This is part of a series of posts explaining the harassment against me which has been going on for years now. The harassment is coming from David Deutsch and his community. I’ve tried to address the problem privately but they’ve refused to attempt any problem solving. This post provides more context about the situation. It explains David’s psychology, what he’s upset about, and why he went from being my friend to being hostile to me.
David Deutsch and Lulie Tanett have been abusing my respect for their privacy to mislead people into believing we never had much of a relationship. (They may be saying some other things privately that I don’t know about. Regardless, they’re so publicly cold to me now that people are often skeptical that we ever knew each other well or were friends for many years.)
This needs to be corrected because they gossip and lie about me to damage my reputation and create a toxic hate group which has been harassing the FI community. (Lulie, back when she was more mixed instead of cold, actually confessed to me about violating my privacy and gossiping about me. David was caught lying about me. They both publicly speak with my largest stalker/harasser, Andy B.) Over the years of my patience and assuming good faith, they’ve escalated things so the harassment is severe and breaks laws.
David and Lulie both independently told me what actually happened: at some point, David started feeling bad whenever I wrote criticism related to him.
I didn’t share this before because I’ve been trying to protect David. I finally gave up on protecting him after not only over two years of serious harassment, and David and his entire social network ghosting me and anyone who agrees with me (which prevents problem solving about the harassment), but also specifically after David personally lied about me where I could see the exact text instead of having to speculate about his actions.
Lulie told me about David’s negative feelings in late 2015 and/or early 2016 while visiting me in person. I don’t have exact quotes because we had a lot of discussions in voice. She said that every time I wrote any kind of critical public reply to one of David’s public statements, he’d feel awful and it’d make things much worse and alienate him more. She wanted David and I to be friends again, and she hadn’t turned against me yet at that time.
Note: Lulie resisted David’s anti-Elliot pressure for years before eventually giving in to a father-figure whom she’d known since around age two. David advocates non-coercive parenting but heavily coerced and pressured her to turn against me. That was after previously heavily encouraging her to have an intellectual relationship with me, and strongly encouraging me to have an intellectual relationship with her. David told each of us that we’d benefit a lot from discussing philosophy with the other. It was awful to take that away from her after pushing her into it.
Lulie’s career as an intellectual – which so far hasn’t produced anything significant – has been controlled by David a lot. He has significant responsibility for her ongoing unhappiness, lack of productivity (she can’t regularly write articles, read books or make videos), and inability to make money to support herself.
David told Lulie that conversing with me was one of the best things she could do that could get her unstuck and help her become a productive philosopher. He tried to help her succeed at that. But later he put work into preventing her from conversing with me. But while David was taking me away from her, she still thought I was important to her intellectual progress, and he never gave her convincing reasons why that had changed.
Lulie told me that she was scared that David would dump her like he dumped me, and stop speaking to her, helping her with money, or helping her career (and she has no other career prospects besides trying to be the intellectual that David wants). She told me that David promised not to dump her, and said everything was fine, but that she didn’t trust him and was under extreme duress. She said she was unable to rationally discuss the matter with me due to the pressure from David.
Background Information for David’s Story
David told me about his negative feelings on 2011-10-04. He said he felt bad about my arguments before reading them, regardless of what I said. He didn’t want to deal with criticism and disagreement anymore.
Why did David have negative feelings? David told me that too. It’s a bit of a long story.
Originally, from 2001-2007 or so, David persuaded me about the vast majority of issues that came up. If I had a different view than him, we’d discuss it. I’d think about it a lot, and, using help from his arguments, I’d change my mind.
Eventually, as I learned more, it became harder for David to change my mind. I started winning some arguments. And some arguments weren’t resolved. And there were fewer easy wins to focus our attention on, so the harder topics got more attention. David lost confidence in persuading me with followup discussions. He started thinking that if we discussed it a few more times, I’d probably still disagree with him.
The unresolved disagreements I’m talking about were intellectual issues, not personal problems. Some topics that we had a harder time agreeing about include: the nature of deduction, qualia, mirror neurons, “mental illness”, meta discussion, moral sanction, how anti-capitalist William Godwin was, pandering, and some details about justificationism.
A list of outstanding disagreements built up. David would only talk about them when he had a new idea about how to change my mind. That’s what he said. He didn’t think maybe I was right, as a fallibilist would. He instead tried different ways to change my mind. When one didn’t work, he’d drop the topic for weeks until he had a new idea for how to persuade me.
This violates and contradicts David’s own philosophy, which he wrote about his in books, wrote thousands of forum posts about, and had been teaching me about in private discussions. So it was confusing to me. I expected him to follow his own philosophy, and it was harder to understand because he was hiding information from me about what was going on (the things he told me, which I linked above, came late in our relationship, so I didn’t understand for years before that, and still had a hard time understanding it after he said a few sentences contradicting years of our prior relationship).
