Against “The Toxoplasma of Rage.”

“The Toxoplasma of Rage” is regularly cited as one of Scott Alexander’s best essays, and I think it’s fundamentally mistaken, at least about the high-profile incidents it showcases.

He calls it “toxoplasma” because – like toxoplasmosis in rats and cats – there are supposedly two stages to how a story goes viral:

  1. Activists promote dubious stories because that demonstrates their zeal to their fellow activists.
  2. Counteractivists promote the same dubious story to demonstrate how dumb the original activists are.

 

I have a different theory: Continue reading

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CNN did not commit blackmail but did abuse “newsworthiness.”

After some discussion on Popehat yesterday, I’m convinced that blackmail is the wrong way to look at the CNN thing. Blackmail has two elements1, a threat and a demand:

  1. It’s okay to tell my wife about the affair.
  2. It’s okay to not tell my wife about the affair.
  3. It’s okay to ask me for $50,000.
  4. But it’s not okay to condition the choice between (1) and (2) on (3); that’s blackmail.

Continue reading