The Map to Nowhere: Intellectual denial of service attacks, part 2

Stick ’em up, you were wrong on the internet

In my first post on intellectual denial of service attacks, I covered something I dubbed “bad infinitum,” a tendency for non-experts to overwhelm experts with repetitive, costly, and often unproductive demands for evidence or counter-argument to oft-debunked or misleading claims. Here, I’ll cover another of these intellectual attack vectors, which I’ll call “the map to nowhere.” An asymmetry exists in each of these attacks: easy to launch, hard to counter.

Many responses to my first post mentioned the need for a renewed trust of experts. I’m not so sure of this. The squelching of productive conversation can go both ways, as I hope to describe.

(Aside: In a comment on Hacker News, tinono mentioned noticing a similarity with Paul Graham’s essay, “Keep Your Identity Small,” in my comment about not wanting to go back on previously-stated beliefs. His essay greatly influenced my thinking on the topic, and it deserves your attention if you haven’t read it)

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Intellectual denial of service attacks

We live in an era that devalues conformity, while simultaneously preserving it in many interesting ways. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Divergent views produce conflict, however, and disagreement, argument, and debate define our current moment.

If we merely disagreed on matters of taste – our favorite color, music, movies, etc. – we could avoid such conflicts. Increasingly, though, we disagree on more fundamental ideas. Some deny the spherical shape of the Earth and the heliocentric model of the solar system (I highly recommend Behind the Curve, a movie about this movement). Arguments of all shapes and sizes spring up everywhere: capitalism vs. socialism, humanity’s role in climate change, on and on.

The democratization of virality amplifies these disagreements. Previously obscure ideas can quickly become widely known. Competing ideological camps endlessly try to score points on one another. The internet rewards this behavior with fame and other social capital. Various forms of what I’ll call “intellectual denial of service” act to reinforce this dynamic. I’ll describe one of these attack vectors in this post.

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