David’s philosophy says common preference finding and problem solving always work, and that they are part of how we grow knowledge and make progress. They’re truth seeking activities which are important to rationality and fallibilism, not merely ways to have better interpersonal relationships. It’s problematic and misleading that he teaches that while not even trying to do it. It wasn’t like we had a bunch of conversations attempting to find a common preference together, but failed. He hid some problems from me and, for those issues, he didn’t attempt that sort of open, cooperative problem-solving process. I’d understand more if he’d tried to do his philosophy ideas and it hadn’t worked out successfully, but in major ways he didn’t even attempt to live up to his own ideals.
How could David explain (to himself) his failure to persuade me about the intellectual topics we disagreed about? He started thinking I was irrational about those issues. He belatedly told me that too. But he never pointed out any example of my arguments, reasoning or actions being irrational. He never actually gave arguments about my alleged irrationality. He never e.g. pointed out a mistake I made and then analyzed the cause of the mistake to conclude that the underlying cause was irrationality. He didn’t quote example things I said that he thought were irrational and say why he thought those particular ones were irrational and explain or argue his viewpoint. He wasn’t doing the sort of truth seeking and problem solving that he says everyone should do.
He stopped wanting to deal with my arguments and reasoning because he wasn’t getting his way all the time. He started finding that when he argued with me, his arguments were less effective than before. Gradually, his arguments went from around 100% effective with me in 2001 to more like 25% effective in 2010 (which is still a very high effectiveness compared to what’s typical in the world today). I’d already changed my mind to agree with him about tons of stuff, and he was running out of easy wins.
David likes praise and he likes being a lecturer whom others listen to (he told me both of those things repeatedly, and he acted like they’re correct, too). He was not prepared to learn much from me and, on some issues, some of the time, be my student. He was done being a student a long time before we first met (in 2001, when he was age 48). This is notable because David’s philosophy says everyone should be life-longer learners, and that even beginners sometimes can teach experts something. David viewed me as one of the best philosophers alive – and the best one he could get discussions with – but still didn’t want to learn from me.
So it got to the point that when I wrote arguments, David would feel like he couldn’t win and he was blocked by all my (alleged) irrationalities, so the matter felt really hard to deal with. Each of my thoughts that he didn’t like was a new permanent problem because he didn’t know how to change my mind. My (alleged) irrationalities were undocumented and unexplained. David didn’t quote irrational statements by me and provide analysis. He just thought privately about what they were, in a disorganized way not a rigorous way, and then privately came up with tactics to deal with them. He didn’t want to talk about my (alleged) irrationalities because then I’d question his claims, using quotes and logic, which he started to regard as rhetorical tricks to excuse his failure to persuade me. He never bothered to try to objectively establish my errors in any clear cases, or to explain them to me enough that, if he were right, I could make changes to fix my problems. But simultaneously he still liked me better than other people and kept talking to me for years while pretending things were OK and that he was just stressed out by writing The Beginning of Infinity.
If he were right, why not explain it in three public examples in a way that would satisfy most neutral, unbiased, intelligent readers? That’s not much work considering that he wrote thousands of emails to me and spent literally thousands of hours interacting with me. He thought I was super smart and valued the relationship enough to spend so much time on, so why not try to persuade me? Even if it might not work, it’s worth trying. Plus he could have persuaded others who were in the discussion community at the time, rather than giving no arguments. Due to David not giving reasons, now most of the people from the discussion forums during that time period, who are familiar with events and formed an opinion, formed judgments in my favor not his.
David never wrote any such arguments. He didn’t even try. He left his discussion community, and lost some of his oldest fans, rather than argue his case. For example, David made no attempt to persuade the physicist and philosopher Alan Forrester, who had run the official Fabric of Reality discussion forum, who lives in the UK and met David in person multiple times, and whose name is in the acknowledgments of The Beginning of Infinity. Alan remains a friend of mine, still posts at my discussion forum, and has been a victim of the harassment. Alan emailed David to ask him to help stop the harassment that was affecting Alan too, but David refused to answer. Did Alan do something to deserve to be harassed? Is having philosophy discussions on my public forums enough for David to hate a former friend and want to see them hurt, even though David has never told Alan any reason that he shouldn’t discuss with me?
I think the reason David didn’t argue his case is simply that he couldn’t. He was wrong, didn’t have reasonable arguments to give. And he didn’t want to give bad arguments, get critical feedback, and change his own mind.
