My links from the week of 4/30

A great example of how poverty can be a mindset – and a sad story of human brokenness + more examples in the comments

How Heritage went wrong – they sacrificed ideology for political muscle

Climate Change

“Whether or not this represents progress in how the U.S. media cover the climate debate, a trip down memory lane seems called for. In the 1980s, when climate alarms were first being widely sounded, reporters understood the speculative basis of computer models. We all said to ourselves: Well, in 30 years we’ll certainly have the data to know for sure which model forecasts are valid.

Thirty years later, the data haven’t answered the question. The 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, voice of climate orthodoxy, is cited for its claim, with 95% confidence, that humans are responsible for at least half the warming between 1951 and 2010.

Look closely. This is an estimate of the reliability of an estimate. It lacks the most important conjunction in science: “because”—as in “We believe X because of Y.”

Not that the IPCC fails to offer a “because” in footnotes. It turns out this estimate is largely an estimate of how much man-made warming should have taken place if the models used to forecast future warming are broadly correct. … We don’t know what the IPCC’s next assessment report, due in 2021, will say on this vital point, known as climate sensitivity. But in 2013 it widened the range of uncertainty, and in the direction of less warming. Its current estimate is now identical to that of the 1979 Charney Report. On the key question, then, there has been no progress in 38 years. …

For the record, Zach, an estimate recently touted by the Washington Post precisely because it was five or 10 times worse than previous estimates had this to say about the consequences of climate change. If unaddressed, they would reduce economic growth by one-fifth over the next 85 years.

In other words, under the worst scenario, Zach’s grandchildren’s world would be only nine times richer than ours today.”

On true blind justice as the antidote to blind tribalism and narratives

“In a polarized nation, our political lives are dominated by narratives. We hold on to the stories that advance our narrative, discard as aberrations the stories that contradict the narrative, and press forward — armed to the teeth with tales of outrage. While only the most crazed radicals believe that their side is always right, the contradictory stories tend to disappear. Conservatives are quick to know that “hands up, don’t shoot” was one of the lies of the year. They tend to be quick to forget men such as Walter Scott or don’t know anything at all about Demetrius Hollins. The leftist commitment to narrative is legendary. The Black Lives Matter movement is still deemed “peaceful” even as its rallies keep turning violent, and its supporters have gunned down cops in the streets. The “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra is still on activists’ lips in spite of all available evidence. And, as the disruption of Heather Mac Donald’s speech at Claremont McKenna College showed, even questioning BLM’s statistical claims and allegations is considered somehow anti-black. There is only one way through the tribalism of competing narratives, and that’s through a commitment to justice. No, not “social justice.” True justice — the quest for evidence, the search for facts, and the dispensation of punishment without regard to race, creed, class, or religion. We live in a complicated country, and simple narratives can’t tell its story. For conservatives, that means leaving the reflexive defense of the police to the police unions and police lawyers. It means not having a “rooting interest” in any given case aside from rooting for the truth to emerge. It also means grieving with fellow Americans who’ve suffered unimaginable loss, a loss compounded by the horrific realization that it came through the hands of the state — the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve.” None of this means that conservatives shouldn’t examine each case and each allegation with a skeptical eye. Early reports are often wrong (remember when Charlotte, N.C., erupted in riots because of unfounded rumors that police shot Keith Lamont Scott when he was merely holding a book?), and the mainstream media often shares the far Left’s narrative. But it does mean that the skepticism shouldn’t be limited to the “other” side. Radical activists aren’t the only liars in American life. A depressing number of cops lie with depressing regularity. We live in a complicated country, and simple narratives can’t tell its story. Yesterday, in Dallas — not too far from Balch Springs — Derick Lamont Brown, the former chairman of the New Black Panther Party in Dallas, reportedly shot a paramedic and a neighbor, leaving them both bleeding in the street. When police arrived, Brown opened fire, and multiple officers risked their lives to drag the wounded paramedic and neighbor to safety. That’s two Texas incidents, and they advance two very different narratives. In one, cops risk their lives to save lives while a black radical commits an act of vicious violence. In the other, a cop fires into a car full of black kids for apparently no good reason. We have to remember them both. We have to grapple with them both. Any other approach forsakes truth for the tribe. Any other approach elevates politics over people. Seek justice. The narrative is the lesser concern.”

The problem with guardians of morality in politics – relates closely to the hierarchy of needs approach to politics that Ace of Spades explained a while back

“As I’ve argued on previous occasions, declaring opponents unacceptable, illegitimate, and out of bounds is a perennial temptation. That’s because politics always takes place on two distinct levels. On one level is the back and forth of partisan conflict, involving persuasion, argument, electoral battles, triumphs, and defeats. On this level, pretty much anything goes as long as it abides by the rules of the political game. But there’s also a second, more fundamental level of politics that involves a competition over who gets to set those rules, the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable — and precisely where those boundaries will be positioned. … The problem with telling people that they’re not allowed to get their way on certain issues is two-fold. First, as we’ve seen with the Trump phenomenon, controversial opinions don’t just disappear when members of the establishment rule them out of bounds. They often reassert themselves later, more powerful and more radicalized than before. And second, the excommunicators may become fond of the tactic and apply it to an ever-expanding range of issues.”

On the law, originalism and constitutional interpretation

“From F. A. Hayek we take the lesson that the best laws are the most general ones, the ones that apply in the same way to different kinds of people and institutions, allowing for a wide understanding of what is required from us by the state and providing a baseline of predictability for the emergence of the economic and civic institutions that actually make the world go round. From Professor Hasnas we can take the lesson that these things may grow murky at the margins, that, as much as conservatives may mock the “penumbras” of the judicial imagination, it is sometimes necessary to explore them.

But we also have the lessons of Judge Bork and Justice Scalia: Very often, the law is in fact quite clear enough, and putting down an anchor in the actual language of the law is our only defense against the motivated reasoning of the judicial activists and the political opportunism of presidents. We sometimes fall victim to certain ideological claims that balancing these things is not necessary, that there exists, if only we would pay attention, a kind of national flowchart telling us where to go at each and every intersection. What we refuse to acknowledge during this narrow and angry period of absurd and fantastical populism is that there is no such thing, that no ideology or insight will liberate us from the very difficult task of citizenship.

And from President Trump, we learn that it is important to get this right, because there is no guarantee that power follows prudence or that high character is a prerequisite for high office.”

A good reminder of how misleading narratives can be and how they can be a cover for past failures, though he falls for it himself at the end – past my quoted section – His view of the right way forward is clearly a reflection of his own views.  I continually find it hilarious how so many people essentially think that to solve the problem, “you just need to be more like me.

“From Rick Moran’s much talked-about post:

I have read some speculation in the last few days that it may be possible for the GOP to make big gains in the House and Senate in 2010 if they “tap in” to the rage being felt by ordinary taxpayers against the savior based economy being created by Obama and the Democrats.
As a tactic, it would probably be a winner. But is there another way to achieve the same result without exacerbating the already deep divisions in American society? . . .
The inevitable populist backlash is predictable. The problem is that mass movements based on populist rage have generally led to untoward and unanticipated consequences. . . .
Tapping in to the rage of taxpayers by exploiting their fears then, would almost certainly result in unanticipated problems for the GOP. But beyond that, is this the way the Republicans wish to return to power? The Rovian strategy of using wedge issues to cleave the electorate over gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues got Republicans elected but also sowed the seeds of their own destruction.

Rick Moran is a nice guy, and you know what Leo Durocher had to say about that. But in addition to his “let’s don’t be divisive” problem of niceness, Rick’s analysis is profoundly flawed in other ways.

Who is it that says “Rovian tactics” hurt the GOP? Uh . . . liberals, that’s who. A basic problem with conservative punditry is that too often it admits the premises of liberal arguments and yet expects to reach different conclusions. This is a fatal rhetorical trap. If one accepts the premise that the objects of government are to achieve liberal goals — “world peace,” “social justice,” “economic equality,” etc. — then trying to find “conservative” answers to those problems is a snipe hunt. So it is with the will-o’-th’-wisp pursuit of “bipartisan civility,” a euphemism employed by Democrats to mean, “Republicans lose and shut up.”

Ask yourself this: “What really hurt the GOP in the post-2004 era?”

  • The disastrous sequel to “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. More than 3,000 GIs were killed in quelling a terrorist resistance that Bush either (a) never anticipated, or (b) neglected to warn Americans about before the invasion. Through sheer power of repetition, liberals sold the “Bush lied, people died” argument to America. And one need not be a commie peacenik to believe that the entire rationale of the Iraq invasion was misbegotten.
  • The botched Social Security reform effort. Simply put, Republicans pissed off the geezers and gained nothing for it. Bush should have had Tom DeLay ram through an actual bill in the House, so that the specific facts of the proposal could be debated in the Senate. Instead, Bush tried to get the Senate to act first. Wrong move. Nothing conservative ever starts with Republican senators.
  • Amnesty for illegal aliens. Anybody who doesn’t understand how poisonous this idiotic idea is with “Reagan Democrats” needs to listen to more talk radio. In early 2006, when the first amnesty was being debated in the Senate, I happened to be doing the talk-radio circuit to promote Donkey Cons. And although the book was not about immigration, the radio hosts would inevitably ask me my opinion on the issue, because audience interest was through the roof. And talk-radio callers were about 99-to-1 against amnesty. I don’t care what the polls say; all the intensity on this issue is anti-amnesty. Open-border Republicans are destroying the party’s support among working-class voters by pushing amnesty.
  • The economy, stupid. In retrospect, we see that the housing bubble peaked in 2006, and that economic angst was actually being felt much earlier. The Fed started pumping money into the economy in 2001, repeatedly lowering the prime rate, and the only reason we didn’t notice the inevitable inflationary effect of that policy was that the CPI didn’t count as inflation (a) the zoom in home prices during the bubble, or (b) the rise in stock prices. There was a “hidden inflation,” concealed as rising asset value, and when everybody was complaining that college tuition was rising “faster than inflation,” somebody should have thought to ask, “Hey, why isn’t college tuition — a basic expense for many middle-class households — calculated into the CPI?”

None of these issue-specific failures of the Bush administration were the result of “Rovian tactics.” So far as Rove was part of the problem, it was mainly that the big Republican wins in 2002 and 2004 convinced some people that Rove had a magic mojo that could win elections no matter what. In a word: Hubris. Or to add a few more descriptors: Arrogance and recto-cranial inversion.

If I were commissioned to write a book called Everything The Republican Party Did Wrong 2005-2008, that would be a very large book. However, since this is just a freaking blog, I’ll limit myself to three quick additional observations about GOP errors:

  • The Fox Trap — Media-wise, the GOP made the mistake of putting all its eggs in one basket. I enjoy Fox News, but it has created a syndrome where Republicans watch Fox all the time and delude themselves into thinking, “Hey, our message is getting out! We’re winning!” Fact: The evening news broadcasts of ABC, NBC and CBS reach a combined audience of about 22 million; the top rated Fox News show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” reaches 4 million viewers. So if the three broadcast networks are viciously biased against Republicans — and they are — then that anti-GOP message is reaching more than 5 times as many TV viewers as Fox.
  • Making Bush the face of “conservatism” — As former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett documented in his book Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, our 43rd president was most definitely not a conservative. His original signature issue, No Child Left Behind, was the antithesis of a conservative education policy, and Medicare Part D — well, where to begin? Bush’s unpopularity created “brand damage” for the GOP, but what he did to the public understanding of what it means to be a “conservative” was far, far worse.
  • John McCain — How he ever got the Republican presidential nomination is one of the great mysteries of modern politics, especially considering that he got only 47% of the GOP primary vote, even though his top rival, Mitt Romney, quit the race after Super Tuesday. The chief lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign could be summed up in five words: No More Old Bald Guys.”

Neutral vs Conservative, the eternal struggle – why institutions move left over time and options for solving the problems that phenomenon creates

“Vox’s David Roberts writes about Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology.

It’s got a long and complicated argument which I can’t really do justice to here, but the thesis seems to be that the US Right is defecting against the country’s shared institutions in favor of forming its own echo chambers.”

  • Background.  BS in many respects.  The first two sections debunk it in a fairly neutral manner.  I would be much less kind.

“And sure, if you consider me your friend, then that makes this one of those “friend of a friend” stories. But I dare you to say that any of this sounds the least bit implausible. My point is, just because a university paints “ACTUALLY, WE ARE POLITICALLY NEUTRAL” in big red letters on the college quad, doesn’t mean that anyone is required to believe it. And the ideology that invented the microaggression can’t hide behind “but we haven’t officially declared you unwelcome!””

  • I’m going to use that line at some point.

“Roberts writes that “the right has not sought greater fairness in mainstream institutions; it has defected to create its own”. This is a bizarre claim, given the existence of groups like Accuracy In Media, Media Research Center, Newsbusters, Heterodox Academy, et cetera which are all about the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions, some of which are almost fifty years old. Really “it’s too bad conservatives never complained about liberal bias in academia or the mainstream media” seems kind of like the opposite of how I remember the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The way I remember it, conservatives spent about thirty years alternately pleading, demanding, suing, legislating, and literally praying for greater fairness in mainstream institutions, and it was basically all just hitting their heads against a brick wall. Then they defected to create their own.”

  • For the most part, this is true.


This predictably went badly.

I wrote before (1, 2) about the sort of dynamics this situation produces. A couple of years ago, Reddit decided to ban various undesirables and restrict discussion of offensive topics. A lot of users were really angry about this, and some of them set up a Reddit clone called Voat which promised that everyone was welcome regardless of their opinion.

What happened was – a small percent of average Reddit users went over, lured by curiosity or a principled commitment to free speech. And also, approximately 100% of Reddit’s offensive undesirables went there, lured by the promise of being able to be terrible and get away with it.

Even though Voat’s rules were similar to Reddit’s rules before the latter tightened its moderation policies, Voat itself was nothing like pre-tightening Reddit. I checked to see whether it had gotten any better in the last year, and I found the top three stories were:

The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

  • Theme.

“FOX’s slogans are “Fair and Balanced”, “Real Journalism”, and “We Report, You Decide”. They were pushing the “actually unbiased media” angle hard. I don’t know if this was ever true, or if people really believed it. It doesn’t matter. By attracting only the refugees from a left-slanted system, they ensured they would end up not just with conservatives, but with the worst and most extreme conservatives.

They also ensured that the process would feed on itself. As conservatives left for their ghettos, the neutral gatekeeper institutions leaned further and further left, causing more and more conservatives to leave. Meanwhile, the increasingly obvious horribleness of the conservative ghettos made liberals feel more and more justified in their decision to be biased against conservatives. They intensified their loathing and contempt, accelerating the conservative exodus.

The equilibrium is basically what we see now. The neutral gatekeeper institutions lean very liberal, though with a minority of conservative elites who are good at keeping their heads down and too mainstream/prestigious to settle for anything less. The ghettos contain a combination of seven zillion witches and a few decent conservatives who are increasingly uncomfortable but know there’s no place for them in the mainstream.”

  • I love the anecdote he uses to set up his narrative.  But I don’t think Fox quite lives up to it.  I unfortunately have to admit that there are similarities.  But Fox has been good in many respects.  The news reporting itself is quite good.  The commentary is right-leaning and probably worse than the pre-fox cable networks.  But for the internet age, it’s ideological bias is probably about average.  In the age of Trump though, it’s gotten really bad.  So that’s definitely true.  But it wasn’t always THIS bad.  The hosts didn’t go off the deep end until they had to defend Trump.  Trump has corrupted every conservative institution he has touched.  Fox has been no different and probably worse due to it’s extended contact with him.

“The overall impression is of a widespread norm, well-understood by both liberals and conservatives, that we have a category of space we call “neutral” and “depoliticized”. These sorts of spaces include institutions as diverse as colleges, newspapers, workplaces, and conferences. And within these spaces, overt liberalism is tolerated but overt conservativism is banned. In a few of these cases, conservatives grew angry enough that they started their own spaces – which began as noble attempts to avoid bias, and ended as wretched hives of offensive troglodytes who couldn’t get by anywhere else. This justifies further purges in the mainstream liberal spaces, and the cycle goes on forever.

Stanford historian Robert Conquest once declared it a law of politics that “any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing”. I have no idea why this should be true, and yet I’ve seen it again and again. Taken to its extreme, it suggests we’ll end up with a bunch of neutral organizations that have become left-wing, plus a few explicitly right-wing organizations. Given that Conquest was writing in the 1960s, he seems to have predicted the current situation remarkably well.”

  • This guy is a lefty.  So his opinion of the alternative spaces isn’t very high.  I am more optimistic that places like Fox and the Daily Caller for example can at least be as good as their lefty counterparts.  Indeed, I think they already are.  I think the educated will perceive them to be worse because they don’t spend as much time on the more lowbrow leftwing equivalents.  I would consider them to be roughly equivalent to their left-wing counterparts.  Fox is no better or worse than MSNBC and the Daily Caller is no better or worse than the Huffington Post.  What conservatives don’t have, is a version of Vox, a high-brow organ that specifically targets the educated. (and exists primarily to confirm the prejudices of the conservative intelligentsia the way Vox does with the leftist intelligentsia)


David Roberts ends by noting that he doesn’t really know what to do here, and I agree. I don’t know what to do here either.

But one simple heuristic: if everything you’ve tried so far has failed, maybe you should try something different. Right now, the neutral gatekeeper institutions have tried being biased against conservatives. They’ve tried showing anti-conservative bias. They’ve tried ramping up the conservativism-related bias level. They’ve tried taking articles, and biasing them against conservative positions. I appreciate their commitment to multiple diverse strategies, but I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a possibility they’ve missed.

Look. I read Twitter. I know the sorts of complaints people have about this blog. I’m some kind of crypto-conservative, I’m a traitor to liberalism, I’m too quick to sell out under the guise of “compromise”. And I understand the sentiment. I write a lot about how we shouldn’t get our enemies fired lest they try to fire us, how we shouldn’t get our enemies’ campus speakers disinvited lest they try to disinvite ours, how we shouldn’t use deceit and hyperbole to push our policies lest our enemies try to push theirs the same way. And people very reasonably ask – hey, I notice my side kind of controls all of this stuff, the situation is actually asymmetrical, they have no way of retaliating, maybe we should just grind our enemies beneath our boots this one time.

And then when it turns out that the enemies can just leave and start their own institutions, with horrendous results for everybody, the cry goes up “Wait, that’s unfair! Nobody ever said you could do that! Come back so we can grind you beneath our boots some more!”

Conservatives aren’t stuck in here with us. We’re stuck in here with them. And so far it’s not going so well. I’m not sure if any of this can be reversed. But I think maybe we should consider to what degree we are in a hole, and if so, to what degree we want to stop digging.”

  • I think I agree that strong, neutral gateway institutions are the ideal solution to this problem.  And given the conservative response to bias documented briefly at the beginning of this article, I think most conservatives would agree with me.  However, given that that is not attainable right now.  I think the best option is to try and make conservative-leaning institutions into the best versions of themselves.  In the case where there are no neutral institutions, I just want ours to be as good as the leftist equivalent, even if neither of us will ever reach the same level as a truly neutral institution.  When a neutral institution shows up, I will be willing to give it a shot, even though I know it will not last.  But even then, I will consider it necessary to have people and institutions that can fill the void when the neutral institutions go awry.  So as frustratingly, pathetically bad as Conservative Inc. can be at times, it’s existence will in my view always remain a vital necessity for as long as we can’t trust leftists to not try and grind us beneath their boots.

The Siren Song of Homogeneity

“The U.S. and Europe are in a time of great political change. Policies haven’t changed that much yet, but the set of ideas that drive movements and activism and the public discussion have altered radically in the last few years. In the U.S., which of course I know the best, there have been new outpourings on the left – the resurgent socialist movement and the social justice movement chief among them. But as far as I can see, the biggest new thing is the alt-right. Loosely (we can argue about definitions all day, and I’m sure many of you will want to do so), the alt-right wants to make American society homogeneous. Most of the enthusiasm is for racial homogeneity, but religion seems to figure into it a bit as well.

The siren song of homogeneity is a powerful one. On Twitter and elsewhere, I am encountering more and more young people (mostly men) who openly yearn for a society where everyone is white. The more reasonable among these young people tell me that homogeneity reduces conflict, increases social trust, and has a number of other benefits. They often cite Japan as their paradigmatic homogeneous society; some explicitly say they want a white version of Japan.”

  • Background

Is the alt-right really a growing, rising movement?

Much of the passion for white homogeneity seems new to me – twenty years ago, despite the existence of Nazi-type websites like Stormfront, the idea of making America an all-white nation seemed like a fringe notion. Perhaps it still is a fringe notion – after all, social media acts as a force multiplier that allows a relatively small number of highly committed individuals to seem like a huge army. And perhaps this kind of sentiment was always reasonably common in America, but simply kept under wraps by the mainstream media before the internet emerged to make it more visible.

There is some evidence to support the contention that alt-right ideas are still highly unpopular in America. A 2016 Pew survey found that only 7 percent of Americans say that growing diversity makes the country a worse place to live

Compare that to 31 percent in Britain and Germany and 36 percent in the Netherlands!”

  • Two things to keep in mind here: First, social media is a huge force multiplier.  Just because something appears to be a mass movement on social media doesn’t mean it is.  2nd, this is another reminder of just how much more racist is than America.  The fact that America was not founded on the basis of a shared ethnicity, as most nations are, makes it so much easier for us to deal with the virus of blood and soil nationalism when it arises.

“First of all, if you think Japanese people share a sense of camaraderie and togetherness from all being the same ethnicity, think again. Because Japan is homogeneous, ethnicity just isn’t that salient to most Japanese people – when a Japanese person meets another Japanese person, they don’t think “Japanese person,” they just think “person”. Ethnic identity isn’t on their minds.

Because of this, ethnic homogeneity creates very little solidarity on a day-to-day basis in Japan. Japanese people are generally wary of striking up conversations with strangers – more wary than Americans of different races are of striking up conversations with each other, I find. Services like Craigslist that facilitate informal transactions between private parties are rarely used – when I ask Japanese people why, they say it’s because they can’t trust strangers. Some Japanese people have told me that they feel far less shy talking to a foreigner than they do talking to another Japanese person.

I suspect that the feeling of ethnic solidarity that many alt-right whites feel for other alt-right whites is something unique to minorities. People who have always been part of the overwhelming majority just don’t think about ethnicity enough for it to create bonds of solidarity – except in extreme situations, like a foreign war.

Surveys corroborate my hunch. Japan has always reported relatively low levels of interpersonal trust – until recently, considerably lower than in the U.S.”

  • This is a really powerful counterpoint.
“So overall, if I were to draw conclusions from my experience in Japan, I’d say that homogeneity has its advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately isn’t clearly better or worse. Japan is one of the awesomest, nicest places I’ve ever been, but the other top contenders are diverse places like Vancouver, Austin, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
(As an aside, if I were making policy, I’d recommend that Japan not take in mass immigration. Maybe their society could handle it, maybe it couldn’t – but I say, no need to mess with a good thing. But that’s also why I recommend that America and Canada keep taking in lots of immigrants – we’ve got a different kind of good thing going. Anyway, that’s my instinct.)”
  • Read the whole thing for more details.

“In America, we have a race called “white” that Europe just doesn’t seem to have. In Europe, anecdotally, ethnicity is defined by language, and perhaps also by religion. While skin color differences are recognized, European ethnic definitions are usually much finer. In America, though, they’re all just “white.”

In fact, who’s included in “white” seems to change quite a lot over time. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin was arguing against North European immigration on the grounds that Swedes, French people, Russians, and most Germans weren’t “white”:

Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.

What a difference two and a half centuries make, eh? And the expanding definition of whiteness doesn’t seem confined to the distant past, either. Twentieth-century immigrant groups like Italians, Jews, and Poles were initially not considered “white” (except by the legal system), but rather “white ethnics“. Now, no one in America questions whether Italians are white, and were in fact white all along, from the very start. And the only people who question whether Ashkenazic Jews are white are a few screeching Nazis on Twitter (who may or may not reside in the U.S.).
In fact, this may already be happening with Hispanics. More and more Hispanics are declaring themselves white.
“Black” and “Asian” are other examples. In America, “black” people are all assumed to be part of one big race, as are “Asian” people. But try telling Hutus and Tutsis in Africa that they’re both part of the same ethnically homogeneous group. Or try going to a bar in Korea and telling some guys that they’re the same race as Japanese people (My advice: Be ready to duck). Ethnic differences that Americans don’t even recognize the existence of are the basis of genocide in other parts of the world. … Whether you believe race is fundamentally about biology or sociology, intermarriage erases racial boundary lines. It’s the final proof that ethnic homogeneity is not fixed, but changes depending on what people do.”
  • “Race” as a concept is much more fluid than most people realize.  America is one of the most interesting examples of this out there.
“A compromise theory
Given the evidence on both sides, and the plausibility of both the pro-homogeneity and the pro-diversity theories, it seems at least somewhat likely to me that the real world features a combination of the two. Here’s how the compromise theory goes: At first, when an influx of new people comes in, there’s a natural reaction of distrust, and existing communities get fractured. However, as time goes on, the previous inhabitants and the newcomers get used to each other. This process is accelerated by integrating institutions like public schools, colleges, and the military, and is complete once intermarriage is widespread. However, social conflict, especially political conflict, can keep this integration from happening, causing groups not to mix and people to continue to emphasize and maintain their differences.
So the compromise theory says: In the short run, increased diversity causes decreased trust; in the long run, high trust cause increased homogeneity. 
Or, as I once put it on Twitter: “One different-looking person in your neighborhood is a guest. 100 are an invasion. 1000 are just the neighbors.”
Update: I should mention that this compromise theory is basically Robert Putnam’s conclusion:

[E]vidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.

If this theory is right, America’s success depends on having institutions strong enough to integrate Asians and Hispanics – the two most recently arrived big groups – with the existing groups of whites and blacks. In other words, this theory says that homogeneity isn’t the means, it’s the goal. 
Who knows; one day even white and black Americans might consider themselves part of the same ethnic group.”
  • I find this to be pretty plausible.
“The dream of a white nation
But what about the people who don’t want that? What about the alt-right folks and fellow-travelers who have no intention of waiting around for America’s various races to all decide they’re on the same team? Many want to take the shortcut to a homogeneous society – they want to live in a place where only white people are allowed. They want the dream of a half-remembered, half-imagined 1950s Southern California – the clean streets, the nice lawns, the dependable white neighbors who tip their hat and say hi to you as they stroll down the lane. And dammit, they want it now.
Well, the short answer is: I don’t know how they’re going to get it. It’s not going to be possible for them to reimplement racial segregation, or kick all the Asians and Hispanics out of the country. Any serious, large-scale attempt to do that would mean civil war and the collapse of America, which I guarantee would not lead to a nice pleasant racially homogeneous peaceful life for anyone anytime soon.
And what are the other options for creating Whitopia? Secede? Not gonna work. You can go to small towns and gated communities, but the jobs won’t follow you, and by the law of the land, any nonwhite person who wants to can buy the house next to you. So what other options are there? Move to Argentina, I guess. Or maybe New Zealand.
It’s this paucity of options, I think, that has so many alt-right people so freaked out. For people who want a white heterogeneous society, there’s pretty much just nowhere to go. Until recently there was Europe, but with the rise of substantial nonwhite minorities there, and with most European leaders still committed to allowing large-scale nonwhite immigration, that avenue to Whitopia – or Kekistan, as it were – seems closed down. To those who dream of white homogeneity, it must seem like they’re being hounded to the ends of the earth, denied any place to call their home, told everywhere by their leaders to integrate with the nonwhite people nextdoor. No wonder they’re going crazy on Twitter.
I wish it were different. I wish there were some island nation where alt-right folks could go, and establish their all-white nation-state. It doesn’t seem likely to happen, but if it could, I’d say: More power to you.
But the ironic thing is, suppose they did get their Kekistan. Suppose New Zealand decided to become an all-white country (like it did in 1920), and twenty million alt-right types from around the world moved there (giving it about a quarter the population density of Japan). I think it just wouldn’t work.
I think people would move there, and find that homogeneity doesn’t automatically produce trust and goodwill and social peace. They would find that their population was a highly selected set – it would be made up of people who couldn’t get along with the people in their homelands. And they would find that the real thing keeping most of them from getting along with their neighbors wasn’t ethnic diversity – it was their own personalities. 
Eventually, social strife would return. Neighbors would feud over land and resources and power and community status. Gunfights would erupt. Killdozers would be unleashed. The government would lurch from crisis to crisis. Protectionist economic policies would be tried and would fail. The economy would languish. Some people would emigrate, back to the hellscapes of diversity.
And those who remained would cling to the theory that “Diversity + Proximity = War”. No one likes to give up their cherished social theories, especially if it’s the theory that the country was founded on. Just as with Hutus and Tutsis, the inhabitants of Kekistan would “discover” ethnic differences that had been there all along. Suddenly they wouldn’t be just white people anymore, but Russian-Kekistanis, Italian-Kekistanis, Hungarian-Kekistanis. Strife and distrust would return, and the new country would undergo decades, if not centuries, of brutal upheaval, fragmentation, clan warfare, unstable military rule, competing aristocracies, atrocities, and poverty.
I didn’t just make that prediction up, by the way. That’s pretty much just the history of Japan.
So although there’s certainly a case to be made for homogeneity, I’d say the case is a lot weaker and more uncertain than its proponents believe. And more importantly, there’s no path for how to get there – at least, not for a country like America. Except for a few small towns scattered throughout the country, the dream of an all-white utopia is likely to remain just that.”
  • That’s the likely result.  It dovetails very well with the Slate Star Codex post above.

An interesting review of a poll on Obama voters who went for Trump this election

“Among the findings:

  • 50 percent of Obama-Trump voters said their incomes are falling behind the cost of living, and another 31 percent said their incomes are merely keeping pace with the cost of living.
  • A sizable chunk of Obama-Trump voters — 30 percent — said their vote for Trump was more a vote against Clinton than a vote for Trump. Remember, these voters backed Obama four years earlier.
  • 42 percent of Obama-Trump voters said congressional Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy, vs. only 21 percent of them who said the same about Trump. (Forty percent say that about congressional Republicans.) A total of 77 percent of Obama-Trump voters said Trump’s policies will favor some mix of all other classes (middle class, poor, all equally), while a total of 58 percent said that about congressional Democrats.”

On the opioid crisis and drug legalization

“Outside of college dorms, the argument for legalization, in general, isn’t that drugs should be legalized because they’re fun and people can be trusted to use them responsibly. Rather, it’s that the costs of the war on drugs — in lives lost, lives squandered in prison, and civil liberties curtailed — outweigh the probable harm of legalization. Here are the editors of National Review in 1996: “It is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states.” Intelligent supporters of legalization know that drug use would increase, but would it increase so much as to overtake the cost of homicide, robbery, and incarceration? Well, after years of experimenting with opioid prescriptions so promiscuous that they functioned as a form of quasi-legalization, the answer appears to be yes. The costs of drug use are worse and more horrific than the costs of prohibition.”

Interesting Comments

“Steven Litvintchouk ·

Jason Lancaster

You’re wrong, Jason, as usual.

Robert Bork, who was no liberal, pointed out that every mood-altering drug comes with a cultural context. And society treats the drugs as proxies for the cultural contexts:

Wine: religious sacraments
Beer: sports
Cigarettes: sophistication, fashion (well, it used to be thought of that way)
Marijuana: youthful left-wing rebellion
Heroin: slums

We keep the first three legal and the last two illegal as a show of society’s moral approval of the former and moral disapproval of the latter.

We keep marijuana illegal to keep young lefties suppressed.

Like · Reply · 8 · Apr 28, 2017 8:01pm · Edited
Matthew Correia

Steven Litvintchouk dont forget!
LSD/Psychadelics – countercultural leftist movement
Crack – blacks
MDMA – partygoers
Like · Reply · Apr 29, 2017 6:42pm
Deborah Bell

Steven Litvintchouk “We keep marijuana illegal to keep young lefties suppressed.” lol, well, that really worked, eh?
Like · Reply · Apr 29, 2017 7:37pm
Fred Flint

Steven Litvintchouk
Except the reverse has been shown to happen, we make illegal or crack down on drug and more use them.

We made pot legal in Colorado and usage with teens has gone down or at worst staid the same.

PS New studies show psylicibin or magic mushrooms if used properly can treat depression for more than five years with one application. Currently 1 in 5 Americans are on some form of depression medicines daily all with serious side effects.

Like · Reply · Apr 30, 2017 10:10am
Steven Litvintchouk ·

In the 19th century, opium was legal in America. Before Robitussin, opium was the active ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrups and stomach aids. (Its use for stomach aches survived into the 20th century in medicines like Paregoric.)

Somehow, we survived.

We didn’t throw opium users in jail. Rather, the Federal Government taxed the hell out of the purchase and sale of opium.

In those libertarian 19th century days, that was a powerful disincentive because nobody wanted to pay that kind of dough to the Federal Government.

We ought to try that today.

It has been just such a combination of carrots and sticks that has reduced the rate of cigarette smoking in America–without outright banning cigarettes or threatening cigarette smoking.

  • I wonder how important this cultural context is?  Interesting ideas in any case.  I don’t know enough to have a good idea of what the right approach is.

Chidike Okeem’t tweetstorm on Milo, Trump and what happens when you have no ideas that anyone really believes in

  1. I’ve never understood why people are so fascinated with Milo. There’s nothing interesting about him. He is a walking YouTube troll.
  2. People need to understand this: Intellectuals provoke thought. Trolls provoke riots. Milo doesn’t have what it takes to provoke thought.
  3. The fact that Milo is a leading voice in mainstream conservatism demonstrates its current philosophical and intellectual bankruptcy.
  4. Annoying leftists is not evidence of a coherent conservative worldview. However, that is all it takes to be a mainstream conservative icon.
  5. Mainstream conservatives are so bereft of young conservative voices that they gleefully elevate a repugnant degenerate like Milo as an icon.
  6. When your conservatism is wholly defined by antagonizing liberals, a philosophically bankrupt libertine can be your new “thought leader.”
  7. Serious intellectuals are satisfied with making people think deeply. Trolls enjoy cities burning because of their inflammatory rhetoric.
  8. You can be an icon in mainstream conservatism today and be a communist. All you need to be is anti-PC. That’s embarrassing.
  9. The nonsensical elevation of Milo is demonstrative of the fact that mainstream conservatism has no real philosophical moorings.
  10. A movement that has Milo as a leader is not a movement for thinking people. It is a movement for halfwits who are titillated by controversy.
  11. The forces that anointed Milo a conservative leader are the same forces that made Donald Trump the GOP standard-bearer (and POTUS).
  12. Trump is not a traditional conservative, but he’s the politician version of Milo. He bucks PC culture, ergo he’s a mainstream conservative.
  13. Trump is a mainstream conservative because he irritates liberals. That’s all it takes to be a mainstream conservative today. Nothing more.
  • I wonder if I am thinking about this wrong.  I agree with most of this.  Milo=Trump.  No question about that.  And because the right (and the left, this just isn’t focused on them) believes its at war, ideas have ceased to matter.  We care more about winning than we do about anything else.  The race to the bottom continues.  But I think there are still ideas.  It’s not that there are no ideas, it’s that none of the good ones carry enough emotional weight to match the power of blind, tribal, hatred.  It’s not that “there are no philosophical mooring.”  It’s just that none of them are more emotionally satisfying then throwing shit our enemies.  That’s the real problem.  We need a better cause.  I think that we may be too rich for politics to provide that anymore.  Or at the very least its a lot harder.

Oren Cass on climate change with interesting applications to narratives and the arc of the left’s climate change narrative

“And then a funny thing happened: “Denial” gave way to those more reasoned arguments. Perhaps the accumulation of scientific evidence changed minds. Perhaps it was only the political reality that sank in. Regardless, opponents of aggressive climate policy mostly stopped questioning whether the climate was warming and whether human activity played a role — the two points of agreement that define the famous “97 percent consensus” of climate scientists — and started explaining why that consensus did not justify costly and ineffective policies.

This shift in focus from the basic science of climate change to its public-policy implications has been a disaster for climate activists, exposing the flabbiness at the core of their position. Softened by years of punching down at their opponents’ worst arguments, they became addicted to asserting that “science says so,” and they are now lost when it doesn’t.”

  • This is a good cautionary tale about what happens when you become too attached to an overly simplified narrative.  There is probably a right-wing analogue to this.  Revenue-generating tax cuts is probably a good example.  It’s been largely debunked for most purposes.  But it is so ingrained that we are having a really hard time moving beyond it.

“But as the IPCC emphasizes, the range for future projections remains enormous. The central question is “climate sensitivity” — the amount of warming that accompanies a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As of its Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, the IPCC could estimate only that this sensitivity is somewhere between 1.5 and 4.5°C. Nor is science narrowing that range. The 2013 assessment actually widened it on the low end, from a 2.0–4.5°C range in the prior assessment. And remember, for any specific level of warming, forecasts vary widely on the subsequent environmental and economic implications. At least one might assume that reasonable minds could be allowed to differ on the ultimate question of how well society is likely to cope with the effects of climate change — a political, social, and economic question several degrees removed from anything resembling a scientific consensus. Not so. I addressed these issues in a recent Foreign Affairs essay, in which I called the IPCC “the gold-standard summary,” cited it repeatedly, and adopted its estimate that temperatures could rise by 3 to 4°C this century. My essay further embraced the Obama administration’s “Social Cost of Carbon” analysis and adopted its high-case model for economic cost. But the essay argued that the likely impact of all this was “manageable” rather than “catastrophic.” Mann decried it as “#Koch climate denial propaganda.” Eric Holthaus, meteorologist and host of the podcast Our Warm Regards, called it “a master class in modern climate denial.” …

The ad hominem “denier” criticism places arguments and their purveyors beyond the pale, unworthy of response. Appealing to a purported “97 percent consensus” asserts that the question has been scientifically answered and policymakers have no business debating it. Such rhetorical techniques are wildly inappropriate where science is in fact, by its own admission, not settled, and especially where science is but one input to a difficult policy question.

  • I suspect the attempt to put things beyond the pale is essentially equivalent to adding a culture war element to it.  It also keeps it simple enough for activists to operate.  I suspect that is a very good way to keep activists agitated.  But its not working.
  • When it comes to actually approaching the problem of mitigating the likely harmful effects of warming in the future, realizing that the science is but one input to the policy question is really important.

Activists, so eager to bar the gates to the public square and keep their opponents out, have instead locked themselves in. If everyone agrees with the 97 percent consensus, and that consensus does not dictate any particular policy outcome, they have nothing else to say. Perhaps this is for the best. If the extremists from both sides become sufficiently marginalized, a reasoned policy debate might emerge about the real risks of climate change and the cost-effective responses. This would require the media to admit that their “denier” terminology has lost all meaning and to attend equally to the scientifically unsupported statements from both sides.”

  • Another problem with these simple narratives is that once any of the inputs change, the proponents of the narrative are stuck with it.  This is just as true for the tax cuts raise revenue narrative on the right.  So there seems to be a paradox here for both global warming and tax cuts and for that matter, any narrative created to advance a point of view on a complex issue.  In order to advance your position, you need to simplify it into an easy narrative.  But if you do that on a complex issue, it’s really easy to box yourself in once the oversimplified narrative is debunked or when one of its underlying assumptions change.  At that point, the narrative becomes a walking corpse.  It will continue to exist in the minds of its most fervent supports and will become a gross object of mockery to everyone else.

Good Comment

William Befort ·

This article doesn’t make any point that Bjorn Lomborg didn’t make in “The Skeptical Environmentalist” back in 1998. The data don’t support extreme measures against CO2; mitigation and adaptation make better sense. Of course that got him full denier treatment in Scientific American.

Tax reform – a lot of good reform can be done simply by changing deductions to credits

“Tax breaks come in two different flavors — tax deductions and tax credits. And if you want to make the tax code more egalitarian but you think eliminating tax breaks wholesale is too politically difficult, you could just convert tax deductions to tax credits whenever you can.

Here’s how it works. When you file your taxes, you first have to calculate the amount of income you owe taxes on. Tax deductions reduce that amount. The mortgage interest deduction, for example, removes all the money you paid in interest on your mortgage from the total income you’ll pay taxes on. As a result, your final tax bill to the IRS goes down.

But if you’re richer, you’re probably spending more money on your mortgage, and you’re escaping higher tax rates. So the tax deduction helps you more, as an intrinsic consequence of its very design.

Tax credits are different. They come in after you’ve calculated your final tax bill, and reduce that number directly. So how much any given taxpayer benefits from a tax credit varies a lot less depending on income.”

Summary of interesting research on the carbon tax from a leftist perspective

How to sell foreign aid to skeptical voters from good polling data

A good reminder of the many downsides of the internet, especially with our built-in negativity bias

Interesting research on Obama voters who went for Trump suggests that many of them thought Dems were for the wealthy

“One finding from the polling stands out: A shockingly large percentage of these Obama-Trump voters said Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy — twice the percentage that said the same about Trump. I was also permitted to view video of some focus group activity, which showed Obama-Trump voters offering sharp criticism of Democrats on the economy.

  • 50 percent of Obama-Trump voters said their incomes are falling behind the cost of living, and another 31 percent said their incomes are merely keeping pace with the cost of living.
  • A sizable chunk of Obama-Trump voters — 30 percent — said their vote for Trump was more a vote against Clinton than a vote for Trump. Remember, these voters backed Obama four years earlier.
  • 42 percent of Obama-Trump voters said congressional Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy, vs. only 21 percent of them who said the same about Trump. (Forty percent say that about congressional Republicans.) A total of 77 percent of Obama-Trump voters said Trump’s policies will favor some mix of all other classes (middle class, poor, all equally), while a total of 58 percent said that about congressional Democrats.”

Trump, the most clueless man in Washington

“The takeaway from Trump’s first 100 days in office isn’t a list of accomplishments or failures but rather a nugget of hard-won knowledge about the president himself: He is so comprehensively ignorant of policy and history, so thoroughly lacking in a core of settled beliefs or convictions, that the Oval Office might as well be unoccupied. … Libertarians and some constitutional conservatives have long railed against the imperial presidency and advocated for a diminished head of the executive branch. Well, my friends, we’ve got it now. The only remaining question is just how small the office can become under this most unpresidential of presidents. … There is no “real” Trump. There is only this Trump — the Trump saying or doing whatever he’s saying or doing at any given moment, which has no rational connection to what he said or did in the recent past or what he might be saying or doing even a single moment from now.”

  • Pretty close to true.

What Jim Demint’s ouster says about the conservative movement’s identity crisis

“What was most important in keeping the hawks and the doves, the protectionists and the free traders, and all the other factions and fractions of conservatism together over the last eight years was, of course, another ex-senator: Barack Obama. Having an enemy in the White House saved conservatives from a lot of soul-searching after George W. Bush, just as having Bill Clinton in office a decade earlier had helped conservatives avoid a crackup after the first President Bush. The conservative movement’s culpability for the Iraq War and failure to foresee the Great Recession after years of Republican economic stewardship, were tough questions that could be deferred so long as the focus was on defeating Obama and his one major legislative achievement, ObamaCare.

But what would conservatism mean once Obama was gone? What was the program? This wasn’t just a philosophical problem, it was an organizational one. DeMint’s critics accused him of politicizing Heritage, but that gets the story backwards. He was hired away from the Senate in the first place, in late 2012, because Heritage was already moving in a more political direction. That direction was clear from the creation of Heritage Action in 2010 by Needham and Ed Fuelner — DeMint’s predecessor as Heritage’s president and now his successor as the think tank’s interim leader. Politics replaced policy during the Obama years because nobody knew what conservative policy meant any more beyond the most basic commitments to lower taxes and fewer regulations.”

That time when Heritage fired a foreign policy scholar for opposing the Iraq War

Nate Silver’s argument that the Comey letter probably cost Clinton the election


Andrew Sullivan on Reactionary thought

“We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.

Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution. Though it took some time to reveal itself, today’s Republican Party — from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution to today’s Age of Trump — is not a conservative party. It is a reactionary party that is now at the peak of its political power. …

I know why many want to dismiss all of this as mere hate, as some of it certainly is. I also recognize that engaging with the ideas of this movement is a tricky exercise in our current political climate. Among many liberals, there is an understandable impulse to raise the drawbridge, to deny certain ideas access to respectable conversation, to prevent certain concepts from being “normalized.” But the normalization has already occurred — thanks, largely, to voters across the West — and willfully blinding ourselves to the most potent political movement of the moment will not make it go away. Indeed, the more I read today’s more serious reactionary writers, the more I’m convinced they are much more in tune with the current global mood than today’s conservatives, liberals, and progressives. I find myself repelled by many of their themes — and yet, at the same time, drawn in by their unmistakable relevance. I’m even tempted, at times, to share George Orwell’s view of the neo-reactionaries of his age: that, although they can sometimes spew dangerous nonsense, they’re smarter and more influential than we tend to think, and that “up to a point, they are right.””

  • Background and basic thesis.

“Reaction is a mood before it is anything else, and I know its psychological temptations intimately. Growing up steeped in traditional religion, in a household where patriotism seemed as natural as breathing, I became infatuated with a past that no longer existed. I loved the countryside that was quickly being decimated by development, a Christianity that was being overwhelmed by secularism, and an idea of England, whose glories — so evident in the literature I read, the history I had absorbed, and the architecture I admired — had self-evidently crumbled into dust. Loss was my youthful preoccupation. The mockery I received because of this — from most of my peers, through high school and college — turned me inward and radicalized me still further. I began to revel in my estrangement, sharpening my intellectual rebellion with every book I devoured and every class I took. Politically I was ferociously anti-Establishment, grew to suspect and even despise much of the liberal elite, and rejoiced at Margaret Thatcher’s election victories.

So a sympathy for writers and thinkers who define themselves by a sense of loss comes naturally to me. I’ve grown out of it in many ways — and the depression and loneliness that often lie at the core of the reactionary mind slowly lifted as I grew more comfortable in the only place I could actually live: the present. But I never doubted the cogency of many reactionary insights — and I still admire minds that have not succumbed to the comfortable assumption that the future is always brighter. I read the Christian traditionalist Rod Dreher with affection. His evocation of Christian life and thought over the centuries and his panic at its disappearance from our world are poignant. We are losing a vast civilization that honed answers to the deepest questions that human beings can ask, replacing it with vapid pseudo-religions, pills, therapy, and reality TV. I’ve become entranced by the novels of Michel Houellebecq, by his regret at the spiritual emptiness of modernity, the numbness that comes with fully realized sexual freedom, the yearning for the sacred again. Maybe this was why as I read more and more of today’s neo-reactionary thought, I became nostalgic for aspects of my own past, and that of the West’s.

Because in some key respects, reactionaries are right. Great leaps forward in history are often, in fact, giant leaps back. The Reformation did initiate brutal sectarian warfare. The French Revolution did degenerate into barbarous tyranny. Communist utopias — allegedly the wave of an Elysian future — turned into murderous nightmares. Modern neoliberalism has, for its part, created a global capitalist machine that is seemingly beyond anyone’s control, fast destroying the planet’s climate, wiping out vast tracts of life on Earth while consigning millions of Americans to economic stagnation and cultural despair.

And at an even deeper level, the more we discover about human evolution, the more illusory certain ideas of progress become. In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari points out that hunter-gatherers were actually up to six inches taller than their more “civilized” successors; their diets were much healthier; infectious disease was much rarer; they worked less and goofed off more than we do. They didn’t even have much shorter lives: If you survived the enormous hazards of childhood, you could reach the age of 60, and some lived into their 80s (and stayed within their tribes rather than being shunted off into lonely rest homes). Famines and plagues — the great catastrophes of human history — were less common. Harari notes another paradox: Over hundreds of millennia, we have overcome starvation … but now are more likely to die of obesity than hunger. Happiness? Globally, suicide rates keep rising.

Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.

When the velocity of cultural change combines with economic anxiety, is it shocking that human beings want to retreat into a past?

If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge. Globally, social trust is highest in the homogeneous Nordic countries, and in America, Pew has found it higher in rural areas than cities. The political scientist Robert Putnam has found that “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Not very encouraging about human nature — but something we can’t wish away, either. In fact, the American elite’s dismissal of these truths, its reduction of all resistance to cultural and demographic change as crude “racism” or “xenophobia,” only deepens the sense of siege many other Americans feel.

And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.

When this velocity of cultural change combines with a deepening — and accurate — sense of economic anxiety, is it shocking that human beings want to retreat into a past, to resuscitate the nation-state, and to reach backward for a more primeval and instinctual group identity? Or that they doubt the promise of “progress” and seek scapegoats in the governing classes that have encouraged all of this to happen? And is it not evident why, when a demagogue occupies this cultural vacuum and finally speaks this forbidden language, they thrill to him?

Our job in these circumstances is not to condescend but to engage — or forfeit the politics of the moment (and the future) to reaction. Lincoln got the dynamic exactly right with respect to the Trump voter: “Assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and tho’ you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.” …

“This, of course, is not to defend the neo-reactionary response. Their veiled racism is disturbing, and their pessimism a solipsistic pathology. When Anton finds nothing in modernity to celebrate but, as he put it to me, “nice restaurants, good wine, a high standard of living,” it comes off as a kind of pose, deliberately blind to all the constant renewals of life and culture around us. When Houellebecq has one of his characters sigh, “For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless,” I chortle. When Dreher hyperventilates that today’s youngsters “could be one of the last generations of this thing called Western civilization” and that American Christians today must “live lives prepared to suffer severe hardship, even death, for our faith,” I take my dogs for a walk. When Yarvin insists that “if the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us,” I check my Instagram account. There is something hysterical here, too manically certain, bleaker than any human being can bear for long.

And how can you seriously regard our political system and culture as worse than ever before in history? How self-centered do you have to be to dismiss the unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals? Or the increased security for the elderly and unemployed, and the greater access to health care by the poor and now the working poor? Compare the air we breathe today with that of the 1950s. Contrast the religious tolerance we take for granted today with the enmities of the past. Compare the racial integration of today, incomplete as it may be, with Jim Crow. Observe the historically low levels of crime compared with the recent past — and the absence of any world wars since 1945. Over the very long haul, too, scholars such as Steven Pinker have found convincing evidence that violence among humans is at the lowest levels since the species first emerged. …

Reaction can be clarifying if it helps us better understand the huge challenges we now face. But reaction by itself cannot help us manage the world we live in today — which is the only place that matters. You start with where you are, not where you were or where you want to be. There are no utopias in the future or Gardens of Eden in our past. There is just now — in all its incoherent, groaning, volatile messiness. Our job, like everyone before us, is to keep our nerve and make the best of it.”

Commentary on Andrew Sullivan’s article above by Rod Dreher

“That said, I believe Andrew is onto something. Right-of-center politics is going to be more reactionary in the future. The problem with reactionaries right now is they are not politically organized. Trump is turning into a more or less normal Republican because he doesn’t know what else to do, and it’s a role that a lot of DC Republicans are willing to help him learn. What’s going to be interesting is to see if and how reaction rises from the grass roots right. I don’t sense a lot of enthusiasm for the standard Republican positions. (Similarly, on the left, I don’t think we’re going to see any more Hillary Clinton types, though this is going to take a lot of time to sort out.)

“Well, to be clear, I don’t at all agree with Yarvin or Houellebecq, and I don’t think I agree with Anton either. Only a few years before I was born, in my Southern town apartheid was legal, and black citizens lived under a reign of terror. I’m serious: read this 1964 magazine article describing events in my own town.  A few years back, I met three Freedom Riders who had been part of those events. It really happened. Thank God those days are over.

Yet we cannot easily dismiss the words that a melancholy older black man, a taxi driver, said to me in 1993 as he drove me down a decimated avenue of Washington, DC, which was then at the peak of its murder epidemic. He told me about what it was like for him growing up in segregated DC. He pointed to storefronts and buildings that were now vacant and decaying. “That was a bakery, and that was a drugstore,” he said. “Black-owned. We had something back then.” On and on he went, describing the way this blasted-out part of town looked in his youth, and cursing the young black men who do nothing but sell drugs and shoot each other. I squirmed in the back seat listening to this older black man tell these stories to me, a young white man, but he didn’t hold back. I got the feeling that he wasn’t even paying attention to me, but was rather just musing aloud. He ended by telling me that he wasn’t sure at all that there had been progress. Yes, segregation was gone, but look around you, son, at what we black folks in DC have lost in the last thirty years.

That is a reactionary sentiment. And it’s important. I did not experience that old black taxi driver calling for the return of segregation, or lamenting its passing. I experienced him as a man aware of  human tragedy. The progressive narrative requires that the old man’s views be suppressed. But he knew what he saw all around him.

In The Benedict Option, I write of a conversation between two women I know personally:

On a warm evening in the late autumn, a recently retired woman sits on the front porch of her neighbor’s house, talking about the ways of the world. It is two weeks before the Trump-Clinton election, and everything seems to be going to pieces, the neighbors agree. How did our country get to this place? they wonder. Both of the women are working class by culture, born into poverty but thanks to economic and cultural changes in the mid-twentieth century, they are now entering their golden years as members of a modest middle class. America has been very good to them and their families.

Yet neither woman is confident about the future for their grandchildren. One tells the other that in the past year, she has gone to six baby showers for young women in her family and social circles. None of the expectant mothers had husbands. Some had more than one child out of wedlock. The gray-haired women know what poverty and insecurity are like, and they can’t believe that these young women would bring children into the world without fathers in the home, given how much more likely children in those situations are to be poor. And where are the fathers, anyway? What is wrong with young men these days?

These women are pro-life Christian conservatives who would never countenance abortion. They would rather see babies born than exterminated in the womb, no matter what the cost. Still, the normalization of having children outside of marriage is hard for them to take. In the 1940s, when they were born, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among whites was 2 percent. It is now nearly 30 percent (the overall birth rate to unwed mothers is 41 percent). “It’s like the whole world is coming apart,” sighed one of the women.

