Reading Molyneux So You Don’t Have To: Part 1

I wandered into the rabbit hole that is alt-right cultist Stefan Molyneux the other day. I’ve covered Molyneux only tangentially in the past, mainly because he’s pals with Vox Day. Molyneux mainly does his thing via YouTube and podcasts and I find those media tiresome to analyse. It’s very hard to double-back and check what people said earlier and I think they disguise confused thinking better than text.

Anyway, Molyneux also does free books. That is a lovely pairing of words, “free books”, but let me just say that the book I got was overpriced. It’s called “Essential Philosophy: How to know what on Earth is going on”.

I’m not quite ready to go through it in detail, mainly because it is less than coherent. There’s a core ethical problem because I think Molyneux believes that he believes things that he doesn’t actually believe. To assert that somebody misunderstands their own beliefs doesn’t sit well with me, even if it is somebody of dubious morals such as Molyneux. I don’t mean just that he misrepresents his own beliefs or that he lies about his beliefs (probably both of those are true as well) but that he asserts ideas that he understands well enough to express but which are at odds with what he later claims.

If you are thinking “that sounds like Jordan Peterson”, well yes it does. Molyneux has a lot in common (aside from being Canadian) with Peterson and has a similar cultish aspect to him. The Rational Wiki entry is well worth a read

However, Molyneux is much, much less entertainingly incoherent than Peterson. Peterson is tiresome to read if you try and follow a chain of ideas but if you just give up trying to make sense of Peterson, you do get a weird hallucinatory trip into the mind of a troubled man desperately trying to externalize his inner demons by pretending his own character flaws are actually problems with the world.

Molyneux on the other hand is a dull writer with equally confused ideas but none of the wacky diversions into lobsters and flying over pyramids.

In the meantime, I got distracted. I went to Molyneux’s Twitter feed to check something and ended up writing an essay about an IQ question.

19 thoughts on “Reading Molyneux So You Don’t Have To: Part 1

  1. If I confess I can’t tell where the cultural bias is in a spatial orientation test, is that evidence of a blind spot on my part? I really don’t know how a question that asks ‘if these circles were triangles, how would this shape look?’ is anything but evidence of being able to think spatially.


    1. Well knowing that’s what you have to do and knowing what does and doesn’t matter (in the example the best answer isn’t provided as an option) all matter. At a wider level motivation is a big factor in test performance.

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      1. A classic was expecting IQ test takers to recognise that the net was missing from a picture of a tennis court. That was culturally biased outside what text was associated to ask the question. Whether was a cultural bias in the question he showed is not something I can answer, but it doesn’t help evaluation if we’re not shown all the answers.

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      2. I was going to say “the *right* answer isn’t even *there*!” but I’ve taken so many standardized tests, I’d have marked the first without even thinking much. And that right there is a bias — simply understanding the conventions of a standardized test.

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    2. Of those triangles at the bottom, the one on the left used to be to identify nuclear fallout shelters. If it had color, the one on the right resembles a local TV station’s logo from when I was growing up (cultural bias = Cold War Era in my case lol)

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  2. Disclaimer: I’m studying a cultural studies major.

    Firstly, the default assumption is a text or image is read horizontally left-to-right, rather than vertically top-to-bottom, or from the centre spiralling outwards, from the edges spiralling inwards counter-clockwise, diagonally along any of the axes or any of the other various topological options available.

    Secondly, assuming your reader is going to automatically be reading left-to-right, rather than right-to-left, and therefore assume the thing in the lower right corner of the image is going to have more significance than anything else in the image.

    Thirdly, assuming your reader is from a culture which uses Romanic/Latinate symbology for textual sources, and they therefore know the symbol in the lower right indicates a question is being asked for them to answer, and the double-headed arrows indicate some form of connection between the things on either side of them.

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    1. Yeah, that might be me being dumb. I presumed what they were looking for would be translated into cultural terms, like flipping the left/right orientation if necessary.


      1. It might be. It really depends on whether the psychologist creating the test is culturally literate enough to recognise this as a factor. Generally, people don’t stop to question these sorts of mental macros (text reads left to right horizontally from the top of the page to the bottom, when you reach the right end of a line you start over at the left hand side of the next line, for example) until or unless they’re placed in a context where this isn’t the case.

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    2. Thanks for that. I was wondering whether the answer might differ between cultures (one question that comes up sometimes is to identify the odd one out among 4 animals – 3 mammals and one non-mammal, 3 terrestrial and one aquatic – and which classifier is considered more important could well be different between cultures, never mind within a culture – from a modern taxonomic viewpoint the odd one among shark, salmon, lungfish and lion is not lion but shark), but the iconography is the water in which I swim, and I didn’t to question it.

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      1. Or consider the set of 4 animals: cow, pig, sheep, and fish. Depending on your culture, the most significant outlier might be the one you’re not allowed to eat — and depending on which culture, that answer would be different.

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      2. Yes. Excellent example. There’s even a good reason for why “fish” is the best answer for measuring abstract reasoning (in that it represents a particular viewpoint of the world) but that difference is definitely a cultural one and certainly not an innate one. It’s also not a more “right” answer, just one more likely to accompany a particular way of thinking that IQ tests select for.


      3. In the “anglosphere” fish is “obviously” the odd one out of those 4, by taxonomy, morphology and habitat. Replace it by dog, or horse, both taboo foods in the “anglosphere”, and it becomes less clear. Dog is still in a different clade (Carnivora), and also in a different guild (carnivore). Horse is also in a different clade (Perissodactyla), but that’s perhaps going beyond taxonomic knowledge that can be expected of a non-biologist, so the quartet (cow, pig, sheep, horse) becomes somewhat ambiguous. Go to (cow, pig, dog, horse) and it gets worse – you got members of 3 tropic guilds and 3 mammalian orders, and two taboo meats, and the consensus that (Eu)ungulata is a clade to the exclusion of Carnivora isn’t unchallenged (Zooamata hypothesis). As you indicate in a different culture there might be an obvious answer.

        (And maybe my previous example would have been better with dolphin rather than shark.)

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  3. You’re a glutton for punishment.

    I’m only tangentially aware of Molyneux – I’ve seen dumb things he’s said quoted a few times.


  4. When my husband was five, from a Jewish family, his mom was called in by his kindergarten teacher who told her that he would probably have to repeat kindergarten because he had learning problems. The reason turned out to be a test with questions and multiple choice pictures. For what do you eat for breakfast, he picked the donut because it looked to him like a bagel. (There is a whole cultural bias argument around whether you discount a donut as a breakfast food in the first place.) And for what do you drink coffee in (don’t ask me why they were asking 5 years old this,) he picked a mug rather than a cup and saucer, because that’s what his family drank tea and coffee out of. But apparently the WASPs didn’t back then, and so they thought he was unintelligent.

    And that’s how bigoted myths get made. Guys like this one steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that British planters made up the concept of races 400 years ago and cling to increasingly complicated and zany eugenics theories. Because they want to be anointed as innately superior so bad — biologically, “meritoriously,” divinely chosen, sanctioned by their wealth, etc., or they make money off of telling people who want it that they are indeed the chosen ones.

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