But why did David feel the need to blame me as irrational, instead of just agreeing to disagree? Because his philosophy says that all problems are soluble, common preferences can always be found, etc. So if problem solving isn’t working, that must mean one person is blocking it, being irrational, not acting in good faith, or something else awful. So David saw it as him or me. He had to blame me as irrational to avoid the alternative that it was his fault. If I wasn’t irrational, and he wasn’t doing truth seeking with me, then (in his view) that’d make him irrational for rejecting truth seeking and problem solving. Also, he had little respect for most intellectuals, and needed some reason to tell himself about why he was dropping one of his favorites whom he’d chosen to spend so much time on.
Unlike David, I did, eventually, write some things pointing out mistakes David made, which did persuade some people. However, I wasn’t very interested in persuading people about David’s flaws until recently. I could have written a lot more, but didn’t; but now after being a victim of years of harassment from David’s followers, and David smearing me, I want to tell my story and argue my case.
David made major life changes (leaving not only me but the whole TCS/ARR/FoR/BoI/curi/FI community he’d co-founded and then been a part of for two decades) based (I think) on my (alleged) irrationality (that he never tried to write down in a clear, objective way). I was going along with life as normal. I thought about David’s flaws some because it affected my life when he reduced then ended our conversations, and broke some promises and obligations to me. But I didn’t write a lot about it. I would have written more about it had David actually wanted to discuss it, but I knew that, at that point, he didn’t like to read or think about my arguments; he didn’t want them and he didn’t want anyone to read them for fear that people might agree with me. So I tried to mostly just give him space. This is part of why I didn’t make videos explaining BoI sooner.
Many people have felt like they can’t win debates with me. Some blame their own ignorance and incompetence. Some call me an idiot or sophist. Some say debate is hard and it’s understandable if no one is persuaded. David was not in a position to consider me dumb – he couldn’t convince himself of that narrative after spending years believing I was extraordinarily smart, clever, logical, open-minded, active-minded and fast-learning, which was why he was friends with me. Since he couldn’t find any kind of simple or factual errors to blame, and couldn’t plausibly blame me being dumb, he needed to come up with something else to put the blame on me, in his mind, for his inability to win some arguments with me. So he decided that I’m irrational (without ever explaining how or why that happened, since he’d previously thought I was especially rational. BTW, years after David became cold to me, Lulie told me that she thinks I’m more rational than him. She knew both of us personally so was in a position to judge based on personal conduct, not just our writing.).
Also, David put work into getting me not to worry about social cues with him. Sometimes people give social hints that they don’t like something or want to be left alone, and perceive it as aggressive or mean if those social hints/cues aren’t followed. David didn’t want our relationship to work that way.
David wanted me to rely on him making explicit requests, and on me asking for explicit permission for some things (mostly about sharing stuff he told me). He communicated that he didn’t want me to follow social cues from him. He repeatedly said not to worry about potentially annoying him, wasting his time, contacting him too much, bothering him, etc, and that he would choose what to engage with and what to spend time on. He said he’d take care of himself and he didn’t want me making guesses about what would be in his best interest. He didn’t want me to withhold communications based on my ideas about what he wanted; he wanted to manage the situation himself.
The main reason this came up is that I asked about it repeatedly in the first few years I knew him. I asked about it because I met David as a fan of his book not as a peer, and I figured he had important stuff to be doing, like writing his next book, instead of talking with me so much. I didn’t want to overstep. But he wanted me to be comfortable with him, treat him as a friend, and not worry about bothering him or taking up his time. (Also, social cues never count as no contact requests. Lots of people miss social cues, especially online, and at worst missing those cues is kinda rude, not abusive.)
Also David basically taught me that paying attention to social cues is irrational and we should interact based on explicit statements, talking things out, reasoning in words, etc. That’s also one of the things his TCS philosophy taught. TCS got a lot of pushback because it had that attitude even for pre-verbal children, who it sees as merely small adults who are fully capable of long abstract discussions about problem solving. (I don’t agree with that.)
That’s the context. Now here’s my best understanding of the main issue:
After years of feeling bad about what I said and building up an “Elliot is irrational; that’s why my arguments don’t work” narrative in his mind, David started confusing his feelings with facts. He started thinking that, since he felt bad, I was abusing him in some way. This is how he got to the mental state where he lies that I’m a several-no-contact-request violating abuser. It feels like that to him. He felt like he didn’t want things, and then he observed me continuing to do them anyway, despite his unstated (and purposefully hidden from me) feelings (and probably despite some social cues that he’d trained me not to pay attention to). And he felt bad about being asked to clearly state what he didn’t want, so that just added to the perceived abuse. It felt bad to him to try to formulate in words what he didn’t want and why because it was hard for him to come up with reasonable words that didn’t blame himself. He felt abused, so people started picking up on his attitude, and it evolved over time to a harassment campaign and to him getting facts wrong. That’s because the emotion-driven narrative was primary to him. That’s a pattern with David and his close associates like his TCS co-founder Sarah, who did something similar more than once.