“I’m glad I’m not going to be around to see it,” said the other.

The world of today is more kind to babies born outside of wedlock and to their mothers in one respect. Yet it is harsher in another one, in the sense that the relaxation of the taboo against unwed childbearing has brought about a hell of a lot more of it — and with it, more poverty and more social unraveling. These two old women have high school educations and could not analyze what happened and why with much historical or sociological awareness. But they feel the impact of the change, and they don’t know how the future is going to play out, because they have never lived in a world in which the traditional family has collapsed. They can barely comprehend such a thing. But they see it every day, and grieve over it. I know these women, and know they both have very kind hearts. Their grief is not out of anger, but out of pity and concern for those children, and the hard lives they know those kids will have.

I bet they and that old black DC cab driver would have a lot to say to each other about progress.

Anyway, on Sullivan’s piece, read the whole thing.  He talked about how unworkable reactionary political programs are, and my guess is that he’s right. In my own case, I don’t see the Benedict Option as any kind of political program. I see it as an orientation towards the modern world, and a set of practices that will prevent Christians from being torn apart by the forces reshaping our culture. It is a strategy of resistance and resilience — indeed, of resistance through resilience. Whether our country remains on the liberal democratic, consumerist, globalist track, or whether it convulses in reaction, the Christian faith faces immense challenges, now and in the future. We had better be ready.”

The healthcare confusopoly

“Years ago I coined the term Confusopoly to describe any industry that benefits by keeping consumers confused. For example, mobile phone carriers know their offerings are too confusing for consumers to compare one company to another on cost. That is clearly intentional. If consumers could compare offerings it would drive profit margins to zero fairly quickly. By keeping their service and pricing confusing, they keep margins high.

Insurance companies are also confusopolies. So are law firms. And the entire financial services industry is little more than a confusopoly. All of those services can be simpler, but to simplify would invite real competition. No seller wants that.

Now look at the healthcare bill in the news today. Do citizens understand all the implications? No, clearly.

Do members of Congress understand all of the implications of the new bill? Not a chance in hell.

Who is behind this confusion?


The insurance companies are keeping the healthcare topic confusing because that’s how you keep margins high. If Congress or the public ever started to understand healthcare, we would know which buttons to push to lower the profit margins in the industry. But by keeping things complicated, no one can explain to anyone else what needs to be done for the public good.”

  • Interesting.  It’s probably part truth and part paranoia.

A moral argument for universal, catastrophic, healthcare coverage

Conservatives care deeply about dignity, responsibility, and don’t want government to encourage bad behavior. I wholeheartedly agree. But getting cancer or a chronic disease is not bad behavior. Conservatives don’t want the government to help those who can help themselves, but we also agree — or we should agree — that people who can’t help themselves should be helped. National solidarity is an important value, and this should translate into a system that protects people from the worst. I don’t want the government to control or manage health care, but I do want government to protect people from the expenditures of catastrophic health problems.

But never mind the substance, what about the politics? Here, the picture is even starker. We’re talking about health issues — life and death issues. This is something about which people are rightly very emotional, and understandably very risk-averse. You can’t just take away people’s safety net and replace it with fairy dust. The winning message isn’t “ObamaCare is big government and big government is bad.” The winning message is “We’ll make sure everyone is covered for health-care catastrophes, and moreover, we’ll make it happen in a way that uses common sense and puts you, not hospitals and insurers, in control of your health care.”

This is a winning message. And in terms of policy, it can be done. By shifting power away from middlemen and towards consumers, through health savings accounts and regulatory reforms, Republicans can make American health care more streamlined, more innovative, and less expensive. But for that to happen, they need to pass a bill and make sure that bill doesn’t destroy their majority. Before they can do that, they must come to grips with what is politically acceptable in today’s America.


My links for the week of 4/16

Why Americas richest cities keep getting richer – people feel like they have to be there

“the broader phenomenon of winner-take-all economics has been recognized for quite a while. Almost 20 years ago, the economists Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook popularized the concept of the winner-take-all economy and society. The rudiments of the theory are evident in the labor market for professional athletes: As high as the salary of the average athlete may be, the pay gap between middling players and superstars is enormous. Frank and Cook saw this winner-take-all phenomenon spreading throughout the broader economy, as large pay disparities appeared in industries ranging from consulting, banking, and management to design, fashion, medicine, and law. The earnings gap between CEOs and the average worker soared. In the roughly four decades spanning from 1978 to 2015, CEO pay increased by more than 940 percent, while that of a typical worker grew by just 10 percent. The average CEO earned 20 times what the average worker did in 1965; by the 2000s, the ratio had grown to more than 300 to 1, where it has remained since.”

“This dynamic is cumulative and self-reinforcing. Superstar cities’ expanding economies spur demand for more and better restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, galleries, and other amenities. Successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs endow their museums, concert halls, private schools, and universities. Their growing tax revenues are plowed into new and better schools, more transit, better libraries, more and better parks, and so on, which further reinforces and perpetuates their advantages. They have unique kinds of economies that are based around the most innovative and highest value-added industries, particularly finance, media, entertainment and tech; businesses in superstar cities are formed and scaled up more quickly. All of this attracts still more industries and more talent. It’s a powerful, ongoing feedback loop that compounds the advantages of these cities over time.”

“The astronomical real-estate prices of superstar cities—and the staggering gap between these prices and those of most everywhere else—are the product of the underlying motor of capitalist development: a clustering force that pulls people and resources together. Two key things cluster in cities. First, and most obviously, is firms and industries. Big, populous cities develop thriving industry clusters, like finance in New York and London, movies in LA, fashion in Milan and Paris, and technology in the Bay Area. Even more importantly, skilled and ambitious people cluster in cities.

But this process generates another force that operates in the other direction: While clustering drives growth, it also increases the competition for limited urban space. The more things cluster in a city; the more expensive its land gets. The more expensive land and housing prices become, the more people and businesses get pushed out.

This land crunch is not just a consequence of natural economic forces—that is, of limited supply in the face of surging demand. It also stems from the efforts of urban landlords and homeowners to restrict what is built, and in doing so to keep the prices of their own real-estate holdings high. Over the past several years, a growing chorus of urban economists has decried the way that NIMBY sentiment (NIMBY being an acronym for “not-in-my-back-yard”) keeps urban housing prices unnecessarily high. Traditionally, NIMBYs were concerned residents who were motivated to keep “bad” things, like prisons or waste-treatment plants, out of their own desirable neighborhoods. While there is certainly a place for neighborhood preservation and environmental conservation, NIMBYs do more than that: Well-intended or not, when they reflexively block any and all development, they preserve high housing values but put a brake on the very clustering that produced them. As the Bloomberg View writer Noah Smith put it, “It’s landlords, not corporate overlords, who are sucking up the wealth in the economy.””

“As counterproductive as this New Urban Luddism may be, this does not mean that the solution is to simply rid cities of all land-use regulations. On the one hand, the high cost of land in superstar neighborhoods makes it very hard, if not impossible, for the private market to create affordable housing there. Combine the high costs of land with the high costs of high-rise construction and the result is more high-end luxury housing, and very little (if any) of the truly affordable housing many of these superstar cities’ residents need. On the other hand, there is a tipping point where too much density can actually deaden neighborhoods. The world’s most innovative and creative places are not the high-rise canyons and vertical sprawl of Asian cities, but the walkable, mixed-used neighborhoods in San Francisco, New York, and London, filled with mid-rise buildings, factory and warehouse lofts, and the occasional high-rise, which enable constant mixing and interaction. What prosperous cities need is not just deregulation, but a reformed land-use system, which together with broader changes in the tax system, increased investment in transit, and a shift from single-family homes to rental housing, can help create a more sustainable and accessible version of the density that comes with clustering.”

  • Interesting thesis.  The tax changes are left undefined here.

“The takeaway is clear: As innovative and productive as the economies of superstar cities may be, their most-advantaged residents haul in the majority of the gains. Given these cities’ high housing costs, their working and middle classes struggle to stay in place, and the poor and the disadvantaged fall further behind.”

  • The dilemma of density.

“Thomas Piketty’s now-famous formula r > g denotes a rate of return on capital that is greater than the rate of overall economic growth, a huge driver of generational inequality. But the reality is that the outsized gains to capital have accrued more from increased real-estate values than from returns to assets such as stocks and bonds. The share of capital income derived from housing tripled between 1950 and today, according to research by the economist Matthew Rognlie, which is substantially more than the rise of any other form of capital. Simply put, people who own land and real estate in expensive cities have been capitalism’s biggest winners. Their penthouses, luxury townhomes, and other real-estate holdings amount to the visible, geographic manifestation of Piketty’s r > g.”

  • Important point.

“This illuminates the central contradiction of contemporary capitalism: The clustering force is at once the main engine of economic growth and the biggest driver of inequality. The concentration of talent and economic activity in fewer and fewer places not only divides the world’s cities into winners and losers, but ensures that the winner cities will become unaffordable for all but the wealthy. This unrelenting cycle is great news for wealthy landlords and homeowners, but bad news for almost everyone else.”

  • Restated thesis.  It’s a good one.  But the comments show some of the main holes in that.
  • A significant part of it is rich people viewing real estate as a safe growth asset and investing accordingly.  I haven’t seen any research on how much of a big deal that is or if there aren’t any beneficial tradeoffs.  For example, I suspect property taxes have gone up significantly, which is a benefit for the local government at least.  There are probably other benefits in addition to the costs.
  • It’s also worth noting, that in many if not most respects, Houston and others are just as wealthy and much more equitable than SF and NY.
  • Also, the authors shocking infographic – omitted from my notes here – is largely bunk.
  • Low interest rates are a huge part of it.  It shows the myriad ways that monetary policy can effect these things.  It also shows how big of a role luck plays in the outcomes of organizations.

Good Comments

I’m sure this in Florida’s book, but part of the self-reinforcing value loop he talks about occurs when superstar cities attract global investment in their real estate. In the 90s, I remember Michael Lewis saying that London real estate was the “reserve currency” of the global rich, a perceived safe place to park and/or grow some or all of their wealth. The same is true (perhaps not all the time) of New York or Toronto real estate. That amount of property speculation from outside is a distorting factor.”

The author’s theories about what characterizes a super star city, are blown away by Austin, Dallas, and Houston Texas. These cities have thriving knowledge industries, but have remarkably affordable real estate. Knowledge industries thrive in Atlanta as well. Atlanta is an ascendant world-class city, and a rising economic superstar, while Dallas is a mature world class city, and an economic superstar of the first order. Dallas has the 4th largest GDP of US metro areas, Houston the 5th, and Atlanta the 10th. By contrast San Francisco has the 7th largest GDP. Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta are growing at a faster rate than San Francisco, with Dallas and Houston growing at a much faster rate. Yet, the author seems to think San Francisco is a superstar city, but not Dallas, not Houston, not Atlanta. The author’s definition of superstar city is more about having an east or west coast culture, than about having a thriving economy that generates a lot of wealth. I consider the lack of affordable housing, lack of living space, and filthy public spaces to be symptoms of urban pathology. By these measures, the author’s superstar cities contain much more urban pathology than cities like Dallas, Houston,and Atlanta.

Wait a minute! There is some faulty logic in the home price comparisons. This article compares the cost of a “$3 million SOHO loft” to an AVERAGE home in the other cities. Why doesn’t it compare an AVERAGE home in NYC to an AVERAGE home in a “regular” city? Why doesn’t it compare a “$3 million SOHO loft” to an average home in metro NYC?

The average home in the New York metro area is worth $460,000.Therefore, you could buy 6.5 homes in New York City for the price of a “$3 million SOHO loft.” Why don’t you say on your chart that you can buy 6.5 homes in New York for the price of a home in New York? Maybe because it sounds a little illogical??

Furthermore, I live in a home in Atlanta worth $900,000. Nothing fancy–just a little house in a nice neighborhood. I suppose that according to your logic, I could buy 7 homes in Atlanta for the price of my home in Atlanta. There are plenty of $3 million homes in Atlanta. For the price of a “$3 million SOHO loft,” guess how many $3 million homes you can buy in Atlanta? You guessed it: one.

Come on, people!!!!! This is giving me a headache.

A lot of what Florida talks about is true. But he fails to mention the single most important driver of all of this — artificially low interest rates. An activist Fed for the last 20 years has kept interest rates well below equilibrium, which has needlessly kept real estate values inflated where there are zoning/supply constraints. Combined with the network effects of the largest superstar cities that keep demand high, and you’ve got a recipe for the insane distortions we are witnessing in the RE markets in the top cities.

There are multiple feedback loops at play here — the elite are those who most directly benefit from low interest rates, because they own assets — companies, stocks, bonds, real estate. Perpetually low interest rates exacerbates Piketty’s equation because they grossly advantage those with existing assets — who can borrow for almost nothing to acquire more assets, than those trying to accrue assets — ie savers.

An astute finance writer commented recently on Jeff Bezos becoming the second richest man in the world by pointing out that only in an artificially low interest world could Amazon not earn a profit in 20 years and see its stock continue to skyrocket. If long term rates went back up to 6%, he argues that Amazon stock would plummet.

The real world distortions of low interest rates will last with us through generations.

In the superstar cities, the Baby Boomers are sitting on top of huge artificial capital gains in their homes but will find it increasingly difficult to find buyers at these inflated values from their children’s generation. The only way the Millennials will be able to buy homes is when their house-rich parents cash out their equity (along with a big cap gains tax bill) and give the money to their kids for a down payment they would otherwise never be able to save up for on their own. Or, like in Europe, the home will be co-habitated in by more than one generation and passed down.

Piketty’s three big mistakes in inequality analysis

The first is that Piketty doesn’t take depreciation into account. As capitalists accumulate more and more machines, buildings and other hard assets they have to pay more and more to maintain that physical capital. Trucks need new tires. Offices need renovation. What Rognlie notices is that this upkeep cost has been increasing over time. Nowadays, more than in the past capital goods are often in the form of computers, software and other high-tech products that go obsolete very quickly. That means that capitalists have to spend more money replacing these things. A lot of what looks like more money going into owners’ pockets is really just an increased cost of doing business. …But Rognlie adds two other important points. His second point is that much of the income that went to capital owners in the last six decades has been from capital gains — from stock prices going up, rather than from an increase in book value (the total net value of the assets owned by companies). When you look at book value, the increase was much more modest. It might be that what looks like the start of a permanent explosion in the wealth of shareholders is really just the end of the “equity premium” that has fascinated financial economists for decades.

But Rognlie’s third point is perhaps the most interesting. Economists combine a lot of different things into “capital,” such as machines, buildings and land. Rognlie points out that almost all of the increase in the value of capital over Piketty’s timeline comes from land, instead of from other forms of capital. In other words, it’s landlords, not corporate overlords, who are sucking up the wealth in the economy. It’s a dramatic, startling insight that was somehow overlooked before Rognlie came along.”

The North Korea reframe

“Prior U.S. presidents framed the North Korean nuclear program as a problem between the United States and North Korea, with China as an unhelpful third party with its own interests. That framing was weak and useless. North Korea did whatever it wanted to do.

President Trump recently changed the frame. Now it’s not so much a problem between the United States and North Korea as it is a branding battle between China and the U.S., with North Korea being the less-important part of the equation. President Trump has said clearly and repeatedly that if China doesn’t fix the problem in its own backyard, the USA will step in to do what China couldn’t get done.

See the power in that framing? China doesn’t want a weak “brand.””

fighting fake news using libel law – specifically section 230 of the 1996 communications act

All judges have to do is start interpreting a 1996 law as it was written, not as they would like it to be. There is no need for Congress to change any laws, and the politicians would likely inflict enormous damage to the U.S. economy and to U.S. consumers if they tried. But there is a legal remedy to fake news, and it will lead to better journalism than the reforms being marketed by Silicon Valley.

WSJ editorial board on how to fix Amtrak – basically get rid of routes in flyover country and across the country

“Amtrak’s $500 million operating profit along the Northeast Corridor was wiped out by losses on long-distance routes that can’t compete with airlines in cost or speed while offering equally miserable customer service. Someone who pays $176 to take a 62-hour ride on the Texas Eagle train from Los Angeles to Dallas to Chicago must really want to minimize Christmas with the in-laws. By contrast, Amtrak carries three times as many riders between Washington, D.C., and New York City as all the airlines combined. The annual ridership on the Northeast Corridor is more than three times the population of Connecticut.

In 2015 Congress authorized $8.1 billion in funding for Amtrak between 2016 and 2020, but only a third will go to the Northeast. Last year Amtrak contracted with Alstom to produce high-speed trains for the Acela that are supposed to be ready by 2021. But Amtrak doesn’t have enough money to upgrade the tracks, so speeds won’t exceed 160 miles per hour—about 25 mph faster than the current top speed between New York and Washington—and trip times will be about the same.

President Trump has proposed zeroing out funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes to prioritize improvements in the Northeast. Congress should do him one better by spinning off the Northeast Corridor—private investors might be interested—and devolving shorter distances to states. New York Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democrats who take the train might even hop on board.”

Steve Bannon’s worldview via Peggy Noonan

“”So let’s take a look at something impressive Mr. Bannon has done. I’ve been meaning to write of it for a while. In 2014 he did a live Skype interview for a conference on poverty at the Vatican. BuzzFeed ran it during the campaign under the headline “This Is How Steve Bannon Sees the Entire World.”

  • Note to self, watch this.

It shows an interesting mind at work.

The West is currently facing a “crisis of capitalism,” he said. The world was able to recover after the world wars in part thanks to “an enlightened form of capitalism” that generated “tremendous wealth” broadly distributed among all classes. This capitalism was shaped by “the underlying spiritual and moral foundations . . . of Judeo-Christian belief.” Successful capitalists were often either “active participants in the Jewish faith” or “active participants in the Christian faith.” They operated on a kind of moral patrimony, part tradition, part religious teaching. But now the West has become more secular. Capitalism as a result has grown “unmoored” and is going “partly off track.”

  • Secularism is driving capitalism off track is the thesis.  I’m sympathetic to that view.  I just think it needs much more evidence and fleshing out before I can actually buy it.

He speaks of two “disturbing” strands. “One is state-sponsored capitalism,” as in China and Russia. We also, to a degree, see it in America. This is “a brutal form of capitalism” in which wealth and value are distributed to “a very small subset of people.” It is connected to crony capitalism. He criticizes the Republican Party as “really a collection of crony capitalists that feel they have a different set of rules of how they’re going to comport themselves.”

The other disturbing strand is “libertarian capitalism,” which “really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost.” He saw this strand up close when he was on Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs . There he saw “the securitization of everything” and an attitude in which “people are looked at as commodities.”

  • I am sympathetic to this as well.  But this also needs more fleshing out.

Capitalists, he said, now must ask: “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us . . . to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”

With both these strands, he says, the middle class loses ground. This has contributed to the “global revolt” of populism and nationalism. That revolt was fueled, too, by the financial crisis of 2008. None of those responsible on Wall Street were called to account: “No bonuses and none of their equity was taken.” The taxes of the middle class were used to bail them out.

  • This is the core populist critique and it is really strong.  I preach personal responsibility for comparatively small things like how taxes on cigarettes are essentially equivalent to a defined benefit healthcare plan.  My typical limitation is when people can’t reasonably held directly responsible for their actions as in taxes on obesity, which has a heritability element.  But that’s a lot harder in the cases that effect rich people.  There is much more at play.   Which means if personal responsibility is applied in public policy, (under the notion that you ought to pay only for your direct harms society) it will inevitably be applied much harder to the poor because their crimes are more direct and more difficult to hide than those of the wealthy.
  • He seems to have a compelling critique.  But his vision is unclear and his implementation has been utterly incompetent.  It leads me to sympathize more with the less charitable view of him as a cranky bigot looking to make the west white again.

There’s more in the conversation, which lasted 50 minutes and included the problem of racist and anti-Semitic overtones in populist movements. But it’s a thoughtful, serious talk, and its themes would reverberate in the 2016 election.

A catalogue of fate hate crimes that occurred after Trump’s election

Mike Pence and Indiana’s Medicaid expansion – basically it appears that he threw his supporters a small bone to get them to let him accept the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid

Dynamic christianity vs the Benedict option – a great article on its weaknesses

The entire Passion narrative presents us with a remarkable juxtaposition of profound, world-altering events and petty politics. We get glimpses into the motivations of all the major players: the Sanhedrin, wanting someone else to handle the dirty work of silencing this shrewd social critic; Pontius Pilate, a harried bureaucrat, reluctantly answering their wish because he is terrified of being labeled an “enemy of Caesar”; Jesus Christ, adroitly getting himself convicted without violating earthly law, to save mankind from their sins.
  • Great summary.
“We are not the first people in history to grapple with a confusing interplay between sweeping eschatological narratives and the tawdry tangle of temporal affairs. In our day, American Christians struggle to juxtapose a narrative of cultural decline against a faith that they believe will endure to the end of time. This past month, that discussion took an interesting twist following the release of several books that were written when most of us expected to be living under the enlightened reign of our first female president. Sober and bracing, these books explore the question of how Christians can remain Christian in a libertine, secular society. Suddenly religious conservatives found themselves in a conversation they would have had probably with far greater intensity had the Democrats won last November.

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has been particularly influential, igniting controversy with the suggestion that “the culture war as we knew it is over” and that Christians should focus their energies on building families and smaller communities that are self-consciously countercultural. That book was complemented in interesting ways by Anthony Esolen’s apocalyptic Out of the Ashes and Archbishop Charles Chaput’s less extreme but still bracing Strangers in a Strange Land, which offers advice on “living the Catholic faith in a post-Christian world.”In concert, these books have thrown Christians into a debate about the wisdom of radical withdrawal as a means of coping with cultural loss. Should Christians stay engaged in political and cultural battles? Or is it better to accept our losses and focus on the higher things?

The Benedict Option was controversial in large part because religious conservatives are already very attracted to quietist modes of thought. Quietism, a posture of spiritual detachment, has appeared in various forms throughout Christian history and culture. It gains force when a culture is in decline or elites become overtly hostile to Christianity. Withdrawal holds appeal, not only because the world is hard but also because Christians believe themselves to be the inheritors of a rich tradition that promises something better. To Christian faithful, life is first and foremost a quest for eternal redemption. If the mainstream culture seems uncongenial to that journey, there will always be some who judge it best to give up the fight for the world and to focus instead on forging a less perilous path for themselves and their loved ones. American Christians struggle to juxtapose a narrative of cultural decline against a faith that they believe will endure to the end of time.

Throughout Christian history, many believers have withdrawn from the world for such reasons. But quietist movements are also a familiar part of American tradition; our nation’s history is peppered with self-segregated faith communities. Some denominations, like the Anabaptists and Hutterites, explicitly prescribe a more segregated lifestyle. Other communities identify with a larger denomination but collectively commit to a prescribed countercultural lifestyle. Americans are a people with a robust religious foundation, a strong commitment to freedom, and relatively shallow cultural roots. Experimenting with faith in community seems natural to us.

It’s been fascinating to read of late the multiple firsthand accounts of modern experiments that haven’tgone well. Worldly withdrawal is a hard row to hoe, which is why we probably needn’t worry too much that droves of Americans will suddenly decide to “go Benedict.” There will never be so very many who want to give up modern comforts and securities to become turnip farmers, and it’s not necessarily bad to have a few. Traditionalist experimentation can yield benefits for society, just as other forms of innovation can be beneficial. Tiny, traditionalist communities may succeed in uncovering or preserving certain salutary truths that have been lost to the culture at large. In any case, a free society should be able to make room for a few such endeavors.

Christians may still have good reasons, though, for resisting the spread of a new quietism. Mass migration from mainstream culture is unlikely — far more serious is the risk of demoralization. While “the few” exert themselves to answer the quietist call, “the many” may just lay down their swords without picking up their ploughshares. Might not Dreher’s grim analysis persuade religious conservatives to disengage from public life, passively allowing the progressive Left to consume their remaining cultural strongholds? Instead of a network of vibrant faith communities, we could end up with a diffuse population of embittered reactionaries, clinging in isolation to whatever shreds of tradition they think they can manage to save.

  • Hmmm – She thinks withdrawal will merely hasten defeat.  The hidden (if only slightly) assumption throughout this piece is that if we choose withdrawal, it is a sign that indeed we are merely embittered reactionaries.  Such behavior is not a sign of faith in the power of the victorious Christ and implies a misaligned hierarchy of values.  All kingdoms of this earth are temporal.  Christ’s kingdom is what really matters.  Many would go even farther, arguing that the Christian nationalism promoted over the past fifty years by the religious right has on a net, lessened the reach of god’s kingdom here on earth and/or corrupted its practitioners.

In the end, the question that confronts us concerns the possibility of finding some new harmony between faith and (existing) culture. The quietist is inclined to see society as a lost cause; the only reasonable course is to get busy pulling what we can from the wreckage. That image resonates with American Christians in a moment when we are facing (really for the first time in our nation’s history) a serious eclipse of Christianity as our country’s dominant cultural-religious force. At one time, our faith was widely acknowledged to be foundational to American law and culture; today Christians find ourselves battling taxpayer-funded institutions that actively undermine our way of life, even as millennia-old doctrine is reclassified as “bigotry.” It’s alarming and often bruising. A few have lost their livelihoods in the scuffle, while nearly all committed Christians find it necessary to withdraw from at least some aspects of mainstream culture, especially to protect their children.

It’s fine to discuss practical strategies for how to do this. Still, the autumnal mood of these conversations can become overwhelming. We need to remember that Christianity is a dynamic faith, not meant to be lived in a defensive crouch. The political and social challenges of our present moment are formidable indeed, which is precisely why Christians as a group must not withdraw. The society they live in still needs them. We need to bring to the table the vast wisdom and resources of our faith, charting a path forward for all our compatriots and not just the chosen few.

We need to remember that Christianity is a dynamic faith, not meant to be lived in a defensive crouch. Is this even possible? The question ought to strike us as absurd. To those who worry that modernity is simply incompatible with Christian life, we should note that Christianity has ever been a faith of fruitful paradoxes. It has a remarkable capacity to combine pragmatic flexibility with an unbending doctrinal and moral core. Intensely communal in some respects, Christians are warned by Christ himself that they must be prepared to “hate” even their own families. The Christian philosophical and literary tradition stands majestically in the background of all Western civilization, never losing its dogmatic integrity; despite that, Christian Gospels denigrate the wisdom of the wise, and elevate young children as exemplars of celestial perfection. Christianity disparages legalism and worldly materialism. Nevertheless, Christians laid a foundation for modern commerce and democratic rule of law, even as they battled Islamic rivals under the banners of the Prince of Peace.

Some, of course, would see these “fruitful paradoxes” as just a maze of contradictions. Even acknowledging that the Babe of Bethlehem started with some admirable aspirations (to serve the poor, and to liberate his followers from the tyrannical excesses of Jewish legalism), Christianity’s detractors often characterize his followers as raging hypocrites, zealously embracing the same violence, greed, and pharisaical moralism that Jesus himself found so abhorrent. If that picture is right, we must at least say: For a hot mess of pious platitudes and contradictory claims, Christianity has remarkable staying power. Personality cults come and go, but the Jewish carpenter has held strong for nearly two millennia, today claiming almost 40 times as many living followers as voted for Trump in the last election. The lamb may look vulnerable, but he’s proven to be very resilient.

Quietist-type thinking trains us to look on our culture with an eye only for the things we cannot change. Dreher traces our current malaise back to philosophical errors deep within the modern psyche, although at the same time he also blames Christians for their own downfall, contending that they were too willing to sell their birthright for short-term political victories. Our current struggles, it seems, were somewhat inevitable; nevertheless, in Dreher’s view, we should blame ourselves and don sackcloth.

Christians have their failings, to be sure, but it seems perverse to paint ourselves into grim corners when our co-religionists (living and dead) have such a remarkable history of surviving and thriving under diverse circumstances. It’s one thing to sacrifice worldly glory for the sake of higher goals, but are our eyes really turned upward? Or are we simply reeling from recent cultural losses whose impact we haven’t yet fully absorbed? There’s no doubt that Christians have lost ground in the culture lately, and it’s reasonable to mourn those losses. But how long must we spend by the waters of Babylon, weeping for Billy Graham and Fulton Sheen? We must recall in the paradoxical Christian faith that losing can be winning, and too much winning can be the most soul-destroying thing of all.

  • The strongest critique I have observed of the Benedict option has come from Black Christians who observe that the black church has endured in this country despite the horrible persecution it has endured throughout its history.  In comparison to the struggles of the Black church, white protestants complaining about loss cultural status seem like whiny bitches.  Also, the ignorance of that reality among white protestants speaks volumes in and of itself.

Finally, it is important to recognize that withdrawal could represent a lost opportunity for the nation at large. The Christian tradition contains rich philosophical and cultural resources that America may need if it is to work through contemporary social crises. Consider our most pressing modern problems. Global markets have generated tremendous wealth, but far too many people are now marginalized, alienated, and lacking in purpose. Modern nation-states are finding it difficult to maintain democratic norms in increasingly diverse and polarized societies. On a more individual level, it’s difficult in our interconnected world to balance obligations toward those close to us against the claims of the further removed. Globalization has created a whole host of practical and cultural challenges, which in turn give rise to social unrest.

What philosophical or cultural tradition has experience addressing these sorts of issues? Might we find some helpful hints in a religion that’s spent the past 2,000 years bathing the globe in a message about God’s all-encompassing love, preaching it tirelessly to a divided, stratified, and wildly diverse array of humans? For centuries before our nation was even born, Christianity struggled to reconcile the dignity of the individual person with the broader need for social cohesion. Is now really the moment for Christians to throw in the towel?

Jesus Christ was not a politician. Still he was aware that the political realm can have great relevance to mankind’s quest for salvation. As we see in the Passion narrative, mere humans rarely appreciate the eschatological significance of their tawdry political struggles. God sees how they matter.

From Jesus’ time to our own, Christians have labored diligently to be salt and light to a fallen world. We never fully triumph. All the same, we should press forward with hope, believing that the best is yet to come. Even in the darkest hours, Christians are in a position to know that the sweetest victory may only be a sunrise away.”

  • “Salt and light of the world”

The Civic costs of illegal immigration – VDH is a lot like Chris Ladd.  He is very good at constructing narratives that I am primed to agree with.  This makes it easy to ignore the mass amount of faulty logic that he mixes in to serve his narrative.

“In the abstract, open-borders advocates argue that in a globalized culture, borders are becoming reactionary and artificial constructs. They should not interrupt more natural ebbs and flows of migrant populations.

More concretely, an array of vested interests sees advantage in dismantling the border: employers in hospitality, construction, food processing, and agriculture prefer hard-working low-wage immigrants, whose social needs are often subsidized by the government and who are reluctant to organize for higher wages.

The Democratic Party welcomes in impoverished immigrants from Latin America and Mexico. It hopes to provide generous social welfare assistance and thereby shepherd new arrivals and their offspring into the salad bowl of victimization and identity politics—and thereby change the electoral map of key states from red to blue.

La Raza activists see unchecked illegal immigration as useful in maintaining a large pool of unassimilated and poor foreign nationals who look to group leaders, thereby ensuring the continuance of what has become an industry of ethnic activism and careerism.

Mexico—which is now offering advice to illegal immigrants on how best to avoid U.S. federal immigration authorities—has the most to gain by porous borders. It envisions the United States as a relief valve destination to export its own poor and desperate rather than to have them agitate and demand costly social services from Mexico City.

Mexico enjoys some $25 billion in annual remittances, predicated on the unspoken assumption that its poor and hard-working expatriates can only afford to send such vast sums out of the United States through the magnanimity of the American social welfare system that helps subsidize families to free up hard-earned cash. Mexico has learned that its own expatriates are loyal proponents who romanticize Mexico—the farther away and longer they are absent from it.

Mexico enjoys some $25 billion in annual remittances, predicated on the unspoken assumption that its poor and hard-working expatriates can only afford to send such vast sums out of the United States through the magnanimity of the American social welfare system that helps subsidize families to free up hard-earned cash. Mexico has learned that its own expatriates are loyal proponents who romanticize Mexico—the farther away and longer they are absent from it.”

  • This is true in my view, although the section Mexico’s motivations is the weakest part of the argument.  The rest of it is quite strong.

“Yet lost in this conundrum are the pernicious effects of illegal immigration on the idea of citizenship in a consensual society. In the Western constitutional tradition, citizenship was based upon shared assumptions that were often codified in foundational constitutional documents.

  • American society could really use a national discussion on citizenship.  Working to re-establish an awareness of the rights and duties of citizens would go a long way towards reducing polarization in my view.

“The first pillar of citizenship is the idea that the nation-state has the sole right to create and control its own borders. The duty of all Western constitutions, dating back to those of the Greek city-states, was to protect their own citizens within clearly defined and defensible borders. Without a finite space, no consensual society can

  1. make rules and laws for its own,
  2. enhance and preserve commonalities of language and culture, or
  3. raise a military to protect its own self-interest.

Borders are not normally artificial or post-colonial constructs, but natural boundaries that usually arise to reflect common bonds of language, culture, habit, and tradition. These ties are sometimes fragile and limited, and cannot operate on universal terms; indeed, they become attenuated when borders disappear and residents not only have little in common, but lack the mechanisms or even the desire to assimilate and integrate their migrant populations.

When borders are fluid and unenforced, it inevitably follows that assimilation and integration also become lax, as society loses a sense of who, or even where, their residents are.

  • Funnily enough, this was true of America for much of its history.  The wild west is a an interesting counterexample to this.  There wasn’t really  much in the way of border enforcement in that time.  But people still assimilated.  Although perhaps you could say that the people heading west were either adventurers or rejects.

And the idea that the Bill of Rights should apply to those beyond U.S. borders may be a noble sentiment, but the practical effect of such utopianism is to open a Pandora’s box of impossible enforcement, affronts to foreign governments, endless litigation, and a diversion of resources away from protecting the rights of citizens at home.

  • The billions of dollars spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been an excellent lesson for me on the massive opportunity costs of nation-building.

“Residency is also confused with citizenship, but they are no more the same than are guests at a dinner party and the party’s hosts, who own the home.

A country reverts to tribalism unless immigrants enter it legally—often based on the host’s determination of how easily and rapidly they can become citizens, and the degree to which they can benefit their adopted country—and embrace its customs, language, and habits.

The Balkans, Rwanda, and Iraq remind us that states without common citizen ties, affinities, rights, and responsibilities become fragmented and violent, as their diverse populations share no investment in the welfare of the commonwealth. What plagues contemporary Iraq and Syria is the lack of clearly defined borders, and often shifting and migrating populations that have no stake in the country of their residence, resulting in competing tribes that vie for political control to aid their own and punish the Other.”

  • This section is an excellent defense of borders and why such structures are necessary.  This later section of the argument is weaker in my view.  It is not clear that tribalism is a result of illegal immigration.  That hasn’t been the case here.  What matters is that to some extent “embrace its customs, language, and habits.”  But even this is much more ambiguous than it appears at first.
  • Because the assumption of a border implies that “customs, language, and habits” is a singular phenomenon.   But that clearly is not and never has been the case in this country.  The culture (which I will from here on out a substitute word for “customs, language, and habits”) of colonial Boston was quite different from the culture of colonial Georgia.  The culture of California is quite different from the culture of Mississippi.  Hell, even the culture of San Francisco is quite different from the culture of the “inland empire” of California as this author has often noted.  The blue tribe is quite different from the gray tribe and the red tribe.  Indeed, assimilation as a concept is difficult when the largest cultural differences right now are urban/rural and blue/red.  People still seem to be assimilating just fine, I suspect that much of the anxiety on the red tribe is that they (the newcomers) aren’t acting like members of red tribes.  Red tribe associates itself with “American.”  So they aren’t very happy about that.
  •  What is culture?  What are immigrants being assimilated into?  This is way more ambiguous than the typical American conservative narrative would like us to think.  The only real constant in my view when it comes to culture is that which is derived from the Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, and for that matter, the motto’s on our coins and the statue of liberty.  It really has nothing to do with any concept of race or culture as it is typically understood around the world and realistically it has very little to do with the circumstances of your arrival, only what you become as you live here.  The melting pot is not dependent on the legality of the arrivals.  It is dependent on whether or not they merge with the local culture.
  • The basket cases of tribalism around the world do show the costs of not having some deeper level of national unity.  I disagree though that the problem is a lack of clearly defined borders.  The problems there are clearly that there is no unifying force greater than the tribe in those countries.  The fact that the Iraqi-Syrian border is ambiguous (because its in the middle of an uninhabited desert) is completely irrelevant.  It’s so easy for people I am inclined to agree with to lull me to sleep while they quietly slip bullshit into their story.The second part of the sentence however, is completely correct.  The problem is the “shifting and migrating populations that have no stake in the country of their residence, resulting in competing tribes that vie for political control to aid their own and punish the Other.”  That’s the real issue here.  The benefit of borders is that clearly defined polities help to mitigate these sorts of problems.  They are irrelevant to this example because nobody lives in the middle of the Iraqi-Syrian desert.  However, it would be relevant if you wanted to argue for or against the merits of splitting Iraq into three separate countries for the Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis.

A second pillar of citizenship is the sanctity of the law.

What also separates Western and Westernized nations from often impoverished and unsecure states is a notion that citizens entrust their elected representatives with the crafting of laws and then show their fealty by obeying the resulting legislation.

The sanctity of the entire legal system in a republic rests on two important corollaries: citizens cannot pick and choose which laws they obey—either on the grounds that some are deemed bothersome and not in their own self-interest, or on the pretext that they are minor and their violation does not impair society at large. … Besides secure borders and respect for the laws, a third tenet of citizenship is the idea of equal applicability of the law. Citizens in modern Western societies are assured that their laws are applied in the same manner to all citizens regardless of differences in class, gender, race, or religion.”

  • Those are the two general axioms he lays out. What seems to really motivate him is outrage at the unfairness of the illegal immigration situation.  He is from California, where the government is just trash.  He and the middle-class white people like him have to live with all the stupid rules coming from the coasts while the illegal immigrants get to ignore a lot of it.  VDH and people like him have largely despaired of changing anything and have instead directed their anger at the new arrivals instead of at the wealthy people on the coasts who created the issue.  This has always been the problem for Republicans on this issue.  In order to actually solve the problem, they would have to take on their corporate masters.  Since Republicans are unable or unwilling to do this, they take out their frustration on the illegal immigrants instead.  They get to feel good in the sense that they can vent their frustration onto someone.  But it doesn’t move any closer to solving the problem.

Flawed climate models – basically argues that there is too much noise in climate data to reliably determine whether global warming is happening or not and that the models aren’t scientific – It’s beyond my ability to determine how accurate the critique is and I am not impressed by the credentials of either author on this subject.  So I’ll stick with the IPCC on this one.

A solution for the problem of robo-calls

“But I do have a proposal for addressing one particularly annoying kind of attention theft, the robocall.  Robocalls don’t just annoy you at a gas station or a doctor’s waiting room, places where time spent is usually pretty low quality anyway. They interrupt you at your home, or on your smartphone. The Federal Communications Commission says there are 2.4 billion robocalls a month, and it’s trying to do something. I have a solution of my own: Pay me.

Under my proposal, any incoming calls from people not on my contact list wouldn’t go through unless the caller paid me something. Twenty-five cents would probably be enough to discourage phone spammers, who make huge numbers of (mostly futile) calls. (Though I’d be willing to go higher. Maybe I could charge phone-sex rates: I’d be willing to listen to most anything from anyone for $3.99 plus $1.99 a minute.) … Give the phone companies a cut, and they’d get serious about addressing number-spoofing and other robocall tricks: There would be money on the line, and they’re nothing if not serious about revenue. (Plus, I’ll bet a cellular carrier who added this option to a plan would get a lot of subscribers.)”

A hilarious takedown of Elon Musk and Tesla from Holman Jenkins at the WSJ

“Last week the market value of Tesla surpassed that of Ford and General Motors . Tesla is now the most valuable homegrown American car company, worth almost $52 billion. Yet in the same week a reputable consultancy, Navigant Research, showed that Ford and GM lead all others, including Tesla and Google, in the autonomous car race. Shocking? Not really. These companies are making and selling cars, while the Silicon Valleyites have been mostly engaged in brand-building exercises based on public fascination with jazzy, futuristic auto technology. … To state the manner plainly, the car business just doesn’t generate the kinds of returns Tesla investors are anticipating. …

Mr. Musk has created a recognizable, compelling brand in Tesla, but selling cars into a crowded, competitive marketplace will never supply the Silicon Valley-like profit margins he needs. Read the analyst reports of his cheerleaders on Wall Street. One way or another, they think Mr. Musk is building an Apple, not a car company.

What product might eventually justify their faith? Who knows? Mr. Musk has dropped “Motors” from his company’s name. Maybe batteries from his gigafactory will become a near-monopoly standard the way Intel chips did during the personal-computer explosion. Maybe “Tesla Inside” will be found on every kind of large and small electronic device.

Forget the General Motors comparison. Tesla’s market cap is barely twice that of Snapchat’s parent, a company even more bereft of revenues, never mind profits.

Tesla bulls are betting on Mr. Musk, not on the car business. They are betting on some wildly profitable, Apple-like future that they can’t even clearly define.”

A critique of liberal christianity – currently paywalled – I don’t remember what was noteworthy about this article – may be a weakman or instructive

Gramscian Damage – on ideological warfare and how it has been used against us

“Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.

We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.

By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.

The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.

On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.

Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.

  • So while I think the narrative is over-hyped, there is an interesting application here.  What are Russia’s goals today?  There is no doubt that they infiltrated and stirred up groups within the U.S. in the lead up to the recent election.  What was the goal?  Was it just to sow division and mistrust of American institutions?  That by itself would hurt and if it was one of their goals, it was largely successful.  But that gives them too much credit in my opinion.  It could have at best accelerated existing trends.  The events of this election were enough to increase trust of institutions (increasing distrust of institutions has been a national trend for a while now anyways) in and of themselves.  They didn’t need any additional gasoline.  The alt-right/conspiracy types (likely Bernie fans as well) had more than enough material to go crazy with without Russian interference.  I have yet to see any compelling evidence of impact.
  • Condi (iirc) said a while back that another goal was to embarrass Hilary because she said something mean to Putin while she was Secretary of State.  If that was the case, that operation was largely a success.

“In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.”

  • Again I don’t see these as result of communist conspiracy as much as running in conjunction with pre-existing trends.  If the suicidalist checklist was received well by western leftist intellectuals, it was only because they already believed most of it.  They didn’t need to be duped.  They believed it before communist influence and they believed it after communist influence.  It is more likely the case that this is an example of people becoming “unknowing agents” similar to how the intelligence community was concerned that members of the Trump campaign were unwittingly assisting the Russian government.

Learning to love scientific consensus

Scientific consensus is the best tool we have for seeking truth. It’s not perfect, and it’s frequently overturned by later scientists, but this is usually – albeit not literally always – the work of well-credentialed insiders, operating pretty quickly after the evidence that should overturn it becomes available. Any individual should be very doubtful of their ability to beat it, while not being so doubtful that nobody ever improves it and science can never progress.

– and I still think that. But I’ve shifted from being the sort of person who shares viral lists of maligned geniuses, to the sort of person who debunks those lists. I’ve started emphasizing the “best tool we have” part of the sentence, and whispering the “isn’t perfect” part, rather than vice versa.

I’ve changed my mind on this because of personal experience. Rather than trying to describe it, it might be more helpful to give the most salient examples.”

  • This seems like a pretty good way to look at it.

3. Social-Justice-Related Issues: Another narrative I used to believe was that a lot of sketchy ideas were being flattered because they spoke to left-leading academics’ biases in favor of social justice. Implicit association tests, stereotype threat, the idea of zero meaningful psychological differences between men and women, et cetera.

When I started worrying about implicit association tests, I thought I was defying some kind of broad scientific consensus. But the meta-analyses showing the Implicit Association Test didn’t do what people thought had been around since 2009 and have only gotten more numerous since then, with broad media coverage. Problems with stereotype threat research are getting mainstream coverage and even airtime on NPR.

The problem here is that there was no equivalent of the Nature poll on the replication crisis, so I didn’t realize any of this was happening until just recently. For example, in 2016 this Voxsplainer made it sound like there was a monolithic consensus in favor of Implicit Association Tests that no sane person had ever disagreed with, even though by that point there were already several big meta-analyses finding they weren’t practically useful. The correct conclusion isn’t that this is really what scientific consensus thinks. The correct conclusion is that Vox shouldn’t be trusted about any science more complicated than the wedge vs. inclined plane. Once I realized that there was all this intelligent analysis going on that I’d never heard about, my claim to be boldly defying the scientific consensus evaporated.

Yes, Cordelia Fine is still around and is still writing books arguing against gender differences. But she’s starting to sound really defensive, basically the literary equivalent of “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this, but…”. Meanwhile, other scientists are doing a good job pointing out the flaws in her books and conducting studies like this biggest-ever look at male vs. female brain differences, this magisterial look at personality differences, et cetera – not to mention great and widely-accepted work on how intersex people take on more characteristics of their hormonal than their social gender (honestly, we should probably thank transgender people for making this field socially acceptable again). People talk a lot about how Larry Summers was fired from Harvard for talking about male vs. female differences, but Steven Pinker did a whole debate on this and remains a Harvard professor.

Even things about genetic psychological differences between population groups are less bold and maverick-y than their proponents like to think. The relevant surveys I know trying to elicit scientific consensus (1, 2, 3) all find that, when asked anonymously, most scientists think these differences explain about 25% – 50% of variance.

I hate to bring that up, because it’ll probably start a flame war in the comments, but I think it’s important as a sign of exactly how hard it is to politicize science. Global warming skeptics talk about how maybe the scientific consensus on global warming is false because climatologists face political pressure to bias their results in favor of the theory. But scientists studying these areas face much more political pressure, and as long as you give the surveys anonymously they’re happy to express horrendously taboo opinions. This is about the strongest evidence in favor of the consensus on global warming – and scientific consensus in general – that I could imagine.”

  • This is useful info and history of the biology construct gender debate, implicit bias/racism, and a few other topics.  These phenomena are funny example of how what passes for scientific consensus in the media is often very different from the actual scientific consensus.  Of course this is done on purpose by various ideological advocates and explains why the scientific consensus doesn’t convince anyone.  Other examples he cites include AI Risk, IQ, Nurture Assumption, Blank Slatism, Nutrition, and the Replication Crisis.  In all of these, the scientific consensus actually changed pretty quickly in response to new information and was not substantially hindered by any political/ideological agenda.

“Against this I can only offer a personal narrative: the only light I have by which to judge scientific consensus is my own Inside View assessment of what seems correct. Again and again I have tried to defy scientific consensus. And every time, I either find that I am wrong, find that I am a few years ahead of a trend that most scientists eventually agree with, or find that what I thought was “scientific consensus” was actually a fiction peddled by biased industry or media sources slandering a scientific community which actually had a much more sophisticated picture. My history of trying to fight scientific consensus has been a Man Who Was Thursday-esque series of embarassments as I find again and again that my supposed enemy agrees with me and is even better at what I am trying to do than I am.”

  • That’s a funny way of looking at it and appropriately humbling.  This type of approach is one of the things that makes me want to become a SME.

“Scientific consensus hasn’t just been accurate, it’s been unreasonably accurate. Humans are fallible beings. They are not known for their ability the change their mind, to willingly accept new information, or to put truth-seeking above political squabbles. And our modern society is not exactly known for being an apolitical philosopher-kingdom with strong truth-seeking institutions completely immune from partisan pressure. I feel a deep temptation to sympathize with global warming denialists who worry that the climatological consensus is biased politicized crap, because that is exactly the sort of thing which I would expect to come out of our biased politicized crappy society. Yet again and again I have seen examples of scientific fields that have maintained strong commitments to the truth in the face of pressure that would shatter any lesser institution. I’ve seen fields where people believe incredibly-bizarre sounding things that will get them mocked at cocktail parties just because those things seem to be backed by the majority of the evidence. I’ve even seen people change their minds, in spite of all the incentives to the contrary. I can’t explain this. The idea that scientific consensus is almost always an accurate reflection of the best knowledge we have at the time seems even more flabbergasting than any particular idea that scientists might or might not believe. But it seems to be true.

(note that I’m talking about “scientific consensus” to mean a very high-level pattern, consisting of hundreds of scientists over the space of decades evaluating a broad body of work. Any individual study is still probably total garbage.)”

  • Good points.

“Given how weird all of this is, I realize there’s another possible bias here that should be taken very seriously – which is that I’m wrong about one or both sides of this. Which is more likely: that Science always agrees with Truth? Or that one guy’s perception of Science always agrees with that same guy’s perception of Truth? The latter gives me two degrees of freedom: I can either cherry-pick experts who agree with me and declare them to be Consensus, or I can conform my opinions to consensus so slavishly that I end up discovering only that Consensus agrees with itself. I don’t feel like I’m making this kind of mistake. But then again, nobody ever feels like they’re being biased.

But if I’m making this mistake, I think it’s at least a better mistake than the one where people dream up stories about being mavericks persecuted by hidebound reactionaries. This mistake at least sets the terms of debate as “let’s try to ascertain what the scientific community thinks” and forbids me from believing completely crackpottish things. And it encourages trust in one of our more trustworthy public institutions, always a prosocial sort of thing to do. I would rather have a world of people debating who agrees with scientific consensus or not, than a world of people debating whether scientific consensus is even valuable.

There are two caveats to the above. First, I think it’s dangerous to promote a norm of agreeing with scientific consensus, insofar as that helps encourage exactly the mistakes about the nature of consensus that I discussed above. When poorly-informed diet industry gurus support the Bad Old Paradigm, their rallying cry is usually “You’re a stupid crackpot, bow to the scientific consensus which agrees with me”. I gave three examples above of cases where I would have gotten the scientific consensus 100% wrong if I didn’t have access to a formal survey of scientific experts. In a world where these surveys had never been done – or some existing field without these surveys – or some field where these surveys have been done inaccurately or in a biased manner – people will often believe the consensus to be the opposite of what it really is. In those cases, demands that people respect consensus can be used to shut down people who are actually right – the field-wide equivalent of calling true facts you don’t like debunked and well-refuted. I see this happening all the time and I worry that waxing too poetically about the unreasonable effectiveness of scientific consensus will only serve to empower these people. Goodhart’s Law says that a measure which becomes a target ceases to be a useful measure, so we should be reluctant to target scientific consensus too strongly.

And second, I think that even when the Outside View tells you that the consensus is correct, you should continue pursuing your Inside View hunch that it isn’t. This avoids awkward situations like every individual scientist doubting the consensus, but suppressing their doubts because the “scientific consensus” has to be right.

So maybe the things I’m saying about scientific consensus aren’t very actionable. But respecting scientific consensus in a non-actionable way is a lot less exhausting than believing yourself to be against it, and talking about how you’re against it, and taking flak for being against it. And in the same way it’s helpful to believe that God is good, even if He never really gets around to doing much about it, so it’s reassuring to be able to have faith in our institutions every so often.”

Leftist mob violence undermines the rule of law – A sad consequence of our present polarization is that we are tolerant of violence against our opponents. That being said, there are groups that really ought to be shoved back into their closets. The problem is that the left is close to labeling anyone in the red tribe as worthy of that label and neither side appears willing or able to take on its fascists.

“If the media accurately and comprehensively reported on leftist mob violence, it would see that a pattern has emerged: On campus and in the streets, a violent or menacing core seizes the ground it wants, blocks access to buildings, and shuts down the speech or events it seeks to suppress. This violent core is often surrounded and protected by a larger group of ostensibly “peaceful” protesters who sometimes cheer aggression wildly and then provide cover for the rioters, who melt back into the crowd. After the riot, the polite progressives condemn the violence, urge that it not distract from the alleged rightness of the underlying cause, and then do virtually nothing to enforce the law and punish the offenders.”

My Links from the week of 4/9

The enormous costs of america’s obesity epidemic

“These bills are already coming due in Memphis. Last year, extra health-care costs from obesity were $538 million — more than half the budget of the city’s public school system, according to Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. For the state of Tennessee, the annual excess health costs of obesity were $2.29 billion — equivalent to more than 6 percent of the entire state budget. No matter how many surgeries Woodman conducts, he won’t make a dent; many more Americans are tipping the scales into the obese range each year.”

“As costly as the obesity problem is now, it’s set to get worse. The Baby Boom generation is the fattest on record, and they are just reaching the age where health problems begin to mount. Federal and state officials are growing increasingly worried about the steep price the country will pay for its weight problem.

In West Virginia, one of the most obese states, public health commissioner Rahul Gupta says the preventable direct medical costs of obesity are $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion a year, with an additional $5 billion in indirect costs, such as lost productivity. Obese patients submit up to seven times the number of medical claims normal-weight patients do, he said.

“At the state and federal levels, chronic-disease burden is among the largest drivers of health-care costs,” Gupta said, “and among chronic diseases it comes down to the consequences of obesity and tobacco.”

And then there are the national costs. Zhou Yang, a professor at Emory University who studies the impact of obesity on the medical system, found that obese older males spent $190,657 more on lifetime health-care expenses than their normal-weight peers, while older obese women spent $223,629 more. A 2016 meta-analysis by University of Washington researchers found that annual medical spending attributed to obesity nationally was nearly $150 billion — more than four times the federal budget for foreign aid and nearly enough to fund the entire U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Other potential costs are harder to quantify but no less worrisome, for patients, taxpayers, and society at large. For example, researchers are discovering that vaccines may not be as effective in those who are obese. Studies have found that obese patients do not respond as well to the HIV vaccine and the flu vaccine, leaving them more vulnerable to infection — and to passing those diseases on to others. Over time, it’s possible that a community’s “herd immunity” could suffer, creating the conditions for the return of diseases that were once controlled through immunization — and that could affect us all, according to an analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Even the military is affected, as recruiters struggle to find enough soldiers who meet fitness requirements. The percentage of overweight and obese young men doubled over a 50-year period and tripled for young women. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Navy recruits who were overweight were more likely than their normal-weight peers to fail semiannual physical readiness tests. In all, overweight and obese active-duty military personnel cost the taxpayer $105 million a year in lost productivity, and $1 billion annually in treatments for obesity-related illness — more than treatments for tobacco- and alcohol-related illness combined, NBER estimated.

