Some time in early 2011, I discovered Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality—a Harry Potter fanfiction in which Harry is a child genius in math and physics and psychology and probability, and he gets his Hogwarts acceptance letter and finds out magic is real, and then he vows to use Science to learn how “magic” really works—among other ambitious goals, like wanting to reveal magic to the entire world, and end death forever by making everyone immortal.
It was unlike anything I had read before, and as a casual fan of both Harry Potter and nerdy things in general, I was hooked.
Over time, that story led me to other “rational” stories that catered to the same special variety of sci-fi/fantasy nerd:
Worm*, an epic-length superhero web serial about a girl who has the lame-sounding power to mind-control bugs, but which she continually finds jaw-dropping applications for.
The Metropolitan Man, a fanfiction in which Lex Luthor is the rational protagonist trying to figure out the limitations and weaknesses of the existential threat known as Superman.
Unsong, a magnificent mixture of hard magic, biblical apocalypse, and groan-worthy puns.
And the list goes on. In fact, there’s a whole subreddit (r/rational) dedicated to finding and sharing new rational fiction with other fans of the genre.
(* Sticklers may want me to note that Worm isn’t strictly a Rational™ story; it just happens to be Rational™-adjacent enough to appeal to most Rational™ readers.)
But despite so often enjoying stories that cater to the Rationalist™ variety of sci-fi/fantasy nerd… I am not a Rationalist.
It’s a community full of people who utterly lack empathy, and are so convinced of their own genius that they spend most of their time debating amongst themselves about the evils of social justice and wokeness. (Instead of, you know, using their alleged genius to actually solve any problems in the real world.)
It’s a community that essentially preys on nerdy men who feel rejected by society, dragging them into a radicalization pipeline that’s fueled every step of the way by their perceived mental superiority.
And I was almost one of them. After I read HPMOR, I orbited the online Rationalist community for years. I read (some of) the “Sequences” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I (occasionally) read SlateStarCodex’s open threads, in search of casual mental stimulation—which I always found. What wasn’t to like? Here was a bunch of people having “deep” “intellectual” “discussions” about a wide array of subjects from physics to philosophy, and it tickled my think-bone in just the right way.
But as the years went on and I went from being a nerdy kid to a nerdy adult, I began to notice more frequently that a lot of Rationalist posters had kind of abhorrent social/political opinions. On women. On minorities. On what things they’d consider to be basic wrong vs right. I don’t know if it was the community that changed, or if it was me—but after enough double-takes of “Wait, this guy is advocating for WHAT?” I knew I had to leave.
(Also, at some point in that timeline, HPMOR finally concluded after an excruciatingly drawn-out second half. The overall story wasn’t as good as those first ~30 chapters suggested it should be.)
It really is a damn shame, I think. I still have all the same nerdy interests in physics and philosophy, science and psychology, and I’d love for there to be a (non-shitty) community that talks about them all. I still love the idea of a community of nerds who promote ways of making us all smarter by spreading awareness of cognitive biases and more effective ways of thinking.
I am not a rationalist.
But I wish rationalists were something worth being.