Culture War 2.0 is as inescapable as it is obnoxious. Its loudest proponents, the Social Justice Warriors, live off a drama that they create, playing enlightened victim-activists fighting micro-struggles against micro-aggressions in areas most people have never even thought about.
The issues are ideological, but they’re mainstreamed by focusing on personal narratives. The victim-activists are usually millennials from wealthy families with useless degrees. It’s a story as old as radicalism, but in the dawn of the 21st century, it’s activism and culture war being replayed as farce.
Culture War 2.0 politicizes narcissism and insecurity. It obsessively masticates culture the way that its political predecessors destroyed people. Its target audience lives and thinks in terms of premium cable shows. They are to it what novels were to its 19th century counterparts.
Even its ideology is more grievance than theory. It only cares about theory to the extent of parsing the Victim Value Index and determining who has more or less privilege, who ought to feel more guilty and who ought to feel more victimized. This is ideology as soap opera. Politics as a means of deciding who gets to play what emotional role in a societal drama.
Its political expressions exist in the space of the personal narrative. In this tawdry post-Orwellian future everyone will get their essay of victimhood on Medium or ThoughtCatalog read for 15 minutes. Their drama will, very temporarily, be a trending topic. For a generation of overindulged children, broadcasting their petty pains is the closest thing their lives have to love and meaning.
Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.
November 26, 2015
November 25, 2015
The bitterness, anger, and even hate that radiates from them is shocking to me. “This conversation doesn’t make me feel safe” is genuine, actual college speak, in the “microaggressions” school of thought. The purpose is to silence speech that the listener does not care for or that threatens their worldview.
They care nothing for liberty, or truth, or honesty, they do not want a world where people interact and learn from each other, they want nothing save a continual, comforting womb of support and confirmation of their worldview. And they’re more than willing to crush anyone or anything that threatens this.
This attitude might be a byproduct of the bubble wrap children, who were raised so carefully, protected, and supported that they never encountered anything that challenged or made them question themselves. It might be a subversive method of silencing speech and dissent from a political agenda that cannot survive rational discussion. It might be the result of a psychosis that cannot abide being questioned. It might be a combination of some or all of those things.
What’s most troubling to me is that the loudest, most insistent, and most publicly conspicuous of this group are those who at the same time insist that they are lovers of liberty and will not tolerate intolerance.
And yet here we are, in the 21st century, where academics have churned out an entire system designed to do exactly the opposite of what academia is meant to be: silence any debate, questioning, or interaction that in any way threatens one specific certain viewpoint. And its done with passive-aggressive behavior taken to an astounding depth of creativity and precision.
Christopher Taylor, “SOCIAL JUSTICE KITTENS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-22.
November 24, 2015
As an editor, I have the privilege of working with all sorts of interesting and influential Canadians. On paper, many of these people are “diverse” — men, women, black, white, straight, gay, trans, cis, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim. Yet scratch the surface, and you find a remarkable sameness to our intellectual, cultural, and political elites, no matter what words they use to self identify. In most cases, they grow up middle-class or wealthier, attend the same good schools, and join the same high-value social networks. They have nice teeth because mom and dad pay for braces, and hit a nice forehand (or three iron) because mom and dad pay for lessons. They know the best patisseries in Paris, because of that epic backpacking trip between undergrad and law school. And as ambitious young adults, they feel okay about ditching the law-firm grind for a prominent life in politics, art, journalism or activism — because a wealthy parent or spouse is paying the mortgage.
We rightly worry about how many women, or blacks, or First Nations individuals are represented in public life. Yet that concern is rarely extended to people whose marginalization cannot be reduced to tidy demographic categories.
In two decades of journalism, I have written and edited countless articles about Canada’s criminal justice system. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, ever spent a night in prison. I have written and edited countless articles about the Canadian military. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, witnessed the hell of war. Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever had a close colleague who lived in public housing; who experienced real hunger; who suffered from a serious health condition that went untreated for economic reasons; whose career or education was compromised by the need to support impoverished relatives; or who had been forced to remain in an abusive relationship for purely financial reasons. We often describe people like this as living “on the margins.” But collectively, this is a vast bulk of Canadians whose hardship and anxiety are rarely witnessed by politicians and media except through survey data and think-tank reports.
November 23, 2015
In September 1941, William McNeill was drafted in the US Army. He spent several months in basic training, which consisted mostly of marching around the drill field in close formation with a few dozen other men. At first McNeill thought the marching was just a way to pass the time, because his base had no weapons with which to train. But after a few weeks, when his unit began to synchronize well, he began to experience an altered state of consciousness. “Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.” McNeill fought in World War II and later became a distinguished historian. His research led him to the conclusion that the key innovation of Greek, Roman, and later European armies was the sort of synchronous drilling and marching the army had forced him to do years before.
Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.
November 22, 2015
On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.
“It doesn’t do,” said the little Englishman, “to try and beat a German down. They don’t seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: ‘Twenty-five marks,’ and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty — one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me ‘Where?’ I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn’t. I said:
“‘What’s the least you will take for it?’
“‘I have told you once,’ he answered; ‘twenty-five marks.’ He was an irritable old chap.
“I said: ‘It’s not worth it.’
“‘I never said it was, did I?’ he snapped.
“I said: ‘I’ll give you ten marks for it.’ I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.
“He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.
“Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks,” I suggested.
“Of course it was,” he replied; “well worth it. But what a notion of business!”
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
November 21, 2015
Almost all of our hard data on race comes from sociology programs in universities – ie the most liberal departments in the most liberal institutions in the country. Most of these sociology departments have an explicit mission statement of existing to fight racism. Many sociologists studying race will tell you quite openly that they went into the field – which is not especially high-paying or prestigious – in order to help crusade against the evil of racism.
Imagine a Pfizer laboratory whose mission statement was to prove Pfizer drugs had no side effects, and whose staff all went into pharmacology specifically to help crusade against the evil of believing Pfizer’s drugs have side effects. Imagine that this laboratory hands you their study showing that the latest Pfizer drug has zero side effects, c’mon, trust us! Is there any way you’re taking that drug?
We know that a lot of medical research, especially medical research by drug companies, turns up the wrong answer simply through the file-drawer effect. That is, studies that turn up an exciting result everyone wants to hear get published, and studies that turn up a disappointing result don’t – either because the scientist never submits it to the journals, or because the journal doesn’t want to publish it. If this happens all the time in medical research despite growing safeguards to prevent it, how often do you think it happens in sociological research?
Do you think the average sociologist selects the study design most likely to turn up evidence of racist beliefs being correct, or the study design most likely to turn up the opposite? If despite her best efforts a study does turn up evidence of racist beliefs being correct, do you think she’s going to submit it to a major journal with her name on it for everyone to see? And if by some bizarre chance she does submit it, do you think the International Journal Of We Hate Racism So We Publish Studies Proving How Dumb Racists Are is going to cheerfully include it in their next edition?
And so when people triumphantly say “Modern science has completely disproven racism, there’s not a shred of evidence in support of it”, we should consider that exactly the same level of proof as the guy from 1900 who said “Modern science has completely proven racism, there’s not a shred of evidence against it”. The field is still just made of people pushing their own dogmatic opinions and calling them science; only the dogma has changed.
And although Reactionaries love to talk about race, in the end race is nothing more than a particularly strong and obvious taboo. There are taboos in history, too, and in economics, and in political science, and although they’re less obvious and interesting they still mean you need this same skepticism when parsing results from these fields. “But every legitimate scientist disagrees with this particular Reactionary belief!” should be said with the same intonation as “But every legitimate archbishop disagrees with this particular heresy.”
This is not intended as a proof that racism is correct, or even as the slightest shred of evidence for that hypothesis (although a lot of Reactionaries are, in fact, racist as heck). No doubt the Spanish Inquisition found a couple of real Satanists, and probably some genuine murderers and rapists got sent to Siberia. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, a government will even censor an idea that happens to be false. But it’s still useful to know when something is being censored, so you don’t actually think the absence of evidence for one side of the story is evidence of anything other than people on that side being smart enough to keep their mouths shut.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.
November 20, 2015
… Rolling Stone morphed into AARP Magazine so slowly, I hardly even noticed.
Ed Driscoll, “Plutocrat Millionaires Insult Military Veterans”, PJ Media, 2014-11-14.
November 19, 2015
Michael Kinsley once famously defined a gaffe as when a politician says what he or she truly believes (i.e., “a gaffe occurs not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth”), a formulation so iconic that it is now known in the trade as a “Kinsley Gaffe.” A special subcategory of Kinsley Gaffe is becoming more common in these days of ubiquitous personal electronics: “accidentally telling the truth without knowing a camera or a tape recorder was running.” This is the category where we’d put Obama’s remarks about “bitter” working-class voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and Mitt Romney’s complaint about “the 47 percent.”
Megan McArdle, “Simple Policies Win Elections”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-11.