Transportation costs, too, are rising, and not only for obese passengers who must purchase two seats to fly. Researchers at the University of Illinois estimated that 1 billion additional gallons of gasoline are consumed in the U.S. each year to ferry overweight and obese car passengers from place to place. One study estimated that U.S. airlines purchased 350 million more gallons of jet fuel because of the number of heavier passengers.

Obesity also affects the bottom line of employers. Obesity contributes to absenteeism and “presenteeism,” when people show up but are less productive. Based on current trends, the cost of obesity in lost economic productivity by 2030 will be between $390 billion and $520 billion annually.

Obese employees may suffer financially as well. A 2010 study found that white women had 9 percent lower wages because of obesity, “equivalent in absolute value to the wage effect of roughly 1.5 years of education or three years of work experience.” A study in the Journal of Health Economics found that some employers pay lower wages to obese workers to cover higher insurance costs.

Even the cost of dying is higher for obese people. Companies like Goliath Caskets specialize in funeral products for the obese — for a price. Everything from wider grave plots to specialized hearses with reinforced chassis and heavy-duty lifting equipment must be used. Crematories are widening furnace doors and chambers to accommodate very large bodies. A “supersize” funeral costs between $800 and $3,000 more, notes U.S. Funerals Online.”

Why federal appelate court judges should stand for election – they are too political not to

“But in truth, Posner is mostly just being honest. Judges do what he describes all the time, they just usually cloak it behind a smokescreen of legalism that makes it at least somewhat deniable. Indeed, that’s basically what the majority opinion does.

But the job of updating statutes is the job of legislators, not judges, and what legislators have over judges in that regard is that they are elected. Judges can — from within their insular world of life-tenure employment and elite-legal/academic socialization — guess at what contemporary social mores are. Legislators, by virtue of standing regularly for election, don’t have to guess

So in light of Posner’s new conception of the judicial mission, I have a modest proposal of my own for updating what has become obsolete: Let federal judges stand for election themselves. I’m prepared to exempt trial judges, who have fewer opportunities for such sweeping pronouncements, and whose decisions in criminal trials, for example, probably shouldn’t be affected by electoral prospects. But for those who aspire to function as Platonic Guardians, I think a little more rootedness is called for.”

In Defense of Think-tanks

“Policy research institutes first appeared just 70 years ago — there were essentially none before the late 1940s. Most proceed from a settled philosophical disposition; some are forthrightly attached to a political movement or creed. All aim to move the world: they address themselves not only to other academics but also to government officials and the general public; they pay careful attention to the crafts of writing, speaking, and marketing; they write pamphlets. They also, as Milton Friedman first taught and practiced, incubate and stockpile reform ideas, often for long periods — until the practical world is ready for them, often in response to a crisis.”

  • What they do.  Universities for public policy in an era when universities are no longer up for the job.

“Universities and government command vast resources, are eagerly sought after, and are productive in many respects. Yet both have lost touch with their ancient and essential purposes. For higher education, these are to promote the scientific spirit, critical thinking, and the examined life in a world fraught with distractions. For government and politics: to mediate social conflict, enact laws through representation and compromise, and provide the framework for freedom and prosperity.

Our troubles in education and government have many deep causes. But they take the form of institutional troubles, such as the growth of bureaucracies. In universities, armies of diversity deans, teacher-sensitivity trainers, and student-contentment counsellors are displacing faculty —whose tenured positions are supposed to carry responsibility for upholding academic standards. In government, fleets of specialized agencies are displacing elected legislators — whose constitutional positions are supposed to carry responsibility for deliberation and collective choice.”

“To counter these forces, I advocate antidisestablishmentarianism. I have been looking for an opportunity to use that word in a sentence since fifth grade. Here is what I mean.

Intellectuals argue over right policies and norms of conduct, and over ideals of justice, identity, dignity, liberty, happiness, and consent. But all of these desirables are, in practice, products of living institutions—from the “little platoons” of family, faith, and locality to the extended institutions of government and education, and of commerce and the professions. It is in and through these institutions that norms and ideals are formed, acquired, transmitted, tested against rival conceptions, and put to practical use. Institutions are being disestablished by the forces of modernity, but we should not despair that they are irretrievably in decay. The modern world is still the place to be. The success of the think tanks tells us that institutional innovation is as possible today as technological innovation.”

One of President Trump’s top advisers has described his task as “deconstructing the administrative state.” That will require constructing something in its place. I think the building manifest includes a Congress with a real power structure, a revival of the legislative arts, and new mechanisms of checks and balances between Congress and Executive. It doesn’t help that those who lost in the recent elections have retreated to the hills to wage guerrilla politics against the very legitimacy of the struggling new order — but there are ways and means of dealing with this, also.”

  • Congress needs to take its power back, even if it doesn’t want to.

DC’s war madness

“The establishment’s reaction has been uniformly negative about that decision, (not invading Syria) which is a major reason why there was such an outpouring of joy and relief when President Trump reversed course and did what Obama had steadfastly refused to do for over five years: target assets of the Assad government. If there was a criticism to be heard, it was that Trump’s missile strike was too limited in scope. Never mind that neither the Trump administration nor any prominent analyst presented a convincing strategy for using American bombs to bring the civil war to a sustainably peaceful conclusion. All that mattered was that the U.S. finally did something, and that this something would continue and expand. “More, please!” — that’s what most of the commentary has amounted to.”

  • The one thing that he has been cheered for.

“The point is that regardless of which side the outside power favors, it has anointed itself the moral arbiter of the world, a position that grants it the authority to mete out justice and punishment to individuals and nations as it sees fit — and this despite the fact that no one elected this power to that ruling position, or even asked the world if it wished to offer its consent.

Every country in the world thinks well of itself. But we’re the only country in the world that expects every other country to defer to our self-evident wonderfulness — apparently even when Trump is launching the missiles.

Not every problem in the world has a solution, just as not every injustice in the world is our problem. This has always been the case. But with a reckless, incompetent president prosecuting a foreign policy of “impulse and whim,” it has perhaps never been more important to remind ourselves of these truths, and of the pressing need to tame our boundless national self-regard.”\

  • We have been due for a foreign policy rethink since the end of the cold war.  We still haven’t really had it yet unfortunately.

How to end a campus injustice with the stroke of a pen

“Specifically, the administration should undertake the kind of rule-making its predecessor avoided by issuing guidance. It should gather evidence showing that many schools have systematically discriminated against accused students, which violates Title IX because those students are overwhelmingly male. And it should require universities that choose to adjudicate alleged sex crimes to adopt rules that protect the rights of accused students as well as accusers.

Those rules should, at a minimum, include rights to notice of the allegations and evidence, adequate time to prepare a defense, a fair hearing before an impartial panel, instructions that panelists presume accused students innocent until proven guilty, legal representation in campus proceedings, cross-examination (by a lawyer or other advocate) of all witnesses including the accuser, and a meaningful appeal of any adverse finding.”

  • Does this administration have the capacity to engage in real governance?  That’s the open question unfortunately.

Keynesianism as religion

Another way of putting this is that Paul Krugman was right. Krugman has long advocated that macroeconomists learn to once again think in terms of simple simple Keynesian theory. And when more fully developed, complex models are needed, Krugman uses the kind of models that Christiano endorses.

As Christiano mentioned, the New Keynesian revolution isn’t so new. Even in the 1990s, economists like Greg Mankiw and Olivier Blanchard were arguing that monetary policy had real effects on demand. And at the same time, international macroeconomists were realizing that Japan’s post-bubble experience of slow growth, low interest rates and low inflation implied that demand shortages could last for a very long time unless the government rode to the rescue. Krugman, Adam Posen, Lars Svensson, and others were already referring to a Japan-type stagnation as a liquidity trap in the late 1990s, and warning that standard monetary policy of cutting interest rates wouldn’t work in that sort of situation. .  .  .

If economists gravitated toward anti-Keynesian theories, it was at least in part because evidence wasn’t strong enough to push them in the right direction. It’s just very hard to assess the impacts of fiscal stimulus. For example, Japan’s tremendous government spending binge in the 1990s looks to a casual observer like it had no effect, since the economy didn’t recover until years later — but government spending might have been the only thing saving the country from a deeper recession.

I certainly agree that Japan tells us a lot about the validity of old Keynesian thinking.  Here are some things it tells us:

1.  Depreciating the yen is a foolproof way of creating inflation.  Thus Keynes was wrong about monetary policy being ineffective at the zero bound.

2.  From 1993 to 2013 Japan ran up by far the largest peacetime fiscal deficits ever seen by a major economy.  And all that “stimulus” led to by far the worst growth in AD over 20 years ever seen by a major economy.  Roughly zero growth in NGDP over two decades.  And the Keynesian takeaway is that this was a great success, as it prevented an even more record-breaking fall in NGDP.  This is like a religious person who believes in the efficacy of prayer, prays for peace in 1939, and then later argues that his prayers prevented an even bigger war and Holocaust. Okaaaay . . .

3.  Then in 2013 Abe takes office and raises consumption taxes.  This fiscal tightening causes the debt to GDP ratio to level off at 250%.  Instead Abe relies on monetary stimulus, raising the inflation target.  And both inflation and NGDP growth actually increase, the opposite of the prediction of the old Keynesian model.

Of course I could go on and on.  There’s the letter signed by 350 Keynesians warning that the fiscal austerity of 2013 risked recession (growth actually sped up.) Or the fact that Keynesians don’t even know how to estimate the multiplier (as documented recently by Ryan Murphy.) …

Whatever “new facts” caused Krugman to revert to old Keynesianism more recently; it certainly wasn’t his famous 1998 study of Japan’s liquidity trap.  So what caused Krugman to change?  I’m not sure, but Smith hints at one possibility:

When evidence is sparse or inconclusive, things like sociology and politics often fill the gap.

What does “moderate” mean in the Trump era

“In a paper presented last week at a conference in Chicago, two political scientists compared Republican senators’ voting records to their perceived levels of conservatism among grassroots activists. (You can read a detailed description of the paper’s methodology here, but it’s worth noting that the surveys were conducted throughout the 2016 election.) What they found was that some of the senators with the most traditionally conservative voting records—like Arizona’s Jeff Flake, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse—were viewed among activists as fairly moderate. Meanwhile, former  Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions—whose record is considerably more moderate than many of his peers’—was viewed as one of the chamber’s most conservative lawmakers. … Indeed, it appears many of the grassroots-level Republicans surveyed for the paper—the kind of people who make small-dollar donations to candidates, volunteer for phone banks, and staff local campaigns—believed that the more loyal a senator was to Trump, the more conservative he was. Needless to say, that’s a controversial assumption in elite right-wing circles, given Trump’s open disregard for conservative orthodoxy on issues like trade, foreign policy, and government spending.”

  • So sad.  But after this cycle, that isn’t so surprising.

Michael Mann adjusts the Climate turning point to 2020 – the turning point is shifted constantly and usually in line with the next election

  • To be honest, this is the type of lying (it’s pretty close to a white lie imho) is in the gray area.  Everyone knows it’s bullshit, but it motivates people to work for the greater good.  So its ok.  That’s how that line of reasoning goes at least.  On the other hand, your opponents notice this hypocrisy immediately.  Indeed, I doubt it works at all with people who don’t share his assumptions.  So it’s only effective with true believers and with true believers, there has to be a better way of eliciting the desired response.  A public-facing call to action ought to be constructed such that it motivates your allies and can’t serve as easy cannon fodder for your enemies.

One way to keep small town economies from collapse

“Take the city of Concordia, Kansas, with a population just over 5,000. Doug Funk set up shop here after finishing pharmacy school at the University of Kansas. “I always wanted to do something where you could be your own boss,” he says. In 1985, after working for several years in a hospital pharmacy and in other jobs, he bought Funk Pharmacy and brought his life to Concordia.

For 30 years, business was good, and the pharmacy employed as many as 12 people at a time. He had “really, really loyal customers,” Funk recalls, “your average, everyday Joes.” Over the years, Funk became a well-known and respected pharmacist.

Eventually, when he was getting into his 50s, Funk started to consider retirement. He spoke to a few folks he thought could take over the business, but none of them offered a fair deal.

“They basically wanted to steal it from me,” says Funk. “They wanted to pay a lot less than what it was worth.”

Funk would have had a hard time trying to use a traditional business broker—a professional specialized in the buying and selling of companies. Firms in small towns are less attractive to brokers, who typically only work in more densely populated areas, and for a high price.

Thankfully, Funk had heard of a program for people in his situation, and turned to them for help. The program, called RedTire, was similar to a business broker, but it was free of charge and happy to make deals in rural areas.

RedTire has nothing to do with tires; instead, the name is short for the phrase “Redefine Your Retirement.” The staff do everything from appraising the business to vetting the buyer, and even offer counsel after the deal is done. While traditional business brokers work to maximize the advantage of the party that hired them, RedTire focuses on making the fairest deal possible for both sides. As of December, it has brokered the sale of 27 businesses, which together employ more than 200 people, in sales that total $22.6 million. The program has grown steadily in the five years since it launched, and now gets more work requests than it has the capacity to take on.


Some of the businesses RedTire transitions would probably have disappeared if the service wasn’t there. Steve Kelly, the vice president of economic development at the Chamber of Commerce in Lawrence, Kansas, says that he’s seen many small businesses close when the owner couldn’t find a new person to take over. “Not only do you have a business owner that’s in a bad spot, you potentially put the whole community in a position of loss,” he said.


And when small towns lose businesses, people leave with them, explains Wayne Bell, the district director of the Wichita, Kansas, branch of the federal government’s Small Business Administration. “It is vital to the life of a small town to have those businesses that may have been there for some time. It’s important that they’re able to hand off the business to another owner that’s interested in retaining the services right there in the town.”

And that’s exactly what happened for Doug Funk, when an acquaintance named Robb Rosenbaum expressed interest in buying his pharmacy. RedTire made sure the deal went smoothly.”

  • Working to make it easier for small towns to preserve their local businesses has to be really important to improving their survival odds in the age of concentration.  That chart is absolutely brutal.  It shows just how badly rural areas are doing right now.
good comment
“voteforno6 April 4, 2017 at 6:05 am
One part of this story that I found striking:

But when it becomes clear that RedTire doesn’t charge its clients, many institutions tend to abandon their plans to replicate the project.

Aren’t public universities supposed to serve the public? If the state legislature was on the ball, it could shake loose some funding for a program like this. It seems like everyone would win.

  1. visitor April 4, 2017 at 8:14 am
    It seems to me that those reluctant institutions think they will act as brokers, and are thus dismayed to see they cannot charge profitable fees.

    In fact, I am intrigued: how did that RedTire initiative get off the ground? Who had the vision and how did they convince the university of Kansas to support them in the first place? Appraising businesses requires quite some work, there are certainly legal issues (due diligence, liability), there must be outreach effort to let people know of the opportunity to find businesses resp. people willing to take them over. It is an impressive action — and I wonder how it was organized.

    By the way: the chart at the top made me uneasy. In a period of 20 years, it shows a near-complete collapse of the small and medium-sized town economy — while large urban areas seem to monopolize all growth.”

Republican party dissolving before our eyes – I’m not sold

Health care. The House Freedom Caucus wants to gut ObamaCare, including provisions that force insurance companies to cover “essential health benefits” (like maternity care, hospitalization, and mental health services) and preclude them from charging more for consumers based on their gender or medical history. In place of these provisions, the HFC prefers a market-based system that would supposedly lower costs and increase efficiency and innovation while leaving millions fewer covered by health insurance. Party moderates, meanwhile, including the so-called “Tuesday Group” in the House, would prefer more marginal adjustments to the Affordable Care Act. Adding to the chaos, a recent poll shows that a plurality of Republican voters favor a single-payer system that most of the party’s elected officials, as well as nearly all of its lobbyists and activists, passionately denounce as “socialized medicine,” and which many Democrats consider too left wing to touch.

  • Nobody understands healthcare.  So I am not surprised by the disarray here.

Taxes. Since Ronald Reagan, promises to cut taxes have formed the core of the GOP’s appeal to voters. But today, the agenda has fallen into disarray. Some, like Grover Norquist and assorted billionaire funders, want cuts, cuts, and more cuts, the better to “starve the beast.” But other Republicans are more worried about the deficit and so prefer to pair revenue trims (or even modest enhancements) with specific spending reductions. Still others, including (on some days) the president himself, want to experiment with consumption taxes (like a border adjustment tax). Put it all together and we’re left with a bundle of contrary impulses and priorities when it comes to the GOP’s signature issue.

  • There are a lot more constraints than there were in 1980.  Policy is starting to adapt to those realities.

Foreign policy. Both parties are dominated by hawks — liberal internationalists on the left and neoconservatives on the right. The supremacy of the neocons in the GOP has persisted despite their leadership of the #NeverTrump movement and continued skepticism about the president’s competence, instincts, and entanglements with Vladimir Putin. Yet those who reject the neocon conviction that every global problem can be remedied by the generous application of American military power received a significant boost when Trump ascended to the White House, bringing Mr. America First (Stephen Bannon) with him to the West Wing and placing him (temporarily) on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. That, like everything else in the Trump administration, was not to last. But the churn at the top of the party around such fundamental issues has reinforced the impression that everything is up for grabs in today’s GOP, including its stance toward the wider world.

  • Nobody knows what the right answer here is either.  The cold war made foreign policy easy, just oppose Russia.  It’s a lot harder now and we are probably due for a major rethink here.  I suspect that will happen as more of the cold-war era leaders die off.

Crime/drugs. The GOP remains broadly “tough on crime.” But in recent years, several high-profile Republicans have shown a willingness to work with Democrats on various forms of criminal-justice reform, especially reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Yet Trump comes from a faction of the party that is far more interested in emphasizing “law and order,” and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, shows every sign of working against any reform at all. If anything, Sessions seems eager to move in the opposite direction, toward a re-intensification of the drug war, including harsh sentences for convictions.

  • The sooner Sessions loses power in this arena, the better.  We should not be rebooting the drug war.  Hopefully saner heads will prevail.

Immigration. The GOP has been split on immigration for many years, with the party’s rich donors and the Wall Street Journal crowd firmly leaning in the direction of open borders and the grassroots of the party taking a far more draconian line, including support for the forcible deportation of undocumented immigrants (invariably denigrated as “illegals”). For a long time, the former group held the preponderance of the power in the party and found themselves checked from time to time by the latter. But with Trump’s election that balance has been upended. Now it’s the anti-immigrant forces who hold the power and their opponents who’ve been placed on the defensive. But regardless of who holds the cards at one time or another, the fact is that the party is, and shows every sign of staying, deeply divided on the issue.

  • This one is hard.  Ann Coulter’s narrative of “Adios America” if we let in too many immigrants seems to have taken strong root on the right.  At the same time, the corporatists still drive immigration policy at the elite level of both parties.  There is a healthy version for immigration policy that is neither racist nor corporatist.  I don’t know if the Republican party is capable of getting it done though.  The Democrats may have a better shot although the Republicans would assume they were just importing voters and go full racist.  So that wouldn’t work out well for us I think.

The two areas where the GOP remains broadly unified are social policy (especially abortion) and the Supreme Court. Given the importance of the Court in adjudicating our most polarizing disagreements on social policy, it makes sense that the party largely stuck together through the rancorous year-long battle to succeed the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia, which included a successful effort to deny a hearing or vote to the nominee of a Democratic president and culminated in the nuking of the judicial filibuster in the Senate.

But don’t let such steadfastness fool you. On just about every other issue, the Republican Party is in a state of disarray, its once-unifying ideology crumbling before our eyes.

  • Having Trump as President makes it difficult to define a coherent ideology, but I don’t think a true crack-up will occur unless he goes down in flames.  Outside the beltway, conservative attitudes don’t appear to have changed markedly.  Unfortunately, the political culture war defines everything.  That, in my view, is the cause of the average conservative’s drift.  The perceived war causes us to tolerate heresy in order to preserve tribal solidarity.

“See, domestic U.S. flyers just don’t have a lot of options, at least not as many as they used to. Mergers over the past decade have turned the biggest nine airlines into just four even-bigger airlines: American, United, Delta, and Southwest. Those four carriers now control more than 80 percent of the U.S. market. Or to slice the numbers another way: Today, one or two airlines control a majority of the seats at 93 of the 100 largest airports, according to a 2015 Associated Press analysis. A decade ago, that number was only 78. And if you restrict the study further, you find that a single airline controls a majority of seats in 40 of the top 100 markets vs. 34 a decade earlier.

Which seemingly leads to a simple explanation for why United didn’t make a better effort to avoid an ugly confrontation: They didn’t have to, so they didn’t bother. So bring on the extreme re-accomodation! Or as a Fusion headline put it, “Airlines can treat you like garbage because they are an oligopoly.”

Well, if the problem is too few airlines competing for passenger business, then one obvious solution is to bust them up. Indeed, some critics — mostly on the left — were advocating a breakup even before the disturbing video surfaced. They saw, for example, last summer’s big computer malfunction at Delta as another example of airline oligopoly leading to poor service. With little competitive threat these days, there’s no need to spend big bucks on updating IT systems. As David Dayen wrote at The Fiscal Times: “We actually have a choice here, rooted in antitrust laws a century old designed to preserve competition and break up monopolies.”” …

“Still, if the goal is more competition there is another option to breaking up airlines: bringing more airlines in. Let foreign airlines fly domestic routes and lift restrictions on how much foreigners can own of a domestic carrier, boosting potential competitors. And while policymakers are thinking about injecting more market forces into our air transportation system, they might want to consider privatizing our airports. It’s common among advanced economies, and studies suggest doing so leads to better performance.

But even then, passengers shouldn’t expect flights with lots of legroom and yummy meals. Not enough of us want that, at least not enough to pay a premium for it. Airlines will continue to compete on price because that’s what millions of purchasing decisions show we prefer. And it won’t matter if you are flying from Atlanta to Denver on Delta, United, or Emirates.”

  • Privatizing airports and allowing more foreign airlines doesn’t strike me as a bad idea.  The American airlines may try to play the nationalist card.  I doubt anyone likes them well enough for that to really resonate.  But they may have a case given how heavily a lot of foreign airlines are subsidized.  Indeed, I think you may need a treaty/trade agreement of some sort in order for this to actually happen.

World War 1 as barroom brawl

Perspective on global warming/climate change from UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller – the limitations of the 97% claim

“That 97% of all climate scientists accept that climate change is real, large, and a threat to the future of humanity. That 97% basically concur with the vast majority of claims made by Vice President Al Gore in his Nobel Peace Prize winning film, An Inconvenient Truth.

The question asked in typical surveys is neither of those. It is this: “Do you believe that humans are affecting climate?” My answer would be yes. Humans are responsible for about a 1 degree C rise in the average temperature in the last 100 years. So I would be included as one of the 97% who believe.

Yet the observed changes that are scientifically established, in my vast survey of the science, are confined to temperature rise and the resulting small (4-inch) rise in sea level. (The huge “sea level rise” seen in Florida is actually subsidence of the land mass, and is not related to global warming.) There is no significant change in the rate of storms, or of violent storms, including hurricanes and volcanoes. The temperature variability is not increasing. There is no scientifically significant increase in floods or droughts. Even the widely reported warming of Alaska (“the canary in the mine”) doesn’t match the pattern of carbon dioxide increase; and it may have an explanation in terms of changes in the northern Pacific and Atlantic currents. Moreover, the standard climate models have done a very poor job of predicting the temperature rise in Antarctica, so we must be cautious about the danger of confirmation bias.

My friend Will Happer believes that humans do affect the climate, particularly in cities where concrete and energy use cause what is called the “urban heat island effect”. So he would be included in the 97% who believe that humans affect climate, even though he is usually included among the more intense skeptics of the IPCC. He also feels that humans cause a small amount of global warming (he isn’t convinced it is as large as 1 degree), but he does not think it is heading towards a disaster; he has concluded that the increase in carbon dioxide is good for food production, and has helped mitigate global hunger. Yet he would be included in the 97%.

The problem is not with the survey, which asked a very general question. The problem is that many writers (and scientists!) look at that number and mischaracterize it. The 97% number is typically interpreted to mean that 97% accept the conclusions presented in An Inconvenient Truth by former Vice President Al Gore. That’s certainly not true; even many scientists who are deeply concerned by the small global warming (such as me) reject over 70% of the claims made by Mr. Gore in that movie (as did a judge in the UK; see the following link: Gore climate film’s nine ‘errors’).

The pollsters aren’t to blame. Well, some of them are; they too can do a good poll and then misrepresent what it means. The real problem is that many people who fear global warming (include me) feel that it is necessary to exaggerate the meaning of the polls in order to get action from the public (don’t include me).

There is another way to misrepresent the results of the polls. Yes, 97% of those polled believe that there is human caused climate change. How did they reach that decision? Was it based on a careful reading of the IPCC report? Was it based on their knowledge of the potential systematic uncertainties inherent in the data? Or was it based on their fear that opponents to action are anti-science, so we scientists have to get together and support each other. There is a real danger in people with Ph.D.s joining a consensus that they haven’t vetted professionally.

I like to ask scientists who “believe” in global warming what they think of the data. Do they believe hurricanes are increasing? Almost never do I get the answer “Yes, I looked at that, and they are.” Of course they don’t say that, because if they did I would show them the actual data! Do they say, “I’ve looked at the temperature record, and I agree that the variability is going up”? No. Sometimes they will say, “There was a paper by Jim Hansen that showed the variability was increasing.” To which I reply, “I’ve written to Jim Hansen about that paper, and he agrees with me that it shows no such thing. He even expressed surprise that his paper has been so misinterpreted.”

A really good question would be: “Have you studied climate change enough that you would put your scientific credentials on the line that most of what is said in An Inconvenient Truth is based on accurate scientific results?” My guess is that a large majority of the climate scientists would answer no to that question, and the true percentage of scientists who support the statement I made in the opening paragraph of this comment, that true percentage would be under 30%. That is an unscientific guestimate, based on my experience in asking many scientists about the claims of Al Gore.”

How should a 24 year old invest time?

How to leave the echo chamber – good advice on how to go about expanding your political/philosophical horizons

View story at

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My Links from the Week of 4/2

Yes we have noticed the skulls

[Related: Tyler Cowen on rationalists, Noah Smith on rationalists, Will Wilkinson on rationalists, etc]

Above links are what he is responding to

“If I were an actor in an improv show, and my prompt was “annoying person who’s never read any economics, criticizing economists”, I think I could nail it. I’d say something like:

Economists think that they can figure out everything by sitting in their armchairs and coming up with ‘models’ based on ideas like ‘the only motivation is greed’ or ‘everyone behaves perfectly rationally’. But they didn’t predict the housing bubble, they didn’t predict the subprime mortgage crisis, and they didn’t predict Lehman Brothers. All they ever do is talk about how capitalism is perfect and government regulation never works, then act shocked when the real world doesn’t conform to their theories.

This criticism’s very clichedness should make it suspect. It would be very strange if there were a standard set of criticisms of economists, which practically everyone knew about and agreed with, and the only people who hadn’t gotten the message yet were economists themselves. If any moron on a street corner could correctly point out the errors being made by bigshot PhDs, why would the PhDs never consider changing?

A few of these are completely made up and based on radical misunderstandings of what economists are even trying to do. As for the rest, my impression is that economists not only know about these criticisms, but invented them. During the last few paradigm shifts in economics, the new guard levied these complaints against the old guard, mostly won, and their arguments percolated down into the culture as The Correct Arguments To Use Against Economics. Now the new guard is doing their own thing – behavioral economics, experimental economics, economics of effective government intervention. The new paradigm probably has a lot of problems too, but it’s a pretty good bet that random people you stop on the street aren’t going to know about them.

As a psychiatrist, I constantly get told that my field is about “blaming everything on your mother” or thinks “everything is serotonin deficiency“. The first accusation is about forty years out of date, the second one a misrepresentation of ideas that are themselves fifteen years out of date. Even worse is when people talk about how psychiatrists ‘electroshock people into submission’ – modern electroconvulsive therapy is safe, painless, and extremely effective, but very rarely performed precisely because of the (obsolete) stereotype that it’s barbaric and overused. The criticism is the exact opposite of reality, because reality is formed by everybody hearing the criticism all the time and over-reacting to it.

If I were an actor in an improv show, and my prompt was “annoying person who’s never read anything about rationality, criticizing rationalists”, it would go something like:

Nobody is perfectly rational, and so-called rationalists obviously don’t realize this. They think they can get the right answer to everything just by thinking about it, but in reality intelligent thought requires not just brute-force application of IQ but also domain expertise, hard-to-define-intuition, trial-and-error, and a humble openness to criticism and debate. That’s why you can’t just completely reject the existing academic system and become a self-taught autodidact like rationalists want to do. Remember, lots of Communist-style attempts to remake society along seemingly ‘rational’ lines have failed disastrously; you shouldn’t just throw out the work of everyone who has come before because they’re not rational enough for you. Heck, being “rational” is kind of like a religion, isn’t it: you’ve got ‘faith’ that rational thought always works, and trying to be rational is your ‘ritual’. Anyway, rationality isn’t everything – instead of pretending to be Spock, people should remain open to things like emotions, art, and relationships. Instead of just trying to be right all the time, people should want to help others and change the world.

Like the economics example, these combine basic mistakes with legitimate criticisms levied by rationalists themselves against previous rationalist paradigms or flaws in the movement. Like the electroconvulsive therapy example, they’re necessarily the opposite of reality because they take the things rationalists are most worried about and dub them “the things rationalists never consider”.

There have been past paradigms for which some of these criticisms are pretty fair. I think especially of the late-19th/early-20th century Progressive movement. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Le Corbusier, George Bernard Shaw, Marx and the Soviets, the Behaviorists, and all the rest. Even the early days of our own movement on Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong had a lot of this.

But notice how many of those names are blue. Each of those links goes to book reviews, by me, of books studying those people and how they went wrong. So consider the possibility that the rationalist community has a plan somewhat more interesting than just “remain blissfully unaware of past failures and continue to repeat them again and again”.

Modern rationalists don’t think they’ve achieved perfect rationality; they keep trying to get people to call them “aspiring rationalists” only to be frustrated by the phrase being too long (my compromise proposal to shorten it to “aspies” was inexplicably rejected). They try to focus on doubting themselves instead of criticizing others. They don’t pooh-pooh academia and domain expertise – in the last survey, about 20% of people above age 30 had PhDs. They don’t reject criticism and self-correction; many have admonymous accounts and public lists of past mistakes. They don’t want to blithely destroy all existing institutions – this is the only community I know where interjecting with “Chesterton’s fence!” is a universally understood counterargument which shifts the burden of proof back on the proponent. They’re not a “religion” any more than everything else is. They have said approximately one zillion times that they don’t like Spock and think he’s a bad role model. They include painters, poets, dancers, photographers, and novelists. They…well…”they never have romantic relationships” seems like maybe the opposite of the criticism that somebody familiar with the community might apply. They are among the strongest proponents of the effective altruist movement, encourage each other to give various percents of their income to charity, and founded or lead various charitable organizations.

Look. I’m the last person who’s going to deny that the road we’re on is littered with the skulls of the people who tried to do this before us. But we’ve noticed the skulls. We’ve looked at the creepy skull pyramids and thought “huh, better try to do the opposite of what those guys did”. Just as the best doctors are humbled by the history of murderous blood-letting, the best leftists are humbled by the history of Soviet authoritarianism, and the best generals are humbled by the history of Vietnam and Iraq and Libya and all the others – in exactly this way, the rationalist movement hasn’t missed the concerns that everybody who thinks of the idea of a “rationalist movement” for five seconds has come up with. If you have this sort of concern, and you want to accuse us of it, please do a quick Google search to make sure that everybody hasn’t been condemning it and promising not to do it since the beginning.

We’re almost certainly still making horrendous mistakes that people thirty years from now will rightly criticize us for. But they’re new mistakes. They’re original and exciting mistakes which are not the same mistakes everybody who hears the word “rational” immediately knows to check for and try to avoid. Or at worst, they’re the sort of Hofstadter’s Law-esque mistakes that are impossible to avoid by knowing about and compensating for them.

And I hope that maybe having a community dedicated to carefully checking its own thought processes and trying to minimize error in every way possible will make us have slightly fewer horrendous mistakes than people who don’t do that. I hope that constant vigilance has given us at least a tiny bit of a leg up, in the determining-what-is-true field, compared to people who think this is unnecessary and truth-seeking is a waste of time.”

Questions to answer before invading syria

“We owe it to the American men and women whose blood was shed in Iraq, and their families, to not repeat the same mistakes we made there in Syria. We owe it to the men and women who would be deployed overseas to have a clear understanding of our political goals in Syria, what military resources will be required to achieve them, and what risks we face, both militarily and politically, as a result of approving military action to remove Assad.”

1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?

2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?

3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?

4) What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?

5) How long will it take to achieve political victory?

6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?

7) What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?

8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?

9) What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?

10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?

11) Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?

12) Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?

13) Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?

14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?

Until these questions are answered with specificity, and until the U.S. government is open and honest with the American people about the potential risks and likely costs of a war to remove Assad from power in Syria, it makes little sense to discuss the idea further.

The worst thing for American safety and security would be a repeat of the political debacles in Iraq and Libya. Before taking military action in Syria, it is paramount that American policymakers have not only considered, but have forthrightly answered the serious questions about war in Syria that were never adequately considered or answered prior to recent U.S. intervention elsewhere in the Middle East.”

Anne case and angus deaton study on the high number of deaths among pre-middle aged white people

“It’s a mystery with profound implications for American politics, not to mention public health: Why are so many white people dying?

When economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton released their first bombshell study in 2015, showing that mortality rates were rising for middle-aged white Americans after years of decline, the finding stunned the research world. This wasn’t a global trend—it was a distinctly American phenomenon, Case and Deaton had discovered. Among other races and age groups in Europe, mortality rates had continued to fall. But in the U.S. white people aged 45 to 54 without a college degree were dying sooner, and not from the usual suspects like heart disease and diabetes. For an advanced country where the notion of continuous progress is practically a national creed, the revelation was shocking.

A year later, when Donald Trump won an upset victory in the presidential victory with a message that resonated with those same voters, many turned to Case and Deaton’s research as one possible explanation for his ascendance.”

“Case doesn’t see a conflict. “I don’t see why this would detract from the fact that all of these people are dying in middle age who have no business dying—black and white,” she said in a recent interview. More than anything, she continued, we’re seeing the convergence of health outcomes for black people without college degrees and white people without college degrees, which suggests that class gaps could be supplanting racial gaps, in some health outcomes at least.”

  • Class is starting to replace race as primary fault line dividing Americans.

“This new paper really drills down into those results to try to see if we can isolate where this is happening, why this is happening. The first paper pointed out that the increases in drug overdose and alcohol-related liver deaths and suicide were the three big drivers that were actually turning mortality rates up for whites and middle-aged people in America. What we’ve discovered is, yes, that is happening, but that would never have come to anyone’s attention, I think, if it weren’t for the fact that white non-Hispanics stopped making progress on heart disease, which is a big killer in middle age. First progress slowed, then it flatlined, and now it looks like it’s turned in the opposite direction. … So we thought we should try to isolate where this is happening. If you break people into broad education categories—people with a high school degree or less; people with some college but less than a B.A.; and people with a B.A. or more—all of this is happening for people with less than a four-year college degree. So people age 45 to 54, from the early 1990s through 2015, the fraction of the population in each of those broad categories stayed relatively constant. Which is important, because earlier work has focused on less than a high school degree, who are becoming a smaller and smaller part of the population, and becoming a much less healthy part of the population, so you don’t necessarily want to focus on a part of the group that’s becoming more negatively selected over time.

So a [high school] degree seems to be a marker for a lot of dysfunction that we’re seeing. But this new paper shows that the body count is only the tip of the iceberg. People with less than a college degree are reporting a lot more pain, much poorer health, poorer mental health. They’re less likely to be married, they’re less likely to be attached to the labor market, their wages don’t increase with age as quickly as they had in previous generations. So part two is being able to document that these things are happening in sync with each other.

And the third part is the fact that things appear to be getting worse and worse with every successive birth cohort, so that the cohort born in 1980 is having a much harder time on all those dimensions than the cohort born in 1970, who is in turn having a much harder time than the cohort born in 1960. And you can go back to the cohort born in 1945, which would have entered the labor market in the early 1970s, and things seemed to be getting progressively worse since then for people who are leaving high school and entering the labor market.”

“It used to be the case that with a high school degree, you could get a good job, with potential for on-the-job training and you could expect to have a middle-class life. You could get married, you could have a family. And the kinds of jobs a person can get now with a high school degree are not jobs where there is any up to move to. So what we call ‘returns to experience’, how much more you’d expect to earn at any given age, are lower and lower. We think the data is consistent with the story where: people enter the labor market, they can’t get a good job, their girlfriend or boyfriend doesn’t want to marry them, because if you leave your options open, you might find someone with a better job. People cohabitate, but those cohabitations are extremely fragile, because unlike Europe, where cohabitation is quite a stable form of living together, in the U.S. it’s much less stable. So there’s just not the kind of stability for people without high school degrees like there has been in the past.

So what’s going to happen? Not everybody wants to go to college. Not everybody has the wherewithal to go to college. What I personally think would be a much better idea is to revamp the kind of education that we offer people so that they have the kind of skills that would be rewarded in the 21st century job market. So that would be probably, more vocational training at a high level that would allow people to participate without having a four-year college degree, and still be able to support a family and support a middle class life.

Politico: So are you talking right now just about working-class whites from 45-54?

Case: Well actually, if you look at every five-year age group, from ages 25-29 up through 60-64, what you see is that for people with less than a college degree, the mortality rates have increased. So it’s not just people in that window; we originally focused on people in that window so that we had something precise to focus on. But when you open it up, it’s happening for a very broad swath of people who you might think of as middle-aged. And I think middle-aged is really in the eye of the beholder.

But when you think about education—what I think is interesting is where we’re planning to go next with our research—is that in Europe, mortality rates are falling, but they’re falling even more for people on the low end of their education distribution. Their mortality is falling faster than people on the high end of their education distribution. So what are they doing right that we’re not? That’s sort of the question right now. And again, education might just be a marker of something else, but I think it would be wise to look at how the Europeans have actually shouldered the kind of changes in the labor market. You know, they’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs to the far East, they’ve weathered the recession, but they haven’t seen the same kind of dysfunction and mortality increases that we’ve seen in the U.S.—so why? What’s that about? We don’t know the answers yet.”

  • uniquely dysfunctional among 1st world countries and the white pathologies are hitting all generations

“Anne Case: It’s interesting, because one of the things in the new paper is that mortality rates for black non-Hispanics with a high school degree or less and mortality rates for white non-Hispanics with a high school degree or less are really converging. So there’s been real progress in bringing down mortality rates for blacks, and unfortunately, mortality rates for whites are coming up to meet those. So it seems like we’d be much better off having a conversation about people with less education than we would about people by the color of their skin. I don’t see why this would detract from the fact that all of these people are dying in middle age who have no business dying—black and white. I think there isn’t any reason why we can’t have a conversation about what we do for people in the U.S. who don’t have a college degree, who are facing a labor market that is increasingly hostile—and that’s true regardless of race or ethnicity.”

“When we talk about ‘deaths of despair,’ there’s now not a part of the country that’s not been touched by it. It’s true that there was a lot of attention paid to urban versus rural, but if you actually plot out these deaths of despair—suicide, alcohol, drugs—in every classification of urbanization—so the large central MSAs [Metropolitan Statistical Areas], or small MSAs, or metropolitan areas—in every one of them, those had an increase in deaths of despair, year after year, and they’re pretty much going up in parallel. A small relative increase for people in rural areas, but it’s really not the case that it’s a rural phenomenon. I think for some reporters, it became something like, Oh, let’s go to Appalachia and talk to people in West Virginia. And yes, it’s happening in West Virginia, but it’s also happening in rural Maine and Baltimore City, it’s happening in Florida, it’s happening in Utah.

And we see the prescription opioid epidemic as being an accelerant, as making this worse, but we don’t think it’s a root cause. It was happening before the heavy-duty prescription opioids hit the market. It starts at least as far back as 1990—that death rates from deaths of despair start rising—and then you throw prescription opioids into the mix, and it makes things a heck of a lot worse. But it was happening already.

Politico: So obviously the prospects of white, less-educated people have become this object of fascination since the rise of Trump, when people saw the education levels and race of the people who were voting for him. I was just wondering if you had thoughts on what goes neglected in those conversations about how this issue is affecting our politics.

Case: What we do with the results of this new paper is really a political question. It’s not a normative question—well, I mean, what we should do depends on where you sit. But it is something I worry could really tear us apart. There seem to be two Americas now: one for people who went to college and one for people who didn’t, and that’s going to be truer and truer, regardless of the color of your skin. Whether or not there’s enough political force to bring us back together, I’m really not sure about that.

America can’t save Syria and shouldn’t try

The question we should ask ourselves when contemplating these pictures is not simply “Must this be stopped?” We know the answer to that question: Of course it ought to be. But the real question is this: Should the emotion generated by these pictures elicit our consent for the United States military, under President Trump, to intervene even more aggressively on behalf of al Qaeda in Syria, under the legal authority of a 2001 act of Congress declaring war on al Qaeda?

Let us not mince words: That is what is being asked. Becoming al Qaeda’s air force never made any moral or strategic sense for the United States at any time in the last four years, and it makes even less sense now.

“America’s attempts to train and direct local rebels regularly turned into living satires where ginned-up “moderate” groups quickly surrendered their American-provided weapons to al Nusra. When America’s interventions weren’t comical fiascos of wasted money and bluster, they were simply horror shows come to life. We don’t as much advertise the images produced by Nour al-Din al-Zenki, a U.S.-vetted and -supported Islamist faction that sent out a video of its men beheading a child and celebrating this as a victory over their enemies. Washington’s hawkish intellectuals came up with long-shot scenarios under which the U.S. could remove Assad without empowering the Sunni beheaders and other fanatics. But even these plans seemed to shrug when tackling the bigger question: Who is fit and able to govern Syria after Assad?”

“Western policymakers wish that the Syrian civil war could end in such a way that it deprives Iran of an ally in Damascus (Assad), does not allow the spread of ISIS, does not end in al Qaeda capturing the machinery of the Syrian state (however broken), and institutes a stable settlement that ends the refugee flow that contributed to Brexit and empowered populist nationalists across Europe. There has never been an on-the-ground ally in Syria capable of delivering this, unless Americans governed Syria like a colonial possession for the next five decades.

But whenever our policymakers and hawks see another horrifying image from rebel territory in Syria, they’ll remind us about the great nobility of their intentions, and the stubbornness of the American and British publics that stood in their way.

Their self-regard is yet another propaganda image, and it should be discounted accordingly.”

On how politicization is inevitable and often good

“The Bill of Rights is, properly understood, a List of Stuff You Idiots Cannot Be Trusted to Vote On. (“We want to censor that guy!” “Too bad.” “No, we really, really want to, and there’s a bunch of us!” “Too bad.” “We’re the majority!” “Too bad.” Etc.) But sometimes you need the democratic contest. Knowing what ought to be subject to plebiscitary judgment and what ought to be above or outside of formal democratic processes is a big part of political wisdom”
“At the moment, we’ve stood that wisdom on its head, lamenting the inevitably political actions of the political bodies while accepting — sometimes gleefully, sometimes with despair—the politicization of those institutions that ought to be outside of politics, the Supreme Court and the federal bureaucracies chief among them. … A politicized House committee is a House committee functioning as intended; a politicized IRS is a menace to liberty and democracy that ought to be handled with the seriousness of a foreign invasion.”

Pence marriage controversy exposes divide over human nature

“It’s too simple to say that orthodox Christians believe that man is fallen, that we’re all subject to temptation, and that precautions like the Pence family’s mainly represent prudence in action. The spiritual reality goes even deeper. Men and women were created to be together. The attraction between man and woman can’t be reduced to mere lust (though that certainly exists) but is instead rooted in their fundamental complementarity. In other words, when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he wasn’t speaking of hanging with the guys at the gym. Because of this powerful reality, when you put men and women together in intimate or intense situations, sexual relationships are inevitable. To be clear, it’s not inevitable that any given individual will have a relationship, but in the aggregate it will happen, and it will happen even in the face of rules, regulations, and social taboos. Thus, Christians who refuse to recognize this reality and refuse to adjust their own behavior and family practices accordingly are foolish, naïve, or possibly arrogant. I’ve lived long enough already (I’m only 48) to see Christians live the entire cycle of bitterly earned experience — scoffing at their parents’ rules, living lives similar to their secular peers, and either falling themselves or seeing so many others fall that they return to their parents’ wisdom.”
“Many folks on the left, by contrast, find this entire line of thinking absurd. They don’t see men and women as “men and women” (what is gender anyway?) but as “people.” So it’s strange and sexist to say that two people can’t have dinner together on the same basis as any two other people — especially if that policy is perceived to place women at a professional disadvantage. (I’d contest the notion that Pence’s rules place anyone at a disadvantage. Indeed, placing proper boundaries around opposite-sex relationships can help cleanse the workplace of the sexual scandals that do more to inhibit professional women than any limitations on private dinners.) Extending the Left’s argument further, it’s thus strange and sexist to argue that men and women can’t live and work side-by-side in any number of close and intense circumstances without causing sexual tension and drama. And if sexual tension and drama happen anyway, then that’s merely evidence of the persistent sexism that pervades the American workplace. Why can’t “people” just work together as professionals? At the end of the day, two irreconcilable world views collide. Think of the extreme example — women in combat. Countless Christians and other cultural conservatives look at the Left’s argument and think, “Why do you want to infect infantry platoons with sexual tension?” In response, countless progressives think, “Why do those misogynists believe sexual tension is inevitable?” Or, perhaps, “If sexual tension occurs, we can stamp it out through better training and education” — rejecting the idea that they’re hopelessly pushing against human nature itself.”

Mike Pence and marriage practices

“I’ve heard numerous versions of this story, but I’ll go with the one reportedly told by Dr. Abraham Twerski, a renowned psychiatrist and Orthodox rabbi. (I’ve trimmed and paraphrased it a bit.) The bearded Twerski goes to the airport in his Hasidic garb — the hat, the long coat, the buttoned white shirt. Another Jew, this one modernly dressed, is annoyed by Twerski and unloads on him: “What’s wrong with you? Must you insist on parading around in that medieval get-up as if it were Purim? Don’t you realize how ridiculous you look? You bring nothing but scorn and embarrassment upon us Jews!” After letting the angry man continue for a while, Twerski says, “I fail to understand what thee art saying. You do realize that I’m Amish, don’t you?” The modern Jew’s anger quickly turns to embarrassment. “Oh, I beg your pardon,” he says apologetically. “I didn’t realize that you were Amish. You look so much like those Hasidic fellows. You should know that I have nothing but respect for you and your people — keeping to your ways without bowing to society’s wills and whims.” The kicker comes when Twerski says, “Aha! If I were Amish, you would have nothing but respect for me. But since I am a Jew, you are ashamed of me. Hopefully one day you will have the same respect for yourself that you have for others.””

“Or maybe this is none of our business? That would certainly be the attitude of many liberals if Pence were a Democrat and had actually cheated on his wife. … Last summer, when Bill Clinton spoke about his wife at the Democratic convention (“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl . . . ”), liberals gushed at the “love story,” and the rule of the day was that marriage is complicated and the Clintons’ ability to stay married (though practically separated) was admirable. Besides, “Who are we to judge?” — no doubt Bill Clinton’s favorite maxim. It’s a very strange place we’ve found ourselves in when elites say we have no right to judge adultery, but we have every right to judge couples who take steps to avoid it.”

“If the Pences were Muslims and followed similar rules, as devout Muslims indeed might, I doubt there’d be anything like this kind of liberal scorn.  Of course, that’s unknowable. But liberals spend a lot of time and energy defending accommodations for religious Muslims — burqas, veils, gender segregation, etc. — that they would never make for committed Christians. Part of it is coalitional. For instance, the feminist march on Washington — the one with all those women wearing female-genitalia hats — was co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, a committed Muslim who at times defends sharia law (including the Saudi ban on female drivers, for instance). But part of it strikes me as a crude form of partisan bigotry born of a kind of self-loathing of America’s traditional culture. Orthodox Muslim views on women are exotically “other” and somehow courageous, like the imagined Amish traveler. Orthodox Christians are embarrassing, like the Hasidic one.”

  • I can tolerate anyone except the outgroup lol.  This is a perfect application.

Earth day predictions of 1970 the reason you shouldn’t believe the earth day projections of 2009 – hilarious in hindsight.  I’m sure 2009’s will be the same

My links from the week of 3/26

Pastor’s, not politicians, turned the south republican

“Reasons for the switch are not so hard to understand. Legend has it that President Johnson, after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, mourned “we’ve lost the South for a generation.” That quote might be apocryphal, but it accurately reflects contemporary opinion. Fiery segregationist George Wallace would carry five Southern states in his third party run for President in 1968. Southern anger over the Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights reforms was no secret and no surprise.

While the “why” behind the flight of the Dixiecrats is obvious, the “how” is more difficult to establish, shrouded in myths and half-truths. Analysts often explain the great exodus of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party by referencing the Southern Strategy, a cynical campaign ploy supposedly executed by Richard Nixon in his ’68 and ’72 Presidential campaigns, but that explanation falls flat. Though the Southern backlash against the Civil Rights Acts showed up immediately at the top of the ticket, Republicans farther down the ballot gained very little ground in the South between ’68 and ’84. Democrats there occasionally chose Republican candidates for positions in Washington, but they stuck with Democrats for local offices.

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.”

  • It is true that Republican attempts to win over dixie at the local level were a total failure.  The left’s fear and hate of Atwater led them to actually believe his boast that he turned the south red even though it was total bullshit.  That’s similar to how Republican’s believed the supposed Alinskyite stuff was the key to Obama’s success.  Believing your opponents have a secret evil master plan that you just need to copy in order to win again is a lot easier than introspection.  So of course partisans always do it.

“Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.”

  • Thesis.

“Religion is endlessly pliable. So long as pastors or priests (or in this case, televangelists) are willing to apply their theological creativity to serve political demands, religious institutions can be bent to advance any policy goal. With remarkably little prodding, Christian churches in Germany fanned the flames for Hitler. Liberation theology thrived alongside Communist activism in Latin America. The Southern Baptist Church was organized specifically to protect slavery and white supremacy from the influence of their brethren in the North, a role that has never ceased to distort its identity, beliefs and practices.”

  • This is unfortunately very true.  Religion can very easily be manipulated into a form of culture worship.  Reading Bonhoeffer’s bio by Metaxas was probably my first exposure to this problem and was easily the saddest.  Most of the German church was easily swept away by nazi propoganda and political manipulation.  Clergymen tend to be shitty politicians and almost always wind up as someone’s useful idiot whenever they try to participate.   The flock’s education and rootedness in the faith is often minimal and so like the seed that grows on thin soil, it is easily swept away.

“In 1956, the Supreme Court had recently struck down school segregation in the Brown v. Board of Education case. President Eisenhower had sponsored sweeping civil rights legislation. Dr. Martin Luther King was organizing bus boycotts in Montgomery. Pressure was building against segregation across the South. At that time, there may have been no more influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention than W.A. Criswell, the pastor of the enormous First Baptist Church in Dallas.

At a convention in South Carolina, Criswell turned his popular fire and brimstone style on the “blasphemous and unbiblical” agitators who threatened the Southern way of life. Beyond all the boilerplate racist invective, Criswell outlined an eerily prescient rhetorical stance, a framework capable of outlasting Jim Crow. In a passage that managed to avoid explicit racism, he described what would become the primary political weapon of the culture wars:

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made – a land of the free and the home of the brave.

… King was once invited to speak at a Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville in 1961. Churches responded with a powerful backlash, slashing the seminary’s donations so steeply that it was forced to apologize for the move. Henlee Barnette, the Baptist professor responsible for King’s invitation at the seminary, nearly lost his job and became something of an outcast, a status he would retain until he was finally pressured to retire from teaching in 1977.

In 1965, after President Johnson’s second landmark Civil Rights Act was passed, the Southern Baptists formally abandoned the fight against segregation with a bland statement urging members to obey the law. In 1968, the Southern Baptist Convention formally endorsed desegregation. That same year, in a remarkably passive-aggressive counter to their apparent concession on civil rights, they elected W.A. Criswell to lead the denomination.”

  • LOL.  That is actually pretty funny.  Institutional resistance of this sort is often hilarious.

“Defeated and demoralized, segregationists in the 1970’s faced a frustrating problem – how to rebuild a white nationalist political program without using the discredited rhetoric of race. Religion would provide them their answer. Armed with the superficially race-neutral rhetorical formula Criswell had described, prominent Southern Baptist ministers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would emerge to take up the fight. All they needed was a spark to light a new wave of political activism.

In 1967, Mississippi began offering tuition grants to white students allowing them to attend private segregated schools. A federal court struck down the move two years later, but the tax-exempt status of these private, segregated schools remained a matter of contention for many years. Under that rubric, evangelical churches across the South led an explosion of new private schools, many of them explicitly segregated. Battles over the status of these institutions reached a climax when the Carter Administration in 1978 signaled its intention to press for their desegregation.

