Written by Cade Metz
The website had a homely, almost slapdash design with a light blue banner and a strange name: Slate Star Codex.
It was nominally a blog, written by a Bay Area psychiatrist who called himself Scott Alexander (a near anagram of Slate Star Codex). It was also the epicenter of a community called the Rationalists, a group that aimed to reexamine the world through cold and careful thought.
In a style that was erudite, funny, strange, and astoundingly verbose, the blog explored everything from science and medicine to philosophy and politics to the rise of artificial intelligence. It challenged popular ideas and upheld the right to discuss contentious issues. This might involve a new take on the genetics of depression or criticism of the #MeToo movement. As a result, the conversation that thrived at the end of each blog post — and spilled onto sister forums on the discussion site Reddit, spanning hundreds of thousands of people — attracted an unusually wide range of voices.
“It is the one place I know of online where you can have civil conversations among people with a wide range of views,” said David Friedman, an economist and legal scholar who was a regular part of the discussion. Commenters on the site, he noted, represented a wide cross-section of views. “They range politically from communist to anarcho-capitalist, religiously from Catholic to atheist, and professionally from a literal rocket scientist to a literal plumber — both of whom are interesting people.”
The voices also included white supremacists and neo-fascists. The only people who struggled to be heard, Friedman said, were “social justice warriors.” They were considered a threat to one of the core beliefs driving the discussion: free speech.