Conference Schedule, Ground Rules, The Market For Ideas, and Reality

TSI must regretfully announce that Professor Romer has decided to withdraw from his speaking engagement at our upcoming conference. His reasons were related to the content of another speaker’s blog (Mencius Moldbug). We do not yet clearly understand his objections, and we do not want to misrepresent Professor Romer, so we can’t be any more specific at this time.

Regardless of Romer’s reasons, his withdrawal triggered an active internal debate around exactly what ideas and people TSI is or isn’t willing to affiliate with. We reviewed Moldbug’s blog, and after much discussion concluded that while Moldbug’s ideas are interesting and worthwhile, his recent content contains many gratuitous personal attacks. We reached consensus as an organization that we do not wish to support such discourse, and so we wrote Mencius the following:

Dear Mr. Moldbug,

The Seasteading Institute appreciates controversial ideas, including many of yours. We also value rigorous debate. But we do not wish to be associated with personal denunciations against people of good will. Your recent post, “From Cromer to Romer and back again,” crossed that line.

In the spirit of a constructive exchange of ideas, we encourage you to post a retraction and apology to Professor Romer. Until you do so, we are disappointed to inform you that your invitation to speak at our conference is withdrawn. We apologize for the late notice.

p.s. We would like to clarify that this action is being taken by TSI on its own initiative, not at the request of any other party. Professor Romer has unilaterally and irreversibly withdrawn from speaking at our conference, and this triggered a re-examination of our policies and your invitation. He made no requests, express or implied, about this decision.

I find it intriguing to note how these issues tie into the ideas of seasteading. Part of the idea of seasteading is to provide a framework within which ideas about how to best organize a society, even controversial ones, can compete on their merits and with consensual participation. However, even such a general, competitive framework as the market for governance needs ground rules about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Seasteads whose residents are not permitted to leave, or (more topically) which attack each other, are violating the basic rules of good-spirited competition.

These principles apply to ideas as well as to nations. TSI believes that an open exchange of ideas, rigorously debated without personal slurs, is the best way to allow ideas to compete. These are the standards which apply to our events, and while we have no problem providing a forum for Mencius’ ideas, the personal nature of his attacks is unacceptable to us, so he will not be speaking at our conference.

There are so few political theorists on competitive government that we must admit to some sadness at such a conflict manifesting so early. However, we think that in practice, these disagreements are ultimately unimportant to the fate of our movements. We are not here merely to debate ideas, but to act in an attempt to change the world. Regardless of the intellectual interaction between these competing ideas of how best to form and advocate for better societies, in the end their success can only be decided by the ultimate arbiter: reality.


6 thoughts on “Conference Schedule, Ground Rules, The Market For Ideas, and Reality”

  1.  While I enjoy Moldbugs writing, to say there are ‘valid criticisms to be raised’ to his work, is an understatement. I would liked to have seen him speak, but I was expecting not everyone would share that opinion.

    Ah well.

  2. I read the blog in question and found it barely comprehensible.  Is “nigga” a term used normally in academia these days?  I guess I’ve been out of the loop for a while.


  3. You could probably scour around the internet and find examples of

    gratuitous personal attacks

    from all of the speakers on your list, I’ve done it, you’ve done it, it’s not the right way to go about things but um it’s a blawg on teh intahnet, not a scholarly journal.

  4. Think of it this way: a major question is: would the person be insulting & attacking as a speaker? Two very relevant factors would then be: a) Where have they made such attacks? In what context? and b) How often do they make such attacks? Does it happen very occasionally, or is it an ingrained part of their discourse?

    Hence, me occasionally insulting Krugman or Naomi Klein on my personal blog is very different from MM regularly insulting all kinds of people on his political blog. MM’s political blog was created to spread his political ideas and it is likely to be a decent reflection of how he will act when propounding those ideas in person. Whereas my personal blog does not reflect how I convey myself in professional settings.

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