It was the status of these schools, a growing source of church recruitment and revenue, that finally stirred the grassroots to action. Televangelist Jerry Falwell would unite with a broader group of politically connected conservatives to form the Moral Majority in 1979. His partner in the effort, Paul Weyrich, made clear that it was the schools issue that launched the organization, an emphasis reflected in chain events across the 1980 Presidential campaign.

The rise of the religious right is usually credited to abortion activism, but few evangelicals cared about the subject in the 70’s. The Southern Baptist Convention expressed support for laws liberalizing abortion access in 1971. Criswell himself expressed support for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, taking the traditional theological position that life began at birth, not conception. The denomination did not adopt a firm pro-life stance until 1980.

In August of 1980, Criswell and other Southern Baptist leaders hosted Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for a rally in Dallas. Reagan in his speech never used the word “abortion,” but he enthusiastically and explicitly supported the ministers’ position on protecting private religious schools. That was what they needed to hear.

Evangelical ministers, previously reluctant to lend their pulpits to political activists, launched a massive wave of activism in Southern pews in support of the Reagan campaign. The new President would not forget their support. Less than a year into his Administration, Reagan officials pressed the IRS to drop its campaign to desegregate private schools.”

  • So this is an interesting argument that I think I can buy at a superficial level.  The desire for segregated schools could certainly have been the spark.  Abortion seems to have taken longer to become as big an issue for Evangelicals as it was for Catholics.  That seems to have taken longer.  I suspect the people at First Things or other organizations have a better history of how the anti-abortion position spread.  But if segregated schools were the spark, why didn’t they last?  Nobody cares about that issue now.  It’s been completely eclipsed by abortion and largely forgotten.  So I am inclined to think that there may be an alternative explanation at work here.  While segregated schools may been the spark in the south, they were eclipsed within a few decades by abortion, an issue that animated far more people than bussing.  Very few people outside the south really cared about that sort of thing.  So while I think this is a fair indictment of southern conservatives, I suspect this is a narrow case that isn’t applicable beyond the south and certainly isn’t applicable to the religious right as a whole.  Indeed, I suspect that what made abortion the critical issue was that its appeal was far broader than segregated schooling.  That and I suspect there’s more to this story.  There has been a lot of anti-religious right history lately.  From what I know, much of it is very inaccurate.  But I haven’t ever learned much of the history from its participants, which I should probably do at some point.

“It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

Fired by the success of their efforts at the top of the ballot in 1980, newly activated congregations pressed further, launching organized efforts to move their members from pew to precinct, filling the largely empty Republican infrastructure in the South. By the late 80’s religious activists like Stephen Hotze in Houston were beginning to cut out the middleman, going around pastors to recruit political warriors in the pews. Hotze circulated a professionally rendered video in 1990, called “Restoring America,” that included step-by-step instructions for taking control of Republican precinct and county organizations. Religious nationalists began to purge traditional Republicans from the region’s few GOP institutions.”

The Southern Strategy was not a successful Republican initiative. It was a delayed reaction by Republican operatives to events they neither precipitated nor fully understood. Republicans did not trigger the flight of the Dixiecrats, they were buried by it.

“The Past Is Never Dead

Russell Moore became the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s social outreach arm in 2013. In that capacity, he began to challenge many of the darker elements of the church’s history. From a post in the church traditionally dedicated to hand-wringing over gay rights and dirty movies, Moore criticized those who stirred up hatred against refugees and ignored matters of racial justice. He drew sharp criticism when he denounced the Confederate Flag, explaining, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

The real fury came when Moore applied to Donald Trump the same standard of conduct Baptists had demanded of Bill Clinton. Southern Baptist leaders in the 90’s savaged President Clinton as the details of the Lewinski Affair began to surface. Moore drew the obvious comparison last year between Trump and Bill Clinton, urging voters to reject the 2016 Republican nominee. As religious leaders lined up solidly behind Trump last fall, Moore commented, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

In the end, evangelical voters backed Donald Trump by a steeper margin than their support for Romney in ‘12.

Today, W.A. Criswell’s Dallas megachurch is pastored by Robert Jeffress, who has remained faithful to the most bigoted strains of the olde tyme religion. He has led an effort to withdraw funding for Russell Moore’s organization. Jeffress has called the Catholic Church “a Babylonian mystery religion.” He explained that Obama was sent to pave the way for the Antichrist. He has demogogued relentlessly on gay marriage. And naturally, he endorsed Donald Trump.”

  • That’s quite a story.  Russell Moore has survived for now.  He seems like a genuinely good man and a good christian.  I can’t say I have experienced any church like the Church in Dallas described here.  But I didn’t grow up in Houston like this guy did.  I guess I’ve pretty lucky in that respect.  Indeed I have been very blessed in that wherever I have gone, I always end up planted in good soil in regards to church.  Unfortunately, not everyone can say that.

A lament about campus free speech

“Yes, in the name of protecting students from hordes of sheet-clad night riders, the university was ejecting from campus student groups known mainly for playing lots of guitar, volunteering disproportionately at urban homeless shelters, and avoiding the binge-drinking hookup culture that was and is causing its own set of campus problems.”
  • Funny point.
“But whose home is it? It’s becoming increasingly clear that the university is the place the Left calls home. And it’s not just the university. Progressive students can now leave one home in academia and immediately enter a new home in progressive corporate America. Conservatives (to the extent they exist) are the invited guests, expected to live by the host’s rules. Break those rules, and you’ll be asked to leave. And they’ll justify your eviction — no matter how kind, how intelligent, or how deferential you are — as a sad necessity. We can’t have those Christians on campus. The Klan might be next.”
  • To team blue, these places are their refuge from team red.  It is exclusive on purpose.  One could say that the Reagan-W Bush-era “culture wars” were an attempt by team red to keep team blue out of their strongholds.  This culture war is merely the reverse.

What America can learn from the French healthcare system

“France has the best health-care system in the world. I often find much of this praise to be naive; but as a French health-care consumer, I have to admit the system has some pretty great features.

Let me give you a concrete example of something the French get right.

Yesterday morning, my 5-year-old daughter awoke with flu-like symptoms that quickly grew serious enough that I wondered if I should take her to the emergency room. If you’re a parent, you know exactly this feeling of creeping paranoia. Thankfully, the French equivalent of 9-1-1 provides a helpful service: An operator will put you in touch with an actual doctor who will tell you whether your child has an emergency condition or not. The person who first took my call asked some basic questions and then patched me through to the doctor, who was friendly and competent, and already knew what I’d told my first point of contact. This is totally free, and helps unclog the emergency services for people with actual emergencies.”

“It turned out my daughter’s condition wasn’t an emergency, but I did need a house call. For this, I got in touch with SOS Médecins, which is basically Uber for doctor house calls. They don’t actually have an app, but the idea is the same: Call them, and a doctor will show up on your doorstep within the hour, 24/7. Like Uber, the service is a platform that connects independent contractors with customers. Unlike Uber, SOS Médecins is a non-profit that was started in the 1960s, although it has now become so ubiquitous that many people assume it’s a public service. The price of the service varies but it’s typically only slightly more expensive than a typical doctor’s visit, in the range of 50 to 100 euros; in France, the national insurance scheme pays a minimum rate for doctor’s visits and if the price is higher, it may or may not be covered in full or in part by your private insurer, which most people have. (Yes, France has private health insurance.)”

“The idea of a medical concierge — a primary caregiver who can eventually forward you to specialists and get you to do tests and so forth, but also help you navigate the health-care system more generally — seems like common sense, but do a little research and you’ll find it’s basically illegal. Doctors have a legal monopoly on prescribing many things, a practice that is an absolute racket. Also, insurers aren’t too keen on the idea that patients would have an expert on their side who might reduce their information monopoly. In most cases in the U.S., concierge medicine is only for rich people, even though there’s nothing intrinsically expensive about it. It’s a subscription business model with an 80-20 rule (meaning most people wouldn’t actually use it most of the time), which is exactly the sort of business model that tends to scale well. Indeed, if medical concierges were legal, they would probably be widespread, and cheap.

In the end, my daughter only had a stomach bug. But my main takeaway from the experience was that there are indeed many things that France gets right, and that, in order to improve the U.S. system, policymakers need to slash useless regulations that represent giveaways to entrenched industries that don’t serve patients’ interests.”

An idea for how to fix healthcare – catastrophic insurance for all, decentralized medicaid, savings accounts, moving away from employer-provided model  + regulatory reforms

“This leaves open an option that has been endorsed by luminaries such as The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat and (ahem) myself, which would accomplish enough of everyone’s goals to have a glimmer of hope of passage, and be good policy. It would involve auto-enrolling everyone in catastrophic health-care plans, a sure political winner (“From now on, no one in America will have to lose their house because they have cancer !” Trump can repeat over and over on the stump), radically decentralizing Medicaid (a necessity), directly funding health savings accounts for the poor, generally increasing the use of health savings accounts and nudging people away from employer-funded health insurance towards portable solutions, and many market-based regulatory reforms. Such a package would accomplish progressive goals of universal coverage and conservative goals of decentralizing health care.”

  • Sounds good to me.

Progressive hypocrisy on refusing to reform medicaid

“Medicaid is a disaster. It is, by a mile, the worst health insurance scheme of any kind in the developed world. A number of studies have suggested that people on Medicaid have no better, and often worse, health outcomes than those without insurance.”

“As it happens, RyanCare 2.0’s reform of Medicaid isn’t exactly a block grant, but a per-capita allotment. (This idea was first floated by Bill Clinton in 1995. After all these years of being told conservatives couldn’t criticize ObamaCare because it was “originally a Republican idea,” I imagine now no progressives will criticize RyanCare’s Medicaid reforms.) But the basic idea is the same: Give the states money to run Medicaid, and let them decide how to do it locally. This is a good idea.

Why? Because the problem is not how much money is spent on the program, it’s how it’s designed, so it makes sense to change the design. As is, Medicaid is a hybrid state-federal structure, which should be clarified. And more generally, when it comes to an incredibly complex field like health care, it’s generally better to try several localized approaches at once rather than just one centrally mandated one.

Again, the current program is not even close to good. It is an abysmal failure. Many reforms don’t achieve all they set out to do, but it’s hard to imagine a reform that could do worse than the status quo. And, again, the political attitude of the progressive camp on this score is not to propose alternatives, but simply to decry any alternative as tantamount to a war on the poor.”

If you didn’t like the christian right, you’ll really dislike the post-christian right

“Belief in God combined with the decline of institutional forms of religion means that Americans increasingly come up with their own, do-it-yourself styles of spirituality, in ways both good and bad. The rise of this DIY spirituality was best analyzed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in his book Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics.

Indeed, many commentators were stunned that Donald Trump, whose private life embodies pretty much everything Christianity is supposed to despise, could so woo the primary voters of the supposed party of the Christian right. Many commentators put this up to simple hypocrisy, and certainly there was much of that among Christian right leaders. But more profoundly, the rise also had to do with the secularization of the American right. It was noteworthy that the religious leaders who most readily endorsed Trump were representatives of two of the Christian “heresies” that Douthat flags as overtaking traditional Christianity in America: the Prosperity Gospel, which says that God wants Christians to get rich, and what Douthat calls the religion of American nationalism, which identifies America with the promised land of scripture. One consistent finding of the Republican primary was that Trump did much better among self-identified Christians who don’t go to church, and much worse among those Christians who go to church regularly.

  • If you are looking for where his support came from, the post-christian right is the best place to start.  People who worship the idols of wealth or country are his strongest supporters.

“A cursory glance at history shows that Christianity is certainly no antidote against this tendency, (identitarianism) but the Christian gospel’s relentless focus on the intrinsic dignity of every human being, and on Christ’s focus on the outcast and the outsider, at least can put a brake on this tendency. For Trump-voting working-class whites, post-Christianity means that the less one’s identity is based on the gospel, the more it is based on identity politics, whether nationalist or ethnicist. For Trump-supporting business elites, the Christian gospel might be replaced by the cruel gospel of the proud atheist Ayn Rand.

The complacent class – an interesting perspective from a guy who is very clearly a racist, but a pretty bright one at that

The hazards of gloating over detroit

  • Detroit going broke confirmed a lot of conservative prejudices.  The problem is that the rural areas where conservatives live have in large part replaced the inner-city as America’s basket case.  Conservatives have a huge log to remove from their own eye on this issue before they can legitimately talk about the problems in the inner-city, which has improved significantly since the time I was born.

“Gloating over Detroit masks two important warnings for conservatives. First, the bankruptcy is a glaring reminder of what can happen when entrenched institutions resist the pressure to adapt. That should resonate with Republicans, but so far there is little sign of concern.

Second, the forces that overwhelmed liberal Detroit have been wreaking havoc on the mostly Republican countryside for decades. Conservative fantasies of urban decline are a relic of the 70’s, a symbol of the GOP’s frustrating disconnect from the modern world. For all the challenges facing America’s big cities, our countryside is in far worse condition. Republicans do not seem terribly concerned about the damage in their own backyards.”

  • The central challenge for the Republican party going forward in my view is that the economic policies that Republicans have championed haven’t really helped the places where Republican voters live, rural and exurban areas.  These areas have gotten hammered and Republican leadership has been oblivious.  To quote the paper on inclusive capitalism I wrote recently, “In the last four decades, returns to capital (including housing) vastly outstripped returns to labor.  There was significant economic growth.  But most of the gains accrued to the educated, the wealthy and to cities while the uneducated, poor, and rural were left behind.  Economic growth is wonderful and essential.  But distributional effects matter, especially for a Republican party that gets most of its votes from people without college degrees who live in the countryside.”

“Of the 100 US counties with the highest rates of child poverty, 95 of them are rural. By an interesting coincidence, 92 of them are in states Romney won in 2012. In a list of the 100 poorest counties in America is there is not a single northern urban area.

Trenton, Newark, and Oakland struggle with poverty, but they also have access to enormous infrastructure and capital. For all the challenges facing the metropolitan poor, they enjoy far greater opportunities to advance themselves.

Rural counties in recent decades are seeing rising inequality even while their own relative income lags farther and farther behind urban areas. When right-wing blogs blather on about “government dependence,” they evoke images of impoverished urban masses trapped in a cycle of poverty. They consistently fail to identify the demographic most thoroughly dependent on government – inhabitants of the deep red rural counties.

Rural residents depend on food stamps (SNAP) at almost a 50% higher rate than city-dwellers. Rural counties rank near the top in nearly every category of welfare use. A shocking 22% of the residents of Detroit’s Wayne County receive food stamps. However, Texas has four counties with more than a third of their residents using the program. Kentucky has five. Mississippi has seven. By comparison, 17% of DC residents and 15% of the population of Chicago’s Cook County receive food stamps.

Safety net spending is only the tip of the “taker” iceberg. The vast majority of America’s private commercial activity is centered on the cities. The countryside depends on government for nearly all of its economic survival.

Billions of dollars in annual agriculture subsidies keep rural farmers and ranchers in business either directly or through broader market support. Agriculture programs take money earned disproportionately from urban areas which tend to vote for Democrats and redistribute it to a countryside dominated by Republicans.

The redistribution continues beyond farm subsidies. Though rates of direct government employment are similar in urban and rural areas, rural communities are often disproportionately dependent on government institutions, from schools and police up to military bases, universities, prisons and other public facilities.

Rural counties now experience markedly higher unemployment than the cities. Rising rural unemployment is all the more remarkable when you consider how much of the rural economy is based on traditionally stable government jobs. Farm production, the anchor of rural life, now makes up only 1% of US economic output and about 5% of rural employment.

Perhaps there was a time when rural communities could congratulate themselves for cultivating a stronger sense of moral values, but those days are gone. Rural counties have higher rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and divorce. Rural residents are falling farther and farther behind in education and were hit much harder by the job losses from the financial collapse.”

  • The evidence of rural decline is really piling up.  The numbers get worse every day.  For all the conservative talk of cultural decline (in re to marriage, crime, etc.) in the inner-cities, the pathogen has spread to our communities while we busy were talking down to them to put ourselves up.

“Crime is generally regarded as an urban phenomenon and the characterization makes sense. It is a pure physical challenge to commit a crime in an isolated environment. Unless you’re that horse guy, the countryside ought to be a very poor environment for criminals.

It is no surprise then that crime rates are higher in the cities. However, our supposedly terrifying city environments have experienced a remarkable, decades-long decline in their crime rates. Meanwhile, rural areas have largely missed this decline, in many cases experiencing the opposite.”

  • Why crime is more common in cities by definition and the massive improvements in city safety that have occurred over the course of my life time.

“As you might expect, the countryside is emptying. Global populations have been shifting toward cities since the dawn of capitalism, but that transition has reached a remarkable threshold in the U.S. For the first ever our overall rural population has begun to decline in absolute numbers, not just in proportion to the cities. And for the first time in decades, central cities over the past few years have begun to see their populations growing faster than the suburbs.

Detroit’s bankruptcy is a story of accelerating economic transformation and the strain it is placing on rigid economic and political institutions. A more dynamic economy requires a greater willingness to adapt. Detroit may be in trouble, but a bankruptcy and political reorganization could very well turn its fortunes. The same cannot be said for the dying countryside on which the GOP has staked its future.

Irresistible gloating over the troubles of a liberal basket-case threatens to mask a vital warning. For twenty years Republicans have ignored urban issues, abandoning America’s richest, fastest growing, most dynamic environments to the Democrats. For the first time since the two parties took shape, there is not a single Republican mayor in America’s ten largest cities.

The nation’s political climate is changing. The lesson of Detroit is that adaption is the key to survival. Republicans may gloat over Detroit’s failure, but we ignore the city’s lessons at our own peril.”

Guided by the beauty of our weapons – why real debate and persuasion is so difficult and how to go about doing it

“But I worry that taken together, they suggest an unspoken premise of the piece. It isn’t that people are impervious to facts. Harford doesn’t expect his reader to be impervious to facts, he doesn’t expect documentary-makers to be impervious to facts, and he certainly doesn’t expect himself to be impervious to facts. The problem is that there’s some weird tribe of fact-immune troglodytes out there, going around refusing vaccines and voting for Brexit, and the rest of us have to figure out what to do about them. The fundamental problem is one of transmission: how can we make knowledge percolate down from the fact-loving elite to the fact-impervious masses?”

  • Harford wrote one of many articles that essentially said Trump voters are impervious to facts, thats why they won’t vote the right way.  It’s really just virtue signaling on the authors part.  On the other hand, it does indicate a certain level of stupidity on his part which I find comforting.  When they have to resort to such insults, it means they don’t have any better ideas.  They’ve implicitly given up

“Google “debating Trump supporters is”, and you realize where the article is coming from. It’s page after page of “debating Trump supporters is pointless”, “debating Trump supporters is a waste of time”, and “debating Trump supporters is like [funny metaphor for thing that doesn’t work]”. The overall picture you get is of a world full of Trump opponents and supporters debating on every street corner, until finally, after months of banging their heads against the wall, everyone collectively decided it was futile.

Yet I have the opposite impression. Somehow a sharply polarized country went through a historically divisive election with essentially no debate taking place.

Am I about to No True Scotsman the hell out of the word “debate”? Maybe. But I feel like in using the exaggerated phrase “Purely Logical Debate, Robinson has given me leave to define the term as strictly as I like. So here’s what I think are minimum standards to deserve the capital letters:

1. Debate where two people with opposing views are talking to each other (or writing, or IMing, or some form of bilateral communication). Not a pundit putting an article on Huffington Post and demanding Trump supporters read it. Not even a Trump supporter who comments on the article with a counterargument that the author will never read. Two people who have chosen to engage and to listen to one another.

2. Debate where both people want to be there, and have chosen to enter into the debate in the hopes of getting something productive out of it. So not something where someone posts a “HILLARY IS A CROOK” meme on Facebook, someone gets really angry and lists all the reasons Trump is an even bigger crook, and then the original poster gets angry and has to tell them why they’re wrong. Two people who have made it their business to come together at a certain time in order to compare opinions.

3. Debate conducted in the spirit of mutual respect and collaborative truth-seeking. Both people reject personal attacks or ‘gotcha’ style digs. Both people understand that the other person is around the same level of intelligence as they are and may have some useful things to say. Both people understand that they themselves might have some false beliefs that the other person will be able to correct for them. Both people go into the debate with the hope of convincing their opponent, but not completely rejecting the possibility that their opponent might convince them also.

4. Debate conducted outside of a high-pressure point-scoring environment. No audience cheering on both participants to respond as quickly and bitingly as possible. If it can’t be done online, at least do it with a smartphone around so you can open Wikipedia to resolve simple matters of fact.

5. Debate where both people agree on what’s being debated and try to stick to the subject at hand. None of this “I’m going to vote Trump because I think Clinton is corrupt” followed by “Yeah, but Reagan was even worse and that just proves you Republicans are hypocrites” followed by “We’re hypocrites? You Democrats claim to support women’s rights but you love Muslims who make women wear headscarves!” Whether or not it’s hypocritical to “support women’s rights” but “love Muslims”, it doesn’t seem like anyone is even trying to change each other’s mind about Clinton at this point.

These to me seem like the bare minimum conditions for a debate that could possibly be productive.”

  • That is a very good definition of a debate.  Unfortunately very few people have the capability or the desire to have such a debate.  It would be a real competition of ideas.

“I worry that people do this kind of thing every so often. (engaging in chest-thumping or browbeating and calling it a debate or thinking its persuasive)  Then, when it fails, they conclude “Trump supporters are immune to logic”. This is much like observing that Republicans go out in the rain without melting, and concluding “Trump supporters are immortal”.”

  • Yep.

“Am I saying that if you met with a conservative friend for an hour in a quiet cafe to talk over your disagreements, they’d come away convinced? No. I’ve changed my mind on various things during my life, and it was never a single moment that did it. It was more of a series of different things, each taking me a fraction of the way. As the old saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they fight you half-heartedly, then they’re neutral, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point even though you’re annoying, then they say on balance you’re mostly right although you ignore some of the most important facets of the issue, then you win.””

  • Genuinely changing your mind is really hard and a very slow and time-consuming process.  Nobody wants to put that kind of work in to change someone elses mine.  You just want a quick win because the goal is really to feel good about yourself.  You accomplish that by being an asshole and walking away triumphant.  You don’t actually care enough about your opponent to attempt a conversion.

“There might be a parallel here with the one place I see something like Purely Logical Debate on a routine basis: cognitive psychotherapy. I know this comparison sounds crazy, because psychotherapy is supposed to be the opposite of a debate, and trying to argue someone out of their delusions or depression inevitably fails. The rookiest of all rookie therapist mistakes is to say “FACT CHECK: The patient says she is a loser who everybody hates. PsychiaFact rates this claim: PANTS ON FIRE.”

But in other ways it’s a lot like the five points above. You have two people who disagree – the patient thinks she’s a worthless loser who everyone hates, and the therapist thinks maybe not. They meet together in a spirit of voluntary mutual inquiry, guaranteed safe from personal attacks like “You’re crazy!”. Both sides go over the evidence together, sometimes even agreeing on explicit experiments like “Ask your boyfriend tonight whether he hates you or not, predict beforehand what you think he’s going to say, and see if your prediction is accurate”. And both sides approach the whole process suspecting that they’re right but admitting the possibility that they’re wrong (very occasionally, after weeks of therapy, I realize that frick, everyone really does hate my patient. Then we switch strategies to helping her with social skills, or helping her find better friends).

And contrary to what you see in movies, this doesn’t usually give a single moment of blinding revelation. If you spent your entire life talking yourself into the belief that you’re a loser and everyone hates you, no single fact or person is going to talk you out of it. But after however many months of intensive therapy, sometimes someone who was sure that they were a loser is now sort of questioning whether they’re a loser, and has the mental toolbox to take things the rest of the way themselves.”

  • I think therapy is a good example of what actually goes on when you really change your mind.

“These (Trump supporters in the SSC comment section) are the people you say are completely impervious to logic so don’t even try? It seems to me like this argument was one of not-so-many straws that might have broken some camels’ backs if they’d been allowed to accumulate. And the weird thing is, when I re-read the essay I notice a lot of flaws and things I wish I’d said differently. I don’t think it was an exceptionally good argument. I think it was…an argument. It was something more than saying “You think the old days were so great, but the old days had labor unions, CHECKMATE ATHEISTS”. This isn’t what you get when you do a splendid virtuouso perfomance. This is what you get when you show up.

Another SSC story. I keep trying to keep “culture war”-style political arguments from overrunning the blog and subreddit, and every time I add restrictions a bunch of people complain that this is the only place they can go for that. Think about this for a second. A heavily polarized country of three hundred million people, split pretty evenly into two sides and obsessed with politics, blessed with the strongest free speech laws in the world, and people are complaining that I can’t change my comment policy because this one small blog is the only place they know where they can debate people from the other side.

Given all of this, I reject the argument that Purely Logical Debate has been tried and found wanting. Like GK Chesterton, I think it has been found difficult and left untried.”

“Overall the exchange was in the top 1% of online social science journalism – by which I mean it included at least one statistic and at some point that statistic was superficially examined. But in the end, it was still just two people arguing with one another, each trying to transmit his superior knowledge to each other and the reading public. As good as it was, it didn’t meet my five standards above – and nobody expected it to.

But now I’m thinking – what would have happened if Lopez and VerBruggen had joined together in an adversarial collaboration? Agreed to work together to write an article on gun statistics, with nothing going into the article unless they both approved, and then they both published that article on their respective sites?

This seems like a mass media equivalent of shifting from Twitter spats to serious debate, from transmission mindset to collaborative truth-seeking mindset. The adversarial collaboration model is just the first one to come to mind right now. I’ve blogged about others before – for example, bets, prediction markets, and calibration training.

The media already spends a lot of effort recommending good behavior. What if they tried modeling it?

  • Well they’re flacks first and foremost, every other value must sacrificed to the tribe.

“The bigger question hanging over all of this: “Do we have to?”

Harford’s solution – compelling narratives and documentaries – sounds easy and fun. Robinson’s solution – rhetoric and emotional appeals – also sounds easy and fun. Even the solution Robinson rejects – violence – is easy, and fun for a certain type of person. All three work on pretty much anybody.

Purely Logical Debate is difficult and annoying. It doesn’t scale. It only works on the subset of people who are willing to talk to you in good faith and smart enough to understand the issues involved. And even then, it only works glacially slowly, and you win only partial victories. What’s the point?

Logical debate has one advantage over narrative, rhetoric, and violence: it’s an asymmetric weapon. That is, it’s a weapon which is stronger in the hands of the good guys than in the hands of the bad guys. In ideal conditions (which may or may not ever happen in real life) – the kind of conditions where everyone is charitable and intelligent and wise – the good guys will be able to present stronger evidence, cite more experts, and invoke more compelling moral principles. The whole point of logic is that, when done right, it can only prove things that are true.

Violence is a symmetric weapon; the bad guys’ punches hit just as hard as the good guys’ do. It’s true that hopefully the good guys will be more popular than the bad guys, and so able to gather more soldiers. But this doesn’t mean violence itself is asymmetric – the good guys will only be more popular than the bad guys insofar as their ideas have previously spread through some means other than violence. Right now antifascists outnumber fascists and so could probably beat them in a fight, but antifascists didn’t come to outnumber fascists by winning some kind of primordial fistfight between the two sides. They came to outnumber fascists because people rejected fascism on the merits. These merits might not have been “logical” in the sense of Aristotle dispassionately proving lemmas at a chalkboard, but “fascists kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore fascism is wrong” is a sort of folk logical conclusion which is both correct and compelling. Even “a fascist killed my brother, so fuck them” is a placeholder for a powerful philosophical argument making a probabilistic generalization from indexical evidence to global utility. So insofar as violence is asymmetric, it’s because it parasitizes on logic which allows the good guys to be more convincing and so field a bigger army. Violence itself doesn’t enhance that asymmetry; if anything, it decreases it by giving an advantage to whoever is more ruthless and power-hungry.

The same is true of documentaries (its symmetric). As I said before, Harford can produce as many anti-Trump documentaries as he wants, but Trump can fund documentaries of his own. He has the best documentaries. Nobody has ever seen documentaries like this. They’ll be absolutely huge.

And the same is true of rhetoric (its symmetric). Martin Luther King was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for good things. But Hitler was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for bad things. I’ve previously argued that Mohammed counts as the most successful persuader of all time. These three people pushed three very different ideologies, and rhetoric worked for them all. Robinson writes as if “use rhetoric and emotional appeals” is a novel idea for Democrats, but it seems to me like they were doing little else throughout the election (pieces attacking Trump’s character, pieces talking about how inspirational Hillary was, pieces appealing to various American principles like equality, et cetera). It’s just that they did a bad job, and Trump did a better one. The real takeaway here is “do rhetoric better than the other guy”. But “succeed” is not a primitive action.

Unless you use asymmetric weapons, the best you can hope for is to win by coincidence.

That is, there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at rhetoric than bad guys. Some days the Left will have an Obama and win the rhetoric war. Other days the Right will have a Reagan and they’ll win the rhetoric war. Overall you should average out to a 50% success rate. When you win, it’ll be because you got lucky.

And there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at documentaries than bad guys. Some days the NIH will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke less. Other days the tobacco companies will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke more. Overall smoking will stay the same. And again, if you win, it’s because you lucked out into having better videographers or something.

I’m not against winning by coincidence. If I stumbled across Stalin and I happened to have a gun, I would shoot him without worrying about how it’s “only by coincidence” that he didn’t have the gun instead of me. You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t. But you shouldn’t confuse it with a long-term solution.

Improving the quality of debate, shifting people’s mindsets from transmission to collaborative truth-seeking, is a painful process. It has to be done one person at a time, it only works on people who are already almost ready for it, and you will pick up far fewer warm bodies per hour of work than with any of the other methods. But in an otherwise-random world, even a little purposeful action can make a difference. Convincing 2% of people would have flipped three of the last four US presidential elections. And this is a capacity to win-for-reasons-other-than-coincidence that you can’t build any other way.

(and my hope is that the people most willing to engage in debate, and the ones most likely to recognize truth when they see it, are disproportionately influential – scientists, writers, and community leaders who have influence beyond their number and can help others see reason in turn)

I worry that I’m not communicating how beautiful and inevitable all of this is. We’re surrounded by a a vast confusion, “a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night”, with one side or another making a temporary advance and then falling back in turn. And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos, surely you’d be shot the moment you left the trenches, but – your enemies are helping you do it. Both sides are diverting their artillery from the relevant areas, pooling their resources, helping bring supplies to the engineers, because until the very end they think it’s going to ensure their final victory and not yours.

You’re doing it right under their noses. They might try to ban your documentaries, heckle your speeches, fight your violence Middlebury-student-for-Middlebury-student – but when it comes to the long-term solution to ensure your complete victory, they’ll roll down their sleeves, get out their hammers, and build it alongside you.

A parable: Sally is a psychiatrist. Her patient has a strange delusion: that Sally is the patient and he is the psychiatrist. She would like to commit him and force medication on him, but he is an important politician and if push comes to shove he might be able to commit her instead. In desperation, she proposes a bargain: they will both take a certain medication. He agrees; from within his delusion, it’s the best way for him-the-psychiatrist to cure her-the-patient. The two take their pills at the same time. The medication works, and the patient makes a full recovery.

(well, half the time. The other half, the medication works and Sally makes a full recovery.)”

  • This section could be developed a lot further for our purposes.  Violence, media, and rhetoric are all useful tools.  But they are merely symmetric weapons.  If you win, you got lucky.  If you actually win the argument though, then you are almost assured to win.

You are not completely immune to facts and logic. But you have been wrong about things before. You may be a bit smarter than the people on the other side. You may even be a lot smarter. But fundamentally their problems are your problems, and the same kind of logic that convinced you can convince them. It’s just going to be a long slog. You didn’t develop your opinions after a five-minute shouting match. You developed them after years of education and acculturation and engaging with hundreds of books and hundreds of people. Why should they be any different?

You end up believing that the problem is deeper than insufficient documentary production. The problem is that Truth is a weak signal. You’re trying to perceive Truth. You would like to hope that the other side is trying to perceive Truth too. But at least one of you is doing it wrong. It seems like perceiving Truth accurately is harder than you thought.

You believe your mind is a truth-sensing instrument that does at least a little bit better than chance. You have to believe that, or else what’s the point? But it’s like one of those physics experiments set up to detect gravitational waves or something, where it has to be in a cavern five hundred feet underground in a lead-shielded chamber atop a gyroscopically stable platform cooled to one degree above absolute zero, trying to detect fluctuations of a millionth of a centimeter. Except you don’t have the cavern or the lead or the gyroscope or the coolants. You’re on top of an erupting volcano being pelted by meteorites in the middle of a hurricane.

If you study psychology for ten years, you can remove the volcano. If you spend another ten years obsessively checking your performance in various metis-intensive domains, you can remove the meteorites. You can never remove the hurricane and you shouldn’t try. But if there are a thousand trustworthy people at a thousand different parts of the hurricane, then the stray gusts of wind will cancel out and they can average their readings to get something approaching a signal.

All of this is too slow and uncertain for a world that needs more wisdom now. It would be nice to force the matter, to pelt people with speeches and documentaries until they come around. This will work in the short term. In the long term, it will leave you back where you started.

If you want people to be right more often than chance, you have to teach them ways to distinguish truth from falsehood. If this is in the face of enemy action, you will have to teach them so well that they cannot be fooled. You will have to do it person by person until the signal is strong and clear. You will have to raise the sanity waterline. There is no shortcut.”

My links from the Week of 3/19

how America gets fleeced by turbotax – basically argues that tax preparation companies are blocking the implementation of a better tax filing system where the government tells you what you owe and you accept or decline

“Right now, Americans prepare their tax returns themselves. But when most Americans fill out their wages and dividends and mortgage payments and all the rest on their tax forms, they’re not telling the government anything it doesn’t already know. So once Americans have filed their returns, the government checks their work against its own calculations, and decides whether it agrees. If the government doesn’t agree, taxpayers then choose whether to fight it.

In other words, filling out your own tax return is often an entirely superfluous step. That’s why plenty of other countries — Japan, Israel, the Netherlands, Britain, Peru, Sweden, Spain, etc. — don’t include it in the process. The government just cuts to the chase: It prepares everyone’s tax returns itself, sends them out, and then taxpayers check the returns for errors.

It’s called a “return-free filing” system.

T.R. Reid recently described how this system works for his friend Michael, “a Dutch executive with a six-figure income, a range of investments, and all the economic complications that come with an upper-bracket lifestyle.”

An American in the same situation would have to fill out a dozen forms, six pages long. Michael, by contrast, sets aside 15 minutes per year to file his federal and local income tax, and that’s usually enough. But sometimes, he told me, he decides to check the figures the government has already filled in on his return. At this point, Michael was getting downright indignant. “I mean, some years, it takes me half an hour just to file my taxes!” [T.R. Reid, The New York Times]

Imagine that! Getting upset because the entirely free process took half an hour instead of 15 minutes. Here in America, by contrast, the average taxpayer will spend 13 hours and $200 to get their tax return finished and filed.”

  • This is really interesting.  The article notes earlier that we pay 12 billion/year to turbotax, intuit, etc.  For 12 billion, could we have a government agency doing this with a reasonable amount of competence?  I don’t know.  That might be worth looking into.

how late-night comedy alienated conservatives, made liberals smug and fueled the rise of Trump

“Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.”

  • Yeah they are the same type of person.  We are nearing the bottom of this particular multipolar trap.

” But somewhere along the way, we decided that we wanted the values of a Las Vegas lounge act to become part of our most important civic conversation. So the stunt, the shtick, the mildly embarrassing question—soon President Bubba, well on his way to reelection, would be telling an MTV crowd whether he wore boxers or briefs—became an essential campaign feature, and now we have a reality-TV star for president. You could argue that by giving Trump a noogie, Fallon did the responsible thing: He subjected the man to one of the requisite tests of fitness for office. We created our own black hole, and we collapsed into it.”

  • It didn’t start with him.  He is (hopefully) its culmination and end.

return of the strong gods – where the strong gods are essentially things like nationalism that sacralize and apply a higher meaning to public life

“To put our present political situation in these terms is, of course, tendentious, though this is how the establishment side tends to express what is at stake. More than tendentious, it is also metaphysically insufficient. Our political struggles over nations and nationalisms are best understood as referenda on the West’s meta-politics over the last three generations, which has been one of disenchantment. The rising populism we’re seeing throughout the West reflects a desire for a return of the strong gods to public life.

Max Weber anticipated the meta-politics of disenchantment in his famous address “Science as a Vocation.” He thought the new scientific age had broken the metaphysical bond between fact and value. The analytical capacities and expanding technical expertise of modern intellectuals do not help us answer the pressing questions of how we should live and what we should live for. Weber knew that during his own lifetime, his severe intellectualism did not hold sway in public affairs, and he warned of the growing desire for prophecy and political commitment among young students. His forebodings were well-founded. In 1914, strong gods of nationalism drove Europe into a terrible and pointless war. Then, after a brief interlude, these gods and others roused themselves for still another round of violence and bloodshed on a global scale that ended with Europe in ruins.

The strong gods discredited themselves in the first half of the twentieth century. After 1945, Weber’s notion of disenchantment, which he saw as the spiritual burden that modern men must carry, was adopted as a positive program for cultural renewal. Three decades of mass mobilization left Europe exhausted, and a consensus formed that the West could not endure another round of nationalist zealotry. The way forward would require weakening the powerful loyalties that bound men to their homelands. In some circles, this consensus also held that communist totalitarianism suffered from the same dark disease. Ideological commitment and passion lead to brutality and moral blindness. Here again many political and cultural leaders assumed that restoration of a more humane way of life in the West would require softening and weakening.

Accordingly, in the initial years of the postwar era, steps were taken to disenchant and desacralize public life. The European Coal and Steel Community was established in order to apply the soothing balm of commerce to the wounds that had historically divided Europe. This initiative was part of a large and powerful cultural trend in the postwar era that involved rejecting more than nationalism. It made strong claims of many sorts taboo. The popular influence of French existentialism is a case in point. Albert Camus sought to articulate a humanism that required no authoritative tradition, institution, or form of life. His selection for the Nobel Prize in 1957 was an official endorsement of this effort to defend the human person against the claims of strong gods in any guise, even in the garb of moral truth. Camus’s metaphysical asceticism—he refused all traditional claims about the sources and foundations of reality—was received by the postwar West as exemplary moral heroism.

That a man who proclaimed morality without truth became a secular saint is not surprising. In the aftermath of the civilizational crisis of 1914–1945, the imperative of weakening affected everything. The Second Vatican Council, which met in the early 1960s, was widely interpreted as liberalizing and secularizing once authoritative dogmas. The actual content of the council’s documents mattered very little. Catholicism too was swept up into the imperative of disenchantment, which also characterized a great deal of Protestantism. Even within the churches, repudiation of strong and transcendent truths seemed necessary after Auschwitz.

In the United States, the cultural and political context was different. World War II was our “good war,” and it did not leave the country in ruins. Our leadership of the West during the Cold War required commitment and resolve. Nevertheless, America also participated in the banishment of the strong gods from public life. The dominant liberalism of the 1950s cultivated a pragmatic approach and claimed to be “post-ideological.” In 1955, Walter Lippmann published Essays in the Public Philosophy. He expressed the concern that liberal democracy becomes vulnerable if it loses touch with deeper metaphysical warrants. Liberals did not receive the book well. A number of reviewers recognized that Lippmann dissented from the postwar consensus of disenchantment. Some suggested that his call for a renewed moral basis for liberal democracy had authoritarian implications.

The disenchanting imperative broadened dramatically in the 1960s. For Europeans, the decisive moment came in May 1968. Rioting French students in Paris scribbled graffiti on the city’s walls: “It is forbidden to forbid.” This contradictory formula marked well the trajectory of the postwar era. It meant that everything strong and limiting goes. We must weaken social authority so that we can live more fully. For the radical French thinkers who came to be called “postmodern,” nihilism offered the opposite of despair. The notion that there are no solid, enduring truths was for them a gospel of freedom.

I don’t need to recount the cultural revolutions of the 1960s. They’re familiar to all of us, and we live with their consequences. What’s less widely acknowledged is the importance of 1989. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the existential threat posed by communism pressured the West to maintain consolidated political and cultural loyalties. We had to steel ourselves to speak forcefully about the virtues of a free society. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, America and Western Europe relaxed, confident that our way of life had been vindicated. As Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced, we had come to the “end of history.” Fukuyama has subsequently repented of this sunny optimism, but his formulation captures a sentiment that remains widespread. To a great degree, we now think that securing a better future no longer requires strenuous efforts to muster a strong political will; nor does it need philosophical justification. The project of making the world a better place will be carried forward by global capitalism, which has an intrinsic momentum, along with the legal and bureaucratic apparatus of transnational institutions and structures, which have their own logic of expansion and colonization.

The Italian public intellectual Gianni Vattimo is one of the best apologists for this “end of history” consensus. He synthesizes different trends in contemporary intellectual culture, all of which contribute to what he calls the “destiny of weakening,” which is his way of speaking about disenchantment. We are shifting from an ontology of “substance,” he says, to one of “event,” and this moves the postmodern West away from authoritarian modes of thinking and guides us toward those that encourage freedom. Our present-day view of the good life “has the features of lightening.” All of this is summed up in his catchphrase the “weakening of Being,” which he sees as a happy unburdening of the West, for weakening promotes tolerance, peace, and freedom. If there are no strong truths, nobody will judge others or limit their freedom. If nothing is worth fighting for, nobody will fight. Vattimo looks forward to a disenchanted world that encourages us to adopt a “moderate and generous” approach to life. The great commandment is not to love our neighbor as we love our self. Instead, it is to go easy on our neighbors as we go easy on ourselves.

Vattimo speaks in the patois of postmodern philosophy. Most contemporary economists take a more straightforward approach, but they say pretty much the same thing. Yale economist Robert J. Shiller argues that technological change and Paul Samuelson’s “factor-price equalization theorem” are now driving a global integration that will eclipse the narrow parochialism of the nation-state. Globalization evolves in accord with reliable economic laws that are more powerful than partisan politics—and more objective, rational, and neutral, and thus at once inevitable and morally superior. We may need to marshal moral arguments of a sort to fend off objections to the emerging global system, but there’s no real political alternative. We only need statesmanship to blunt the misguided popular resistance to the emerging empire of utility. In the place of the strong gods of traditional culture, the globalized future will be governed by the hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. Our high priests will be medical experts, central bankers, and celebrity chefs.

To a great extent health, wealth, and pleasure already govern in the United States and Europe. The left and right in Europe and America are united in a common meta-politics that promotes the general pattern of weakening and the rule of the hearth gods. The left presses forward to the next frontier of “liberation.” Transgender rights reflect a desire to weaken the claims our DNA makes on our sense of self as either a man or a woman. The right adopts the libertarian logic of market-based thinking and regards the removal of all obstacles to the free flow of labor, capital, and goods as the best way to serve the common good. As much as possible needs to be disenchanted so that the benevolent invisible hand can work its magic.

The growing fusion of left and right around the pattern of weakening provides the context for today’s different forms of populism and their “anti-establishment” politics. They represent a revolt against the imperative of disenchantment. The reasons for these rebellions are no doubt multifaceted, complex, and influenced by the unique circumstances that obtain in different countries. For obvious historical reasons, Germans are animated by a particularly powerful fear of the return of the strong gods. Populism there will surely follow a different trajectory than in Holland, France, or the United States. But we can identify a common, underlying dynamic

  • The basic thesis here appears to be that the developed world horrors of WWII with a philosophy of weakening, where weakening that all sources of authority are diminished over time.  This comes from libertarians on the right in the form of unlimited free markets and the left with unlimited social liberalism.

Neoliberalism” is the word that gets tossed around to describe our current system. It describes an economic and cultural regime of deregulation and disenchantment. The ambition of neoliberalism is to weaken and eventually dissolve the strong elements of traditional society that impede the free flow of commerce (the focus of nineteenth-century liberalism), as well as identity and desire (the focus of postmodern liberalism). This may work well for the global elite, but ordinary people increasingly doubt it works for them. The disenchantment and weakening that define the postwar era liberate the talented and powerful to move fluidly through an increasingly global system. But ordinary people end up unmoored, adrift, and abandoned, so much so that they are fueling an anti-establishment rebellion that demands the return of something solid, trustworthy, and enduring.

  • This is probably true.

The metaphysical character of today’s populist revolt is clearest in calls for renewed national identity in the face of perceived threats. These threats are brought into sharp relief by anxieties about mass immigration, especially in Europe. Our political establishments have inherited the postwar imperative of disenchantment. We are socialized to believe that we have a fundamental moral duty to resist populist calls for a more nationalist politics. Our establishment defends diversity and inclusion, promising that the world will be more at peace if we affirm multiculturalism. A politician or public figure who stands for something strong, whether it’s nationalism or even traditional morality, invariably gets described as “authoritarian.” In Europe we’re warned that we must prevent a return of fascism. In the United States, the inherited fear concerns renewed racism. I’ve heard sophisticated intellectuals offer sincere analysis of contemporary populism in terms of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Ku Klux Klan. This is a sign of how deeply invested our establishment is in the postwar era, encouraging us to meet every challenge with still further disenchantment.

The populist rebellion is likely to intensify. As it does, establishment resistance will increase as well. The postwar consensus marshals cultural and political power to condemn the return of the strong gods in the strongest possible terms—racist, xenophobic, fascist, bigoted. Political correctness has many forms, but they are united in a shared repudiation of anything solid and substantial in public life, whether in the form of nationalism or strong affirmations of constraints that human nature places on any healthy society, constraints that get articulated by all forms of traditional morality. The growing ferocity of the establishment’s denunciation of anything strong further enflames the anxieties of populists, who fear that they are losing whatever remains of any solid place to stand.

This dynamic of redoubled disenchantment designed to discredit a growing populism will precipitate a series of political crises in the West. What forms the crises will take I cannot predict. The EU Court of Human Rights may reverse a national vote in the next few years, declaring the election of a right-wing candidate a violation of human rights. Or perhaps there will be some other nullification of populist sentiment. But crisis is coming. Put simply, populism wishes for something sacred in public life. National heritage is the obvious example. Yet our political culture has been so thoroughly shaped by a pattern of weakening that it cannot accommodate this desire for the sacred.

I was recently in Europe for some discussions, and some of what was said redoubled my concerns. During a debate about immigration, a young woman from France made an impassioned speech that opened my eyes to the deeper issues at stake in populism. She told her listeners that she was middle-class and therefore could not afford to live in neighborhoods that have no Muslims, as the rich French do. And so she knows their ways, which include a tradition of returning to Tunisia or Algeria during holidays to visit relatives. They are explicit, she said, in how they describe these trips. They are cherished opportunities to go “home.” At that moment her voice broke with emotion. She asked, “If I lose France, where can I go?”

  • The critical question in the age of disenchantment and in the modern world for these is that of belonging. We have a desire to belong.  We have a desire for deeper connection.  I get that from the church, albeit imperfectly.  In an era where it is difficult to find real connection in the traditional method of tribe, the church must fill that void and somehow that means me, as unfathomable as it seems to me.

“There is no more explosive political fear than that of homelessness. And I can’t imagine a less effective response than denouncing her as Islamophobic, for this expresses the demand for weakening, which amounts to the demand that she give up her desire for a home. Vigorous disenchantment—and this is the reflex of our establishment that has been socialized into the deepest imperatives of the postwar era—can only make her more fearful that France’s leadership class will be complicit in her homelessness. This will in turn deepen her mistrust of the establishment and strengthen the populism she represents.

Julia Ioffe is an accomplished journalist who writes for a variety of mainstream newspapers and magazines. I was struck, however, by her recent tweet in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election last November: “Russian govt media watchdog blocks all Russian access to YouPorn and PornHub. Is this the America you want, Donald?” It’s unwise to read too much into tweets. Perhaps she is mocking Trump for being an unlikely vehicle for the re-moralization of American society. I doubt, however, that was her intent. In all likelihood, evocation of Russia in conjunction with Trump seeks to dramatize the choice we face in 2017. Trump’s rhetoric of building walls and shredding free-trade deals evokes a trajectory of consolidating and strengthening the body politic after a long season of disenchantment and weakening. This, Ioffe seems to suggest, sets us on a road to censorship and illiberal authoritarianism. If we care about sustaining a liberal society, then however repugnant we may find ubiquitous online pornography, we need to double-down on the weakening patterns of the postwar era that minimize boundaries and lift restrictions. Which forces me to wonder: Has the high moral mission of liberalism and its noble defense of freedom really come down to unlimited access to pornography?

“There are good reasons to worry about illiberalism here and abroad. Nevertheless, Ioffe’s easy association of censorship with authoritarianism and free access to pornography with liberalism is widespread. Earnest and proper liberals throughout America often express a horror of any limits on Internet access at public libraries. Such an attitude reflects an implicit affirmation of Vattimo’s view that weakening and disenchantment are a happy fate. In his view, any form of moral authority or regulation represents an evil regression back to fascism. A couple of years ago, United Nations ambassador Samantha Power sought to counter Putin’s annexation of Crimea in a symbolic way. She did so by hosting a party for Pussy Riot, a group of Russian performance artists known for staging public orgies and other transgressions. All of this is very familiar. Pussy Riot engages in now conventional strategies of disenchantment that are widely celebrated by our establishment as integral to cultural “progress.” Just as it is forbidden to forbid, today it is conventional to be unconventional.

We are coming to a dead end. The postwar consensus now tells me that I must choose between pornographic transgression and Putinism, just as it is telling the young French woman to choose between multicultural utopianism and fascism. These are not happy choices, and a political culture that frames our most important public questions in these ways is in trouble. “

  • Democratic institutions are supposed to be moderating influences in both directions. Another thing to consider here, can the lessons from the reduction in such intractable problems as drunk driving and smoking be used to combat pornography?

“As religious people, we are committed to the humanizing power of divine authority—the gracious word of God—and we need to break with the postwar consensus. We should not join our voices to the conventional denunciations of the populist desire for the renewal of strong loyalties in public life. The imperative of weakening has made many things fluid and uncertain, leaving us with little that is solid and trustworthy. It is not good for man to be alone, and it is a sign of health that our societies wish to reclaim, however haltingly, the nation, which is an important form of solidarity.”

  • Ok here is where I am inclined to break with them. My attitude is that I should be able to meet the need for companionship and community through the church and from there reach out into the community.  Whether or not the nation functions primarily as a source of solidarity matters little to me.  Indeed, the nation is often a replacement for church in the eyes of the populists.
  • “We should not join our voices to the conventional denunciations of the populist desire for the renewal of strong loyalties in public life.” – Again the only reason I see to ally with the populists here is that the utopian neoliberals will come for religion at some point as well. But honestly, that doesn’t worry me very much.  God’s church will endure and will shed the fat of prosperity and grow stronger through the struggle.  I will not like “polite persecution,” as First Things has termed it, but I will endure and the faith will grow stronger as a result.  The only justification here can be if such reduction in both economic and social liberalism lead to better results in public policy.  By that measure, the utilitarians probably win in most instances.  We should support the strengthening of the nation state only to the extent it is better for the citizens of the nation.  Now better could be defined in many ways.  That’s where this gets interesting.  But as of now, I still think the utilitarians have the edge in most of these fights.

“Dangers and perversions are sure to come. The nation became an idol in the past, and it can again. In meeting this danger and others we must be careful. As the postwar era ends, however, the establishment strategies of weakening meant to defuse dangerous passions and undercut overzealous loyalties lose their effectiveness. Populism rebels against the fluidity and weightlessness of life. This impulse, however disruptive it becomes for our political institutions, reflects a sane desire for metaphysical density. Our goal should be to educate this desire in the proper order of love rather than allowing ourselves to be conscripted into the increasingly frantic efforts to sustain the postwar era by administering yet another round of the chemotherapy of disenchantment.”

  • Ok so here is full thesis. Populism is inevitable.  It is a natural rebellion against the systemic flaws of the neoliberal modern world.  Therefore the role of the church should be to temper it and co-opt it to healthy ends.  Because the only ideas that the neoliberal establishment has is more desintegration. 
  • This makes sense if you believe that such populism is inevitable. It’s a good narrative.  But I’m not sold on it.  I also still struggle with populist ideas that will demonstrably make people poorer.  I can’t square that with christianity.  I also can’t square the many populist complaints that are simply the result of ignorance about the flaws in debtor societies.  Populism also at times to be an excuse to avoid inconvenient truths.

“There are three great covenants that anchor life and provide us with a place to stand. These “necessary societies,” as Russell Hittinger calls them in his exposition of the enduring foundations of Catholic social doctrine, guard against perverse and destructive loves. The most basic and primeval is the domestic covenant of marriage. The union of a man and a woman stabilizes our restless longing and provides us with an experience of solidarity in the service of a common good. For most adults, marriage teaches a deep truth about the human condition: I do not live for myself.

The metaphysical poverty created by mandatory disenchantment can lead populism to seek an ersatz solidarity of ideological homogeneity, and even feelings of empowerment that flow from collective violence. The covenant of marriage guards against these perversions. Married men do not fill the ranks of paramilitary organizations, and they do not populate terrorist cells. This is not because married men are preoccupied. The covenant of marriage anchors ordinary lives in something transcendent. It serves as our most intimate and reliable experience of “home,” and thus provides us with the metaphysical ballast needed to endure the greater fluidity, heterogeneity, and change in modern civic life governed by the social norms we rightly seek to protect and preserve.

