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.

III.

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)

“V.

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?

Duh.

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.

 

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