of people read and genuinely care about it. In the words of Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. And in Scott’s own words, when he was talking about the parable of the talents… all God gets to ask him is whether or not he was Scott Alexander. And he’s always been great at that. But then in the last year, he failed that bar.