The second covenant is civic, and like marriage, it draws us together to serve something higher than ourselves. The civic covenant has many layers: local community, civic organizations, school loyalties, voluntary associations, as well as an overarching devotion to one’s country. These loves create a multifaceted yet integral solidarity that teaches another profound truth: That which is most precious is magnified, not diminished, when it is shared. The civic covenant binds our lives together, forming what Roger Scruton calls the plural “we.” National solidarity encourages us to see our personal successes as the fruit of a larger, collective achievement, to which we owe a debt of gratitude. It also causes us to grieve over the trials and suffering of our fellow citizens.

As the postwar era’s imperative of disenchantment has weakened the civic covenant, our societies have become more divided. Today, elites are more remote from the rest, and also wealthier and more powerful. This is not a coincidence. A meritocratic mentality supplants the civic covenant as a rationale for wealth and power, and this way of thinking regards social rewards as an entitlement of the credentialed. The future of liberal democracy depends upon the renewal of our civic covenant and a restoration of solidarity between the leaders and the led, as well as among the many citizens of our diverse nation. Multiculturalism only works in empires. For a democracy, it is an impossibility.

The greatest and highest covenant is religious. Faith exposes us to the full truth of our vulnerability: The fate of our souls is not, finally, in our hands. Yet it is also our most profound experience of security and stability, for our souls are in God’s hands, and his power is supreme and everlasting. The religious covenant relativizes our other loyalties. It smashes idols not by relying on the postwar pattern of disenchantment, but instead by romancing our souls with a higher, more powerful enchantment. The most reliable protection against a false and dangerous sacralization of ideology, nation, Volk, or any other populist perversion is not multiculturalism or post-national globalism. It is instead love and loyalty ordered toward the highest good, which is God.

We are made for love, and love strengthens. We are, moreover, social animals. For that reason, the imperative of disenchantment and pattern of weakening can never provide a satisfactory basis for public life. After 1945, it made sense. There are times when dispassion plays a proper role. But it has become too predominant and too obligatory. To a great degree, the banishment of love from our politics is creating the populism that presently troubles us. In our present circumstances, we should support the populist call for the return of something worth loving and serving—and we should tutor it as best we can. This will not be easy. Nothing important in public life is. But we owe it to the young writer in Australia to do our best to bring the twentieth century to a close.

  • Ok so he saved his strongest arguments for last. There’s a lot to cover here.  So there are three covenants that provide the solidarity humans need: marriage, civic life, and faith.  Marriage provides the first experience home for most people.  That experience of home satiates the longing to belong to a large extent.  That will mitigate a lot of the populist extremism by itself.  A return to monasticism would likely help a ton as well.
  • The explanation of the civic covenant is intersting. I’m not so convinced that national solidarity matters that much here.  I’m inclined to think that local solidarity matters more.  An argument against that could be that (on a practical level) you need a strong enough central government to avoid tyranny by private violence.  Without some form of national solidarity, that central government won’t have enough legitimacy to provide the necessary institutional strength to avoid tyranny by private violence.
  • The argument against meritocracy is interesting. It’s intersting how similar this sounds to Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that.”  I do find the argument compelling
  • “The civic covenant binds our lives together, forming what Roger Scruton calls the plural “we.” National solidarity encourages us to see our personal successes as the fruit of a larger, collective achievement, to which we owe a debt of gratitude. It also causes us to grieve over the trials and suffering of our fellow citizens. As the postwar era’s imperative of disenchantment has weakened the civic covenant, our societies have become more divided. Today, elites are more remote from the rest, and also wealthier and more powerful. This is not a coincidence. A meritocratic mentality supplants the civic covenant as a rationale for wealth and power, and this way of thinking regards social rewards as an entitlement of the credentialed. The future of liberal democracy depends upon the renewal of our civic covenant and a restoration of solidarity between the leaders and the led, as well as among the many citizens of our diverse nation. Multiculturalism only works in empires. For a democracy, it is an impossibility.”
  • So civic ties create solidarity and a “you didn’t build that” attitude in individuals. My success is the result of a larger, collective achievement and I owe a debt of gratitude to everything that helped me get there.  And perhaps, if I should ascend in wealth and power, I have an obligation to lead, to serve, and to give back.  I am not called to isolate myself in idyllic havens of wealth as too many do today.  I am called to go out and serve.  There is a covenant between me and the community.  I will someday (everyday?) be called to hold up my end.
  • So the critique of meritocracy seems strange at first. I mean obviously we want the best people to rule.  I want the adults to be in charge.  I want to be a part of the Republican party with the competence of James Baker and HW on the one hand, with the passion, idealism and heart of Jack Kemp on the other.  I want competence and the meritocracy does a pretty good job of selecting for competence.  Indeed, to the extent that politics is incompetent it is usually because they select based off other traits.  I think the main critique is that meritocracy encourages those most blessed by the current state of affairs to shirk their end of the covenant.  Middle America needs them and they have retreated into islands of luxury.  This isn’t entirely fair.  Yes they have obligations.  But incentives are the primary drivers of this behavior.  It also seems harsh to tell someone that they have to stunt their own potential that they could achieve via the network effects of cities.  Then there is also the fact that most wealthy people work their asses off.  Indeed, they work more and harder than the lwoer classes.  I’m not convinced the merely having me moving out of the city and into the countryside will solve the problems of people in the countryside.
    • One, it may suffocate me. Such places historically have been bad environments for me.
    • Two, they may not even accept me. Granted, I have to earn their trust.  But the intolerance and rigidity of some of these places can be really problematic.   Populists don’t acknowledge that such places are often the cause of their own problems and true restoration will require a form of repentance that is by its nature extremely uncomfortable.
    • Three, the idea that there is reduced solidarity between the leaders and the led is oversold in my view. This is just another way of populists saying “you’re not doing what I want you to do.”  Well, leadership involves hard decisions that populists often don’t want to face and often know absolutely nothing about beyond their fears and prejudices.
  • So the throwaway line about multiculturalism is intersting. On a practical matter, I think my point above about the need for a legitimate central state and therefore the need for patriotism applies here.  I don’t think Reno views it that way though.  I hadn’t considered that a lack of national solidarity was a form of multiculturalism before.  Multiculturalism has a negative connotation in the minds of most First Things readers, but it isn’t clear to me what he means by it here or that it’s all that bad.  In my understanding the lack of patriotism merely means the central state will lack legitimacy.  Other than that, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  That point could stand to be fleshed out more.  But I think it was just a throw away line.
  • “The religious covenant relativizes our other loyalties. It smashes idols not by relying on the postwar pattern of disenchantment, but instead by romancing our souls with a higher, more powerful enchantment. The most reliable protection against a false and dangerous sacralization of ideology, nation, Volk, or any other populist perversion is not multiculturalism or post-national globalism. It is instead love and loyalty ordered toward the highest good, which is God.”
  • “We are made for love, and love strengthens. We are, moreover, social animals. For that reason, the imperative of disenchantment and pattern of weakening can never provide a satisfactory basis for public life. After 1945, it made sense. There are times when dispassion plays a proper role. But it has become too predominant and too obligatory. To a great degree, the banishment of love from our politics is creating the populism that presently troubles us. In our present circumstances, we should support the populist call for the return of something worth loving and serving—and we should tutor it as best we can.”
  • Restated thesis. Disenchantment is an attempt to solve the problems created by the strong gods without the real god.  It is doomed to failure.  Therefore we should attempt to nurture the ongoing reaction and channel it towards healthy ends, especially the highest good, which is god.  Interesting critique.  I think the implicit assumption here is that populism and disenchantment are both godless forces and therefore christians should not view one as any more desirable than the other.  This seems like a form of virtue ethics-style reasoning.  Neither populism nor neoliberalism is inherently virtuous – where virtue is defined as being of god- therefore neither is preferred.  I can’t help but take a more consequentialist view and think that the neoliberal order is superior because it leads to vastly better material outcomes for the vast majority of humanity.  Given that this is the best time in history to be alive and given that that is in large part due to neoliberalism, the burden of proof should be on the new populism to demonstrate that it leads to at least acceptable outcomes before it earns our support.

first things – the moral turn – an interesting argument for the application of natural law to American law

“My case here has been that conservative jurisprudence can take a gentle turn, with steps not the least esoteric, not the least encumbered by foggy abstractions. It may turn away from that mechanistic positivism (It’s only legal if the constitution says you can do it, whether the law in question is actually just is irrelevant – no value judgements allowed – his critique of federalism/originalism) in which it has sought, and conspicuously failed, to find safety. It can make that move through a willingness simply to focus again on the questions that mark the true center, or moral substance, of the issues that give the cases in our law their moral import. And there will be a small but telling sign of whether or not that gentle shift has been made: If the question of Roe v. Wade is posed again with a Court willing finally to overturn it, will the majority trot out the old verity? Will the justices merely announce that the Constitution contains no mention of abortion, and that therefore the Court had no basis for pronouncing any “right to abortion” forty-four years ago? If those clichés are heard again in the land, that will be the sign that nothing has changed. But we would see the most remarkable change if the writers in the majority take the time to do what Justices White and Rehnquist never thought worth doing years ago in Roe. The justices on the current Court will do the real work of jurisprudence if they draw on the briefs, take the time to set forth the evidence, and show why the state or the federal government has a compelling case for casting around infants in the womb the full protection of the law. And if the conservative justices do that—if they take up the task of explaining the justification for laws that protect innocent life—they will do as much as a jurisprudence of natural law need ever do.

  • This is a really interesting argument.  What I am not sure of is if/how it would dovetail with our common understanding of “the rule of law,” which is a rules-based system that appears to run counter to what the author is advocating here.  Similarly to my response to the previous article, given how effective a rules-based approach is in practice, the burden of proof is on natural law to demonstrate similarly strong outcomes.

why fake news wins

“Wooden pews smelled of lacquer and resin, an odor that still lingers in my memory. Mom always had gum or mints, something to keep us going through the interminable sermons and stave off the scourge of hungry-breath. Filling those hard pews week after week meant keeping this East Texas crowd engaged. And keeping us engaged meant telling stories. Truth existed on a plane beyond the reach of mere facts. Some of Pastor Gall’s best stories were howlingly false, but no one ever checked or cared. … There is a stark difference between objective, verifiable facts and common-sense “truth.” Facts are established through a process. That process is often complex, requiring specialized knowledge and equipment. Truth, as the currency of pastors and grandmothers and bar-stool prognosticators, rises from common sense. It is folklore, accessible to anyone, attainable by anyone, readily understood and appreciated.”

  • An important reminder that humans are driven by narrative, not facts.  This is also why there is so much BS in politics.  You need to tell a story and then fit the truth into the story as best you can in order to reach ordinary people.  Often its really hard to do that while maintaining truth and so truth is sacrificed.

“Facts are elite. Folklore is available to everyone; free, independent of so-called experts, and easy to grasp. Fake news is a rebellion of “common sense.” It is an effort to restore the power of folklore, and by extension, the power of ordinary people over their lives.”

  • Interesting thesis. I’m not sure I buy it.  I’ll pay attention to the rest of his case and see if he convinces me of the last sentence of the above section.

“The best fake news includes a tinge of truth. Perhaps not facts, but something Stephen Colbert once described as “truthiness.” Pastor Gall’s claim about shadowy Belgians rose from our efforts to grasp real events around us. Absolutely no one in our community understood how the new barcode scanners at the grocery store functioned. And we never would. Little stickers with prices written on them make immediate sense. Bar codes and lasers and computers make no intuitive sense whatsoever. They do not fit into folklore.

In a sense my pastor was relating a truth while speaking a falsehood. The folklore truth in this case was that our everyday lives, down to the smallest details of a visit to the grocery store, were being transformed by technological advances with implications we could not see or evaluate. There were bound to be winners and losers in this process and we lacked a strong sense of where we might fall in that great sorting. No one would have understood or expressed their concerns in such clear terms, but our pastor encapsulated them successfully in a narrative. That narrative was eerily real.

No one at the time had ever heard of a credit score. None of us had used a computer. No one I knew owned a credit card. Credit was premised on relationships, and those relationships were cemented by our character and our standing in the community. This new technology would introduce a novel new standard of commerce, mediated by faceless powers every bit as foreign to us as a Belgian bureaucrat.”

  • The story of the satanic barcodes is literally false. But the theme is essentially true, which is a critical component of such stories.  It’s also a big part of the reason people like Trump can get away with lying constantly.  As long as the feeling you convey resonates with people, the literal truth of what you are saying fades into irrelevance.  Nobody remembers anything besides the narrative after a while.  The individual facts/arguments (or nonfacts as is often the case in politics) are forgotten.

“Science and technology were conquering faith to an extent never before experienced. Only by gaining specialized knowledge, available exclusively through an advanced education, could anyone hope to participate gainfully in the economic system being born around us. And that advanced education would expose impressionable youngsters to The Beast: doubt, questioning, and fact-based investigation. A mental shift away from folklore toward measurable reality was a precondition for success in the New World Order. The Antichrist was moving among us.”

  • This scares me. Because I don’t think most people can make that jump.  It takes a certain frame of mind that most people don’t have.  If specialized knowledge gained only through the expensive mess that is higher education is the only way to attain wealth/status, we are fucked.  Everyone who doesn’t have the capability of navigating that mess of a system is screwed.  So is everyone on the left-side of the IQ distribution.  If this is true, we are going back to feudalism.  Then again, this guys talent for storytelling leads him to omit things and I suspect I have overlooked something that would throw a wrench in this thesis.
  • The first thing I notice here is that the only fields that this really applies to are the hardest of hard sciences and even there you need CEO’s to tell compelling stories in order to sell the products.  So there’s still tons of folklore out there and opportunities for people who aren’t brainiacs.  Indeed, this higher education that is supposedly so essential to participation in the new economy is really nothing more than a moderately sophisticated signaling mechanism.  It could (and ought to be) be vastly improved upon in such a way that would open up lots of opportunities to non-college grads, which make up 70% of the population.
  • I think that example is sufficient to establish the point without going any further.  This also goes to show that it is really hard to deconstruct a good story with logic and hence the superiority of stories to reason in the court of public opinion.

“Folklore may be comforting and enjoyable. It may offer a buffer against the advance of elite interests into ordinary people’s lives. But when it conflicts with measurable reality it fails. The only way to make it work is to use mass opinion to stifle the exploration and spread of facts. As the people of Tennessee discovered in the Scopes Monkey Trial, facts are remarkably persistent even against overwhelming public hostility.”

  • Folklore here operates as a way of prevent the elites from eating everyone elses lunch. Are there better ways of doing this or is folklore essential even if it is total bullshit?  I suspect this is part of its utility.  Good stories can’t be beaten by the expert reasoning of the PhD class.  So it probably does serve a necessary function.

“Fake news is never defeated by fact-checkers. You overcome the power of fake news by delivering a better story.”

No one tore the barcode scanners out of our local grocery store, and strangely, no one ever pointed out the oddity of our compliance with that technology. We were won over. Suddenly we had accurate receipts and faster check-out. Those bar scanners delivered results. Eventually they were written out of common folklore of the Apocalypse.

We do not innately understand or relate to facts. We understand stories. Tell a better, more appealing story about issues that matter to ordinary people. That’s how you beat fake news. Don’t hate the player…”

  • This dovetails with the takeaway of some of his other columns. You beat the bullshit with a better system, by offering ordinary people a better deal.  He didn’t really prove his thesis.  Indeed, my takeaway is that folklore is essential for ordinary people to defend their interests and the elites deserve to lose to it if they can’t offer a better system.  It’s also a good example to use if I ever need to explain why facts are largely irrelevant to campaigning.  Campaigning is all about the sale.  So you just need a narrative that resonates better than whatever your opponent is selling. (controlling for other factors of course –  this just refers to the messaging component)

for the people who lie to my father – Chris Ladd’s attack on Conservative Inc.

“In theory he might have formed very different, independent views on the world by studying contrasting ideas, but that isn’t how most people form their worldview. None of us have the time to sort and weigh our entire reality against an endless wave of dissonant data. Most of us have about as much individual influence over our political inclinations as we do over our preference for sports teams. Born a Sox fan? You’ll probably die a Sox fan. Our assumptions about the world are heavily influenced by the culture around us.”

  • The more I learn and the more I discard the remnants of hyper-individualism, the more I tend to agree with this.  Thinking independently is really hard.  Being able to think outside of the axioms of the culture you are socialized into is even harder.

“Three hundred years ago my father’s alignments would have been steered by clan chiefs. Now his mental framework is shaped far away, by people he’ll never meet or know. Those opinions are transmitted and reinforced by the provincial retainer class where he lives in Southeast Texas. A thin layer of ministers, attorneys and other professionals with some education and access to the world set the frame for their community based on ideas crafted elsewhere. Donald Trump enjoys remarkably higher support from people who still live in their original hometown. While this fact has some roots in education and economic mobility, it also reflects the power of local opinion networks in shaping political behavior, especially in places left behind by the accelerating pace of global change. Thinking independently carries hefty costs. The people who lie to my father enjoy their strongest influence among those who have seen relatively little of the rest of the world.”

  • I suppose such small towns are the only places that haven’t had their mediating institutions replaced by the internet. Another thing I like about this guy is he has seen some of the tradeoffs of running society through mediating institutions.  They are just as vulnerable to capture as anything else.  I’m not sure that I buy that thesis.
  • But are they really? In this instance, they are captured by an outside cultural force or an outside set of private interests. (Conservative Inc. or assumptions derived from it)  The argument in favor of letting massive platforms (facebook, twitter, the internet in general) do the mediating would be that it is less vulnerable to capture.  Similarly, environmentalists (and other leftist interest groups) prefer that environmental policy (for example) be done at the federal level because its harder for private interests to rig the system and shut them out.  However, I think the mediating institutions vs large platforms argument would be different.  The advantage of mediating institutions (as that Atlantic article about the importance of institutionally strong political parties showed) is that they constrict the range of politics and public opinion within a range of reasonably acceptable norms specific to the prevailing culture.  It’s not perfect.  But, in hindsight its becoming clear that that is preferrable to the current alternative, where the massive platforms encourage us to cluster in communities of like-minded extremists.  They lack the ability to channel politics in a healthy direction, even if they allow more freedom than before.  This is worth thinking through further.

“Preachers play a crucial role in this network. If you live in some coastal city, the word ‘preacher’ may conjure an image of a kindly man in a collar. Compared against that paradigm, this assessment of their role might sound harsh. Out in flyover country and especially in the South, churches are more often founded and led by venture-pastors, setting up their own “ministries” absent any accountability or preparation. In my father’s community, “pastors” often have as much qualification and vetting as your local palm reader. They have built a business model on alienation, a machine built to exploit the decline of community and accountability.

Local characters who ‘hear the voice of God’ one day and decide to set themselves up with a congregation play a very special role in lying to my father. These cultish apocalyptic venture pastors with their storefront ministries are scarcely more conscious of their role in this scam than my father. Yet, no one in this entire matrix of disinformation has done more to reinforce the influence of the people who lie to my father.

Aspiring venture pastors hold inspirational “healing services.” Right next to the testimonies of healing on their Facebook page you’ll find advertisements for their mortgage services. Let me repeat this in case it slipped by unnoticed. The same self-anointed evangelists touting their ability to conjure miracles from the throne of God are simultaneously selling stuff to their flocks.

If it’s not mortgages, it’s debt relief or one of the most ubiquitous money-making ventures in low-rent religion – Plexus. If you’ve never listened to a pitch for Plexus’ miraculous nutritional supplements, then you probably haven’t been Born Again. The preacher sells congregants the idea that evolution and climate change are liberal hoaxes. Meanwhile his wife sells them unregulated nutritional supplements and “scientific” weight loss cures.”

  • This is a good example of why it can be helpful to have strong church institutions and the tradeoffs. The Catholic Church doesn’t have anything like this or the prosperity gospel.  That phenomenon is unique to protestant/non-demoniational America.  What they lack in bureaucracy, they make up for with a high vulnerability to scams and bullshit.  That tradeoff is also applicable to government as well.  Too small government=lots of scams.  Too much bureaucracy=stifled economy.  America is reasonably close to the right balance.

“A lifetime of listening to hack preachers ramble about the apocalypse has conditioned my father to believe almost anything. However, if credible figures in the community felt some urge to curb the extremes they could. Using their power to tamp down the paranoia would require some courage, integrity and compassion. Instead, community and political leaders, such as they are, have aligned themselves with the people who lie to my father. They have learned to ride the grift.

What happened when the Jade Helm hysteria went viral? Morally compromised leadership capitalized on it rather than resisting. My father’s Governor, US Senator, and Lt. Governor all stepped up to ride the unmarked helicopters of paranoia.”

  • The Jade Helm conspiracy theory is another great example of what can happen when the grassroots becomes stronger than the institutions. (too much disenchantment as the First Things article above might say) Healthy institutions are supposed to channel popular passions in a healthy direction and siphon out the bullshit. Without them, the bullshit runs the show.  The politicians follow along or risk losing their jobs.  Popular loyalty is won by leading the charge on the day’s feeding frenzy.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the man who led the birther conspiracy is now President.  It takes real courage and significant political skill for an individual politician to channel popular passion in healthy directions.  So most don’t do it and just go with the flow.

“These stupid ideas don’t just emerge out of ether. From fears of the replacement of the dollar with the Amero, [relevant quote – Back before Jerome Corsi at WND was a birther, he was warning patriots about the Amero. Republican Congressmen Tom Tancredo and Virgil Goode introduced legislation in 2006 aimed at blocking union with Mexico and Canada. Glenn Beck hosted an Amero-enthusiast in the fall of 2007 and the threat of a trans-national currency union remained a steady theme on his chalkboard of doom for several years.

Mitt Romney faced Amero questions in town hall meetings. CNBC interviewed a financial analyst who claimed that the Amero should be influencing investment plans. That analyst mentioned that “the Texans” were pretty upset about the Amero. He was right.]

to Obama’s campaign to steal your guns, to the ‘climate hoax,’ most of the crazy stories you read on right-wing blogs were born as a carefully tailored grift. Crafted by opportunists and refined in bogus think tanks, these ridiculous stories are then amplified for free by outlets like Breitbart, NewsMax and the DailyCaller. Those sites then rake in cash from ads for gold coins and ‘secret’ investment strategies – the grift that keeps on grifting.”

  • I tend to think this argument is overblown. But there is no denying that Conservative Inc. is sometimes a scam and there doesn’t seem to be any desire or mechanism for excommunicating scammers.  It doesn’t help that thought leaders like Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich have often promoted the scams.  I’m not sure why we can’t seem to find legitimate businesses for advertising.  You’d think that media catering to members of party of business would be able to find legitimate products to sell to its customers.  My hope is that places like the DC can eventually attain enough legitimacy to attract mainstream advertising.  Given that they are profitable, that may already be the case.  A lot has been written about this problem and it isn’t clear to me that stronger institutions are the solution in this case.  Institutionally, Conservative Inc. is pretty strong and pretty effective.  But its policing power appears to be limited.  Worth thinking through further and analyzing one of the older articles on this subject that I have looked at before such as Sheffield’s piece and the Politico article on C4s.


big red flag for cognitive dissonance -interesting narrative

“In my opinion, the conservatives who know the most about science (in regards to global warming/climate change) are looking at it from an historical perspective, and they see a pattern here: Complicated prediction models rarely work.

In order to change my mind on climate science, you would need to show me that in this one special case, history is not repeating. You’d have to show me that this one time in history is when complicated prediction models got it right. And I’m not sure that argument can be made, even if true.I would like to add one more hypothesis to the SLATE article. Let’s consider the possibility that the only reason any non-scientist believes climate change is a danger to civilization is because of fear persuasion, not because of facts or logic, and not because of a citizen-level understanding of science. If you fear the world will become uninhabitable in your lifetime, you’re more likely to embrace the experts who say they know what is wrong and they know how to stop it.

Climate scientists probably believe they have convinced about half of the public to their side using their graphs and logic and facts. That’s not the case. They convinced half the public by using fear persuasion disguised as facts and logic. And it probably worked best with the people who have the least knowledge of how often complicated prediction models have failed in the past.

For the purpose of this blog post, you don’t need to know who is right and who is wrong about climate science. My point today is that cognitive dissonance is preventing scientists from seeing what is actually happening here with their messaging. Scientists believe their facts and logic convinced all the smart people to their side already, so now they need a new strategy for the dumb ones. A different version of reality, as seen through the Persuasion Filter, is that citizens who don’t understand history are doomed to believe whatever the experts tell them. Half the country has been persuaded to climate alarmism by fear, not an understanding of the issue. At the same time, those who know the most about both history and science realize that complex climate models are generally not credible, so they are not persuaded by fear.

In order to change my mind on climate science, you would need to show me that in this one special case, history is not repeating.”

  • This actually seems plausible.

A reminder of the downsides and dangers of the current Trump administration

bill oreilly and toxic conservative celebrity culture

“There are those who say that the Left is “taking scalps,” and they have a list of Republican victims to prove their thesis. Roger Ailes is out at Fox News. Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. Michael Flynn is out at the White House. Those three names — the head of the most powerful cable news network, the highest-rated cable news personality, and the national-security adviser — represent a stunning wave of resignations and terminations.

But this isn’t scalp-taking, it’s scalp-giving. Time and again prominent conservative personalities have failed to uphold basic standards of morality or even decency. Time and again the conservative public has rallied around them, seeking to protect their own against the wrath of a vengeful Left. Time and again the defense has proved unsustainable as the sheer weight of the facts buries the accused.

  • Loyalty to tribe as a primary value breaks down morally and practically when Hitler is in charge of your tribe.  It seems to me that much of our culture wars are devoted to deciding what personal attributes/political beliefs cause you to be perceived as Hitler at which point you are ignored or destroyed.  Regardless of the morality of such a system, (In my view,  culture wars are essentially inevitable because people are disgust-triggered by different things, although there are some commonalities.  For example most people don’t think murderers should be allowed in leadership roles, but some people may think that being a “climate change denier” or a “flag burner” makes you unsuitable for a leadership role.  The culture war is fought over where that line is.) you make that task a lot easier for your opponents when your leader actually is pretty similar to Hitler.

“Moreover, the pattern is repeating itself with the younger generation of conservative celebrities. The sharp rise and meteoric fall of both Tomi Lauren and Milo Yiannopoulos were driven by much the same dynamic that sustained O’Reilly for years, even in the face of previous sexual-harassment complaints — Lahren and Yiannopoulos were “fighters” who “tell it like it is.” O’Reilly was the master of the “no-spin zone” and seemed fearless in taking on his enemies.

What followed was a toxic culture of conservative celebrity, where the public elevated personalities more because of their pugnaciousness than anything else. Indeed, the fastest way to become the next conservative star is to “destroy” the Left, feeding the same kind of instinct that causes leftists to lap up content from John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert. Liberals use condescending mockery. Conservatives use righteous indignation. That’s not much of a difference.”

  • Its a race to the bottom/multipolar trap.  When you value one character trait far above all others, eventually you will sacrifice every other value to attain that one supremely valued trait.  If the only valuable trait is “he fights,” you end up with Donald Trump: a man who fights and scores a zero on almost every other potentially valuable trait.  See integrity, honesty, values, character, and intelligence.

“The cost has been a loss of integrity and, crucially, a loss of emphasis on ideas and, more important, ideals. There exists in some quarters an assumption that if you’re truly going to “fight,” then you have to be ready to get your hands dirty. You can’t be squeamish about details like truth or civility or decency. When searching for ideological gladiators, we emphasize their knifework, not their character or integrity.

Of course, this notion reached its apex in the person and personality of Donald Trump, but Trump had an advantage that O’Reilly, Ailes, and others simply didn’t enjoy. When he was under fire, especially in the general election, he could argue that the choice wasn’t between truth and lies but between him and Hillary, between lies and lies. Which liar do you want? The one allegedly on your side, right?

The message sent when conservatives try to defend the indefensible is the same one that Democrats sent as they continued to prop up the Clinton machine through scandal after scandal.

Make no mistake, there are conservative “fighters” who are men and women of integrity. Fox News still has a number of journalists and pundits whom I trust and admire. But when we ask for fighters first, and we elevate aggression over truth and competence, we ask for exactly the kind of scandals we’ve endured.

Moreover, the degradation to our culture far outweighs any short-term, tribal political benefit. The message sent when conservatives rally around the flag to defend the indefensible is exactly the message the Democrats sent so loudly as they continued to prop up the Clinton machine through scandal after scandal. Only winning matters. Ambition is everything. Political movements are about personalities, not ideas — so you’re left with the political equivalent of warring mafia families in which the highest value is loyalty, and the ends always justify the means.

But ambition isn’t everything, and the single-minded quest for winning ultimately creates a class of losers. O’Reilly and Ailes together built a cable news empire. Yet their legacies will forever be marred by the tawdriest of scandals: two men (pathetically) proving unable to control their petty lusts and desires. Michael Flynn was a hero. Now he’s an object lesson. And people like Lahren and Yiannopoulos? They didn’t even achieve “real” fame before their corruption emerged. Do a few viral Facebook videos justify diva behavior? Does telling off feminists on YouTube insulate you from the consequences of advancing the worst of ideas?

But, as the saying goes, in crisis there is also opportunity. As Fox News and other conservative organizations consider the path forward, there’s a chance to not just elevate the next best mouthpiece for righteous indignation but to consider a broader range of virtues. There do exist conservatives who fight hard but fight fair, and there also exist conservatives who won’t ask you to overlook or even defend them from credible accusations of serious wrongdoing.

The conservative movement includes some of the best and most admirable people I’ve ever met. It also includes its share of grasping, ambitious fame-hounds, people who live for the next Fox hit and angle to write this year’s version of the “liberals are sending this country to hell” bestselling book. But bad character sends a country to hell just as surely as bad policy does, and any movement that asks its members to defend vice in the name of advancing allegedly greater virtue is ultimately shooting itself in the foot.

O’Reilly’s fall can be an important act of public hygiene, but only if it represents the beginning of the end of a conservative culture that makes us behave like the cultural enemies we purport to despise. Otherwise conservatives will hand the Left more scalps, forfeit more public trust, and ultimately lose because of their single-minded quest to win.”

an argument by John Cochrane that we cannot inflate away our debts

google is a monopoly that is crushing the internet

“Google is indeed a pretty nifty search tool. But it is not that much better than Yahoo or Bing — indeed, its algorithm is so present-biased that I find DuckDuckGo a superior tool when looking for less immediate material. What gives it roughly 80 percent of the online search traffic is first mover advantage.

Back in the mid-’90s when Sergey Brin and Larry Page started the company, there were many other search tools jostling for position. Google was just a little bit better than the others, and far more importantly, rolled out at crucial time when the internet was exploding in size and in popular consciousness. When people first learned about trying to find things on the internet, Google was generally where they were sent. With a single, unified internet, search is largely a winner-take-all service. Soon, “google” became a verb. That leg up gave them a huge advantage on other companies trying to compete in the search space. Microsoft has been flushing money away on Bing for years and years and barely made a dent, and Yahoo has been slowly killed off by all the ad money flooding into Google and Facebook.

Second, what makes Google’s search dominance profitable is network effects. Without a large internet to index, and a huge number of people looking for things online, even the best imaginable search would be worthless

The upshot here is that both Google’s overwhelming search dominance and their profitable exploitation thereof are almost wholly unmerited in terms of their actual product. Google is a fine tool, but what defines the company is luck. Its profits come from a largely unearned strategic position within a socially-created communication medium. Devouring a small business that provided Google and the internet writ large with quality research simply to keep people fenced onto their own portion of the internet is just one particularly egregious example how this position can be abused.

How this might be prevented is an interesting question. It could be that careful anti-trust action could build a market with several search competitors, and thereby create some competition. But certainly all search platforms should be forced to follow something like a railroad’s common carriage rules, where websites are not allowed to be ranked according to how much they might profit the platform itself, and get fair access to search traffic.”

  • How to properly regulate the new monopolies will be one of the most interesting questions going forward.  I suspect there is a lot of potential growth that could come from healthy platform regulation.  I have no idea what that will look like though.

lynching of a pakistani apostate for blasphemy – how Islam must change

“it is dishonest to blame everything from gun laws to climate change as cause for terrorism, all so we can avoid opening the book on Islam. To run from this discussion now is an insult to Khan’s memory. Only if we foster a culture of open inquiry will we have a more liberal society where things like this are unthinkable. It falls on Muslims to address two widely noted tensions in our religion. One is the belief that the Quran is the literal word of God and that Mohammed only spoke the truth. The other is that there can be no division of church and state in Islam. … Mashal’s death is a reminder to us in the West how precious our freedom of speech is. But even in America, I have lost some of my closest friends for criticizing the prophet’s edicts on homosexuality at the University of Michigan. And although we are far away from lynching a student for criticizing Islam, our college campuses are perhaps the last place one can hear honest criticism of Islam. It has been said that Islamophobia is “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” It is hard not to see reason for this definition nowadays. A political double standard has made Islam a hallowed victim — criticizing this religion, maybe even suggesting that Mashal’s lynching had anything to do with Islam, will get you labeled an Islamophobe.”

bill oreilly as the john the baptist for Trump – before Trump, their was OReilly’s populism infused with a New York sensibility

“that this is partly a feature of the culture generally these days. “Watch [Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, etc.] DESTROY” this or that Republican is just one facet of the riot of confirmation bias and tribalism that defines our times. And conservatives play the same game. My friend Tucker Carlson has had a meteoric run of late in part because he is so good at bringing fresh lambs to the slaughter every night …

A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”

It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means.”

“Rudy Giuliani transformed New York, literally saving the city. But he wasn’t really that conservative. He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-immigration. That didn’t stop his enemies from calling him a fascist and extremist. Remember, these were the days when you were considered a right-winger if you thought porn theaters were a blight and that drug-addled homeless slubberdegullions terrifying old ladies and small children were merely exercising their civil rights. Giuliani was a bit authoritarian, but he needed to be to fight the Democratic machine, the media, and the remora-like lawyers, racial-hucksters, and bureaucrats that were running the city into the ground.”

“This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.

Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.

I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.

  • The ultimate problem here is that this toxic culture churns out people who aren’t actually capable of doing anything even if they win.  Even if you win, you will still end up losing.  How Trump ends up doing is still up in the air.  But so far, the only good he has accomplished is a few toothless executive orders and nominating Gorsuch.  Right now it looks a robot programmed to sign Republican legislation and repeat talking points to foreign leaders would do a better job than Trump.  I’m still waiting on the legendary deal-maker to show up.

OReilly and conservatives generational conflict

The O’Reilly Factor was not for everyone; more to the point, it was not intended to be. Bill O’Reilly’s loyal viewers were largely older, suburban or rural, middle or lower-middle class, generally white, and Republican. At the end of 2016, O’Reilly averaged 3.3 million nightly viewers, but while viewers in the key 25-to-54 demographic increased significantly from 2015 (probably an effect of the unusual election year), they still accounted for less than one-fifth of his nightly audience.

That should not come as a surprise. O’Reilly was tailor-made for a certain viewer. An Irish Catholic from working-class Long Island, born in 1949, O’Reilly was reared by a generation with warm feelings toward FDR’s New Deal economics, came of age in the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, and launched his career amid the Reagan Revolution. These were formative experiences shared by millions of Americans. Repulsed by the radicalism of Berkeley and the Black Panthers, offended by the lecturing of Jimmy Carter (crystallized in his “malaise” speech), but not far removed from the horrors of the Great Depression and World War II, they found themselves looking back affectionately to the economic ascendancy and cultural consolidation of the 1950s. And so they landed firmly on the right side of the political spectrum — but nearer its center than we often recall today. It was this audience that Fox News targeted when it was created in 1996 and that found a representative voice on The O’Reilly Report, which launched that same year.

Bill O’Reilly carried this audience with him for two decades — an extraordinary accomplishment — and Fox News built itself up around him in the process, aiming to make further inroads into the same large audience: white, middle-class Republicans whose ideal America was receding farther into the past as the country became increasingly polarized — by culture wars, by Newt Gingrich’s guerrilla House speakership, by Bill Clinton’s adultery, and, of course, by biased media. Fox gave airtime to “movement,” Buckley-style conservatives, but its appeal was less educational than aesthetic: people like you, talking about issues you care about, using their good old American common sense. That approach characterized much of Fox’s most popular programming”

  • Interesting thesis.  It’s probably true that just about all opinion programming is targeted to a certain type of person.  The personalities change, but the techniques really don’t.  That fighting, aggressive, populist style of OReilly that is based more on aesthetics than principles is repeating itself with people like Milo.

“Fox News’s success has to no small degree depended on its appeal to a particular form of right-wing sentiment, and that success has sharpened a divide between groups of right-wingers with very different visions of what a ‘conservative’ America ought to look like.”

  • This is a huge challenge right now.  There is nobody with the credibility to define what conservatism is.  Trump’s “conservatism” appeals much more to the older generation that has no problem with socialism provided that it’s given to the right sort of people.  It is barely associated with the conservatism advanced in think tanks or in my generation today.  The only thing it really shares is the “he fights” attitude.  Ideologically speaking, it is quite different.

ideas on how to fight for free speech on campus – these suggestions probably won’t work – but worth thinking about how to effectively wage war in that arena

“As it is, students and professors can launch exhausting legal cases, fight the university tooth-and-nail through years of depositions, motions, trials, and appeals, and at the end of the ordeal win an injunction and attorneys’ fees. In one memorable case, I fought a university for more than seven years and won a week-long jury trial, only for my client to be awarded a total (including attorneys’ fees) of far, far less than $1 million. Universities are some of the richest institutions in American life. These dollar amounts are utterly meaningless to their bottom lines.”

  • Lawsuits are necessary.  But they won’t change the underlying incentives in this case.

“It’s necessary to translate Left-speak to understand what it means to “invalidate the humanity of some people.” In real terms, it doesn’t mean belonging to the KKK, it means nothing more than merely disagreeing with racial and sexual identity politics.

Here’s Baer, (prof somewhere writing nyt) with words that should chill every American heart: The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.
In other words, campus radicals will let you speak only when they deem your speech is worthy. And if they don’t? Then, the mob isn’t a mob, it’s a collection of idealists “keeping watch over the soul of our republic.””
  • This at the core is what the culture war is about: what political actions make you unworthy of participating in American politics?  If you criminalize dissent or merely define dissent in such a way that dissenters are ignored or brutalized, you have already gotten most of the way to victory.  The culture war is ultimately about what behavior, speech, and beliefs are allowed in polite society.
“If we can’t count on courts or colleges to protect free speech, (see Berkeley – riots – and Middlebury – wounded professor)then it’s time for Congress to step up. There’s a remarkably simple solution to the problem of free speech, at least on public university campuses: Adjust the incentives. Make it costlier to censor than to protect the Constitution. At public universities, campus censors have the freedom to speak, but they do not have the freedom to oppress. All it would take is a law holding that if a court of final jurisdiction finds that a public university has violated the constitutional rights of a student or faculty member, then the university will pay liquidated damages to the plaintiff in the amount of no less than $5 million. It will also forfeit 25 percent of its federal funding in that current fiscal year. If a university is a repeat offender at any point in the five years following, it will forfeit 100 percent of its federal funding in that fiscal year.”
  • Interesting idea.  Before we plan out how to fight back, I think it’s important to define potential constraints.  First off, campuses are enemy turf and therefore bureaucratic resistance will be fierce and probably outlast Republican political control without fundamental, deep-rooted incentive changes.  2nd, leftists will attempt to use anything we implement against the few conservative dissenters.  3rd, leftists will use expanded free speech to attack conservatives – expect lots of burning flags.  I don’t have much to say about this as I am not a lawyer.
  • A few criticisms from the comments – language would be manipulated and rights would be created to assault Catholics in particular – another idea further down was to apply RICO statutes.
  • Kevin Bilms ·
    Interesting thesis. However, I think the proposed remedy is too broad. Let’s imagine a Catholic University that won’t pay for a female sutdent’s abortion, or won’t allow Planned Parenthood to distribute abortifacients and pro-abortion propaganda on its campus. I can see a court finding that said University has “violated” the female student’s “constitutional right” to abortion/contraceptives–$5 million, please.

    Similarly, a Christian college could be found to have violated the “right” of a “transgender” man/woman to participate in intercollegiate atheletcis by denying his/her request to play on a woman’s sport team. Do not pass go. Do not collect 25% of your federal funds.

    I agree something must be done, but before acting, we must be cognizant of the law of unintended consequences.

    Like · Reply · 3 · Apr 24, 2017 4:39pm

    Jonathon Rakerson ·

    Joz Lee Firstly, you need a sedative.

    Secondly, Kevin is not advocating the presumptuous claims of the campus mob; he’s suggesting that if the goal posts are moved enough, conservatives could end up scoring an own goal.

    French said: “All it would take is a law holding that if a court of final jurisdiction finds that a public university has violated the constitutional rights of a student or faculty member…”

    But the meanings of words we used to understand, like “safety”, “violated”, “violence” etc have been altered. They are far more broadly – and liberally – defined now. If David French’s idea were tailored in a similarly broad way it could be vulnerable to the constantly shifting language of our times.

    Unlike · Reply · 4 · Apr 24, 2017 8:46pm

the collapse of the trump-caused rise in anti-semitism narrative – decent list, although I know there are better compilations out there

the dark side of detroit’s renaissance – its essentially been sold to a few wealthy private interests – classic crony capitalism that probably won’t do much besides line the pockets of the cronys – Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans/Cleveland Cavs is the big one

  • ESPN’s bloodbath was primarily because of 1) high personnel costs, (strong evidence for this) 2) 900 million revenue loss due to loss of subscribers from  cord cutting, (strong evidence) 3) rising cost of broadcasting sports events, (strong evidence)
  • ESPN’s social liberalism is a possible fourth explanation – But it’s very difficult to measure the reaction to it and all of the explanations have stronger evidence in favor of them and make more intuitive sense.  The quote below is from an article this ESPN article links to from the guardian.

“But if you listen to Clay Travis, (conservative sports media guy) you would think that conservative values are under fierce attack. He writes about his concerns of conservative opinions getting drowned out at ESPN by Iger, and about his fear that ESPN will become “just as partisan as the rest of the country.” Despite the political power he and his ilk have, he still sees himself as threatened. This constant defensiveness and fear of loss is a defining characteristic of conservative politics, as Brooklyn College professor of political science Corey Robin wrote in his book The Reactionary Mind.

And that’s what’s really at play here. Travis can lament the fate of what he calls “regular guy or girl” who looks to sports as an escape from the political world, but what he’s really afraid of is the thought of people like him losing the power to define who we consider the regular guy or girl in sports, or the power to decide which stories in the sports world we consider to be important. And honestly? Travis should be scared. Those of us who refuse to stick to sports aren’t going to shut up or go away any time soon.”

  • The heart of the culture war.  What stories really matter?  Who/what is to be celebrated?    Who/what deserves sympathy?  Who/what deserves scorn?

lessons from the end of free college in britain

Money Quote

“The English experience thus suggests that making college free is hardly the only way to increase quantity, quality, and equity in higher education. Indeed, the story we tell here shows how a free system can eventually stand in the way of these goals. Rather than looking to emulate the English model of the 1990s, the U.S. might instead consider emulating some key features of the modern English system that have helped moderate the impact of rising tuition, such as deferring all tuition fees until after graduation, increasing liquidity available to students to cover living expenses, and automatically enrolling all graduates in an income-contingent loan repayment system that minimizes both paperwork hassle and the risk of default.”

overview of the narrative fallacy

“The first step, clearly, is to become aware of the problem. Once we understand our brain’s craving for narrative, we begin to see narratives every day, all the time, especially as we consume news. The key question we must ask ourselves is “Of the population of X subject to the same initial conditions, how many turned out similarly to Y?”

“And it is just as relevant to ask ourselves the inverse of the question posed above: “Of the population not subject to X, how many still ended up with the results of Y?” This is where we ask: which basketball players had intact families, easy childhoods, and, yet ended up in the NBA anyway? Which corporations lacked the traits described in Good to Great but achieved Greatness anyway? When we are willing to ask both types of questions and try our best to answer them, we can start to see which elements are simply part of the story rather than causal contributors.”

“A second way we can circumvent narrative is to simply avoid or reinterpret sources of information most subject to the bias. Turn the TV news off. Stop reading so many newspapers. Be skeptical of biographies, memoirs, and personal histories. Be careful of writers who are incredibly talented at painting a narrative, but claim to be writing facts.”

  • I enjoy Chris Ladd’s writing because it makes me think.  But yeah that’s him in a nutshell.

the tragedy of google books – a very interesting story

charles murray, science, and conservatism

“Two of the core foundations of American conservatism are the vision of the Founding Fathers and the Western religious understanding of humanity as being created in God’s image. Both unequivocally affirmed that human beings are free, moral agents capable of choosing their own actions and responsible for their deeds, good and bad. This is the basis for the granting of political equality to all, for the pro-life movement, as well as the support for political liberty and free markets rather than a paternalistic government ruling over the helpless children that constitute the multitude of humanity, as other versions of conservatism would have it. It is the basis for equality before the law, the abolition of discrimination, and many other welcome advances of the modern age.

Yet the conservatism of today seems to me to be moving away from that towards a genetically (and thus philosophically) deterministic view of humanity which pretty much rejects this vision bag and baggage. The most obvious case of this are the articles discussing essentialism in gender identity. And until recently, under the surface, there was an increasing embrace of genetic determinism as regards racial and ethnic groups.”

  • Paragraph 1 I agree with.  Paragraph 2 could use a better example then gender identity, which I don’t think quite fits here.  Race and “culture” are the much more obvious targets here.  “Adios America” (Ann Coulter) straddles both when it argues that people from Mexico and non-european countries are a drain on American society.  That sort of belief system is a perfect example of the determinism described here.

“What Everyone Hears Matters Far More Than What Murray Actually Wrote

Understand something: when a Black or Hispanic or any non-White member of American society sees rightwingers defend and wink-nudge about racial genetic determinism and yes, inferiority, they rightly disbelieve anything and everything else the right says about being in favor of minorities at the policy and rhetorical level. All that nice stuff about providing opportunity and helping them out sounds more like calming words for Whites that they’re not racist and really care about someone beyond their tribe.”

  • Dovetails nicely with Kemp’s “don’t care what you know until know you care” and the concept of a political hierarchy of needs that Ace of Spades covered in a previous post.  Tolerating this sort of behavior disqualifies us in the eyes of many.  I’m not sure why Murray wasn’t excommunicated from the right over this, particularly given the fierce criticism it received from people like Thomas Sowell.

“It Will Not Stop There

But the right does not seem to realize that this game it is playing with determinism will not stop at race or gender. Scientific determinists have been launching an unrelenting assault on the very concept of free will, the core concept without which none of American conservatism makes any sense (the progressive and Old Conservative visions of paternalism do, but not the Founders’ vision). Many other core philosophical beliefs which conservatives believe in are under similar criticism on much the same basis. You can’t ride the genetic tiger when it works for you and then get off when it doesn’t. In for a penny, in for a pound.

In 1994, the right adopted an uneasy tango with ideas like the Bell Curve, trying to push moral equality and other humanistic and religious ideas, while kind of trending towards or playing footsie with ideas of fundamental differences between human beings more reminiscent of the Old conservatives who opposed democracy or even education for the barbaric “rabble,” who should instead be governed like animals by their superior betters.

Those days are over. That tango is now a marriage, and an utterly incompatible one. The right, especially the intellectual right, must choose whether it believes in the old concepts of human moral equality, freedom, institutions, traditions, and dignity, or whether it indeed buys into the progressive/Old conservative vision of humanity as an inherent (and at this point, atheist-materialist) caste system devoid of any higher meaning or value.”

  • This sounds Kempian and I think it’s on to something.  But this article is pretty vague and the topic has probably been covered better elsewhere.  The description of the available choices in the last section is good.  I find it interesting though that much of the utopian tech world seems to agree at least implicitly with that vision.  It may just not be as simple as that proposition though.

A good comment –

“I’m OK with the proposition that everyone is theologically equivalent.

I’m also OK with the idea of individual liberty, and the opportunity for everyone to maximize the value of the talents that Destiny has afforded them.

Even *IF* (for the sake of argument) there are correlations that could be drawn between some arbitrarily drawn ethnic profile and some equally arbitrary IQ profile: So, what?

To argue from some curve to a Doom You Cannot Escape is to deep throat the in a big way. And there is Absolutely. Nothing. Conservative. About. That.”

  • Yeah its important to note that the whole race-IQ link thesis is illogical on its face.  So is the idea

choose long-term growth over short-term pleasure

“This isn’t to say runners should never really go for it in a particular race (at times, they should), writers should never file click-bait articles (at times, I have), or that memorizing one’s way to a good exam is never an effective strategy (at times, it can be). But these decisions should be litmus-tested against the pursuit of a longer-term objective and only executed if they work in service of it. Otherwise, the temptation must be resisted.

This practice requires:

  1. Defining a long-term goal, or, even better, a path that you want to be on.
  2. Reminding yourself of that goal or path frequently.
  3. Resisting short-term pleasure and gratification in favor of long-term growth”
  • The bolded statement is almost a perfect rendering and application of the idea of the pivot and string from Camus.  I really like this.  I think this can also apply to the means/ends dilemma in politics and especially messaging

2 Practical Strategies to Practice Long-Term Growth

  1. The way in which we evaluate ourselves and our circumstances is often clouded by our emotions, and the allure of pleasure now is a strong one. An effective and evidence-based strategy to overcome the urge for pleasure now is to imagine that a friend is faced with the same decision that you are and then pretend that you are giving advice to your friend. What would you tell him? Called self-distancing, this strategy takes your emotional self out of the picture, allowing you to see and think about it more clearly. (For more on self-distancing, read this article.)
  2. Another way to evaluate short-term/long-term tradeoffs is to pause and ask yourself: “How will I feel about this decision tomorrow, next week, next year, or even a decade from now?” When you answer, don’t just do so in your head, but also in your body and heart. Imagine the embodied and emotional state that accompanies your answer. If you feel upset, disgusted, or regretful, suddenly, the short-term “pleasure” doesn’t seem all that pleasurable any more. (This works great for individuals on diets who are faced with the temptation to binge on unhealthy foods — i.e., how will they feel about this tomorrow morning — but it’s applicable to just about any situation.)

    The first of these strategies (pretending you’re giving advice to a friend) turns an emotional decision into a more rational one. The second (feeling the future) changes the in-the-moment emotion associated with the decision. Both encourage long-term growth thinking.

“A Recap: Staying on the Path of Long-Term Growth

  • Define your long-term goal or the path on which you want to be.
  • Understand that short-term pleasure often come at the expense of long-term gain.
  • When making decisions, ask yourself if they work in service of your long-term goal/path.
  • If the answer isn’t clear, use one of the two strategies we discussed: pretend you’re giving advice to a friend or feel the future emotional state your decision will elicit.
  • Sometimes you need to opt for what seems like a short-term decision just to survive. These instances are rare, but they do exist. So long as you go through the above framework, you’ll be prepared to make a sound decision — and one that you aren’t likely to regret.
  • When you fully internalize the path of long-term growth, the difference between what feels good in the short-term and what is good in the long-term ceases to exist at all.”

the spiritual ruin of universal basic income

“A job gives a person purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, to engage with the world and interact with fellow citizens in a common endeavor, however modest. And at the end of the week or the month, there’s the satisfaction of having earned, through one’s own efforts, the income that will enable oneself and one’s family to continue to survive and hopefully even thrive.

Whatever their other merits, arguments in favor of a UBI too often end up sounding like paraphrases of Karl Marx’s famous prediction that after the communist revolution people will hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, and philosophize after dinner. Think of the hobbies people will pursue once they’ve been freed of the burden of work! They’ll become entrepreneurs! They’ll paint! They’ll quilt! They’ll read! They’ll volunteer!

As in most matters, Aristotle was wiser when he recognized that, although a life of leisured self-improvement is humanity’s highest end, only very few are capable of thriving in such a life.

If you doubt it, just look at what so often happens to those who permanently drop out of the workforce after the loss of a job or an injury that qualifies them to receive disability benefits (which functions as a form of basic income support). Often the result is anger, purposelessness, and self-loathing.

Most people simply aren’t equipped to lead lives of self-directed flourishing. In a world of widespread, permanent unemployment, we’d be far more likely to see throngs of people spending their days giving themselves over to obsessive video gaming, immersion in virtual-reality porn, and drug addiction, as they desperately grasp for a chemically induced substitution for the real-world fulfillment now placed permanently off limits to them. It would be a psychological and spiritual disaster.”

“Capitalism may be the greatest system of wealth creation the world has ever seen, but that doesn’t mean we need to accept everything it does to us (expected incoming job shortages)— or limit our response to a clean-up operation that pays the rent but leaves us plagued by desolation and addiction. (universal basic income, it destroys people for the reasons listed above)

how to respond to and interact with extremists

“Once I overcame the initial emotion, I realized that Spencer’s speech could have some long term positive effects. Maybe the frat boy who thought pepe memes were funny and harmless was exposed to the ideology that uses him as their mascot. Maybe people who were unaware that white nationalists still exist caught a glimpse of their prevalence. Maybe this started conversations that are long overdue about race, diversity, and what we can do better. My advice to people who have to deal with Spencer in the future is to do what Auburn did. There was no violence (excepting a scuffle between two non-students that ended in their arrest), but there was a quiet resolve to make sure Spencer, his followers, and their sinister ideology did not feel welcome. Students pushed back calmly and orderly and refused him the sensationalized media attention he so desperately needs to maintain relevancy.

The main question left in my mind was what I should do next? How do I respond to someone who says that creating a white ethno-state will, “make the world more beautiful.” I think it’s in a million acts of normality with people who are different than me. Sit down to a meal with someone whose skin looks different than yours, study for finals with the international student in your class, and embrace the beauty of the endless combinations of cultures, colors, and creeds represented in this country. Maybe if we do that, the next time someone like Spencer comes to Auburn there will be nobody there to support him. Maybe these small acts can push white nationalists into the lowest realm of political irrelevancy where they belong. As Dani said, “The only way that people can grow is by becoming uncomfortable and questioning themselves. Have a conversation with me. Try to feel what I feel or at least try to see the world through my eyes… If you’re as tired of inequality and inequity as I am, this is how you can help get rid of it.””