By disagreeing with and debating David, I was following his philosophy that he taught me. I wasn’t disrespecting his authority. From the beginning, I hadn’t changed my mind until I was satisfied (by his arguments and/or by what I thought of myself). But when I disagreed with him in the later years, he assumed that meant I was wrong, stubborn or irrational. He tried to talk to me about issues only when he thought of a new way to convince me he was right. So he wasn’t following the philosophy he taught me.
David’s fallibilist philosophy says to consider it equally possible that I could be right instead of him. His philosophy says that “get the lower status person to see why the expert is right” is an irrational way to approach disagreement. He’s often said that Karl Popper taught us that we must not recategorize disagreements as something else (like disobedience, disrespect, a student not knowing their place, dishonesty, bad faith, etc.). I was following what David taught me, not pushing one of my own ideas on him.
David said that, most of the time, children don’t disagree with their parents (people overestimate how disagreeable children are because they focus a lot of attention on the disagreements). Children selectively disagree in cases where the parent’s idea doesn’t make sense to them. So although parents are usually right, if you look at only the cases where children disagree and object, then children are right a significant portion of the time. (Also, often both the parent and child are partly wrong. Neither one has a perfect view, so the parent can be mostly right but still need to make some adjustments to address a problem the child saw.) The same logic applies to e.g. an expert teaching a novice. The expert is usually right, but if you only look at the times the novice listens to the expert first and then still disagrees afterward, then the novice has a decent chance of being right. The cases where you’re wrong are, on average, the hardest ones to teach to others and get them to agree with. But David didn’t take seriously that I might be right about our intellectual disagreements. He wasn’t interested in reconsidering his own ideas in light of my arguments. And that was long after I was no longer a novice, and he’d called me a “colleague” and made a bunch of changes to drafts of his book on my advice. In retrospect, it seems that a lot of his interest in my arguments was about knowing what obstacles to address to persuade me, rather than actually being interested in learning the ideas I was saying. But approaching discussion that way is, according to David’s philosophy, extremely irrational.
David repeatedly and publicly wrote about and advocated this view on rationality (some of the things he said were extreme, unconventional and actually problematic, which I may write about later). And on 2011-03-15, David IMed me “One side-effect of infallibilism is that it redefines misunderstanding as treason.” He believe that basically disagreement (including from young children) should never be delegitimized as something else like treason, misbehavior, disobedience, “being difficult”, bad faith, stupidity, etc. Instead, fallibilists interpret basically all kinds of conflicts or problems between people as disagreements about ideas that can be dealt with using rationality. It’s unclear to me how exactly David decided that we didn’t have a discussable misunderstanding and that, instead, I was a traitor. He didn’t go through some kind of robust, visible, explicable process of determining that with me. It seems like he just believes what’s necessary to protect his feelings.
One of the underlying causes of this whole story is that David was extremely stressed by writing his book, The Beginning of Infinity (BoI). He was especially stressed by the deadline to finish, which he got extended (but he couldn’t keep getting extensions). Although he worked on the book for over a decade, he ran out of time at the end and had to leave out some planned chapters. He often used being busy and stressed by the book as an excuse for things (sometimes quite reasonably, other times less so). And one time he told me that he was acting irrationally due to the stress of trying to finish BoI. He said he expected to recover and treat me more normally again after BoI was published (but instead became colder and more hostile after his book was done). (This info was over multiple years, primarily in IMs.)
I guess I should have shared this years ago but I wanted to protect my former friend. So I suffered through years of abuse without even sharing much of my side of the story.
I wouldn’t talk about this if it was just David being a jerk, a bad friend, or a person who wasn’t personally as good as his philosophical ideals. But I don’t want to be trolled by a bunch of fake identities, be DDOSed, be lied about by a public figure, and suffer other abuse from his community. David is using false narratives about me to encourage ongoing severe harassment that needs to stop. He’s been getting revenge on me for his hurt feelings. I want to be left alone. I don’t want my rights violated.
PS: If you think I’m mistaken, please quote and respond critically to the single thing you’re most confident is an error. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org, use my forum, or post on your blog and email me the link. FYI, I will treat your email about this matter as public unless you get my explicit agreement, in advance, to keep something private.) Evidence, details or logical arguments would be appreciated. A calm, objective tone would be great too. If you want to argue with multiple things, that’s OK, but let’s do one at a time. Please start with any factual errors before trying to debate any points that are more in the realm of opinion. I’m under the general impression that some people in David’s community don’t believe me when I say things like this or even when I claim to have been harassed at all, but none of them have told me what they don’t believe or why, which makes it difficult to respond to and provide more convincing information. I have to guess at what people disagree with or doubt and try to address it preemptively, which is hard when I’m also trying to limit what I share for privacy reasons, and it’s also hard because most of the people don’t want to read long things.