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.
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.
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
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)
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.
“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.
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?
“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.
“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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 Medium.com
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.
“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 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.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
““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.”
“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.
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)
“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.
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.
“The same thing that happened with cities happened with farms. The American version was merely farce: … But the Soviet version was tragedy.”
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.
Money Quote – The top comment
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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 Breitbart.com 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.
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.
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]
ultimate takedown of the southern poverty law center with history
View story at Medium.com
View story at Medium.com