View story at

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My links from the week of 3/12

untruth and consequences, history and analysis of presidential lying

Money Quotes

“Churchill stressed the need to keep the Allies’ plans secret. To Joseph Stalin, he said, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
“Churchill’s line is par for the course in wartime, when you have to keep your secrets to yourself,” Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton, told me this summer when we discussed the morality, and the utility, of shading the truth in the White House. “Presidents lie for all kinds of reasons,” he added. “Richard Nixon lied because he was trying to save his presidency, which was imperiled by his misdeeds. Franklin Delano Roosevelt misled the country over things like Lend-Lease in order to advance a policy he thought would save the world, but which he knew would be difficult to sell politically. Honesty doesn’t necessarily make for an effective presidency … What the public has to judge is whether [presidents] are lying for the good of the country—or for their own good.”

  • I think there is a fair bit of truth in this.

“Why do presidents lie? Do they lie more than most people? Are lies of omission essentially the same as lies of commission? What about presidents who convince themselves of things that are untrue—who are, we would say, “in denial”? Is this tantamount to lying? Can presidents be truly effective without lying—or are there times when they simply must engage in deception? If so, when? And how is the public to know whether presidents are abusing that prerogative?

The first question might be the easiest to answer: presidents lie because they are human.

“Everybody lies,” says Charles Ford, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the author of a book about the psychology of deceit. “It is part of human nature, ubiquitous in the animal kingdom. However, some people lie compulsively, often when the truth would serve them better.””

“All lies, unlike all men, are not created equal. Philosophers from Aristotle to Niebuhr have made moral distinctions among falsehoods, whether “white lies” told for social convenience or to spare feelings, “excuses” that are only half true but that rationalize our own behavior, lies told during a crisis, lies told to liars, paternalistic lies told to protect those we care about, and lies told for the social good—also known as “noble lies.”

  • Good frame of reference here.

“Such campaign exaggerations aside, Carter’s commitment to truth telling did not wear well. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” wrote T. S. Eliot, and after four years of Carter, the American electorate was no exception. Carter’s revelatory form of communication (admitting to Playboy that he “looked on a lot of women with lust,” for example, or bemoaning a national “crisis of confidence”) was a poor substitute in voters’ minds for executive-branch competence, or for leadership that could make Americans feel good about themselves. As Western Illinois University history professor George Hopkins sees it, all presidents lie for the simple reason that if they didn’t, we wouldn’t elect them. “So the problem is not them, it’s us,” Hopkins told me recently. “We should look in the mirror.””

“Alterman’s thesis is that the lies told by Roosevelt during World War II, specifically those concerning the promises he made to Stalin at Yalta, helped set in motion the Cold War, and that unrealistic expectations in the West about the future of Eastern Europe fueled Soviet suspicions of America’s motives. These suspicions, he argues, were stoked by Dwight Eisenhower’s public denials about Francis Gary Powers’s disastrous U-2 spy flight over the Soviet Union. The accompanying loss of U.S. credibility helped foment the Cuban missile crisis. In turn, the fiction that John F. Kennedy and his team of White House hagiographers spread about an uncompromising U.S. stance in October 1962 helped beget Vietnam: ever watchful of his political rival Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson felt compelled to embrace the myth of a hard-line response to Communist adventure—never mind the truth that JFK had traded some NATO missiles in Turkey for Nikita Khrushchev’s missiles in Cuba.

Alterman is considered an ideological man, which I am not, but I believe his revisionist argument is worth taking seriously. I say this not only because Alterman had the intellectual honesty to confront the record of liberal Democrats as well as conservative Republicans who have served as wartime commanders in chief, but also because the war in Iraq has shown the peril of taking a president’s assertions at face value—even if that president believes he is telling the truth. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Dwight Eisenhower. After he left office, Ike described the lies his administration had told about the U-2 incident as one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. “I didn’t realize how high a price we were going to have to pay for that lie,” Eisenhower told David Kraslow of Knight Newspapers. “And if I had to do it all over again, we would have kept our mouths shut.”””Of course, posterity rewards success, not truth. If D-Day had failed, FDR likely would have been remembered not as a heroic wartime president but as a tragic figure whose self-serving deceptions about his own health prolonged a savage war and jeopardized victory. And if Japan had not surrendered even after atomic bombs were dropped on the civilian populations of two of its cities, Truman might be recalled as a butcher. Conversely, if U.S. forces had found the fabled weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would Bush’s integrity be under question? Probably not. For presidents, consequences matter more than truth. Bush almost certainly understands this; it may inform his oft-expressed hope of being judged positively in the long sweep of history. Yet today he remains reluctant to reckon not only with his statements but also with their results. President Kennedy may have lied to the public about why the Russians removed their missiles from Cuba, but he knew the truth of the situation well enough to negotiate the compromise that led to their removal. Bush, on the other hand, seems unwilling to recognize that the reality of the situation in Iraq does not conform to his vision of it. The most dangerous lies a president can tell, it would seem, are the lies he tells himself.”

  • A lot of interesting history and ideas in this one.


I can tolerate anything except the outgroup

Money Quotes

Section 1

“In Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, a beloved nobleman who murdered his good-for-nothing brother in a duel thirty years ago returns to his hometown wracked by guilt. All the townspeople want to forgive him immediately, and they mock the titular priest for only being willing to give a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection. They lecture the priest on the virtues of charity and compassion.

Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

The priest tells them:

It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.”

  • That quote

“The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!””

Section 2

If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

  • Where the outgroup is a group of people you see yourself as morally superior to

“And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.”

“I want to avoid a very easy trap, which is saying that outgroups are about how different you are, or how hostile you are. I don’t think that’s quite right.

Compare the Nazis to the German Jews and to the Japanese. The Nazis were very similar to the German Jews: they looked the same, spoke the same language, came from a similar culture. The Nazis were totally different from the Japanese: different race, different language, vast cultural gap. But the Nazis and Japanese mostly got along pretty well. Heck, the Nazis were actually moderately positively disposed to the Chinese, even when they were technically at war. Meanwhile, the conflict between the Nazis and the German Jews – some of whom didn’t even realize they were anything other than German until they checked their grandparents’ birth certificate – is the stuff of history and nightmares. Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.

And this isn’t a weird exception. Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. Nazis and German Jews. Northern Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics. Hutus and Tutsis. South African whites and South African blacks. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Anyone in the former Yugoslavia and anyone else in the former Yugoslavia.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.”

  • Thats a good definition and explanation.

“What makes an unexpected in-group? The answer with Germans and Japanese is obvious – a strategic alliance. In fact, the World Wars forged a lot of unexpected temporary pseudo-friendships. A recent article from War Nerd points out that the British, after spending centuries subjugating and despising the Irish and Sikhs, suddenly needed Irish and Sikh soldiers for World Wars I and II respectively. “Crush them beneath our boots” quickly changed to fawning songs about how “there never was a coward where the shamrock grows” and endless paeans to Sikh military prowess.

Sure, scratch the paeans even a little bit and you find condescension as strong as ever. But eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight. And the Sikhs, dark-skinned people with turbans and beards who pretty much exemplify the European stereotype of “scary foreigner”, were lauded by everyone from the news media all the way up to Winston Churchill.

In other words, outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.”

Section 3

“There are certain theories of dark matter where it barely interacts with the regular world at all, such that we could have a dark matter planet exactly co-incident with Earth and never know. Maybe dark matter people are walking all around us and through us, maybe my house is in the Times Square of a great dark matter city, maybe a few meters away from me a dark matter blogger is writing on his dark matter computer about how weird it would be if there was a light matter person he couldn’t see right next to him.

This is sort of how I feel about conservatives.

I don’t mean the sort of light-matter conservatives who go around complaining about Big Government and occasionally voting for Romney. I see those guys all the time. What I mean is – well, take creationists. According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

People like to talk about social bubbles, but that doesn’t even begin to cover one hundred quintillion. The only metaphor that seems really appropriate is the bizarre dark matter world.

I live in a Republican congressional district in a state with a Republican governor. The conservatives are definitely out there. They drive on the same roads as I do, live in the same neighborhoods. But they might as well be made of dark matter. I never meet them.

To be fair, I spend a lot of my time inside on my computer. I’m browsing sites like Reddit.

Recently, there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.

It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.

There were a bunch of posts saying “I of course support gay marriage but here are some reasons some other people might be against it,” a bunch of others saying “my argument against gay marriage is the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage business at all”, and several more saying “why would you even ask this question, there’s no possible good argument and you’re wasting your time”. About halfway through the thread someone started saying homosexuality was unnatural and I thought they were going to be the first one to actually answer the question, but at the end they added “But it’s not my place to decide what is or isn’t natural, I’m still pro-gay marriage.”

In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”

But I’m not only on Reddit. I also hang out on LW.

On last year’s survey, I found that of American LWers who identify with one of the two major political parties, 80% are Democrat and 20% Republican, which actually sounds pretty balanced compared to some of these other examples.

But it doesn’t last. Pretty much all of those “Republicans” are libertarians who consider the GOP the lesser of two evils. When allowed to choose “libertarian” as an alternative, only 4% of visitors continued to identify as conservative. But that’s still…some. Right?

When I broke the numbers down further, 3 percentage points of those are neoreactionaries, a bizarre sect that wants to be ruled by a king. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.

It gets worse. My formative years were spent at a university which, if it was similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.

I inhabit the same geographical area as scores and scores of conservatives. But without meaning to, I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.

(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)”

  • This explanation is wonderful.  Its amazing how this happens.

Section 4

“The last section raised a question – if people rarely select their friends and associates and customers explicitly for politics, how do we end up with such intense political segregation?

Well, in the same way “going to synagogue” is merely the iceberg-tip of a Jewish tribe with many distinguishing characteristics, so “voting Republican” or “identifying as conservative” or “believing in creationism” is the iceberg-tip of a conservative tribe with many distinguishing characteristics.

A disproportionate number of my friends are Jewish, because I meet them at psychiatry conferences or something – we self-segregate not based on explicit religion but on implicit tribal characteristics. So in the same way, political tribes self-segregate to an impressive extent – a 1/10^45 extent, I will never tire of hammering in – based on their implicit tribal characteristics.”

  • ding, ding, ding – In DC, even the conservatives are cosmopolitans.  In the countryside, even the liberals are conservatives, the worldview is just applied more towards conserving the Scandinavian-style economic order instead of the social order.

“The people who are actually into this sort of thing sketch out a bunch of speculative tribes and subtribes, but to make it easier, let me stick with two and a half.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.

It’s the many, many differences between these tribes that explain the strength of the filter bubble – which have I mentioned segregates people at a strength of 1/10^45? Even in something as seemingly politically uncharged as going to California Pizza Kitchen or Sushi House for dinner, I’m restricting myself to the set of people who like cute artisanal pizzas or sophsticated foreign foods, which are classically Blue Tribe characteristics.

Are these tribes based on geography? Are they based on race, ethnic origin, religion, IQ, what TV channels you watched as a kid? I don’t know.”

  • This is a good mental model.  But I think its main weakness is that it really only applies to white Americans.  I think Blacks are there own tribe.  Asians I am not sure about.  They seem to assimilate very quickly.  Mexicans I am not sure about either.

“The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me.

You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

  • ding, ding, ding – the Thatcher vs Osama example is perfect as well.  I think the political implications of this are interesting as well.  Blue tribe control of the cities means that they can fairly easily recruit the best and brightest of immigrants and non-white people into the blue tribe.  I think thats going to be a challenge for the red tribe in the long run as all they have is the grey tribe, and while the grey tribe is smart, they aren’t going to put their expertise to use for any non-grey causes.

Section 6

“I am saying that the underlying attitudes that produce partyism are stronger than the underlying attitudes that produce racism, with no necessary implications on their social effects.

But if we want to look at people’s psychology and motivations, partyism and the particular variant of tribalism that it represents are going to be fertile ground.”

  • There is a lot of very good evidence for this in the rest of section 6.

Section 7

“Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.

“It’s not that we’re, like, against America per se. It’s just that…well, did you know Europe has much better health care than we do? And much lower crime rates? I mean, come on, how did they get so awesome? And we’re just sitting here, can’t even get the gay marriage thing sorted out, seriously, what’s wrong with a country that can’t…sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, America. They’re okay. Cesar Chavez was really neat. So were some other people outside the mainstream who became famous precisely by criticizing majority society. That’s sort of like America being great, in that I think the parts of it that point out how bad the rest of it are often make excellent points. Vote for me!”

(sorry, I make fun of you because I love you) … My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.”

“Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.

Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.

And look at the sources. HuffPo, Salon, Slate. Might those have anything in common?

On both sides, “American” can be either a normal demonym, or a code word for a member of the Red Tribe.”

  • This is politically advantageous for us on the other hand.  Being able to identify your tribe’s characteristics with “real America” is very useful.  And then your opponents show their hate for America when what they really hate is your tribe.

Section 8

“The other day, I logged into OKCupid and found someone who looked cool. I was reading over her profile and found the following sentence:

Don’t message me if you’re a sexist white guy

And my first thought was “Wait, so a sexist black person would be okay? Why?”

(The girl in question was white as snow)

Around the time the Ferguson riots were first starting, there were a host of articles with titles like Why White People Don’t Seem To Understand Ferguson, Why It’s So Hard For Whites To Understand Ferguson, and White Folks Listen Up And Let Me Tell You What Ferguson Is All About, this last of which says:

Social media is full of people on both sides making presumptions, and believing what they want to believe. But it’s the white folks that don’t understand what this is all about. Let me put it as simply as I can for you […]

No matter how wrong you think Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown were, I think we can all agree they didn’t deserve to die over it. I want you white folks to understand that this is where the anger is coming from. You focused on the looting….”

And on a hunch I checked the author photos, and every single one of these articles was written by a white person.

White People Are Ruining America? White. White People Are Still A Disgrace? White. White Guys: We Suck And We’re Sorry? White. Bye Bye, Whiny White Dudes? White. Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes, I’m Evicting You From My Life? White. White Dudes Need To Stop Whitesplaining? White. Reasons Why Americans Suck #1: White People? White.

We’ve all seen articles and comments and articles like this. Some unsavory people try to use them to prove that white people are the real victims or the media is biased against white people or something. Other people who are very nice and optimistic use them to show that some white people have developed some self-awareness and are willing to engage in self-criticism.

But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.

(except on the blog Stuff White People Like, where it obviously serves as a code word for the Blue tribe. I don’t know, guys. I didn’t do it.)

I realize that’s making a strong claim, but it would hardly be without precedent. When people say things like “gamers are misogynist”, do they mean the 52% of gamers who are women? Do they mean every one of the 59% of Americans from every walk of life who are known to play video or computer games occasionally? No. “Gamer” is a coded reference to the Gray Tribe, the half-branched-off collection of libertarianish tech-savvy nerds, and everyone knows it. As well expect that when people talk about “fedoras”, they mean Indiana Jones. Or when they talk about “urban youth”, they mean freshmen at NYU. Everyone knows exactly who we mean when we say “urban youth”, and them being young people who live in a city has only the most tenuous of relations to the actual concept.

And I’m saying words like “American” and “white” work the same way. Bill Clinton was the “first black President”, but if Herman Cain had won in 2012 he’d have been the 43rd white president. And when an angry white person talks at great length about how much he hates “white dudes”, he is not being humble and self-critical.

  • Again this is beneficial to the red tribe.  If the blue tribe was better at specifiying their hatred of the red tribe, they’d be much better off.  But they don’t 🙂  Of course, when we make similar mistakes, such as stereotyping minorities, it can harm us as well.

Section 9

“Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

But this might be unfair. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?

He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.

On the other hand, my audience of white British people and Americans is very likely to contain many Fox News viewers and supporters. And Fox, while not quite as evil as ISIS, is still pretty bad. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”

I have a lot of sympathy to hypothetical-Brand, especially to the part about Islamophobia. It does seem really possible to denounce ISIS’ atrocities to a population that already hates them in order to weak-man a couple of already-marginalized Muslims. We need to fight terrorism and atrocities – therefore it’s okay to shout at a poor girl ten thousand miles from home for wearing a headscarf in public. Christians are being executed for their faith in Sudan, therefore let’s picket the people trying to build a mosque next door.

But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.

In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE OUTGROUP WHO’S BOSS!”

Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.

The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time – and so we have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?”

  • This is just a wonderful explanation for behavior on both sides.  The case for hypothetical Russel Brand’s position is very good as well and a good challenge to my conservative skepticism of muslims in general.  It’s also important to note just how similar the anti-muslim and anti-red-tribe people are in what they want to accomplish.  They are mirrors of one another.

Section 10

We started by asking: millions of people are conspicuously praising every outgroup they can think of, while conspicuously condemning their own in-group. This seems contrary to what we know about social psychology. What’s up?

We noted that outgroups are rarely literally “the group most different from you”, and in fact far more likely to be groups very similar to you sharing almost all your characteristics and living in the same area.

We then noted that although liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

This is not surprising. Ethnic differences have proven quite tractable in the face of shared strategic aims. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.

Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

  • Basically the blue tribe’s emphasis on tolerance is a farce.

Section 11

“This essay is bad and I should feel bad.

I should feel bad because I made exactly the mistake I am trying to warn everyone else about, and it wasn’t until I was almost done that I noticed.

How virtuous, how noble I must be! Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that silly Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing my own tribe and striving to make it better.

Yeah. Once I’ve written a ten thousand word essay savagely attacking the Blue Tribe, either I’m a very special person or they’re my outgroup. And I’m not that special.

Just as you can pull a fast one and look humbly self-critical if you make your audience assume there’s just one American culture, so maybe you can trick people by assuming there’s only one Blue Tribe.

I’m pretty sure I’m not Red, but I did talk about the Grey Tribe above, and I show all the risk factors for being one of them. That means that, although my critique of the Blue Tribe may be right or wrong, in terms of motivation it comes from the same place as a Red Tribe member talking about how much they hate al-Qaeda or a Blue Tribe member talking about how much they hate ignorant bigots. And when I boast of being able to tolerate Christians and Southerners whom the Blue Tribe is mean to, I’m not being tolerant at all, just noticing people so far away from me they wouldn’t make a good outgroup anyway.

I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.

You can bet some white guy on Gawker who week after week churns out “Why White People Are So Terrible” and “Here’s What Dumb White People Don’t Understand” is having fun and not sweating any blood at all. He’s not criticizing his in-group, he’s never even considered criticizing his in-group. I can’t blame him. Criticizing the in-group is a really difficult project I’ve barely begun to build the mental skills necessary to even consider.

I can think of criticisms of my own tribe. Important criticisms, true ones. But the thought of writing them makes my blood boil.

I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”

That is how I feel when asked to criticize my own tribe, even for correct reasons. If you think you’re criticizing your own tribe, and your blood is not at that temperature, consider the possibility that you aren’t.

But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe. I need to remind myself that when they are bad people, they are merely Osama-level bad people instead of Thatcher-level bad people. And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.

The worst thing that could happen to this post is to have it be used as convenient feces to fling at the Blue Tribe whenever feces are necessary. Which, given what has happened to my last couple of posts along these lines and the obvious biases of my own subconscious, I already expect it will be.

But the best thing that could happen to this post is that it makes a lot of people, especially myself, figure out how to be more tolerant. Not in the “of course I’m tolerant, why shouldn’t I be?” sense of the Emperor in Part I. But in the sense of “being tolerant makes me see red, makes me sweat blood, but darn it I am going to be tolerant anyway.””

  • Pulling the log out of your own eye is so much more difficult than you could ever imagine, especially with the wonderful examples here of how good people at projecting onto other people/groups while maintaining an appearance of humility.


weak men are superweapons

Section 1

“There was an argument on Tumblr which, like so many arguments on Tumblr, was terrible. I will rephrase it just a little to make a point.

Alice said something along the lines of “I hate people who frivolously diagnose themselves with autism without knowing anything about the disorder. They should stop thinking they’re ‘so speshul’ and go see a competent doctor.”

Beth answered something along the lines of “I diagnosed myself with autism, but only after a lot of careful research. I don’t have the opportunity to go see a doctor. I think what you’re saying is overly strict and hurtful to many people with autism.”

Alice then proceeded to tell Beth she disagreed, in that special way only Tumblr users can. I believe the word “cunt” was used.

I notice two things about the exchange.

First, why did Beth take the bait? Alice said she hated people who frivolously self-diagnosed without knowing anything about the disorder. Beth clearly was not such a person. Why didn’t she just say “Yes, please continue hating these hypothetical bad people who are not me”?

Second, why did Alice take the bait? Why didn’t she just say “I think you’ll find I wasn’t talking about you?”

  • Just the intro here.  But it’s worth posting in its entirety to understand the entire argument.  Update, this entire chain of reasoning is worth posting in its entirety and I will do so.

Section 2

One of the cutting-edge advances in fallacy-ology has been the weak man, a terribly-named cousin of the straw man. The straw man is a terrible argument nobody really holds, which was only invented so your side had something easy to defeat. The weak man is a terrible argument that only a few unrepresentative people hold, which was only brought to prominence so your side had something easy to defeat.

For example, “I am a proud atheist and I don’t like religion. Think of the terrible things done by religion, like the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. They try to disturb the funerals of heroes because they think God hates everybody. But this is horrible. Religious people can’t justify why they do things like this. That’s why I’m proud to be an atheist.”

It’s not a straw man. There really is a Westboro Baptist Church, for some reason. But one still feels like the atheist is making things just a little too easy on himself.”

Maybe the problem is that the atheist is indirectly suggesting that Westboro Baptist Church is typical of religion? An implied falsehood?

Then suppose the atheist posts on Tumblr: “I hate religious people who are rabidly certain that the world was created in seven days or that all their enemies will burn in Hell, and try to justify it through ‘faith’. You know, the sort of people who think that the Bible has all the answers and who hate anyone who tries to think for themselves.”

Now there’s practically no implication that these people are typical. So that’s fine, right?

On the other side of the world, a religious person is writing “I hate atheists who think morality is relative, and that this gives them the right to murder however many people stand between them and a world where no one is allowed to believe in God”.

Again, not a straw man. The Soviet Union contained several million of these people. But if you’re an atheist, would you just let this pass?

How about “I hate black thugs who rob people”?

What are the chances a black guy reads that and says “Well, good thing I’m not a thug who robs people, he’ll probably love me”?”

  • You see this type of reasoning all the time.  It’s intriguing.  You feel as if they actually are talking about you, even if they aren’t.  Although they sometimes may refer to you as the outgroup post noted, (blaming all members of a group instead of being more specific) they may or may not actually mean it.

Section 3

“What is the problem with statements like this?

First, they are meant to re-center a category. Remember, people think in terms of categories with central and noncentral members – a sparrow is a central bird, an ostrich a noncentral one. But if you live on the Ostrich World, which is inhabited only by ostriches, emus, and cassowaries, then probably an ostrich seems like a pretty central example of ‘bird’ and the first sparrow you see will be fantastically strange.

Right now most people’s central examples of religion are probably things like your local neighborhood church. If you’re American, it’s probably a bland Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians or something.

The guy whose central examples of religion are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama is probably going to have a different perception of religion than the guy whose central examples are Torquemada and Fred Phelps. If you convert someone from the first kind of person to the second kind of person, you’ve gone most of the way to making them an atheist.

More important, if you convert a culture from thinking in the first type of way to thinking in the second type of way, then religious people will be unpopular and anyone trying to make a religious argument will have to spend the first five minutes of their speech explaining how they’re not Fred Phelps, honest, and no, they don’t picket any funerals. After all that time spent apologizing and defending themselves and distancing themselves from other religious people, they’re not likely to be able to make a very rousing argument for religion.”

  • I don’t think I have thought of this before.  So essentially, this line of questioning referenced in the first two sections is merely a form of negative PR.  If it gets sufficiently ingrained, you’re fucked.

Section 4

“In Cowpox of Doubt, I mention the inoculation effect. When people see a terrible argument for an idea get defeated, they are more likely to doubt the idea later on, even if much better arguments show up.

Put this in the context of people attacking the Westboro Baptist Church. You see the attacker win a big victory over “religion”, broadly defined. Now you are less likely to believe in religion when a much more convincing one comes along.

I see the same thing in atheists’ odd fascination with creationism. Most of the religious people one encounters are not young-earth creationists. But these people have a dramatic hold on the atheist imagination.

And I think: well, maybe if people see atheists defeating a terrible argument for religion enough, atheists don’t have to defeat any of the others. People have already been inoculated against religion. “Oh, yeah, that was the thing with the creationism. Doesn’t seem very smart.”

If this is true, it means that all religious people, like it or not, are in the same boat. An atheist attacking creationism becomes a deadly threat for the average Christian, even if that Christian does not herself believe in creationism.

Likewise, when a religious person attacks atheists who are moral relativists, or communists, or murderers, then all atheists have to band together to stop it somehow or they will have successfully poisoned people against atheism.”

  • Man if this all true, Kempian honesty in politics doesn’t have a chance without divine intervention.  The best way to inoculate people against opposing ideas is just to dishonestly attack weak man arguments.  Conservatives should highlight the antifa/idiot college kids whenever possible and liberals need to find every crazy hick they can and broadcast it everywhere.

Section 5

“This is starting to sound a lot like something I wrote on my old blog about superweapons.

I suggested imagining yourself in the shoes of a Jew in czarist Russia. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

The next day you hear that the local priest is giving a sermon on how the Jews killed Christ. This statement seems historically plausible, and it’s part of the Christian religion, and no one is implying it says anything about the Jews today. You’d hate to be the guy who barges in and tries to tell the Christians what Biblical facts they can and can’t include in their sermons just because they offend you. It would make you an annoying busybody. So again you just get uncomfortable.

The next day you hear people complain about the greedy Jewish bankers who are ruining the world economy. And really a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish, and bankers really do seem to be the source of a lot of economic problems. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also some bankers are Christian, or Muslim, and even though a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish that doesn’t mean the Jewish bankers are disproportionately active in ruining the world economy compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

Then the next day you hear people complain about Israeli atrocities in Palestine (what, you thought this was past czarist Russia? This is future czarist Russia, after Putin finally gets the guts to crown himself). You understand that the Israelis really do commit some terrible acts. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Jewish atrocities” and “the need to protect Gentiles from Jewish rapacity” and “laws to stop all this horrible stuff the Jews are doing”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

Then the next day you get in a business dispute with your neighbor. Maybe you loaned him some money and he doesn’t feel like paying you back. He tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because he is a Christian and you are a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews victimize Christians and are basically child-murdering Christ-killing economy-ruining atrocity-committing scum.

You have been boxed in by a serious of individually harmless but collectively dangerous statements. None of them individually referred to you – you weren’t murdering children or killing Christ or owning a bank. But they ended up getting you in the end anyway.

Depending on how likely you think this is, this kind of forces Jews together, makes them become strange bedfellows. You might not like what the Jews in Israel are doing in Palestine. But if you think someone’s trying to build a superweapon against you, and you don’t think you can differentiate yourself from the Israelis reliably, it’s in your best interest to defend them anyway.”

  • You must hang together or hang separately, even if you don’t like each other.  This explains a lot of why political coalitions seem to defend more on who is being attacked by whom than on ideological alignment.

Section 6

“I wrote the superweapon post to address some of my worries about feminism, so it would not be surprising at all if we found this dynamic there.

Feminists tend to talk about things like “Men tend to silence women and not respect their opinions” or “Men treat women like objects rather than people” or “Men keep sexually harassing women even when they make it clear they’re not interested”.

Put like that, it’s obvious why men might complain. But maybe some of the more sophisticated feminists say “Some men tend to silence women and not respect their opinions”. Or “Some men keep sexually harassing women even when they make it clear they’re not interested.”‘

And the weak-man-superweapon model would suggest that even this weakened version would make lots of men really uncomfortable.

From feminist website Bitchtopia (look, I don’t name these websites, I just link to them): Not All Men Are Like That:

I’ve heard this counter-argument almost every single time I’ve tried to bring up a feminist issue with a man: “but not all men are like that!”…

Having to point out that not every man exhibits explicitly harmful behavior allows for oppression to continue because having to say “some men do harmful things” gives oppressors peace of mind…

Sure, white men–you were brought up to feel entitled to anything you wanted and now you see anyone trying to have opportunities equal to yours as a threat…

When you say, “not all men are like that!” what you’re really saying is, “I don’t want to have to think about my privilege as a white man, so I’m going to try to defer the blame to other guys because I clearly don’t act like that.”

Nice try.

Remember, not wanting to be stereotyped based solely on your sex is the most sexist thing!

This is not just an idiosyncracy of Bitchtopia (look! I’m sorry! I swear I didn’t name that website!). There’s also an entire notallmenarelikethat dot tumblr dot com (of course there is) and it’s now a feminist meme abbreviated NAMALT.

But of course, it’s not just feminists. The gender-flipped version of feminism has the same thing. From men’s rights blog “The Spearhead”, which is not quite as badly named but still kind of funny if you think of it in a Freudian way:

Talking about the current sad state of dating and marriage in the USA will often elicit “Not All Women Are Like That” or NAWALT.

The first thing is not to contradict whoever makes that claim. Why? Because it is true. Not all women are skanks, attention whores or predators. The MRA cause is not helped by attacking people who speak truthfully.

[But the consequence of a] false positive is that a man ends up married to a skank, sociopath or gold digger. The cost of bad wife selection is so high that he is forced to turn away good women for fear of mistakenly choosing a bad one.

More polite and scientific than the feminist version, but the point is he expects men’s rights readers to be so familiar with “not all women are like that” that he’s perfectly comfortably abbreviating it NAWALT. Apparently there’s even a NAWALT video.

I don’t know where to find neo-Nazi blogs, but I’ll bet if there are some, they have places where they talk about how annoying it is when people try to distract from the real issues by using the old NAJALT.

  • So you would use the toned-down NAMALT (or its equivalent for anything else) to win converts over time and then feed them the more general stuff to converts.  Of course, then your opponents point out the more general stuff to win converts to their cause and you end up in a prisoners dilemma or more specifically, a multipolar trap not at all unlike those listed in “Meditations on Moloch.”  So this is to your advantage in a static view.  In a dynamic view, everyone ends up worse off.

Section 7

“But I shouldn’t make fun of NAJALT. There really are two equal and opposite problems going on here.

Imagine you’re an atheist. And you keep getting harassed by the Westboro Baptist Church. Maybe you’re gay. Maybe you’re not. Who knows why they do what they do? Anyway, they throw bricks through your window and send you threatening letters and picket some of your friends’ funerals.

And you say “People! We really need to do something about this Westboro Baptist Church! They’re horrible people!”

And you are met by a wall of religious people saying “Please stop talking about the Westboro Baptist Church, you are making us look really bad and it’s unfair because not all religious people are like that.”

And you say “I really am not that interested in religion, I just want them to stop throwing bricks through my window.”

And they say “Hey! I thought we told you to stop talking about them! You are unfairly discrediting us through the inoculation effect! That is epistemically unvirtuous!”

So the one problem is that people have a right not to have unfair below-the-belt tactics used to discredit them without ever responding to their real arguments.

And the other problem is that victims of nonrepresentative members of a group have the right to complain, even though those complaints will unfairly rebound upon the other members of that group.

Atheists who talk about the Westboro Baptist Church may be genuinely concerned about the Westboro Baptist Church. Or they may be unfairly trying to tar all religious people with that brush. Religious people have to fight back, even though the Westboro Baptists don’t deserve their support, because otherwise the atheists will have a superweapon against them. Thus, a stupid fight between atheists who don’t care about Westboro and religious people who don’t support them.”

  • People really are harmed by the “weak man.”  That’s why is so hard.   Whereas a strawman argument is always malicious because the strawman doesn’t exist and therefore doesn’t have any victims.  I think the better outcome for society would be if the weak man was merely marginalized as much as possible.  That way you can pressure the unrepresentative weak men to do as little damage as possible and therefore avoid the negative association for more representative members of the group.

Section 8

This gives me some new views on political coalitions. I always thought that having things like political parties was stupid. Instead of identifying as a liberal and getting upset when someone insulted liberals or happy when someone praised liberals, I should say “These are my beliefs. There are other people who believe approximately the same thing, but the differences are sufficient that I just want to be judged on my own individual beliefs alone.”

The problem is, that doesn’t work. It’s not my decision whether or not I get to identify with other liberals or not. If other people think of me as a liberal, then anything other liberals do is going to reflect, positively or negatively, on me. And I’m going to have to join in the fight to keep liberals from being completely discredited, or else the fact that I didn’t share any of the opinions they were discredited for isn’t going to save me. I will be Worst Argument In The World-ed and swiftly dispatched.

In the example we started with, Beth chose to stand up for the people who self-diagnosed autism without careful research. This wasn’t because she considered herself a member of that category. It was because she decided that self-diagnosed autistics were going to stand or fall as a group, and if Alice succeeded in pushing her “We should dislike careless self-diagnosees” angle, then the fact that she wasn’t careless wouldn’t save her.

Alice, for her part, didn’t bother bringing up that she never accused Beth of being careless, or that Beth had no stake in the matter. She saw no point in pretending that boxing in Beth and the other careful self-diagnosers in with the careless ones wasn’t her strategy all along.

prosperity, capitalism, jobs are a means, not an end

Money Quotes

“U.S. manufacturing output is about 68 percent higher today in real terms (meaning inflation-adjusted terms) than it was before NAFTA was enacted; manufacturing output is about double in real terms what it was in the 1980s and more than three times what it was in the 1950s. As our factories grow more efficient, output per man-hour has grown, too, which is what troubles the populists and demagogues: Our factories employ a much smaller share of the U.S. work force than they once did. But it is important to keep in mind: That growth in manufacturing output did not come in spite of the decline in factory employment but partly because of it. Automation not only makes current production more efficient but also makes it easier to improve efficiency in the future: More heavily automated factory processes are much easier to upgrade than are those heavily dependent on human labor.”
-Important to keep in mind.
“The purpose of an automobile factory is not to “create jobs,” as the politicians like to say. Its function is not to add to the employment rolls with good wages and UAW benefits, adding to the local tax base and helping to sustain the community — as desirable as all those things are. The purpose of an automobile factory is not to create jobs — it is to create automobiles. Jobs are a means, not an end. Human labor is valuable to the extent that it contributes to human prosperity and human flourishing, not in and of itself as a matter of abstraction.”

– Human labor is an end though for most of us.  That is the challenge here.  We have to exert ourselves to find a way to serve others.  Sometimes and perhaps in the near future, lack of opportunity makes that difficult.  Other times our own limiting conception of self or other negative experiences or emotions get in the way.

“Consider another kind of machine, a more limited one: Bryan Caplan’s magical idea for a machine that turns corn into cars: “Lo and behold — corn goes in, and cars come out.” It will not ruin Professor Caplan’s M. Night Shyamalan moment to reveal the twist ending to his story: There is such a machine, and it is called trade. “What difference does it make what’s inside the factory?” Professor Caplan asks. “For all intents and purposes, trade is a kind of technology, a creative way to reduce our cost of living and thereby raise our standard of living.” Trade — and capitalism — is in fact a machine of a different sort: a social machine. … the great sources of friction in our public life right now have to do mainly with a few areas in which abundance has not been allowed to emerge. We have one economic model for producing food and mobile phones and automobiles, and a different one for producing health care and education, and to some extent (more in some areas of the country than others) housing.”

history of race in America, the irish and italian were always considered white, they were just considered to be a lower subset of the european race

Money Quotes

“Here are some objective tests as to whether a group was historically considered “white” in the United States: Were members of the group allowed to go to “whites-only” schools in the South, or otherwise partake of the advantages that accrued to whites under Jim Crow? Were they ever segregated in schools by law, anywhere in the United States, such that “whites” went to one school, and the group in question was relegated to another? When laws banned interracial marriage in many states (not just in the South), if a white Anglo-Saxon wanted to marry a member of the group, would that have been against the law? Some labor unions restricted their membership to whites. Did such unions exclude members of the group in question? Were members of the group ever entirely excluded from being able to immigrate to the United States, or face special bans or restrictions in becoming citizens?

If you use such objective tests, you find that Irish, Jews, Italians and other white ethnics were indeed considered white by law and by custom (as in the case of labor unions). Indeed, some lighter-skinned African Americans of mixed heritage “passed” as white by claiming they were of Arab descent and that explained their relative swarthiness, showing that Arab Americans, another group whose “whiteness” has been questioned, were considered white. By contrast, persons of African, Asian, Mexican and Native American descent faced various degrees of exclusion from public schools and labor unions, bans on marriage and direct restrictions on immigration and citizenship.”

  • This seems like a good test

“When I’ve pointed this out to people, they often rejoin that people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often referred to the “Irish race,” the “Italian race,” the “Jewish race.” That’s true, but they also referred to the “Anglo-Saxon race,” and the “Teutonic race,” the latter two generally considered to be superior. The racist pseudo-science of the day divided Europeans into various races by nationality or perceived nationality, and often created a hierarchy among those groups. But that was a racist hierarchy within the white group, not evidence that these groups weren’t considered to be white. This point is often obscured by the whiteness studies crowd, because racism within a white hierarchy conflicts with their understanding of American racism solely being about “whiteness.”

One can also find racist literature attacking “ethnic” Americans in terms that are consistent with the more conventional form of American racism, such as references to the need to exclude “swarthy” Jews and Italians from the United States. But these critics focused on perceived swarthiness precisely to try to persuade Americans that contrary to accepted norms, these groups were not in fact “white” and should be treated like non-whites.

Note that this does not mean that the Irish, Italians, Jews, Poles, Arabs, and so on didn’t face discrimination, hostility, assertions of inferiority and occasionally even violence. They did. But historically, they were also considered white.

UPDATE: The comments are interesting, and show that the whiteness studies view has had such strong influence that many people can’t conceive of the idea that Irish, Italian, Polish, Slovak, Jewish, Greek and other immigrants to the United States could have faced a tremendous amount of discrimination from the Northeastern European establishment and yet still have been considered white. Nor do folks seem to understand that “ethnic” whites could have been considered to be white, but also been subject to racism, because people believed that there were subraces within the white category.”

  • Race is far from being the only historical basis for discrimination.  Any sort of other will do.

why not limit supreme court justices to 18 year terms – a great idea to defuse the partisanship surrounding the supreme court. But its probably unworkable because it would require a constitutional amendment

defund the left, defund the various public foundations, endowments, etc. that function as make-work programs for left-wing activists

Money Quote

The Left has a weakness: It is dependent upon government money. It has long accepted that arrangement complacently, on the theory that its friends will generally control the government, if not always at the elected level then at the administrative and bureaucratic level. (The Left has not been wrong about that.) According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 17 percent of all federal outlays take the form of assistance to state and local governments — funds that in turn account for about a quarter of all state and local government spending. A fair portion of that money ends up simply passing through to nonprofits and politically connected contractors who provide dubious “outreach” and “development” services. If Republicans are looking for a little leverage over New York, there it is.”

white mortality rates rise, angus deaton, Anne Case, Healthcare reform wont fix what really hurts American Health, The Public Health crisis we are facing wont be solved by access to health unsurance

Money Quotes

“In 2016, two truths were revealed at once. First, the percentage of uninsured Americans hit a record low — a mere 8.6 percent. In 2010, almost 50 million Americans lacked health insurance. By the beginning of 2016 that number had plunged to 27.3 million. This is, truth be told, the fruit of Obamacare and indeed is the very reason why the GOP is having so much difficulty in its struggle to repeal and replace it. People like having health insurance, and health insurance makes us healthier, right?
But that brings us to the second truth that was revealed in 2016. Even though Americans allegedly enjoyed unprecedented access to insured health care, the nation’s death rate in 2015 actually increased. More Americans were insured, but more Americans died. Why?

A clue comes from Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the same people who shocked America two years ago with research showing the remarkable rise of the death rate among middle-aged white Americans. This week, they released new research showing that the trend continues. “Deaths of despair” are “surging” in the United States. The chart below is nothing short of stunning:

Even worse, other data show younger-age cohorts are at significantly greater risk of death by drugs, alcohol, or suicide than their elders were: Men and women in early middle life began exhibiting by their twenties the same kinds of death rates from drug, alcohol, and suicide as were formerly reserved for much older men enduring the stereotypical “mid-life crisis.”

“Indeed, these charts may actually understate the extent of “deaths by despair.” The obesity epidemic is carrying with it increases in chronic health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, and make no mistake — obesity is exploding in the United States. The YouTube video below silently and ominously charts a stunning, national increase: As Congress debated Obamacare repeal, I had lunch with a local critical-care doctor who seemed oddly indifferent to the outcome. His is a world dominated by addiction. “If it weren’t for addicts,” he says, “I wouldn’t have a job.” The intensive-care unit is overrun with people addicted to drugs, to alcohol, to food, and to tobacco. Insurance matters to the economics of the hospital, but it doesn’t matter so much to the quality of its patients’ immediate care or to their ultimate health outcome. They’re killing themselves, and the best health care and the most luxurious “Cadillac” health plans won’t stop their slide into oblivion.”

It’s too simple to say that health insurance and the current debate in Washington doesn’t matter to public health. It obviously does. But it’s fair to say that it may well matter less than healthy marriages, strong families, decent jobs, and a vibrant faith. Deaton described the plight of the white working class well: “Your family life has fallen apart, you don’t know your kids anymore, [and] all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all.” And so, to “soothe the beast,” you turn to substances, to food, and — sometimes — ultimately to death itself. Just as there is no simple solution to this crisis, there is no simple explanation. For every attempt at a short summary — it’s about jobs; it’s about marriage; it’s about welfare and dependency — there’s an answer that complicates the picture. For example, black families have had more economic struggles (and have had more out-of-wedlock births) than white families, yet for years their death rate fell while the white rate rose. Could the vibrancy of the black church and the apparently (substantially) greater religiosity of black Americans help explain a degree of healthy resilience in the face of economic, familial, and racial adversity? As the Pew Research Center notes, “African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life.” Unless our citizens can find a way to soothe the despair, the great health-insurance debate from 2009 to 2016 may end up a mere footnote in public-health history. At the end of the day, neither the best nor the worst insurance can cause a man to put down his pills, throw out his whiskey bottles, or walk more and eat less. When the human heart aches, an insurance card won’t ease the pain.”

I basically just put in the entire column.  It’s a really important thing to remember.

the failure of experts in modern times, foreign policy, smugness, and the suicide of expertise

Money Quote

“If experts want to reclaim a position of authority, they need to make a few changes. First, they should make sure they know what they’re talking about, and they shouldn’t talk about things where their knowledge isn’t solid. Second, they should be appropriately modest in their claims of authority. And, third, they should check their egos. It doesn’t matter what your SAT scores were, voters are under no obligation to listen to you unless they find what you say persuasive.

And you know what makes you less persuasive? The kind of contempt displayed by Foreign Affairs. If expertise is dead, it’s because those who claimed it overplayed their hands. It’s not the death of expertise, so much as a suicide.”

how leftism uses aestheticism as religion

Money Quote

“This is an idea with a powerful hold on the liberal mind — that great literature and art inoculate against illiberalism, that high culture properly interpreted offers a natural rebuke to all that is cruel, hierarchical and unwoke. The idea that if Mike Pence really listened to “Hamilton” he would stand up to Donald Trump … that Barack Obama’s humanistic reading list was somehow in deep tension with his drone strikes … that had George W. Bush only discovered his talent for painting earlier he might not have invaded Iraq … these are conceits that can be rebutted (with Wagner or Céline or Nazis-at-the-symphony references) but always seem to rise again.

In part they endure because contemporary liberalism has substituted aestheticism for religion, dreaming of a universal empathy sealed through reading rather than revelation. But they are also powerful because the last few generations have produced very few major artists or movements that are not liberal or left-wing. The defeat and moral disgrace of fascism, the eclipse of traditional religion, the philistinism of American conservatism and the narrowing of post-1989 political debates have all helped forge a political monoculture in the arts and the academy, making the link between literature and liberalism seem natural, inevitable, permanent.

But it isn’t. Even our age has a Naipaul, a Houellebecq, and meanwhile the whole deep human past is still there, and every age before ours is littered with aesthetic and philosophic visions that in no way conform to contemporary left-of-center pieties.

So from the point of view of liberalism’s present cultural position, its belief in aesthetic-political unity, the past can be a very dangerous place indeed. (Something that the campus left understands quite well; hence its zeal to abolish canons and police certain forms of memory.) And when a movement like the alt-right tries to appropriate that past for crankish, racist purposes, it’s understandable that people would be jolted — not by the intellectual power of that appropriation, but simply by the reminder that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the way we think about aesthetics and politics today.”

My links from the week of 3/12

Well this is a mess and it took forever to get through.  But I am glad I have got it done.  At some point I’ll have to figure out a way to present this in a manner that is more visually clean.

on how the elephant comes before the rider applied primarily to economics

Post and Quotes

1. The political process does not select for humble versions of empiricism.  Those end up with virtually no political influence, whereas some of the more dogmatic form of empiricism may find some traction.

2. A lot of the bias in empirical methods comes simply from which questions are asked/answered.  Post Trump and De Vos, I see plenty of commentators and researchers reporting “vouchers don’t raise test scores” and virtually no “vouchers increase parental satisfaction.”  Is that empiricism?  In isolation, maybe.  In terms of reflecting the broader spirit of science, not so much.  It is also not humility.

3. I also see bias in terms of framing and contextualizing.  One empirical result is “over a short time horizon, a $15 minimum wage in Seattle hasn’t destroyed many jobs.”  Another empirical result is “rises in the prices of inputs virtually always lower input demand, with larger effects over longer time horizons.”  There is also “non-pecuniary factors of jobs adjust downward, in response to wage minimums, thereby removing the benefits for the workers from the wage hike.”  One side claims the mantle of empiricism with #1, the other side claims the mantle of empiricism with #2 and #3.  Overall the course of that debate does make me more skeptical about “empiricism as we find it,” though not about proper empiricism.  And note that the scholarly division of labor does in fact give any particular individual a sufficient excuse not to be doing the task of overall synthesis.

4. I find a very common pattern among both researchers and commentators.  They first form broadly empirical judgments about social systems, based on overall views of history, current politics (too much), and some of their relatively general empirical judgments, such as whether elasticities are large or small, or the relative crookedness of politicians vs. businesspeople, or the relative competence of voters, and so on.  Those are empirical judgments, though usually in non-formal, non-directly testable ways, and also inter-smushed with ethical judgments, for better or worse.

They then view very particular empirical debates through the broader lenses they have chosen.  For instance, views on politics used to correlate with views on the interest elasticity of money demand.  Today views on politics correlate with views on minimum wage elasticity, and so on.

It’s the kind of empiricism outlined in the first paragraph of #4 that has the greater predictive value for beliefs.  Furthermore it is sometimes (not always) the more important form of empiricism for settling many questions of policy.

5. I am sympathetic with the view that the broader empiricism outlined at the top of #4 is overused.  Yet many of the critics of that broad approach simply wish to protect the presuppositions of the academic status quo from being disrupted by the possibility of other broad paradigms.  In other words, I worry that criticizing “ideology” is too often a means of cementing in the dominant ideology in academia (and journalism), rather than an actual critique of ideology.

6. Most generally, humility is always scarcer than one might think.  Perhaps that should be one of Cowen’s Laws.

NatashaRostova March 15, 2017 at 2:00 am

Excellent post, please share more thoughts on empericism. This is my favorite post of yours in months.

The way people develop an inconsistent or overfitted philosophy of science, in order to fit their political tribe, is such an incredible abuse of the scientific method, and so many otherwise brilliant professors (of economics no less) make this same mistake. Helping people see that their empirical calibration isn’t functioning well is almost impossible. Motivated reasoning is one hell of a drug

tjamesjones March 15, 2017 at 5:41 am

the phrase “evidence based” has been in currency for a while. it’s close to meaningless (a) implying anybody who disagrees just doesn’t like evidence when in fact (b) all it means is that it’s possible to find evidence to support a point of view (but the point of view came first, trust me)

avik roy on the house healthcare bill

the brutal tradeoffs and realism/cynicism of christians supporting trump, the tempation of power applies here as the author notes. I take this realism as a sign that we may yet be ready to face the persecution that may be ahead

polite persecution, what christians should come to expect

Money Quotes

Pope Francis has termed “polite persecution.” As the pope explains, “if you don’t like this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.”

How ought Christians to respond? A twofold lesson arises from Christians who have faced persecution over the centuries. The first is an injunction to avoid cooperation with sin; the second is an obligation, overlooked all too often during an era of relative freedom, to bear witness. Christians are to manifest a love that communicates the truth about friendship with Christ through language and life. In the face of polite persecution, this witness is unlikely to beget martyrdom but may well incur costs. And the history of Christianity shows that when those costs are accepted, witness is brightened and amplified.

In re to 1 “When new legal obligations come into conflict with Christian faithfulness, as is increasingly common in our legal culture, Christians can sometimes find ways to avoid formal cooperation and keep their organizations afloat.”

in re to 2 “the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia exerted power not just through brute force but even more pervasively through lies that were reinforced by citizens who did not believe the lies but nevertheless went along with them. These are the bystanders. Their conformity serves to “confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system.” In their silent complicity, these bystanders “are the system.” ”

“When a single person breaks the rules of the game,” Havel writes, “thus exposing it as a game, everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.”

When Christians remain silent as their fellow citizens, colleagues, friends, and students are persecuted, when they conform to the ways of the new cultural regime, they act like greengrocers. When we speak up, when we take the signs out of our shop windows, we live in truth.

To Havel’s teaching, Christians will add that truth is to be spoken in love and complemented by mercy, the virtue that Pope Francis has given pride of place. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Stutzman said, “I would love to see Rob again. I would love to just hug him and say I’m sorry if there is anything he’s going through that is hurting him.” Stutzman joined love, compassion, and friendship to her refusal to cooperate with sin and her determination to give voice to the truth about marriage. Her fate is still uncertain, but her Christian witness is sure: a truth that punctures the tyranny of lies and is tethered to a mercy that wills to restore all things.

why conservative christians feel like a persecuted minority, excellent commentary on the benedict option the book by rod dreher

Money Quotes

“A Moralistic Therapeutic Deist will tend not to have strong opinions about sex, beyond affirming the importance of consent. Intercourse outside of marriage, masturbation, the use of contraception, homosexuality (including same-sex marriage), transgenderism — none of it will register as raising significant moral or theological issues and problems. That wasn’t true in the 19th-century U.S., in 17th-century Prussia, or in 11th-century France. In all of those times and places, news of what growing numbers of people (including people who define themselves as Christians) think of as sexually acceptable behavior would have been received as inexplicable, and an abomination.

That is what makes our time decisively different from past eras in the history of the Christian West: We live on the far side of the sexual revolution. Neuhaus thought that revolution could be at least partially reversed through concerted democratic action. Dreher has no such hopes and so advises withdrawal and self-protection.”

But what if the efforts did work? What if Dreher and other conservative Christians could know that they would not be forced to bake cakes or provide other services for same-sex weddings, that religious colleges would not be forced to permit same-sex cohabitation, and that employees would not be fired or otherwise penalized for holding traditional views about sexuality? Would that render the Benedict Option unnecessary?

I doubt Dreher would think so — because Christians would still find themselves living in a country in which a range of authorities within civil society constantly convey the message that same-sex marriage is good and opposing it is bigotry, in which pornography is ubiquitous, and in which gender is increasingly treated as a human construct entirely disconnected from nature, marriage, procreation, and a divinely authored order of things.

But why is that such a problem? Don’t Orthodox Jews and observant Muslims, who hold analogous views about sex, manage to live and thrive in the United States, despite its sexual turmoil and lasciviousness? Indeed they do. But they are and have always been tiny minorities in America — which means that, in the decisive respect, they already practice something like the Benedict Option. They don’t need to be taught how to preserve themselves in the face of constant counter-religious temptations.

Perhaps that consideration partially explains why Dreher sometimes seems to hype the persecution that conservative Christians already confront or will soon face — as a kind of shock therapy for the complacent, as if to say: “We’re no longer in charge here! If we don’t start protecting and preserving ourselves soon, there won’t be anything left to protect or preserve!”

That’s not a message that every conservative Christian will want to hear — and it’s certainly not one with which many non-Christians, liberal Christians, or Moralistic Therapeutic Deists will sympathize. But it’s nonetheless worthy of sympathy.

corporate leaders progressive activists

Summary and Money Quote

Corporate executives come from a culture that promotes liberal values and they tend to be strong conformists.  So they tend to be supportive or ambivalent on any cultural or social issues.  Also, large corporations are functionally similar to large governments.  So the type of people who lead them tend to be bureaucratic manager types.  So the most successful capitalists usually are unable or unwilling to defend it.

“The supplanting of spontaneous order with political discipline is the essence of progressivism, then and now.”

An interesting corporate tax plan

interesting tax reform idea, drop corporate rate and increase rate on dividends, corporations are people and they should be taxed accordingly.

Medicaid is free. So why does it require a mandate?

moral minority, a good guide for the christian right in dealing with the loss of its status in what was formerly considered a christian nation

Money Quotes

“America has lost its faith, and so the faithful have begun to question their belief in America.”

This is probably the crux of the problem, many christians only can love a country to the extent that it reflects their view of how a country ought to be.  Its the mirror image of the progressives who can only love America if it conforms to their ideal vision of society.

“Politics will not save us. What is first of all necessary is to rebuild a culture in disarray. Compared with recovering the basic requirements of virtuous civilization—healthy communities, flourishing family life, sound education, a deep reservoir of cultural memory and practice, and formative religious faith—remaking the Supreme Court is a cinch. Philosophers who have described culture as the first requirement of a healthy civilization, from Plato to Burke to Tocqueville, have generally believed that the most one can consciously strive to achieve is preservation of a healthy culture, should one be fortunate enough to possess one. Once a culture is corrupted from within, however, they saw little hope of reversing its decay. ”

Again my inherent skepticism about utopias tends to put me in Damon Linker’s camp here.  I think it is always both the best of times and the worst of times in some respect at any given time in the human experience.  Human nature is sufficiently corrupted that even when we have achieved so much in the material realm, we will still find things to be deeply upset about.  Also, we can expect prosperity to breed decadence and all the pathologies that accompany it.

Can it be saved?  Well, it depends on how you define what needs saving.  Indeed, that seems to be the problem.  Nobody really shares anything beyond a vague sense that something is wrong accompanied by nostalgia.  I wonder if any group of conservatives ever sat down and actually broke this down logically in a way that is actionable.  It seems like social conservatives never got any further then endlessly bitching about the problem.  Indeed, much of what I have seen suggests that they resemble the liberal critique that they are a privileged class that didn’t deserve its privelige.  Maybe that should be the subject of a future post.  What broke, what needs to be saved and what steps could be taken to save it.

“Yet over that same span, the culture changed, and not in Jerry Falwell’s direction. Measures of community strength, volunteerism, neighborliness, and civil society declined. Family breakdown increased, especially among the economically disadvantaged of all races. Divorce rates skyrocketed, and though they later leveled off for the wealthy, they remain high, especially for the poor. At the same time, rates of marriage have declined, and American birth rates have begun to resemble those of an aging and childless Europe. A holocaust of unborn children continues unabated. Findings by both conservative and liberal social scientists such as Charles Murray and Robert Putnam show an extraordinary erosion of social norms and expectations—familial, educational, legal, and professional—especially among those who make up the working class of America. Social mobility has become a taunt rather than a real possibility for many Americans, replaced by a self-perpetuating new aristocracy that congregates in the wealthiest urban areas of the country. Trust in all the main institutions of American society—both public and private—has declined, as has trust of citizens toward each other.

Findings by the Pew Research Center about religious belief and practice show an ongoing decline in religious belief and membership, including a dramatic rise in nonbelievers, especially among the millennial generation. Even where religious faith persists, Christian Smith suggests that religion for many Americans is individualistic and therapeutic rather than a source of discipline and moral norms. For nearly thirty years, conservatives have triumphed politically amid a catastrophic breakdown of social and cultural norms, especially those that foster an ethic of self-sacrifice, commonweal, and practices that inculcate duty, discipline, respect, civility, and obedience.”

So that could inform the post.  There are some measurable indicators there.

“The president secured the support of a number of prominent leaders in the Evangelical churches as well as majorities of Christian voters who viewed him not as the champion of a renewed Christian America, but as someone who could hold at bay a ruling class that is openly hostile to Christianity. The aspiration of those who voted against another four years of progressivism was not to restore political order but to smash Washington.

And so here we are. The long-standing conservative narrative held that America is fundamentally decent but that those decencies are being eroded by an elite that subscribes to non-American, and even anti-American, values. The simultaneous political success of conservatism and ruination of American culture has made this view untenable. Now, a more radical possibility is opening up. Traditional Christians now wonder if a just and righteous society must be built in opposition to a national creed that has led inexorably to libertinism. ”

This would seem to be the logical next step for those holding that view.

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless quite different—St. Benedict.

These lines are the original inspiration of Dreher’s project—an attempt to understand what Christians should do now that they can no longer “shore up the imperium,” and, indeed, now that the imperium is hostile to the Christian faith. His book and the other two are haunted by these questions: How are Christians to live now that their efforts cannot be understood to be synonymous with electoral politics or even continuous with the basic commitments of the American regime?”

This is a good question.  I suspect the answer is to study non-western Christians who have never had cultural or political power such as the Coptics.

“the authors are in general agreement—with some interesting differences of emphasis as well as substance—that the task at hand is the creation of a distinctive Christian culture amid the ruins of the American republican experiment. ”

“If our condition is comparable to that of Christians after the sack of Rome, it comes with an intervening millennium and a half of Christian civilization. In Augustine’s time, Christians did not have any expectation, much less memory, of Christendom. The builders of the monasteries were innocent of Dante and Chaucer and Shakespeare; Bach and Mozart and Handel; Michelangelo, Raphael, and El Greco. What can it possibly mean to build (or rebuild) “a new culture” in the ruins of what was arguably the greatest culture ever to have existed? If it could be eviscerated during the eight years of the Obama presidency, or the fifty years since the 1960s, or even the 230 years since the American founding, what chance do today’s pilgrims possibly have? Those who would create an alternative culture don’t create on a blank canvas, but with full knowledge of what has been lost, surrounded by the decayed ruins of their rightful inheritance. All three books offer a path forward, but with dim lamps, unable to discern the path more than a few steps ahead.”

This will be very painful indeed.

“Among his (Dreher) most instructive, if most challenging, chapters is one that seeks to prepare Christians for persecution not only through legal mandate, but in the workplace. Christians may find certain careers closed to them, the consequence of a “civil rights” movement that has with considerable success redefined religious faith as discrimination. He concludes this chapter with the bracing observation that the seed of the Church in modern America will not necessarily be the blood of martyrs, but a smaller paycheck from a less prestigious job, a path to neither reputation among one’s secular peers, nor perhaps even sainthood among the faithful. ”

This is definitely what to expect.

“Of the three authors, Chaput is the most confident that Christian belief and practice can exist in close proximity with, and even transform, the contemporary liberal order. His most constructive chapter presents anew the “Letter to Diognetus,” a Christian apologetic written in the second century. It explains how Christians can live and even thrive amid a pagan civilization. As Chaput points out, the “Letter to Diognetus” describes Christians willing to criticize the lies and sinfulness of their fellow citizens, yet calls them to remain engaged with a hostile world, albeit perhaps not in a directly political way. “They didn’t abandon or retire from the world. They didn’t build fortress enclaves. They didn’t manufacture their own culture or invent their own language. They took elements from the surrounding culture and ‘baptized’ them with a new spirit and a new way of living.” Only by transforming what a corrupt culture offers can Christians engage an always fallen world. ”

This is much closer to my view.

Esolen decries the denaturing of children as the visible sign of a civilizational suicide. Culture arises not from planning, but from playing. In what is one of the most charming passages of the book, Esolen reflects on a series of Winslow Homer paintings portraying scenes in the everyday lives of children: away from adults, they are immersed in the natural world, and they are together, face to face. “When children come together to play, we see in miniature the very art of culture itself.” Perhaps less than forming our children through a strict plan that ends up resembling the modern belief in our ability to master nature, we need to allow our children to educate themselves in the natural world and in the company of other children, at times out of the watchful eyes of parents: “Liberty is to be measured not by what the law permits you to do, but by—to use a whimsical criterion—how far from your house you feel comfortable allowing your child to play.”

That’s a good way of putting it.  Generally agree.

This last line brings us back to a hard truth: It takes a village, or better put, it takes a polis, to raise a child well. The liberty of a child to wander freely through fields, over bridges, and along streams is a gift of ordered liberty, arising from trust and neighborliness. Esolen concludes his book by recalling the Greek origins of the word “politics.” It comes from polis, a political community of relatively small scale in which citizenship is defined by the activity of shared self-governance based on familiarity and common history, not a noun that denotes one’s abstract relation to strangers.

The American Founders rejected the polis as a model. They adopted instead the contemporary ideals of Enlightenment freedom, the idea that liberty is the absence of obstacles. It is what the law permits one to do. This laid the foundation of a national political order which, in the words of the Federalist, has as its “first object” the protection of liberty for men who possess a “diversity of faculties.” The practical consequences of this definition were long obscured by the fact that Americans had a rich and sustaining Christian culture that was older and deeper than the political structure.

When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1820s, he was amazed that township democracy was the center of shared civic life, while interest in the federal government was nearly nonexistent. But he worried that, over time, our individualistic political beliefs would redefine all aspects of our life, such as neighborhoods, townships, even families, eventually leaving us in such a state of complete “liberty” that only the central government would remain as the guarantee of our freedom and assistance in times of need. He wrote Democracy in America as a warning. Over time, our political order would shape our culture, or more accurately, it would eliminate traditional culture in favor of a liberal anti-culture. These three books are a postscript to Tocqueville, describing not the betrayal of our political origins, but the fulfillment of its logic.

“Politics will not save us,” Dreher concludes. Perhaps—but in the absence of a good polity, it’s unlikely a healthy culture can be cultivated and sustained. The monasteries were not only religious institutions, but also served as the center of political life for many medieval towns, with abbots functioning as civic as well as religious leaders. The Church was the source of Christian culture in no small part because she developed systems of law and courts, in addition to rules and practices governing markets. Aristotle understood that law and culture, like ethics and politics, must be mutually reinforcing. (One of the marked shortcomings of MacIntyre has always been his greater attentiveness to Aristotle’s Ethics than to his Politics, a reflection of MacIntyre’s Marxism rather than his Catholicism.)

Christianity is inevitably political. If Christians are to eschew Washington, D.C., as a lost cause, they should not imagine they can just build familial monasteries. Instead, we need to focus on our town and city halls, our neighborhood associations, seeking to foster the kinds of communities where our children can—and will—roam the fields again. At some scale, however small, the moral minority must become a majority again.”

This is an excellent answer to those three books.  This guy has some knowledge of the interactions between religion and politics.  The response to the belief in only negative liberties is good as well and worth thinking through futher.  Perhaps worth a post at some point.

trump clinton debates with gender reversals, interesting but too many uncontrolled variables to really generalize, worth further study though

thoughts on the flight 93 election concept from ace of spades

Money Quote

“Proposition 1: The country, and the GOP itself, are in excellent shape as they are. The GOP has no need to rethink its foreign policy or its embrace of national building not just as a necessary evil in the post-warfighting phase of war, but in an actual goal of warfighting in and of itself.
The GOP has no need to do anything at all to help working class voters who find many of the jobs they used to do have now been outsourced to foreign countries, and must now compete for the diminished number of jobs remaining with the large numbers of foreign replacements who have been insourced. That these people are now taking opiods and killing themselves in large numbers just indicates they weren’t of terribly fit stock in the first place and were ripe for replacement. And if they want to improve their lives, they should just Learn Computers Or Whatever.
And as for the Left: Nothing is really different about the left. It is just the same annoying creature it always was. Despite the claims from The Crazies, the left can be dealt with the way it always has, through piecemeal appeasement and serial surrenders which exhaust them by making them march to precisely where they wanted to go in the first place, but at a somewhat slowed and awkward pace.
Surely, we need not fear their rising militancy and violence. Only kookoobananas cowards who are also racists would take seriously the claims government operatives are now targeting conservatives and the media seems to be deliberately stoking grievances which prompt leftists to then commit acts of violence — acts of violence the media does not report, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight.
Proposition 2: The world is on fire and America is essentially dead. Everyone responsible for this should be dragged through the streets and then raped by Kodiaks. We had nothing to do with any of this ourselves, it’s all a conspiracy of the corporations and monied interests to screw us over. No one in the GOP believes a damn thing they say and their promises die on the day they trick us to reelecting them. No one in DC knows a damn thing about anything and no one who has ever written about DC should ever be read again. Their works should all be consigned to the Purging Flames.”

I don’t think 1 is fair and I don’t think 2 is accurate.  2 is just objectively wrong in so many respects, most notably the first sentence.  I’m more sympathetic to some of the later stuff.  But the dark worldview is just wrong on a lot of levels.  I think 1 is characterized by post-Christian cultural conservatives animated by hatred/nihilism who are just pissed at the ascendency of the libertarians and nationalists.  Christian conservatives just don’t have that level of blind hatred that these guys do.  1 does beg some questions though.  The purveyors of the 2 worldview think that the failure of Republican elites to explicitly promote the interests of white voters amounts to a betrayal. They don’t agree with the positive-sum outlook of the libertarians at all.  The ongoing mass suicide in white America is explicitly the fault of the elites who failed to look out for them.  Whites bear no responsibility for their travails.  I do agree that the talk of replacement is just corporate bullshit, but the reality is that life isn’t fair and you have to change or die when it comes to the market.  You are not entitled to anything.  The government cannot guarantee the popular conception of the American social contract.

“The hierarchy goes like so:

1. Physiological.

2. Safety.

3. Love/Belonging.

4. Esteem.

5. Self-actualization.

1. Security from bandits, invaders, Vikings, street criminals.

2. Security from harassment or assault from government officials themselves. (Note that 1 and 2 can easily flip depending on which is more threatening, but generally, states are formed to defend a land against outside conquerers and then that state moves on to conquering its own people.)

3. Security from social or cultural degradation and being assigned to an officially or semi-officially inferior caste — think “Civil Rights.” Think casual slurs directed at any group.

4. Big picture, gut level, philosophy-defining questions, such as on abortion, the sanctity of marriage, whether the state will permit personal property or whether it will all be shared, whether criminals will be treated leniently or punitively, etc.

5. More wonkish refinements of the big-picture gut level items — whether or not we’ll have a border adjustment tax or an Ex-Im Bank or whether we will declare as a nation that we will go to war with Russia if it threatens Estonia, even though we all know it doesn’t matter what we say, we won’t go to war, but it’s important for our self-esteem to claim we might.

Many in what I would casually, and perhaps insultingly, call “The Establishment” seem to feel pretty secure on the first three levels of the hierarchy of needs, which then permits them to spend most of their thinking on the fourth level and the fifth level.”

Interesting to think that this may apply to politics quite well.  A form of the “know that you care line of reasoning.

sympathy for the blue eyed devil, commentary on mlk

democrats and the shadow welfare state

Money Quotes and Response

“White supremacy is not merely an outdated bigotry to be banished by the light of reason. It is a pragmatic ideology that for centuries has protected low income whites from being subjected to the same miserable fate as blacks in this country. If racial justice only delivers an equal opportunity to be looted by a powerful elite, then there is no rational reason for low income whites to get on board.”

This is the key.

“Racism has both an emotional and a practical dimension, like two sides of a coin. Its emotional roots are deep, historic, and practically subliminal, bubbling up from long-forgotten sources. They are entwined with very practical benefits that protect economically vulnerable white communities from being exploited in the same manner as minorities.

We like to imagine that we are all self-created from scratch, a pure result of our individual choices. That idea blinds us to the ways that our social and political assumptions, especially the deepest ones associated with identity, actually form.

What we know about the world, or more to the point, what we think we know, mostly comes to us from places we cannot readily identify. What it means to be a good man or a good woman. What habits, food, even clothes are familiar and acceptable or strange and suspicious. Across most of the country, a man does not simply decide one day that a purple shirt would be better than yesterday’s white one. He doesn’t get out of bed one morning and decide to wear a dress instead of jeans. The “why” of the matter isn’t important. That’s just how it is.

We do not construct these assumptions deliberately on the fly. We don’t generally ask where they come from. When powerful forces from the wider world challenge the legitimacy of these assumptions, few of us take time to reassess them. Instead, we push back as hard as we think we can afford to. We resist with whatever means are reasonably, and sometimes unreasonably, available.

Cultural traditions offer security and stability. Security and stability are particularly vital to communities with few options or opportunities. The more dangerous and exploitative the economic environment, the more stubbornly culturally conservative lower income citizens will be.”

A republican who actually understands culture.  How refreshing.  This is really important.

“White supremacy evolved as an absolutely essential survival strategy for whites with little political power or property. Our history glosses over the fact that slavery did not evolve in North America as an exclusively black institution. As early as the 17th century laws were being enacted that assumed that any dark-skinned person was a slave, but until slavery was outlawed for everyone the only protection against potential enslavement rose from white racial solidarity.

Until the early 18th century one of the main sources of slaves for the American colonies was Ireland. As late as 1800 we have a record of an enslaved white woman in North Carolinaappealing to the legislature for freedom. Her request was not granted. At the height of the slave period, the case of Alexina Morrison in Louisiana demonstrated that being obviously white was not an ironclad protection against enslavement.

What made slavery for whites increasingly rare was not legal protection – it did not exist – but rather a generally accepted notion of white racial supremacy. For politically and economically vulnerable white citizens, unquestioned collective acceptance of racist ideology was the only reliable guarantor of their liberty.

No one need even remember slavery to inherit that culture. That tradition refuses to fade away because it continues to be relevant in practical ways.

White drivers are not subjected to “stop and frisk.” White schools get privileged access to the best tax base. Almost every college in the country offers preference to “legacies,” students whose families benefited from an era in which only white men were allowed to compete.

The Civil Rights era has threatened those prerogatives without replacing them with something more just. Efforts at desegregation weakened the ties that gave lower wage white families access to schools supported by the resources of wealthier families. They scrambled to find alternatives to busing while the affluent re-sorted themselves into all white school districts where they could further concentrate their resources.

Affirmative action in government hiring has meant that an entire class of relatively secure middle income jobs which had once been reserved for whites (white males, specifically) were now subject to fierce competition. Affluent whites with ready access to education have been largely unaffected by affirmative action while white families of limited means saw opportunities for their children disappear.

Talk of gun control threatens a loss of security, even if that security is an illusion. With their ties to white elites weakening, suspicion of authority is expressed in a futile race for self-protection.

White supremacy means low income whites don’t worry about their kid being killed by George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson. If their white son foolishly carries his Airsoft gun to the park, they don’t worry that police might kill him. White supremacy grants immunity to many social problems that minority communities are left to endure.”

I suspect there is more here though.  Again, I think his gun control argument is weaker even though it does fit well with the narrative.

“Until a few decades ago nearly every job of any economic or social importance was set aside for white men. Still today, the networks built on that heritage still make it easier for whites to access the best jobs in the economy. Lower income whites have consistently enjoyed better access to economic, social and political opportunities by virtue of their race than they would have had by virtue of their income or education. Race matters less than it used to, but it remains a vital shield, a hidden yet powerful social safety net.

Understanding white supremacy as a sort of shadow safety net helps explain one of the icons of the Obama Era. Tea Party groups angrily protest the President’s supposed “socialism” while just as vehemently threatening anyone who might endanger their Social Security or Medicare benefits. The Tea Party movement makes no sense as a reaction to government spending or social programs. It makes absolute practical sense as a movement to preserve an unofficial white social welfare state with all its stated and unstated benefits.”

That’s a pretty powerful argument.  Although now that I think about it more, it makes less sense.  The tea party started much more as a reaction to the bailouts then it did to a fear of lost benefits.  His narrative makes a lot of sense.  But I can’t allow it to blind my reasoning.

“The countryside is descending into poverty. Farming and resource extraction, the only economic activities that still make sense there on any meaningful scale, require little or no labor.

As bad as conditions are in rural areas, poverty is expanding most quickly in the suburbs. Cheap to build, expensive to live in and expensive to maintain, sprawling suburbs made sense in an era when successful white professionals were looking to protect their racial dominance by hiding from “urban” problems. Now, suburbs place residents far away from emerging opportunities, making it hard to exploit the best that a new era of globalized prosperity offers.

Just as Republicans are largely blind to the conditions and concerns that affect black communities, Democrats are increasingly baffled by the demands of white voters. In particular, Democrats fail to recognize the ways that their social welfare policies intensify white fears.

The left is blindly tearing down a race-based shadow welfare state that once delivered a reliably middle class existence for whites. They are offering to replace it with a centralized social welfare state that compromises middle earners’ interests while only providing relief to those who are financially ruined.

The Affordable Care Act may be the signal example of this failure. Health care reform could have split low and middle income white workers from their alliance with elite whites. Instead we got a program very much like the rest of the safety net.

Most middle and low income whites have some access to health insurance through their employers. The ACA extended Medicaid coverage to the very poor while middle earners who are disproportionately white were excluded from subsidies. The structure of the Affordable Care Act placed a new mandate on struggling middle-earning households while excluding them from most of the benefits of the Act. No one should be surprised at the political result.

The characterization of the Democratic Party as a force for “dependence” makes perfect sense through this lens. White families struggling to hang on to their economic status correctly understand that Democratic policies will do little for them until they’re destitute. Lower income whites are not voting against their interests. With no political options on the table that could reasonably be expected to level the economic playing field, low income whites are making a rational choice to remain tied in racial solidarity to wealthier white households for as long as possible.

The world will be a better place when the concept of white supremacy becomes a matter for the history books. We could take a large step in that direction by recognizing that white supremacy was never merely a matter of ignorance. Living in an environment that respected white culture above all others created an absolutely real, economically meaningful, and yet largely invisible social safety net that elevated opportunity and dignity for lower earning white citizens at the expense of minorities. Offering to tear down a shadow social safety net based on white supremacy and only replace it with a social safety net only for the desperately poor is, and will continue to be, a political non-starter.

To clarify, white supremacy is deeply unjust. Whites benefited in the past and continue to benefit from systematic violence aimed at looting the resources of racial minorities. It is also unjust that lower income whites are being made to suffer largely alone for the end of a white supremacist system while wealthier elites who benefited most from that system escape largely unscathed.”

This is so good.

the revenge of the reality based community

Key Point

Facts are always elusive in politics, but they remain unalterable and non-negotiable. They may be misrepresented, distorted, or suppressed, but they never go away. Lies are fast and facts are slow, but what we borrow in the space between deception and reckoning will always be repaid with terrible interest.

The Republican Party chose to embrace an entire platform of fiction to protect an unstable coalition too brittle to bend and too dear to abandon. Simply put, our modern Republican alignment comes from our effort to recruit white supremacists. Our dissociation from the world of empirical reality rises from the ideology we adopted to obscure that compromise.

Race may not be the most important issue in American life, but it is the keystone of Republican politics. Reagan once said “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.” Republicans face a simple answer that is also brutally difficult. Reckon with the ghosts of our 20th century racial compromise and we can perhaps build a more sustainable future. Continue to ignore that tumor and the cancer will spread.

This is the revenge of the reality based community in a nutshell. We will either be what we were created to be – the Party of Lincoln – or we will soon cease to exist. We will pay our debt to reality, or we will be left helpless in the hands of the monster we created.

hope and danger in income inequality

Key Point

Contrary to popular belief, the world is getting better. However, a significant chunk of the population is missing out on these benefits entirely. When we think of poverty and decline we often draw a mental picture of struggling minorities in our inner cities. Our focus on this outdated picture of poverty helps explain our inability to understand Donald Trump and the rise of the far right in America.

If we are going to develop political policies in line with measurable economic realities then this paradigm should change. Our income statistics and the Trump phenomenon together have a vital story to tell – economic decline is now primarily a white rural problem. We have misidentified the biggest winners and losers emerging from this stage of capitalism. Our politics and our public narrative need to adapt to this volatile emerging dynamic.

The irony of a golden age

Key Point

Consistent with this rising power and influence, our nation is becoming a microcosm of the world. Public school children in some corner of our country speak almost every national language. While other countries struggle to achieve assimilation, Americans are developing a culture of difference. This is the place where the world’s finest build and develop the world’s best. No other nation incorporates such a broad degree of cultural diversity into its mainstream center.

Wealth and achievement have not eliminated struggle. We have not solved every problem. Americans still struggle with issues that undermine our quality of life and defeat justice. That is to say, we have not yet reached the peak of our potential. Like that young man in ancient Rome, the achievements of a civilization may have made life better for us than it might otherwise have been, but life still offers struggles and disappointments. Very few Americans perceive what we have accomplished.

Recognizing our achievements is important not because it makes us feel good or relieves us from the burdens we still face. That sense of perspective is vital as we chose where to invest our energies. This is not a time to retreat. This is not an age of fear or failure. Our struggle to build a freer, more diverse, more prosperous society is working. Seeing what we have accomplished and what lies ahead should inspire us to continue in courage rather than shrinking in cowardice.

Our problems would be the envy of our forebears and remain the envy of much of the world. We should be addressing them with a grateful smile. With the smallest investment of courage and insight our greatest age remains in our future.

Republicans Growing Demographic Trap

Its interesting how this turned out in hindsight.  The thesis is that the paranoid attitudes and beliefs of older white voters will doom the Republican party.  And yet I see both parties have large numbers of paranoiacs and I suspect that has always been true.  The narrative did not hold.  Enough white voters in the midwest seem to have bought into the decline narrative while Republicans/Trump seem to have swayed a significant number in Pennsylvania and Florida.

“This is what Bush said about the contrast between Democrats and Republicans in their respective treatment of minority voters:

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

His explanation of black politics echoes the age-old racist trope that black voters are only looking for “handouts.” Democrats, by that reasoning, are buying votes with welfare while Republicans are appealing to good, honest people who want to stand on their own two feet. That statement, crafted and honed over the course of decades, was not built to foster outreach. It is a legacy of Republican efforts to win white voters in the post-Jim Crow South. We repeated it over and over until we started to believe it was true.”

This is important and still infects our thinking unfortunately.

Is intersectionality a religion?

Money Quotes

“It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.”

It’s interesting how this works out this way.  I wonder what the draw is?  “They believe anything” I suppose.

“It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.

And what I saw on the video struck me most as a form of religious ritual — a secular exorcism, if you will — that reaches a frenzied, disturbing catharsis. When Murray starts to speak, the students stand and ritually turn their backs on him in silence. The heretic must not be looked at, let alone engaged. Then they recite a common liturgy in unison from sheets of paper. Here’s how they begin: “This is not respectful discourse, or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated, it is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies. There is not a potential for an equal exchange of ideas.” They never specify which of Murray’s ideas they are referring to. Nor do they explain why a lecture on a recent book about social inequality cannot be a “respectful discourse.” The speaker is open to questions and there is a faculty member onstage to engage him afterward. She came prepared with tough questions forwarded from specialists in the field. And yet: “We … cannot engage fully with Charles Murray, while he is known for readily quoting himself. Because of that, we see this talk as hate speech.” They know this before a single word of the speech has been spoken.

Then this: “Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’” This, it seems to me, gets to the heart of the question — not that the students shut down a speech, but why they did. I do not doubt their good intentions. But, in a strange echo of the Trumpian right, they are insisting on the superiority of their orthodoxy to “facts.” They are hostile, like all fundamentalists, to science, because it might counter doctrine. And they shut down the event because intersectionality rejects the entire idea of free debate, science, or truth independent of white male power. At the end of this part of the ceremony, an individual therefore shouts: “Who is the enemy?” And the congregation responds: “White supremacy!”

They then expel the heretic in a unified chant: “Hey hey, ho ho! Charles Murray has got to go.” Then: “Racist, Sexist, Anti-gay. Charles Murray, Go away!” Murray’s old work on IQ demonstrates no meaningful difference between men and women, and Murray has long supported marriage equality. He passionately opposes eugenics. He’s a libertarian. But none of that matters. Intersectionality, remember? If you’re deemed a sinner on one count, you are a sinner on them all. If you think that race may be both a social construction and related to genetics, your claim to science is just another form of oppression. It is indeed hate speech. At a later moment, the students start clapping in unison, and you can feel the hysteria rising, as the chants grow louder. “Your message is hatred. We will not tolerate it!” The final climactic chant is “Shut it down! Shut it down!” It feels like something out of The Crucible. Most of the students have never read a word of Murray’s — and many professors who supported the shutdown admitted as much. But the intersectional zeal is so great he must be banished — even to the point of physical violence.”

What a strange ritual.  What happens to these people when they leave school?  Where do these religious fanatics go?  What do they become?

“This matters, it seems to me, because reason and empirical debate are essential to the functioning of a liberal democracy. We need a common discourse to deliberate. We need facts independent of anyone’s ideology or political side, if we are to survive as a free and democratic society. Trump has surely shown us this. And if a university cannot allow these facts and arguments to be freely engaged, then nowhere is safe. Universities are the sanctuary cities of reason. If reason must be subordinate to ideology even there, our experiment in self-government is over.”

I do agree that we need a common discourse to deliberate, and that can’t really happen easily in an era of tribal warfare.  That’s the thing though:  when everything becomes political, there can’t really be any facts independent of partisanship.  Everything becomes prone to partisan manipulation and the human tendency towards motivated reasoning.  Over time the result seems to be insanity and nihilism.  I don’t know what the way out is here.

View story at

why keeping track of deep work is not enough

Keeping track of the amount of time you spend focused on activity is a great way to improve your productivity but to go to the next level you need to do more.

Because your ability to focus needs to be trained and maintained like a muscle, learning how to do deep work takes time and devotion.

haircuts and the cost of time

Money Quotes

“Barbers do the same thing they did thirty years ago at pretty much the same pace.  No one has invented faster scissors or found a way to trim six heads at once.  Your cut can’t be outsourced to India or North Dakota.  It still demands personal attention from someone with at least a minimal understanding of what they’re doing.

The men’s haircut sits in the dead zone of our wealth revolution.  It illustrates the extent to which our radical economic transformation has made the time and attention of a human being the most valuable commodity on the planet. …

From our perch in the barber’s chair we can catch a distant glimmer of the forces that are changing our politics.  Our civic culture is built on a thick bedrock of social capital.  Voluntary, personal involvement in a myriad of institutions has for centuries served to tie us to together, temper cultural and political extremes, and strengthen a sense of investment in our common welfare.

We have done almost nothing over the past generation to replace our dependence on social capital, but like education, medical care, and a decent haircut, the personal cost of direct community involvement is rising.  Our most critical institutions are becoming very expensive for us to support.  Consequently, they are failing.

How will our politics change as fewer and fewer of us are able to bear the cost of maintaining our civic infrastructure?  What will our culture look like when I choose to spend my evenings posting political rants on Facebook or updating my blog rather than taking my kids to Scouts or attending a school board meeting?”

This is one of the problems he identifies.  The increased value of time is harmful to political institutions that depend on broad participation by many mediators.  This gives more power to the people who are fanatical enough to invest extensive time into politics.

southern conservatives as americas natural third party and their unique view of the world

Money Quotes

“Southern conservatism presumes the existence of a natural, inherited hierarchy. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained in his criticism of the US constitutional order, “They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

Southern conservatism finds freedom and equality, by its unique definitions, through adherence to a social hierarchy based on race, Christianity, a male duty to protect women, and a commodity-driven economy. Though they have always been intensely hostile to government intervention in markets, this should never be interpreted as an affinity for capitalism, which they have always found to be grubby and low. Few forces are more disruptive of a perfect social order than the constant, churning creative destruction that accompanies capitalism.

This bloc falls into occasional alignment with business interests due to their far greater fear of central government power. Their distrust of bankers and industrialists is less pressing than their loathing of a central government premised on “all men are created equal.” Southern conservatives have been at war with the opening premise of the Declaration of Independence from our earliest days. That war has flared into open, violent conflict at various times but it has never reached a climax and perhaps it never will.

If you have formed a perfect society in terms of culture, race, and religion, there is no such thing as “progress.” Progress is perversion, since every change is a descent from the ideal. Preserving their unique racial and religious order inside a hostile liberal democracy depends on the jealous protection of each state’s individual sovereignty.

Driven by this mandate, conservatives in the slave states developed a political system unlike anything that existed elsewhere in America. Southern states never indigenously fostered a free press, freedom of expression or movement, or any of the liberal values that were taken for granted elsewhere. Every form of personal, religious, political, or economic expression was subjected to the overarching concerns of a white population living in fear of their slaves, or later their liberated former slaves.

“Freedom,” like every other term in the American political lexicon, took on a unique meaning in the South; reinterpreted through a lens of racial conflict. Freedom for Southern conservatives depended on a racial, religious and economic caste system that could suppress the impulses of the dangerous lower orders. Freedom was inseparable from security, and security was inseparable from fear.

Southern conservatism held two supreme prerogatives: 1) Central government must remain as weak as possible, and 2) White racial and cultural supremacy must be enforced at all costs. Divisions of class and profession that influenced partisan alignments elsewhere in the US were suppressed in the South under the larger banner of racial solidarity.

Voting rights were jealously guarded and subject to a myriad of largely arbitrary local limitations. A system of private violence, without recourse to the justice system, was leveraged to maintain cultural conformity. That private violence also helped to enforce uniform single-party rule within those states, intolerant of open criticism or authentic political competition. It is that heritage of private mob violence that explains their strangely fanatical obsession with unregulated private gun ownership.

Southern conservatives worked to block every exercise of federal influence other than those connected with internal security. Early in the republic they blocked national investments in canal-building, railroads, banks and schools. Later they fought the establishment of public schools. Mass public schooling only arrived in the South with Reconstruction. Mississippi continued its fight against public Kindergarten and compulsory school attendance all the way into the 1980’s. Public spending on any function other than security was, and still is, viewed with the deepest skepticism among Southern conservatives.”

This is a fascinating view of them.  I’m not sure how true it is.  I think there is something to the idea of the value of hierarchy.  But I am not sure if that is strictly defined by racial ideas as much as parochialism that was spawned by racism but isn’t bounded by it.  Same with the hatred of government.  I see that sort of parochialism found in many places.  Although it would be interesting to see where the idea of security being the sole function of the central gov originated from, probably the constitution for starters lol and then opposition to the new deal among business interests likely perpetuated it.

The Jim Crow era private violence probably was the main reason there was never any real political competition.  That makes sense.  I hadn’t thought of that before.  Today I think the urban-rural divide is much more prominent than anything else and that assertion seems to be reasonably backed up by the voting data.  So that one isn’t really as relevant anymore.

I’m not really in the mood to go through all of these.  But it looks like reality is often subordinated to a good story here.  His historical knowledge is fascinating though.  I wonder where he got it all from.

the tension between civil rights and limited government, how Jim Crow was the worst-case scenario for supporters of informal local institutions replacing government

Money Quotes

“In the libertarian paradise of the Old South, no central authority interfered with a man’s basic freedoms. As a result, the strong, the popular, the well-organized, and the wealthy were able to run roughshod over those with less power.

Enforcement and maintenance of white supremacy did not come from the state. Governments in the South were too weak to enforce anything. Jim Crow was conceived, implemented, and held in place by informal, voluntary, popular arrangements as one would expect in a libertarian community.

A dense, organic network of paramilitary and terrorist groups performed the day to day work of maintaining white supremacy. The KKK is by far the best known of these organizations, but much of the dirty work of maintaining segregation was carried out by local, less formal groups.

Sitting above the paramilitaries were more dignified, “moderate” local assemblies, like the White Citizens’ Councils of the late Jim Crow period. The secrecy of the paramilitaries meant that a man could sit on a more respected assembly by day, urging the peaceful resolution of differences while coordinating or even participating in more violent groups.

Very little of the structure of Jim Crow was ever reduced to law. The laws were only necessary to limit the ability of high-minded law enforcement from attempting to restrain “public will.” Jim Crow was almost entirely informal, cultural, and driven by extra-legal enforcement. Jim Crow is what happens when libertarians get what they want. …

We will never successfully restrain the relentless expansion of Federal power unless we understand the valid reasons it exists. On Martin Luther King’s birthday, it would be wise to acknowledge the permanent tension between small government and personal liberty. We must learn to intelligently protect the latter if we will ever achieve the former.”

This is a pretty devastating attack against a lot of what conservatives and libertarians believe; that we would be better off without the shackles of the central government in favor of informal institutions.  These informal institutions can be just as tyrannical as a central gov.  Indeed this is a case of 10,000 tyrants one mile away being more dangerous than one tyrant 10,000 miles away.  Now it would be interesting to consider this in light of “Seeing Like a State” and the review below that I haven’t gotten to yet.  I don’t think it has to end this way.  Indeed – as many have noted – the American slave society of the south was uniquely bad in many respects.  Many other systems of informal institutions have been developed that weren’t nearly as bad as the Jim Crow south.  Many in fact were pretty damn good.  So I think its best to consider this more as a worst-case scenario.  That being said, our history shows that the risks of too much decentralization are real and especially more so due to our ingrained history.

meditations on moloch

Section 1

Allan Ginsberg’s famous poem, Moloch:

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!

Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

“The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”

Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”

Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”

The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.”

-That seems to be the fundamental flaw in so much of our thinking.  Indeed, I suspect that the very concept of sin may be related to this.

“And okay, this example is kind of contrived. So let’s run through – let’s say ten – real world examples of similar multipolar traps to really hammer in how important this is.

1. The Prisoner’s Dilemma, as played by two very dumb libertarians who keep ending up on defect-defect. There’s a much better outcome available if they could figure out the coordination, but coordination is hard. From a god’s-eye-view, we can agree that cooperate-cooperate is a better outcome than defect-defect, but neither prisoner within the system can make it happen.

2. Dollar auctions. I wrote about this and even more convoluted versions of the same principle in Game Theory As A Dark Art. Using some weird auction rules, you can take advantage of poor coordination to make someone pay $10 for a one dollar bill. From a god’s-eye-view, clearly people should not pay $10 for a on-er. From within the system, each individual step taken might be rational.

(Ashcans and unobtainable dollars!)

3. The fish farming story from my Non-Libertarian FAQ 2.0:

As a thought experiment, let’s consider aquaculture (fish farming) in a lake. Imagine a lake with a thousand identical fish farms owned by a thousand competing companies. Each fish farm earns a profit of $1000/month. For a while, all is well.

But each fish farm produces waste, which fouls the water in the lake. Let’s say each fish farm produces enough pollution to lower productivity in the lake by $1/month.

A thousand fish farms produce enough waste to lower productivity by $1000/month, meaning none of the fish farms are making any money. Capitalism to the rescue: someone invents a complex filtering system that removes waste products. It costs $300/month to operate. All fish farms voluntarily install it, the pollution ends, and the fish farms are now making a profit of $700/month – still a respectable sum.

But one farmer (let’s call him Steve) gets tired of spending the money to operate his filter. Now one fish farm worth of waste is polluting the lake, lowering productivity by $1. Steve earns $999 profit, and everyone else earns $699 profit.

Everyone else sees Steve is much more profitable than they are, because he’s not spending the maintenance costs on his filter. They disconnect their filters too.

Once four hundred people disconnect their filters, Steve is earning $600/month – less than he would be if he and everyone else had kept their filters on! And the poor virtuous filter users are only making $300. Steve goes around to everyone, saying “Wait! We all need to make a voluntary pact to use filters! Otherwise, everyone’s productivity goes down.”

Everyone agrees with him, and they all sign the Filter Pact, except one person who is sort of a jerk. Let’s call him Mike. Now everyone is back using filters again, except Mike. Mike earns $999/month, and everyone else earns $699/month. Slowly, people start thinking they too should be getting big bucks like Mike, and disconnect their filter for $300 extra profit…

A self-interested person never has any incentive to use a filter. A self-interested person has some incentive to sign a pact to make everyone use a filter, but in many cases has a stronger incentive to wait for everyone else to sign such a pact but opt out himself. This can lead to an undesirable equilibrium in which no one will sign such a pact.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like this is the core of my objection to libertarianism, and that Non-Libertarian FAQ 3.0 will just be this one example copy-pasted two hundred times. From a god’s-eye-view, we can say that polluting the lake leads to bad consequences. From within the system, no individual can prevent the lake from being polluted, and buying a filter might not be such a good idea. (he is really arguing against anarcho-capitalism here, although I don’t know quite enough to separate this from libertarianism as I have seen it articulated.  That being said, privatization or some sort of Coaseian trade is an easy method that libertarians would use to resolve this issue)

4. The Malthusian trap, at least at its extremely pure theoretical limits. Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.

In fact, it’s not just art. Any sect at all that is leaner, meaner, and more survivalist than the mainstream will eventually take over. If one sect of rats altruistically decides to limit its offspring to two per couple in order to decrease overpopulation, that sect will die out, swarmed out of existence by its more numerous enemies. If one sect of rats starts practicing cannibalism, and finds it gives them an advantage over their fellows, it will eventually take over and reach fixation.

If some rat scientists predict that depletion of the island’s nut stores is accelerating at a dangerous rate and they will soon be exhausted completely, a few sects of rats might try to limit their nut consumption to a sustainable level. Those rats will be outcompeted by their more selfish cousins. Eventually the nuts will be exhausted, most of the rats will die off, and the cycle will begin again. Any sect of rats advocating some action to stop the cycle will be outcompeted by their cousins for whom advocating anything is a waste of time that could be used to compete and consume.

For a bunch of reasons evolution is not quite as Malthusian as the ideal case, but it provides the prototype example we can apply to other things to see the underlying mechanism. From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to say the rats should maintain a comfortably low population. From within the system, each individual rat will follow its genetic imperative and the island will end up in an endless boom-bust cycle.

5. Capitalism. Imagine a capitalist in a cutthroat industry. He employs workers in a sweatshop to sew garments, which he sells at minimal profit. Maybe he would like to pay his workers more, or give them nicer working conditions. But he can’t, because that would raise the price of his products and he would be outcompeted by his cheaper rivals and go bankrupt. Maybe many of his rivals are nice people who would like to pay their workers more, but unless they have some kind of ironclad guarantee that none of them are going to defect by undercutting their prices they can’t do it.

Like the rats, who gradually lose all values except sheer competition, so companies in an economic environment of sufficiently intense competition are forced to abandon all values except optimizing-for-profit or else be outcompeted by companies that optimized for profit better and so can sell the same service at a lower price.

(I’m not really sure how widely people appreciate the value of analogizing capitalism to evolution. Fit companies – defined as those that make the customer want to buy from them – survive, expand, and inspire future efforts, and unfit companies – defined as those no one wants to buy from – go bankrupt and die out along with their company DNA. The reasons Nature is red and tooth and claw are the same reasons the market is ruthless and exploitative)

From a god’s-eye-view, we can contrive a friendly industry where every company pays its workers a living wage. From within the system, there’s no way to enact it.

(Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose blood is running money!)

6. The Two-Income Trap, as recently discussed on this blog. It theorized that sufficiently intense competition for suburban houses in good school districts meant that people had to throw away lots of other values – time at home with their children, financial security – to optimize for house-buying-ability or else be consigned to the ghetto.

From a god’s-eye-view, if everyone agrees not to take on a second job to help win their competition for nice houses, then everyone will get exactly as nice a house as they did before, but only have to work one job. From within the system, absent a government literally willing to ban second jobs, everyone who doesn’t get one will be left behind.

(Robot apartments! Invisible suburbs!)

7. Agriculture. Jared Diamond calls it the worst mistake in human history. Whether or not it was a mistake, it wasn’t an accident – agricultural civilizations simply outcompeted nomadic ones, inevitable and irresistably. Classic Malthusian trap. Maybe hunting-gathering was more enjoyable, higher life expectancy, and more conducive to human flourishing – but in a state of sufficiently intense competition between peoples, in which agriculture with all its disease and oppression and pestilence was the more competitive option, everyone will end up agriculturalists or go the way of the Comanche Indians.

From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to see everyone should keep the more enjoyable option and stay hunter-gatherers. From within the system, each individual tribe only faces the choice of going agricultural or inevitably dying.

8. Arms races. Large countries can spend anywhere from 5% to 30% of their budget on defense. In the absence of war – a condition which has mostly held for the past fifty years – all this does is sap money away from infrastructure, health, education, or economic growth. But any country that fails to spend enough money on defense risks being invaded by a neighboring country that did. Therefore, almost all countries try to spend some money on defense.

From a god’s-eye-view, the best solution is world peace and no country having an army at all. From within the system, no country can unilaterally enforce that, so their best option is to keep on throwing their money into missiles that lie in silos unused.

(Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!)

9. Cancer. The human body is supposed to be made up of cells living harmoniously and pooling their resources for the greater good of the organism. If a cell defects from this equilibrium by investing its resources into copying itself, it and its descendants will flourish, eventually outcompeting all the other cells and taking over the body – at which point it dies. Or the situation may repeat, with certain cancer cells defecting against the rest of the tumor, thus slowing down its growth and causing the tumor to stagnate.

From a god’s-eye-view, the best solution is all cells cooperating so that they don’t all die. From within the system, cancerous cells will proliferate and outcompete the other – so that only the existence of the immune system keeps the natural incentive to turn cancerous in check.

10. The “race to the bottom” describes a political situation where some jurisdictions lure businesses by promising lower taxes and fewer regulations. The end result is that either everyone optimizes for competitiveness – by having minimal tax rates and regulations – or they lose all of their business, revenue, and jobs to people who did (at which point they are pushed out and replaced by a government who will be more compliant).

But even though the last one has stolen the name, all these scenarios are in fact a race to the bottom. Once one agent learns how to become more competitive by sacrificing a common value, all its competitors must also sacrifice that value or be outcompeted and replaced by the less scrupulous. Therefore, the system is likely to end up with everyone once again equally competitive, but the sacrificed value is gone forever. From a god’s-eye-view, the competitors know they will all be worse off if they defect, but from within the system, given insufficient coordination it’s impossible to avoid.”

-This is so applicable to the way American politics has evolved of late.  Winning is ultimately the only thing that matters to strong partisans and we have therefore sacrificed every other value we hold dear along the way.  Social conservatives and Trump illustrate this perhaps more clearly than ever before.

“Before we go on, there’s a slightly different form of multi-agent trap worth investigating. In this one, the competition is kept at bay by some outside force – usually social stigma. As a result, there’s not actually a race to the bottom – the system can continue functioning at a relatively high level – but it’s impossible to optimize and resources are consistently thrown away for no reason. Lest you get exhausted before we even begin, I’ll limit myself to four examples here.

11. Education. In my essay on reactionary philosophy, I talk about my frustration with education reform:

People talk ask why we can’t reform the education system. But right now students’ incentive is to go to the most prestigious college they can get into so employers will hire them – whether or not they learn anything. Employers’ incentive is to get students from the most prestigious college they can so that they can defend their decision to their boss if it goes wrong – whether or not the college provides value added. And colleges’ incentive is to do whatever it takes to get more prestige, as measured in US News and World Report rankings – whether or not it helps students. Does this lead to huge waste and poor education? Yes. Could the Education God notice this and make some Education Decrees that lead to a vastly more efficient system? Easily! But since there’s no Education God everybody is just going to follow their own incentives, which are only partly correlated with education or efficiency.

From a god’s eye view, it’s easy to say things like “Students should only go to college if they think they will get something out of it, and employers should hire applicants based on their competence and not on what college they went to”. From within the system, everyone’s already following their own incentives correctly, so unless the incentives change the system won’t either.

12. Science. Same essay:

The modern research community knows they aren’t producing the best science they could be. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”

And yeah. That would work for the Science God. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status.

But things that work from a god’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along. And no individual journal has an incentive to unilaterally switch to early registration and publishing negative results, since it would just mean their results are less interesting than that other journal who only publishes ground-breaking discoveries. From within the system, everyone is following their own incentives and will continue to do so.

13. Government corruption. I don’t know of anyone who really thinks, in a principled way, that corporate welfare is a good idea. But the government still manages to spend somewhere around (depending on how you calculate it) $100 billion dollars a year on it – which for example is three times the amount they spend on health care for the needy. Everyone familiar with the problem has come up with the same easy solution: stop giving so much corporate welfare. Why doesn’t it happen?

Government are competing against one another to get elected or promoted. And suppose part of optimizing for electability is optimizing campaign donations from corporations – or maybe it isn’t, but officials think it is. Officials who try to mess with corporate welfare may lose the support of corporations and be outcompeted by officials who promise to keep it intact.

So although from a god’s-eye-view everyone knows that eliminating corporate welfare is the best solution, each individual official’s personal incentives push her to maintain it.

14. Congress. Only 9% of Americans like it, suggesting a lower approval rating than cockroaches, head lice, or traffic jams. However, 62% of people who know who their own Congressional representative is approve of them. In theory, it should be really hard to have a democratically elected body that maintains a 9% approval rating for more than one election cycle. In practice, every representative’s incentive is to appeal to his or her constituency while throwing the rest of the country under the bus – something at which they apparently succeed.

From a god’s-eye-view, every Congressperson ought to think only of the good of the nation. From within the system, you do what gets you elected.”

Section 2

“A basic principle unites all of the multipolar traps above. In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.”

-This is completely true for politics.

Any human with above room temperature IQ can design a utopia. The reason our current system isn’t a utopia is that it wasn’t designed by humans. Just as you can look at an arid terrain and determine what shape a river will one day take by assuming water will obey gravity, so you can look at a civilization and determine what shape its institutions will one day take by assuming people will obey incentives.

But that means that just as the shapes of rivers are not designed for beauty or navigation, but rather an artifact of randomly determined terrain, so institutions will not be designed for prosperity or justice, but rather an artifact of randomly determined initial conditions.

Just as people can level terrain and build canals, so people can alter the incentive landscape in order to build better institutions. But they can only do so when they are incentivized to do so, which is not always. As a result, some pretty wild tributaries and rapids form in some very strange places.”

-So the argument here is that instead of being fooled by randomness, we are ruled by randomness.  Interesting.  I’m not sure I entirely buy it.  But it is rather compelling.

“I will now jump from boring game theory stuff to what might be the closest thing to a mystical experience I’ve ever had.

Like all good mystical experiences, it happened in Vegas. I was standing on top of one of their many tall buildings, looking down at the city below, all lit up in the dark. If you’ve never been to Vegas, it is really impressive. Skyscrapers and lights in every variety strange and beautiful all clustered together. And I had two thoughts, crystal clear:

It is glorious that we can create something like this.

It is shameful that we did.

Like, by what standard is building gigantic forty-story-high indoor replicas of Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt, and Camelot side-by-side, filled with albino tigers, in the middle of the most inhospitable desert in North America, a remotely sane use of our civilization’s limited resources?

And it occurred to me that maybe there is no philosophy on Earth that would endorse the existence of Las Vegas. Even Objectivism, which is usually my go-to philosophy for justifying the excesses of capitalism, at least grounds it in the belief that capitalism improves people’s lives. Henry Ford was virtuous because he allowed lots of otherwise car-less people to obtain cars and so made them better off. What does Vegas do? Promise a bunch of shmucks free money and not give it to them.

Las Vegas doesn’t exist because of some decision to hedonically optimize civilization, it exists because of a quirk in dopaminergic reward circuits, plus the microstructure of an uneven regulatory environment, plus Schelling points. A rational central planner with a god’s-eye-view, contemplating these facts, might have thought “Hm, dopaminergic reward circuits have a quirk where certain tasks with slightly negative risk-benefit ratios get an emotional valence associated with slightly positive risk-benefit ratios, let’s see if we can educate people to beware of that.” People within the system, following the incentives created by these facts, think: “Let’s build a forty-story-high indoor replica of ancient Rome full of albino tigers in the middle of the desert, and so become slightly richer than people who didn’t!”

Just as the course of a river is latent in a terrain even before the first rain falls on it – so the existence of Caesar’s Palace was latent in neurobiology, economics, and regulatory regimes even before it existed. The entrepreneur who built it was just filling in the ghostly lines with real concrete.

So we have all this amazing technological and cognitive energy, the brilliance of the human species, wasted on reciting the lines written by poorly evolved cellular receptors and blind economics, like gods being ordered around by a moron.

Some people have mystical experiences and see God. There in Las Vegas, I saw Moloch.”

Section 3

“The Apocrypha Discordia says:

Time flows like a river. Which is to say, downhill. We can tell this because everything is going downhill rapidly. It would seem prudent to be somewhere else when we reach the sea.

Let’s take this random gag 100% literally and see where it leads us.

We just analogized the flow of incentives to the flow of a river. The downhill trajectory is appropriate: the traps happen when you find an opportunity to trade off a useful value for greater competitiveness. Once everyone has it, the greater competitiveness brings you no joy – but the value is lost forever. Therefore, each step of the Poor Coordination Polka makes your life worse.

But not only have we not yet reached the sea, but we also seem to move uphill surprisingly often. Why do things not degenerate more and more until we are back at subsistence level? I can think of three bad reasons – excess resources, physical limitations, and utility maximization – plus one good reason – coordination.

1. Excess resources. The ocean depths are a horrible place with little light, few resources, and various horrible organisms dedicated to eating or parasitizing one another. But every so often, a whale carcass falls to the bottom of the sea. More food than the organisms that find it could ever possibly want. There’s a brief period of miraculous plenty, while the couple of creatures that first encounter the whale feed like kings. Eventually more animals discover the carcass, the faster-breeding animals in the carcass multiply, the whale is gradually consumed, and everyone sighs and goes back to living in a Malthusian death-trap.

(Slate Star Codex: Your source for macabre whale metaphors since June 2014)

It’s as if a group of those rats who had abandoned art and turned to cannibalism suddenly was blown away to a new empty island with a much higher carrying capacity, where they would once again have the breathing room to live in peace and create artistic masterpieces.

This is an age of whalefall, an age of excess carrying capacity, an age when we suddenly find ourselves with a thousand-mile head start on Malthus. As Hanson puts it, this is the dream time.

As long as resources aren’t scarce enough to lock us in a war of all against all, we can do silly non-optimal things – like art and music and philosophy and love – and not be outcompeted by merciless killing machines most of the time.

2. Physical limitations. Imagine a profit-maximizing slavemaster who decided to cut costs by not feeding his slaves or letting them sleep. He would soon find that his slaves’ productivity dropped off drastically, and that no amount of whipping them could restore it. Eventually after testing numerous strategies, he might find his slaves got the most work done when they were well-fed and well-rested and had at least a little bit of time to relax. Not because the slaves were voluntarily withholding their labor – we assume the fear of punishment is enough to make them work as hard as they can – but because the body has certain physical limitations that limit how mean you can get away with being. Thus, the “race to the bottom” stops somewhere short of the actual ethical bottom, when the physical limits are run into.

John Moes, a historian of slavery, goes further and writes about how the slavery we are most familiar with – that of the antebellum South – is a historical aberration and probably economically inefficient. In most past forms of slavery – especially those of the ancient world – it was common for slaves to be paid wages, treated well, and often given their freedom.

He argues that this was the result of rational economic calculation. You can incentivize slaves through the carrot or the stick, and the stick isn’t very good. You can’t watch slaves all the time, and it’s really hard to tell whether a slave is slacking off or not (or even whether, given a little more whipping, he might be able to work even harder). If you want your slaves to do anything more complicated than pick cotton, you run into some serious monitoring problems – how do you profit from an enslaved philosopher? Whip him really hard until he elucidates a theory of The Good that you can sell books about?

The ancient solution to the problem – perhaps an early inspiration to Fnargl – was to tell the slave to go do whatever he wanted and found most profitable, then split the profits with him. Sometimes the slave would work a job at your workshop and you would pay him wages based on how well he did. Other times the slave would go off and make his way in the world and send you some of what he earned. Still other times, you would set a price for the slave’s freedom, and the slave would go and work and eventually come up with the mone and free himself.

Moes goes even further and says that these systems were so profitable that there were constant smouldering attempts to try this sort of thing in the American South. The reason they stuck with the whips-and-chains method owed less to economic considerations and more to racist government officials cracking down on lucrative but not-exactly-white-supremacy-promoting attempts to free slaves and have them go into business.

So in this case, a race to the bottom where competing plantations become crueler and crueler to their slaves in order to maximize competitiveness is halted by the physical limitation of cruelty not helping after a certain point.

Or to give another example, one of the reasons we’re not currently in a Malthusian population explosion right now is that women can only have one baby per nine months. If those weird religious sects that demand their members have as many babies as possible could copy-paste themselves, we would be in really bad shape. As it is they can only do a small amount of damage per generation.

3. Utility maximization. We’ve been thinking in terms of preserving values versus winning competitions, and expecting optimizing for the latter to destroy the former.

But many of the most important competitions / optimization processes in modern civilization are optimizing for human values. You win at capitalism partly by satisfying customers’ values. You win at democracy partly by satisfying voters’ values.

Suppose there’s a coffee plantation somewhere in Ethiopia that employs Ethiopians to grow coffee beans that get sold to the United States. Maybe it’s locked in a life-and-death struggle with other coffee plantations and want to throw as many values under the bus as it can to pick up a slight advantage.

But it can’t sacrifice quality of coffee produced too much, or else the Americans won’t buy it. And it can’t sacrifice wages or working conditions too much, or else the Ethiopians won’t work there. And in fact, part of its competition-optimization process is finding the best ways to attract workers and customers that it can, as long as it doesn’t cost them too much money. So this is very promising.

But it’s important to remember exactly how fragile this beneficial equilibrium is.

Suppose the coffee plantations discover a toxic pesticide that will increase their yield but make their customers sick. But their customers don’t know about the pesticide, and the government hasn’t caught up to regulating it yet. Now there’s a tiny uncoupling between “selling to Americans” and “satisfying Americans’ values”, and so of course Americans’ values get thrown under the bus.

Or suppose that there’s a baby boom in Ethiopia and suddenly there are five workers competing for each job. Now the company can afford to lower wages and implement cruel working conditions down to whatever the physical limits are. As soon as there’s an uncoupling between “getting Ethiopians to work here” and “satisfying Ethiopian values”, it doesn’t look too good for Ethiopian values either.

Or suppose someone invents a robot that can pick coffee better and cheaper than a human. The company fires all its laborers and throws them onto the street to die. As soon as the utility of the Ethiopians is no longer necessary for profit, all pressure to maintain it disappears.

Or suppose that there is some important value that is neither a value of the employees or the customers. Maybe the coffee plantations are on the habitat of a rare tropical bird that environmentalist groups want to protect. Maybe they’re on the ancestral burial ground of a tribe different from the one the plantation is employing, and they want it respected in some way. Maybe coffee growing contributes to global warming somehow. As long as it’s not a value that will prevent the average American from buying from them or the average Ethiopian from working for them, under the bus it goes.

I know that “capitalists sometimes do bad things” isn’t exactly an original talking point. But I do want to stress how it’s not equivalent to “capitalists are greedy”. I mean, sometimes they are greedy. But other times they’re just in a sufficiently intense competition where anyone who doesn’t do it will be outcompeted and replaced by people who do. Business practices are set by Moloch, no one else has any choice in the matter.

(from my very little knowledge of Marx, he understands this very very well and people who summarize him as “capitalists are greedy” are doing him a disservice)

And as well understood as the capitalist example is, I think it is less well appreciated that democracy has the same problems. Yes, in theory it’s optimizing for voter happiness which correlates with good policymaking. But as soon as there’s the slightest disconnect between good policymaking and electability, good policymaking has to get thrown under the bus.

For example, ever-increasing prison terms are unfair to inmates and unfair to the society that has to pay for them. Politicans are unwilling to do anything about them because they don’t want to look “soft on crime”, and if a single inmate whom they helped release ever does anything bad (and statistically one of them will have to) it will be all over the airwaves as “Convict released by Congressman’s policies kills family of five, how can the Congressman even sleep at night let alone claim he deserves reelection?”. So even if decreasing prison populations would be good policy – and it is – it will be very difficult to implement.

(Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the stunned governments!)

Turning “satisfying customers” and “satisfying citizens” into the outputs of optimization processes was one of civilization’s greatest advances and the reason why capitalist democracies have so outperformed other systems. But if we have bound Moloch as our servant, the bonds are not very strong, and we sometimes find that the tasks he has done for us move to his advantage rather than ours.

4. Coordination.

The opposite of a trap is a garden.

Things are easy to solve from a god’s-eye-view, so if everyone comes together into a superorganism, that superorganism can solve problems with ease and finesse. An intense competition between agents has turned into a garden, with a single gardener dictating where everything should go and removing elements that do not conform to the pattern.

As I pointed out in the Non-Libertarian FAQ, government can easily solve the pollution problem with fish farms. The best known solution to the Prisoners’ Dilemma is for the mob boss (playing the role of a governor) to threaten to shoot any prisoner who defects. The solution to companies polluting and harming workers is government regulations against such. Governments solve arm races within a country by maintaining a monopoly on the use of force, and it’s easy to see that if a truly effective world government ever arose, international military buildups would end pretty quickly.

The two active ingredients of government are laws plus violence – or more abstractly agreements plus enforcement mechanism. Many other things besides governments share these two active ingredients and so are able to act as coordination mechanisms to avoid traps.

For example, since students are competing against each other (directly if classes are graded on a curve, but always indirectly for college admissions, jobs, et cetera) there is intense pressure for individual students to cheat. The teacher and school play the role of a government by having rules (for example, against cheating) and the ability to punish students who break them.

But the emergent social structure of the students themselves is also a sort of government. If students shun and distrust cheaters, then there are rules (don’t cheat) and an enforcement mechanism (or else we will shun you).

Social codes, gentlemens’ agreements, industrial guilds, criminal organizations, traditions, friendships, schools, corporations, and religions are all coordinating institutions that keep us out of traps by changing our incentives.

But these institutions not only incentivize others, but are incentivized themselves. These are large organizations made of lots of people who are competing for jobs, status, prestige, et cetera – there’s no reason they should be immune to the same multipolar traps as everyone else, and indeed they aren’t. Governments can in theory keep corporations, citizens, et cetera out of certain traps, but as we saw above there are many traps that governments themselves can fall into.

The United States tries to solve the problem by having multiple levels of government, unbreakable constutitional laws, checks and balances between different branches, and a couple of other hacks.

Saudi Arabia uses a different tactic. They just put one guy in charge of everything.

This is the much-maligned – I think unfairly – argument in favor of monarchy. A monarch is an unincentivized incentivizer. He actually has the god’s-eye-view and is outside of and above every system. He has permanently won all competitions and is not competing for anything, and therefore he is perfectly free of Moloch and of the incentives that would otherwise channel his incentives into predetermined paths. Aside from a few very theoretical proposals like my Shining Garden, monarchy is the only system that does this.

But then instead of following a random incentive structure, we’re following the whim of one guy. Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino is a crazy waste of resources, but the actual Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus wasn’t exactly the perfect benevolent rational central planner either.

The libertarian-authoritarian axis on the Political Compass is a tradeoff between discoordination and tyranny. You can have everything perfectly coordinated by someone with a god’s-eye-view – but then you risk Stalin. And you can be totally free of all central authority – but then you’re stuck in every stupid multipolar trap Moloch can devise.

The libertarians make a convincing argument for the one side, and the monarchists for the other, but I expect that like most tradeoffs we just have to hold our noses and admit it’s a really hard problem.

Section 5

“Everything the human race has worked for – all of our technology, all of our civilization, all the hopes we invested in our future – might be accidentally handed over to some kind of unfathomable blind idiot alien god that discards all of them, and consciousness itself, in order to participate in some weird fundamental-level mass-energy economy that leads to it disassembling Earth and everything on it for its component atoms.”

-This section is weird and I don’t follow all of the assumptions that lead to this conclusion.  My reading of it is that if there is no god, then this is the conclusion of a world ruled by Moloch.

Section 6

““Gnon” is Nick Land’s shorthand for “Nature And Nature’s God”, except the A is changed to an O and the whole thing is reversed, because Nick Land react to comprehensibility the same way as vampires to sunlight.”

-I think this is roughly equivalent to Moloch.  I’d need to reread more carefully to be sure.

“But a brief digression into social evolution. Societies, like animals, evolve. The ones that survive spawn memetic descendants – for example, the success of Britan allowed it to spin off Canada, Australia, the US, et cetera. Thus, we expect societies that exist to be somewhat optimized for stability and prosperity. I think this is one of the strongest conservative arguments. Just as a random change to a letter in the human genome will probably be deleterious rather than beneficial since humans are a complicated fine-tuned system whose genome has been pre-optimized for survival – so most changes to our cultural DNA will disrupt some institution that evolved to help Anglo-American (or whatever) society outcompete its real and hypothetical rivals.

The liberal counterargument to that is that evolution is a blind idiot alien god that optimizes for stupid things and has no concern with human value. Thus, the fact that some species of wasps paralyze caterpillars, lay their eggs inside of it, and have its young devour the still-living paralyzed caterpillar from the inside doesn’t set off evolution’s moral sensor, because evolution doesn’t have a moral sensor because evolution doesn’t care.”

-I just realized that Moloch is very similar to spontaneous order – the result of human action guided by incentives but not human design.  The assumptions libertarian-leaning thinkers make is that this is the ideal system or at least that it exists for very good reasons.  The weakness is that most conservatives don’t bother to answer Chesterton’s query re the fence either.  They don’t remember why the fence exists and therefore cannot defend it.  You also can’t necessarily assume that this spontaneous order is good.


In a recent piece [Warg Franklin] says that we should try to “capture Gnon”, and somehow establish control over his forces, so that we can use them to our own advantage. Capturing or creating God is indeed a classic transhumanist fetish, which is simply another form of the oldest human ambition ever, to rule the universe.

Such naive rationalism however, is extremely dangerous. The belief that it is human Reason and deliberate human design which creates and maintains civilizations was probably the biggest mistake of Enlightenment philosophy…

It is the theories of Spontaneous Order which stand in direct opposition to the naive rationalist view of humanity and civilization. The consensus opinion regarding human society and civilization, of all representatives of this tradition is very precisely summarized by Adam Ferguson’s conclusion that “nations stumble upon [social] establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design”. Contrary to the naive rationalist view of civilization as something that can be and is a subject to explicit human design, the representatives of the tradition of Spontaneous Order maintain the view that human civilization and social institutions are the result of a complex evolutionary process which is driven by human interaction but not explicit human planning.

Gnon and his impersonal forces are not enemies to be fought, and even less so are they forces that we can hope to completely “control”. Indeed the only way to establish some degree of control over those forces is to submit to them. Refusing to do so will not deter these forces in any way. It will only make our life more painful and unbearable, possibly leading to our extinction. Survival requires that we accept and submit to them. Man in the end has always been and always will be little more than a puppet of the forces of the universe. To be free of them is impossible.

Man can be free only by submitting to the forces of Gnon.

I accuse Hurlock of being stuck behind the veil. When the veil is lifted, Gnon-aka-the-GotCHa-aka-the-Gods-of-Earth turn out to be Moloch-aka-the-Outer-Gods. Submitting to them doesn’t make you “free”, there’s no spontaneous order, any gifts they have given you are an unlikely and contingent output of a blind idiot process whose next iteration will just as happily destroy you.”

Section 7

“So let me confess guilt to one of Hurlock’s accusations: I am a transhumanist and I really do want to rule the universe.

Not personally – I mean, I wouldn’t object if someone personally offered me the job, but I don’t expect anyone will. I would like humans, or something that respects humans, or at least gets along with humans – to have the job.

But the current rulers of the universe – call them what you want, Moloch, Gnon, whatever – want us dead, and with us everything we value. Art, science, love, philosophy, consciousness itself, the entire bundle. And since I’m not down with that plan, I think defeating them and taking their place is a pretty high priority.

The opposite of a trap is a garden. The only way to avoid having all human values gradually ground down by optimization-competition is to install a Gardener over the entire universe who optimizes for human values.

And the whole point of Bostrom’s Superintelligence is that this is within our reach. Once humans can design machines that are smarter than we are, by definition they’ll be able to design machines which are smarter than they are, which can design machines smarter than they are, and so on in a feedback loop so tiny that it will smash up against the physical limitations for intelligence in a comparatively lightning-short amount of time. If multiple competing entities were likely to do that at once, we would be super-doomed. But the sheer speed of the cycle makes it possible that we will end up with one entity light-years ahead of the rest of civilization, so much so that it can suppress any competition – including competition for its title of most powerful entity – permanently. In the very near future, we are going to lift something to Heaven. It might be Moloch. But it might be something on our side. If it’s on our side, it can kill Moloch dead.

And if that entity shares human values, it can allow human values to flourish unconstrained by natural law.

I realize that sounds like hubris – it certainly did to Hurlock – but I think it’s the opposite of hubris, or at least a hubris-minimizing position.

To expect God to care about you or your personal values or the values of your civilization, that’s hubris.

To expect God to bargain with you, to allow you to survive and prosper as long as you submit to Him, that’s hubris.

To expect to wall off a garden where God can’t get to you and hurt you, that’s hubris.

To expect to be able to remove God from the picture entirely…well, at least it’s an actionable strategy.

I am a transhumanist because I do not have enough hubris not to try to kill God.”

– This is an interesting critique.  So transhumanists see the randomness that has spawned much of our world and believe that it is amoral and will probably destroy us at some point.  Therefore they have invented the concept of some largely-undefined superintelligence to save humanity from oblivion.  I think this is worth exploring further.  How far is this from the Grand Inquisitor?  – Meaningless suffering doesn’t justify free will.  Therefore we must be enslaved. – As opposed to we are doing well.  But its due to random processes that will probably push into a multipolar trap at some point and destroy us.  This will be fun to think through at some point.

Section 9

The Universe is a dark and foreboding place, suspended between alien deities. Cthulhu, Gnon, Moloch, call them what you will.

Somewhere in this darkness is another god. He has also had many names. In the Kushiel books, his name was Elua. He is the god of flowers and free love and all soft and fragile things. Of art and science and philosophy and love. Of niceness, community, and civilization. He is a god of humans.

The other gods sit on their dark thrones and think “Ha ha, a god who doesn’t even control any hell-monsters or command his worshippers to become killing machines. What a weakling! This is going to be so easy!”

But somehow Elua is still here. No one knows exactly how. And the gods who oppose Him tend to find Themselves meeting with a surprising number of unfortunate accidents.

There are many gods, but this one is ours.

Bertrand Russell said: “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.”

So be it with Gnon. Our job is to placate him insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and invasion. And that only for a short time, until we come into our full power.

“It is only a childish thing, that the human species has not yet outgrown. And someday, we’ll get over it.”

Other gods get placated until we’re strong enough to take them on. Elua gets worshipped.

I think this is an excellent battle cry

And at some point, matters will come to a head.

The question everyone has after reading Ginsberg is: what is Moloch?

My answer is: Moloch is exactly what the history books say he is. He is the god of child sacrifice, the fiery furnace into which you can toss your babies in exchange for victory in war.

He always and everywhere offers the same deal: throw what you love most into the flames, and I can grant you power.

As long as the offer’s open, it will be irresistible. So we need to close the offer. Only another god can kill Moloch. We have one on our side, but he needs our help. We should give it to him.

Ginsberg’s poem famously begins “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”. I am luckier than Ginsberg. I got to see the best minds of my generation identify a problem and get to work.

– So this is temptation number 3. (authority/power)  I wonder if  you could do something like this for numbers 1 and 2. (miracle, mystery)

book review – seeing like a state

Money Quotes

“Natural organically-evolved cities tend to be densely-packed mixtures of dark alleys, tiny shops, and overcrowded streets. Modern scientific rationalists came up with a better idea: an evenly-spaced rectangular grid of identical giant Brutalist apartment buildings separated by wide boulevards, with everything separated into carefully-zoned districts. Yet for some reason, whenever these new rational cities were built, people hated them and did everything they could to move out into more organic suburbs. And again, for some reason the urban planners got promoted, became famous, and spread their destructive techniques around the world. …

Why did all of these schemes fail? And more importantly, why were they celebrated, rewarded, and continued, even when the fact of their failure became too obvious to ignore? Scott gives a two part answer.

The first part of the story is High Modernism, an aesthetic taste masquerading as a scientific philosophy. The High Modernists claimed to be about figuring out the most efficient and high-tech way of doing things, but most of them knew little relevant math or science and were basically just LARPing being rational by placing things in evenly-spaced rectangular grids.

But the High Modernists were pawns in service of a deeper motive: the centralized state wanted the world to be “legible”, ie arranged in a way that made it easy to monitor and control. An intact forest might be more productive than an evenly-spaced rectangular grid of Norway spruce, but it was harder to legislate rules for, or assess taxes on.

The state promoted the High Modernists’ platitudes about The Greater Good as cover, in order to implement the totalitarian schemes they wanted to implement anyway. The resulting experiments were usually failures by the humanitarian goals of the Modernists, but resounding successes by the command-and-control goals of the state. And so we gradually transitioned from systems that were messy but full of fine-tuned hidden order, to ones that were barely-functional but really easy to tax.”

-The previous generation of the supposed rationalists who weren’t really rational, but were excellent useful idiots for totalitarians.

Section II – Basically its a great illustration of how incredibly difficult it was for the local rulers to effectively tax the population.  A variety of factors made administration maddeningly difficult.

“The moral of the story is: premodern states had very limited ability to tax their citizens effectively. Along with the problems mentioned above – nonstandardized measurement, nonstandardized property rights, nonstandardized personal names – we can add a few others. At this point national languages were a cruel fiction; local “dialects” could be as different from one another as eg Spanish is from Portuguese, so villagers might not even be able to understand the tax collectors. Worst of all, there was no such thing as a census in France until the 17th century, so there wasn’t even a good idea of how many people or villages there were.

Kings usually solved this problem by leaving the tax collection up to local lords, who presumably knew the idiosyncracies of their own domains. But one step wasn’t always enough. If the King only knew Dukes, and the Dukes only knew Barons, and the Barons only knew village headmen, and it was only the village headmen who actually knew anything about the peasants, then you needed a four-step chain to get any taxes. Each link in the chain had an incentive to collect as much as they could and give up as little as they could get away with. So on the one end, the peasants were paying backbreaking punitive taxes. And on the other, the Royal Treasurer was handing the King half a loaf of moldy bread and saying “Here you go, Sire, apparently this is all the grain in France.”

So from the beginning, kings had an incentive to make the country “legible” – that is, so organized and well-indexed that it was easy to know everything about everyone and collect/double-check taxes. Also from the beginning, nobles had an incentive to frustrate the kings so that they wouldn’t be out of a job. And commoners, who figured that anything which made it easier for the State to tax them and interfere in their affairs was bad news, usually resisted too.”

The rest of Section III has some incredible stories of how this dynamic played out in a variety of contexts.

Section 4

So the early modern period is defined by an uneasy truce between states who want to be able to count and standardize everything, and citizens who don’t want to let them. Enter High Modernism. Scott defines it as

A strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws

…which is just a bit academic-ese for me. An extensional definition might work better: standardization, Henry Ford, the factory as metaphor for the best way to run everything, conquest of nature, New Soviet Man, people with college degrees knowing better than you, wiping away the foolish irrational traditions of the past, Brave New World, everyone living in dormitories and eating exactly 2000 calories of Standardized Food Product (TM) per day, anything that is For Your Own Good, gleaming modernist skyscrapers, The X Of The Future, complaints that the unenlightened masses are resisting The X Of The Future, demands that if the unenlightened masses reject The X Of The Future they must be re-educated For Their Own Good, and (of course) evenly-spaced rectangular grids.

First, there can be no compromise with the existing infrastructure. It was designed by superstitious people who didn’t have architecture degrees, or at the very least got their architecture degrees in the past and so were insufficiently Modern. The more completely it is bulldozed to make way for the Glorious Future, the better.

Second, human needs can be abstracted and calculated. A human needs X amount of food. A human needs X amount of water. A human needs X amount of light, and prefers to travel at X speed, and wants to live within X miles of the workplace. These needs are easily calculable by experiment, and a good city is the one built to satisfy these needs and ignore any competing frivolities.

Third, the solution is the solution. It is universal. The rational design for Moscow is the same as the rational design for Paris is the same as the rational design for Chandigarh, India. As a corollary, all of these cities ought to look exactly the same. It is maybe permissible to adjust for obstacles like mountains or lakes. But only if you are on too short a budget to follow the rationally correct solution of leveling the mountain and draining the lake to make your city truly optimal.

Fourth, all of the relevant rules should be explicitly determined by technocrats, then followed to the letter by their subordinates. Following these rules is better than trying to use your intuition, in the same way that using the laws of physics to calculate the heat from burning something is better than just trying to guess, or following an evidence-based clinical algorithm is better than just prescribing whatever you feel like.

Fifth, there is nothing whatsoever to be gained or learned from the people involved (eg the city’s future citizens). You are a rational modern scientist with an architecture degree who has already calculated out the precise value for all relevant urban parameters. They are yokels who probably cannot even spell the word architecture, let alone usefully contribute to it. They probably make all of their decisions based on superstition or tradition or something, and their input should be ignored For Their Own Good. …

Her (Jane Jacobs) critique of Le Corbusierism was mostly what you would expect, but Scott extracts some points useful for their contrast with the Modernist points earlier:

First, existing structures are evolved organisms built by people trying to satisfy their social goals. They contain far more wisdom about people’s needs and desires than anybody could formally enumerate. Any attempt at urban planning should try to build on this encoded knowledge, not detract from it.

Second, man does not live by bread alone. People don’t want the right amount of Standardized Food Product, they want social interaction, culture, art, coziness, and a host of other things nobody will ever be able to calculate. Existing structures have already been optimized for these things, and unless you’re really sure you understand all of them, you should be reluctant to disturb them.

Third, solutions are local. Americans want different things than Africans or Indians. One proof of this is that New York looks different from Lagos and from Delhi. Even if you are the world’s best American city planner, you should be very concerned that you have no idea what people in Africa need, and you should be very reluctant to design an African city without extensive consultation of people who understand the local environment.

Fourth, even a very smart and well-intentioned person who is on board with points 1-3 will never be able to produce a set of rules. Most of people’s knowledge is implicit, and most rule codes are quickly replaced by informal systems of things that work which are much more effective (the classic example of this is work-to-rule strikes).

Fifth, although well-educated technocrats may understand principles which give them some advantages in their domain, they are hopeless without the on-the-ground experience of the people they are trying to serve, whose years of living in their environment and dealing with it every day have given them a deep practical knowledge which is difficult to codify.

Section 5

“The same thing that happened with cities happened with farms. The American version was merely farce: … But the Soviet version was tragedy.”

Section 6

So if this was such a bad idea, why did everyone keep doing it?

“Confronting a tumultuous, footloose, and “headless” rural society which was hard to control and which had few political assets, the Bolsheviks, like the scientific foresters, set about redesigning their environment with a few simple goals in mind. They created, in place of what they had inherited, a new landscape of large, hierarchical, state-managed farms whose cropping patterns and procurement quotas were centrally mandated and whose population was, by law, immobile. The system thus devised served for nearly sixty years as a mechanism for procurement and control at a massive cost in stagnation, waste, demoralization, and ecological failure. … So although modernist cities and farms may have started out as attempts to help citizens with living and farming, they ended up as contributors to the great government project of legibility and taxing people effectively.”

-The main point of seeing like a state: these high modernist ideas of rational planning were devised by useful idiots (designers and practitioners) who were easily co-opted by state actors into the grand project of social control for the purpose of wealth extraction, essentially looting.

“Seeing Like A State summarizes the sort of on-the-ground ultra-empirical knowledge that citizens have of city design and peasants of farming as metis, a Greek term meaning “practical wisdom”. I was a little concerned about this because they seem like two different things. (1) The average citizen knows nothing about city design and in fact does not design cities; cities sort of happen in a weird way through cultural evolution or whatever. (2) The average farmer knows a lot about farming (even if it is implicit and not as book learning) and applies that knowledge directly in how they farm. But Scott thinks these are more or less the same thing, that this thing is a foundation of successful communities and industries, and that ignoring and suppressing it is what makes collective farms and modernist planned cities so crappy. He generalizes this further to almost every aspect of a society – its language, laws, social norms, and economy. But this is all done very quickly, and I feel like there was a sleight of hand between “each farmer eventually figures out how to farm well” and “social norms converge on good values”.

Insofar as Scott squares the above circle, he seems to think that many actors competing with each other will eventually carve out a beneficial equilibrium better than that of any centralized authority. This doesn’t really mesh will with my own fear that many actors competing with each other will eventually shoot themselves in the foot and destroy everything, and I haven’t really seen a careful investigation of when we get one versus the other.”

-This is a fair critique I think.  What makes such informal institutions effective or non-effective?  Where does justice fit into this?  How do these types of knowledge in bold interact with one another in regard to how states evolve?  These are really hard questions and far beyond me in all honesty.

Section 8 – The Counterargument

“Well, for one thing, Scott basically admits to stacking the dice against High Modernism and legibility. He admits that the organic livable cities of old had life expectancies in the forties because nobody got any light or fresh air and they were all packed together with no sewers and so everyone just died of cholera. He admits that at some point agricultural productivity multiplied by like a thousand times and the Green Revolution saved millions of lives and all that, and probably that has something to do with scientific farming methods and rectangular grids. He admits that it’s pretty convenient having a unit of measurement that local lords can’t change whenever they feel like it. Even modern timber farms seem pretty successful. After all those admissions, it’s kind of hard to see what’s left of his case.”

-Rational planning has its benefits.

“What Scott eventually says is that he’s not against legibility and modernism per se, but he wants to present them as ingredients in a cocktail of state failure. You need a combination of four things to get a disaster like Soviet collective farming (or his other favorite example, compulsory village settlement in Tanzania). First, a government incentivized to seek greater legibility for its population and territory. Second, a High Modernist ideology. Third, authoritarianism. And fourth, a “prostrate civil society”, like in Russia after the Revolution, or in colonies after the Europeans took over.

I think his theory is that the back-and-forth between centralized government and civil society allows scientific advances to be implemented smoothly instead of just plowing over everyone in a way that leads to disaster. I also think that maybe a big part of it is incremental versus sudden: western farming did well because it got to incrementally add advances and see how they worked, but when you threw the entire edifice at Tanzania it crashed and burned.”

-Good summary of what caused the worst nightmares of central planning and the importance of incrementalism to scientific advances.  Indeed, it interlocks with the principles of the scientific method, which high modernism certainly does not.

“It’s not that I don’t think Scott’s preference for metis over scientific omnipotence has value. I think it has lots of value. I see this all the time in psychiatry, which always has been and to some degree still is really High Modernist. We are educated people who know a lot about mental health, dealing with a poor population who (in the case of one of my patients) refers to Haldol as “Hound Dog”. It’s very easy to get in the trap of thinking that you know better than these people, especially since you often do (I will never understand how many people are shocked when I diagnose their sleep disorder as having something to do with them drinking fifteen cups of coffee a day).

But psychiatric patients have a metis of dealing with their individual diseases the same way peasants have a metis of dealing with their individual plots of land. My favorite example of this is doctors who learn their patients are taking marijuana, refuse to keep prescribing them their vitally important drugs unless the patient promises to stop, and then gets surprised when the patients end up decompensating because the marijuana was keeping them together. I’m not saying smoking marijuana is a good thing. I’m saying that for some people it’s a load-bearing piece of their mental edifice. And if you take it away without any replacement they will fall apart. And they have explained this to you a thousand times and you didn’t believe them.

There are so many fricking patients who respond to sedative medications by becoming stimulated, or stimulant medications by becoming sedated, or who become more anxious whenever they do anti-anxiety exercises, or who hallucinate when placed on some super common medication that has never caused hallucinations in anyone else, or who become suicidal if you try to reassure them that things aren’t so bad, or any other completely perverse and ridiculous violation of the natural order that you can think of. And the only redeeming feature of all of this is that the patients themselves know all of this stuff super-well and are usually happy to tell you if you ask.

I can totally imagine going into a psychiatric clinic armed with the Evidence-Based Guidelines the same way Le Corbusier went into Moscow and Paris armed with his Single Rational City Plan and the same way the agricultural scientists went into Tanzania armed with their List Of Things That Definitely Work In Europe. I expect it would have about the same effect for about the same reason.”

-This is something I need to keep in mind in my political/economic career.  These local details matter, especially as I try to expand opportunity in rural areas.

Why is Silicon valley so awful to women?

Money Quote – The top comment

“I have mixed feelings.

On one hand, it would suck badly to be an experienced woman developer and be treated like you’re second-class. That’s messed up.

On the other hand, Silicon Valley is awful to everyone. It is a bunch of wealthy narcissists exploiting a bunch of young, smart people on the autism spectrum. Gender ought not be treated as the most important social issue there.”

-As someone pointed out before, as an employer, when you can convince your employees that you are chasing Utopia/the future, its a lot easier to get away with treating them like shit.  That seems to be the primary problem here.


human lives are never an abstraction, pro-life values not being applied to immigrants

Money Quotes

“Although conservatives in general hold the mantle of moral authority on the issue of abortion or rather its prohibition, there is a tragic inconsistency in the values of conservatives in the area of illegal immigration.

While conservatives like to speak proudly of how they stand for life, it’s difficult to reconcile that position with the position held by a significant number of conservatives on illegal immigration.

Many conservatives believe that all illegal immigrants should be rounded up and deported. Many of those same conservatives believe that the children born to illegal immigrants while living in the United States — children that are legal United States citizens — should be deported. The terminology often used for these human beings, these children? Anchor babies.

That’s right, the political ideology of ‘life’ refers to other human beings as ‘anchors’ when it suits their politics.”

-First paragraph is the premise, rest elaborates.  Yeah I suspect the hard-line anti-immigrant types don’t really care about abortion.  At least that’s what I’ve noticed.  Strong nationalism is largely incompatible with strong christianity.

“Legality or illegality doesn’t make for a morally consistent position on the issue of life. For a political ideology that makes it a point to eviscerate opposing opinion holders on the issue of abortion, conservatives fall woefully short in their treatment of fellow human beings in the issue of illegal immigration.”

-Legalism is amoral.  That is a problem for the anti-immigrant crowd.  There’s definitely a lot to be said for the virtues of the rules-based approach.  But there is a tension between that and pro-life values that I don’t think has every been fully explored.

unspeakable realities block universal health coverage in America

Money Quotes

“When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests. We cannot begin to understand Election 2016 until we acknowledge the power and reach of socialism for white people. Americans with good jobs live in a socialist welfare state more generous, cushioned and expensive to the public than any in Europe. Like a European system, we pool our resources to share the burden of catastrophic expenses, but unlike European models, our approach doesn’t cover everyone.”

Always important to acknowledge this.  It’s easy for political losers to blame other people for their own failures.  Introspection and real understanding is essential.  This is the main premise.

“Companies can deduct the cost of their employees’ health insurance while employees are not required to report that benefit as income. That results in roughly a $400 billion annual transfer of funds from state and federal treasuries to insurers to provide coverage for the Americans least in need of assistance. This is one of the defining features of white socialism, the most generous benefits go to those who are best suited to provide for themselves. Those benefits are not limited to health care.

When I buy a house for my family, or a vacation home, the interest I pay on the mortgage is deductible up to a million dollars of debt. That costs the treasury $70 billion a year, about what we spend to fund the food stamp program. My private retirement savings are also tax deductible, diverting another $75 billion from government revenues. Other tax preferences carve out special treatment for child care expenses, college savings, commuter costs (your suburban tax credit), local taxes, and other exemptions.

By funding government programs with tax credits and deductions rather than spending, we have created an enormous social safety net that grows ever more generous as household incomes rise. It is important to note, though, that you need not be wealthy to participate. All you need to gain access to socialism for white people is a good corporate or government job. That fact helps explain how this welfare system took shape sixty years ago, why it was originally (and still overwhelmingly) white, and why white Rust Belt voters showed far more enthusiasm for Donald Trump than for Bernie Sanders. White voters are not interested in democratic socialism. They want to restore their access to a more generous and dignified program of white socialism.”

-Essential elements of white socialism, a whole shitload of tax breaks for the upper middle class that is invisible because its all funded by deductions instead of normal entitlement spending.

I think this (second bolded section) is a bit of a logical jump.  The more likely alternative explanation in my view is that the key is the invisibility.  They aren’t aware enough of their benefits for it to be a form of bigotry.

“Instead, nine years later Congress laid the foundations of the social welfare system we enjoy today. They rejected Truman’s idea of universal private coverage in favor of a program controlled by employers while publicly funded through tax breaks. This plan gave corporations new leverage in negotiating with unions, handing the companies a publicly-financed benefit they could distribute at their discretion.

No one stated their intention to create a social welfare program for white people, specifically white men, but they didn’t need to. By handing control to employers at a time when virtually every good paying job was reserved for white men the program silently accomplished that goal.”

-The history is interesting and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true.  Again the key here to the structural racism element in the second paragraph is that it was constructed by accident.  Corporations didn’t give a shit about race when they put this together.  They werent trying to fuck over black people.  They weren’t thinking about the larger implications of their actions and couldn’t predict the results fifty years down the line.  The racist element was just a side effect that they weren’t concerned about and had no control over.  This is Moloch, where the unintended consequences that no one pays attention to evolve over time into something pernicious.


anglo american tradition of free trade and limited government is fading, the problems with todays populism

Money Quotes

But I do not think that his populism is the kind of populism we are hearing a great deal about right now. WFB objected to the corruption and incompetence of our elites, not to their existence. “It is not a sign of arrogance for the king to rule,” he wrote. “That is what he is there for.”

“Trump populism, in short — is simply incompatible with a politics based on property rights, individual liberty, and the traditional moral and social order and the hierarchies that sustain it. There is more to conservatism than free trade, but the argument for free trade contains within it practically the whole of conservative economic thinking and a great deal of conservative thinking beyond economics: facing reality, making choices, enduring the consequences, accepting tradeoffs, accepting responsibility. The right to trade is implicit in the right to own (and hence to control) property. A right to trade that exists at the sufferance of the sovereign is not an unalienable right with which we are endowed by our Creator. It is something else, and something less.”

-I think there is a lot to think through here re trade.  I’m curious if it really is the right’s version of climate change.  But I think the point that it contains everything else is important here.  That’s why wsj and others are fighting so hard on it.  In any case, the problem by my reading is that free-traders want to say that distributional effects don’t matter.  But Republican base voters appear to be mainly located in areas that have lost out.
“If you are curious about the compatibility of Trump-era populism with what we sometimes call “social conservatism” (which is more properly known as conservatism), consider that, or consider how a proposal to restrict the general availability of no-fault divorce would be received in 2017.”
Yeah that one’s probably over.  But social cons would respond that they already know its over in the cultural sphere.  The political sphere is the only place they have left.
“Anglo-American … It describes a way of political life that is rooted not in Anglo-Saxon ethnicity but in the thinking and habits that informed the English-speaking world from Magna Carta (which was sealed at Runnymede, in Daniel Hannan’s constituency) to the Bill of Rights, and which informs the best political traditions not only in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand but also in places everywhere from India to Jamaica. It contains much: property rights, the rights to speak and publish and worship, the right to criticize the government and petition it for changes. It also contains the right to go one’s own way, because while Anglo-American liberalism is not a philosophy by or for an atomistic society populated exclusively by variation on homo economicus, it is a philosophy that puts at its center the smallest minority — the individual, and his rights, and his responsibilities. Populism takes a different view: At the center of its concerns is the people — or, increasingly, the People. If populism meant only being good at the real-world application of democratic politics, that would be only an acknowledgment of the political reality that you have to win to govern. But it is not that. It is rather the latest reincarnation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “general will,”

Interesting… populism as the general will.
If you ask someone, “What ought Representative Smith to do about this problem?” the answer you will usually get is: “He ought to do whatever his constituents want him to do, whatever the People want him to do.” But that is exactly wrong: What he ought to do is not what the People want, but what is best for them: If there were no difference, then the representative would not be necessary — and neither would the Constitution.

Ok this is really important.  This is the core attitude that we need to respond to.  This is the core of a healthy elitism.

republican party optimism gone it survives as resentment, how republicans and democrats have switched worldviews in many respects recently and how that makes both of them worse

“Today’s Democrats talk about the Republican-leaning parts of the United States as though they were particularly unsympathetic Third World countries, populated by people who not only lost life’s lottery but deserved it. And Republicans disagree only with their conclusion, not with the facts of the case.”

– The problems that blacks had from the late 60s to early 90s have hit the base of the Republican party and most of them won’t apply the attitudes they had/hold to blacks to people that are like them.

“The Democratic party has become positively snooty. The go-to criticism of Republicans today isn’t that they are comfortable elites, but that they aren’t. Today’s Democrats endlessly lament the poverty and the backwardness of the so-called red states (as though Mississippi’s vote in the last few presidential elections made irrelevant its century-plus of effective one-party Democratic rule) and complain that the taxes of the high-flyers in Manhattan and Silicon Valley are used to subsidize these losers. Republican-leaning states, they complain, have high poverty rates and poor educational outcomes, are beset by diseases ranging from diabetes to chlamydia (both of which are markers of poverty), and fail to adequately train their children for the 21st-century economy. They eat poorly, they smoke, they’re addicted to drugs — and they are weighing down (literally weighing down! Democrats loved those pictures of fat old people in scooters at Tea Party rallies) the rest of the country. … Republicans, conversely, have embraced loserdom. Alex P. Keaton, with his Wall Street Journal subscription and his William F. Buckley Jr. daydreams and his Ivy League ambitions (spoiler alert: He ends up not going to Princeton after all), would be looked at askance in Donald Trump’s Republican party. In 2017, conservatives rail against “elites” and Big Business leaders and corporate executives — the very people a lot of young conservatives wanted to become back in 1984. Victimhood? They speak of practically nothing but victimization: of small towns and small-town people sneered at as “flyover country” tornado bait by coastal elites; of farmers and family businesses that find it difficult to compete in a global marketplace; of workers and former workers in moribund industries; of put-upon Christians and put-upon whites and doubly put-upon white men and trebly put-upon white Christian men. They complain that their jobs are being “stolen” by scheming Orientals and sweaty immigrants happy for the opportunity to live on one tortilla a day. They believe that practically everybody who is successful in any field other than talk radio or right-wing cable news has somehow gotten one over on the rest of us. The great capitalists of our time — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk — are for them figures of contempt and derision. Even the American soldier — the most dangerous thing going about on two feet — is for them a victim, duped into fighting someone else’s wars for someone else’s agenda, a puppet of (take your pick) “neocons,” the “Deep State,” the Israel lobby, Wall Street.”

-It seems as if both parties are now “regional/cultural parties.”  We show sympathy to people who we perceive to be like us and hatred of those who don’t.  The old attitudes have been swept away before this tide.

“The Democrats have become what the Republicans once were: the party of the respectable upper-middle class — and of many of those who aspire to it. (The poor are for patronage and vote-farming.) They are, as the bourgeoisie always are, obsessed with social convention and etiquette (If a young white woman in college wears hoop earrings, is it “cultural appropriation”? How ashamed should I be for having watched Speedy Gonzales cartoons as a kid — and enjoyed them?). The Republicans have gone seeking tribunes of the plebs. (Weird thing: Our tribunes of the plebs have an awful lot of private jets parked in Palm Beach.) Up is down, left is right, confusion reigns. In neither party’s case does this recent evolution constitute an improvement: It would be one thing if the Democrats had embraced their inner aristocrats with a decent and forthright spirit of public service rather than their current nastiness and stupidity, or if the newly class-conscious Republicans were proceeding as people who are (as Someone once put it) “poor in spirit,” putting generosity of spirit rather than seething resentment at the center of their new concern for those at the margins of modern life. But that is not the case. The Democrats have become ordinary snobs of a particularly embarrassing variety, and the Republicans have become incontinent rage monkeys, looking for someone — anyone — to blame. They are much more interested in afflicting the comfortable than in comforting the afflicted. But there is another approach to life’s losers, a better one, if only they could remember. – Reagan quote below

There is snow on the ground in Washington today. And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier . . . . But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.


peter beinart’s atlantic article on the empty church problem, references douthats “If you don’t like the religious right, wait till you see the post-religious right, the problem with celebrating the end of the old culture wars

Money Quotes

“Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal. And it has contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism. As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.”

This is a huge problem.  I think there’s enough evidence to say that American religions cultural power played a big role in the civility that characterized the postwar era.

“Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.”

Key point.

Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. … The worse Americans fare in their own lives, the darker their view of the country. According to PRRI, white Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

The evidence isn’t quite strong enough here to be certain.  But this probably had a lot to do with the nihilism found in strong Trump supporters.

“But non-churchgoing conservatives didn’t flock to Trump only because he articulated their despair. He also articulated their resentments. For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.”

“Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.

So is the alt-right. Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Culture worship replaces religious worship and culture worship has none of the constraints on brutal tribalism that christianity provides.

“Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative nonattenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal nonattenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.”

It makes the left less moderate as well.

“The decline of traditional religious authority is contributing to a more revolutionary mood within black politics as well. Although African Americans remain more likely than whites to attend church, religious disengagement is growing in the black community. African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. … “The difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil-rights movement is that the civil-rights movement, by and large, was first out of the Church.” … Black Lives Matter activists sometimes accuse the black Church of sexism, homophobia, and complacency in the face of racial injustice. For instance, Patrisse Cullors, one of the movement’s founders, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness but says she became alienated by the fact that the elders were “all men.” In a move that faintly echoes the way some in the alt-right have traded Christianity for religious traditions rooted in pagan Europe, Cullors has embraced the Nigerian religion of Ifa. To be sure, her motivations are diametrically opposed to the alt-right’s. Cullors wants a spiritual foundation on which to challenge white, male supremacy; the pagans of the alt-right are looking for a spiritual basis on which to fortify it. But both are seeking religions rooted in racial ancestry and disengaging from Christianity—which, although profoundly implicated in America’s apartheid history, has provided some common vocabulary across the color line.”

It may be that they end up becoming the alt-rights opposite.

“Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.”

Good summary.  This implies that this won’t get better anytime soon.

on peter beinart’s atlantic article on the empty church problem, references douthats “If you don’t like the religious right, wait till you see the post-religious right,” plus coleman in comments on how christianity must come before culture

Coleman says:

If I can clarify my earlier comment to Noah:

I do not buy the line that cultures are sacrosanct. I didn’t buy it when it was coming from the left, and I don’t buy it from the alt-right.

Not only do I not buy it, but I think it is antithetical to the message of Christianity. Culture worship is the hollowed-out shell you get when true religion has died.

And I’ll go one step further: one of the primary thrusts of Jesus’ teaching ministry was to condemn the prioritizing of culture over mercy and justice. See: referring to an odious Samaritan as more a neighbor than a priest or Levite; defending His disciples’ refusal to participate in ritual washing; condemning the scribes and Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels; etc. This isn’t a minor side note. It’s part of what got Him killed. Jesus exploded culture worship.

And so I stand by my original assertion: you cannot worship God and culture, European or otherwise.

David says:

A frightening thought. At the moment, the main danger to Christianity comes from the Left. What happens when a post-Christian Right starts to degenerate and decides that the Church with its message of love and universal brotherhood gets in its way as well?

[NFR: You are correct. — RD]

southern poverty law center as hate group

southern poverty law center, the hate group that incited the middlebury melee attack on charles murray

ultimate takedown of the southern poverty law center with history

View story at

View story at

My Links from the Week of 3/5

Well this is my first attempt at this.  I can’t believe I never thought of this before.  This will save me the trouble of having a restore session log to keep track of.  I just need to make sure to take the time to categorize them.  This week will involve many older links from a great blog I recently discovered.  The rest are from this week or last week.  I’ll have to do another one on past favorites.  So these first two will be a little longer than others most likely.  I need to turn these all into links.

The exhaustion of American Liberalism

moral authority and the battles to achieve it. Is it worth it? Is moral authority something a christian in politics is required to sacrifice?

the non-libertarian faq- ultimate response to that worldview, highly recommend, use whenever helpful

police brutality is a blue state problem – public employee union strength leads to a lack of police accountability

Ferguson fits into our history of looting – the history of the exploitation of blacks and poor racist whites by rich whites – guide and history of blockbusting

Money Quote

Today in places like Brooklyn, Washington DC, Chicago and elsewhere, white residents are taking advantage of depressed prices to move closer to a newly vibrant urban core. Many of these white residents see themselves as progressive pioneers, converting swaths of burned-out ghetto into gleaming urban playgrounds.

Victims and survivors of a generation of racial extortion are displaced as the process comes full circle. Elaborate beards and skinny jeans are to them what a black woman with a crying baby was to a previous generation of white residents. Black residents priced out of what’s left of their homes rightly see the new influx as the final step in a cycle of exploitation. A vicious circle is closing. Now that their neighborhood has some renewed promise it’s time for the black survivors to get out of the way.

They are shipped off to suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri that are the suppurating new focus of American poverty, where struggling blue collar whites will once again greet them as a portent. Their influence is contained through aggressive, discriminatory police tactics, their little accumulated wealth siphoned away by selective law enforcement and political tactics designed to dilute their influence.

Ferguson is the depressing postlude to blockbusting. The wheel keeps turning.

The Saturday Evening Post, 1962, Confessions of a Block-Buster
Edward Orser, 1997, Blockbusting in Baltimore
The Atlantic, 2014, The Case for Reparations
New York Times, 2014, In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power
The Atlantic, 1972, The Story of the Contract Buyers’ League

a guide to structural racism and its history

The other one percent – the power of people with time to invest in politics, that realistically shouldnt be allowed to

Money Quotes

“I guess one person can make a difference…but most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”
Marge Simpson

Money is strong, but no force in politics is as powerful as the personal investment of time.  The single greatest check on the influence of money in politics is direct citizen involvement in the political process.  Almost every lever in our political machine is calibrated to favor the opinions of committed individuals who band together to make their voices heard in town halls, caucuses, hearings, conventions and myriad other formal and informal social networks.

Time, especially the time of capable individuals has become the most valuable commodity in our economy and some are blessed with more of it than others.  We recognize the growing influence of money because it is easy to understand how money affects politics.  We have attempted to construct an entire legal and political infrastructure to document the political activities of the wealthy and keep them in check.  We are ignoring the influence of the other elite – those who have precious time to spare and the will to pour it into grassroots politics.

We remain defenseless against the surging power of the other one percent.

Not so long ago our politics was deeply influenced by networks of informal mediators.  These minor authorities operated at all levels of the process, helping to broker access to the right people.  Leadership figures in your local Rotary Club, PTA, Chamber of Commerce, local churches, local party officials, and others in a vast web of voluntary groups could provide important contacts and help a layman navigate the channels of influence.

Most of these brokers had no explicit political role.  They might be the same contacts you would use get a referral to a good lawyer or realtor.  Whatever political influence they carried was ancillary to their place in the community.

Along the way those intermediaries served as filters.  They understood the personal interests of key people in the community.  They could sponsor or discourage a proposal or candidate.  They could provide advice, support, or warnings.  They could tactfully weed out the weird.

These networks had an inherent moderating influence.  They were conservative by nature, declining to challenge established practices or assumptions.  But that conservatism was tempered by personal investment.  Wherever these networks of social capital flourished (and they did not flourish in the Deep South), it was relatively difficult for a few noisy or wealthy interests to exert overweening power.

Wherever a large portion the citizenry was directly involved in supporting local institutions – where networks of social capital were strong – politics was relatively moderate, honest and pragmatic.   Exerting corrupt or bizarre influence there was a full time job requiring enormous investment.

Likewise, it would be difficult in such a scenario to persuade political institutions to back hare-brained, self-destructive policies by just ginning up a small mob of weirdos to pack caucus meetings.  There would be too many serious, invested people involved at too many levels of the system for a corps of wingnuts to wield much force.

the decline of social capital

Money Quotes

Our representative government is suffering because it is built on the assumption of broad involvement by people tied together in networks of deep, local, social interaction.  As those networks of social capital have eroded, the systems of accountability that served to mitigate extremes and weed out crackpots no longer function as they should.  Your local school might be okay with a smaller PTA, but without a rich network of local community organizations your Congress is coming unglued.

In this atmosphere a very small number of shockingly irresponsible people can have a disproportionate influence over politics by virtue of their simple willingness to invest their time.  We must adapt our bulky, staid, and slow political institutions to the demands of a world in which attention is more precious than money.

The Donald Trump of Flint, Michigan

Money Quotes

These problems, experienced locally, rise from a broader dynamic. The premise of the Politics of Crazy is that effective democratic government starts with healthy social capital. Our rapid economic transition toward a freer, more prosperous, and vastly more dynamic global economic order has produced the unintended consequence of eroding that social capital.

A once-dense network of voluntary social institutions is in steep, sudden decline. These institutions once acted as a critical mediating influence, weeding out much of the poison that might otherwise float free in our political ecosystem. Robbed of these critical filters, we are seeing a disturbing rise in the power of cranks, crooks, and crazies. Our failure to adapt to the demands of this changing environment gives rise to the Politics of Crazy, undermining our capacity to maintain successful self-government. …

No state worker would have made any critical decisions about Flint’s water supply if the city’s voters could have produced a remotely competent local government. Receivership was the only option for a city that had lost the capacity to govern itself. As incompetent as Flint’s local government had become, falling into the lap of the state meant losing even more control and nearly all oversight. Residents’ interests were now subject to political winds beyond their control.

Additional state or federal infrastructure spending would not have stopped the Flint water crisis. That crisis occurred because there was no competent local authority capable of making administrative decisions on behalf of residents. Why? Because for decades those residents had been electing crooks, charlatans, and occasionally outright idiots into positions of civic authority. A social fabric that once kept the city’s politics minimally healthy had collapsed.

Flint is not alone. We miss this warning at our collective peril.

Freedoms we enjoy under an elected, representative government are accompanied by an ironic curse – We will always have the government that we deserve. Sometimes we invite disasters with our choices. Flint’s voters ran the city into the ground, and now their children are living with the poisonous consequences. Unless we learn to adapt to the demands of this new economic environment, more disasters will follow on a grander and grander scale. Flint is a warning shot.

The root of the Flint water crisis, and so many less-publicized incidents around the country, is an utter failure of representative government. Flint was wrecked by its own voters. Those voters are returning to control as Flint emerges once again from receivership. Prospects this time are no more promising than before. A city clerk last year botched the publication of filing deadlines for candidates, threatening to block candidates from appearing on the ballot. As the newly elected local government begins work, familiar fault lines are already appearing. One councilman faces a misdemeanor charge for his conduct in council meetings.

A guide to the history of the Southern strategy

Money Quotes

The Southern Strategy was not a successful Republican initiative. It was a delayed reaction by Republican operatives to events they neither precipitated nor fully understood. Republicans did not trigger the flight of the Dixiecrats, they were buried by it. That is the unacknowledged reality of the Great Dixiecrat Migration which continues to haunt our politics in the present. …

Atwater’s statements (progressing from nigger nigger to bussing and states rights to tax cuts that hurt blacks more than whites) are electric, but as an explanation of what drew the Dixiecrats into the GOP they are entirely misleading. It’s not that Republicans learned to couch their language and conceal their racist motives. What happened was that Southern segregationists found new language and a largely empty Republican political structure through which to express it.

Romney can’t stop Trump because Trump is just a purer form of his dog whistles

Money Quotes

Frustrated by our failure to overtly embrace their agenda, Republican bigots have finally found a candidate who has dropped the pretense and run an explicitly white nationalist campaign. We are discovering that no one ever really cared much about abortion. No one cared about fiscal restraint, or tax cuts or nationalized health care. The Republican base we painstakingly assembled across fifty years is only really interested in one thing – preserving the dominant position of their white culture against a rising tide of pluralism. Other issues only mattered to the extent that they helped reinforce and preserve white supremacy.

Remember, Mitt Romney is the same guy who whitesplained the opposition he got from the NAACP in 2012 by implying that they just want “free stuff.” Romney is the 47% guy. Mitt Romney eagerly sought Donald Trump’s endorsement in the 2012 campaign, despite Trump’s bizarre birther crusade. This year’s establishment moderate, Jeb Bush, repeated the same ‘free stuff’ line in South Carolina last fall. None of the GOP field drew any principled distinction from Trump on his refugee policy, his stupid border wall, or his foreign policy militancy. Sophisticated people cloak their racism in a well-turned phrase. Romney isn’t criticizing Trump for racism. He’s just ridiculing him for using the wrong fork. Good luck with that.

Supporters often remark that Trump “tells it like it is” or he “says what we’re thinking.” Through color-blind glasses this paints a strange picture. After all, when Trump isn’t lying he’s generally either evading or distorting. Voters are describing him as a straight shooter not because he’s telling the truth, but because he has abandoned the politically correct language used by the ‘in-crowd’ to embarrass less eloquent racists. He is breaching a barrier of class, manners, and education.

on our becoming a de facto parliamentary system


Of the long list of GOPLifer posts, my favorites are: The Donald Trump of Flint, Michigan, Ferguson fits into our tradition of looting