November 18, 2015
Piketty’s theory is that the yield on capital usually exceeds the growth rate of the economy, and so the share of capital’s returns in national income will steadily increase, simply because interest income is growing faster than the income the whole society is getting. Let us therefore bring in the government to implement “a progressive global tax on capital” — to tax the rich. It is, he says, our only hope. Reading the book is a good opportunity to understand the latest of the leftish worries about capitalism, and to test its economic and philosophical strength. Piketty’s worry about the rich getting richer is indeed merely the latest of a long series going back to Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. Since those founding geniuses of classical economics, trade-tested progress has enormously enriched large parts of humanity — which is now seven times larger in population than in 1800 — and bids fair in the next 50 years or so to enrich everyone on the planet. And yet the left routinely forgets this most important secular event since the invention of agriculture — the Great Enrichment of the last two centuries — and goes on worrying and worrying in a new version every half generation or so.
All the worries, from Malthus to Piketty, share an underlying pessimism, whether from imperfection in the capital market or from the behavioral inadequacies of the individual consumer or from the Laws of Motion of a Capitalist System. During such a pretty good history from 1800 to the present, the economic pessimists on the left have nonetheless been subject to nightmares of terrible, terrible faults. Admittedly, such pessimism sells. For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell, and become huffy and scornful when some idiotic optimist intrudes on their pleasure. Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world.
Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.
November 17, 2015
We fell into a debate on the meaning of the word “professional,” which was promptly decided by rank. “Professional” turned out to mean an operation that proceeds smoothly; that is impersonal; that is free of temporal distractions and unnecessary costs; and in which everyone does what he’s told without thinking. (This last is called “teamwork.”) It is product-oriented, and the important thing is that the product should preserve market share, while remaining profitable. Let the philosophers decide whether it were any good. The product should rather be, in itself, smooth and mechanically predictable: anything warmly human in the packaging to be carefully faked by the experts in a professional advertising agency. Costs and benefits should be enumerable, and transparent to management at every stage. “Quality,” by contrast, “is purely subjective” — a question of fashion, for those specialists in hype.
“This is a business, not an art form,” I was told. (To be fair, this boss would himself have preferred to be an artist; but the art form would have been acting, and so he played his rôle.)
Now, ethics do come into this. A company that is flourishing will have clear “policies.” A lot of money could be lost if the company were caught cheating, on taxes or whatever; and secrets, as we know, can only be kept between two people if one of them is dead. Therefore, various “options” that might further streamline a profitable operation must be rejected on sight, as adding unconscionably to risk. But ethics cannot extend to any background worldview, that is agnostic on the fundamental human virtues, and thus essentially exploitative and sleazy.
As I have long observed, ethics are for people who have no morals.
I think “professionalism” came in, to the marketplace, about when craft standards were going out. It was discovered that a mass market had come into being, as a consequence of the technological innovations of some Industrial Revolution. Products were no longer made for specific buyers, but for demographic groups to purchase “off the shelf.” Souls could now be counted in the Gogolian manner, as “consumers” in terms of heads, eye-balls, little feet, &c. Broad-franchise representative democracy was a parallel development, and finally, the principles of marketing could be applied across the board. Far from consideration as an immortal soul, the individual could now be denominated as a capricious cypher: a one or else a zero at the “cashpoint.”
David Warren, “On managing”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-11-22.
November 16, 2015
The Great Filter, remember, is the horror-genre-adaptation of Fermi’s Paradox. All of our calculations say that, in the infinite vastness of time and space, intelligent aliens should be very common. But we don’t see any of them. We haven’t seen their colossal astro-engineering projects in the night sky. We haven’t heard their messages through SETI. And most important, we haven’t been visited or colonized by them.
This is very strange. Consider that if humankind makes it another thousand years, we’ll probably have started to colonize other star systems. Those star systems will colonize other star systems and so on until we start expanding at nearly the speed of light, colonizing literally everything in sight. After a hundred thousand years or so we’ll have settled a big chunk of the galaxy, assuming we haven’t killed ourselves first or encountered someone else already living there.
But there should be alien civilizations that are a billion years old. Anything that could conceivably be colonized, they should have gotten to back when trilobytes still seemed like superadvanced mutants. But here we are, perfectly nice solar system, lots of any type of resources you could desire, and they’ve never visited. Why not?
Well, the Great Filter. No knows specifically what the Great Filter is, but generally it’s “that thing that blocks planets from growing spacefaring civilizations”. The planet goes some of the way towards a spacefaring civilization, and then stops. The most important thing to remember about the Great Filter is that it is very good at what it does. If even one planet in a billion light-year radius had passed through the Great Filter, we would expect to see its inhabitants everywhere. Since we don’t, we know that whatever it is it’s very thorough.
Scott Alexander, “Don’t Fear The Filter”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-28.
November 15, 2015
The shopkeeper in Germany does not fawn upon his customers. I accompanied an English lady once on a shopping excursion in Munich. She had been accustomed to shopping in London and New York, and she grumbled at everything the man showed her. It was not that she was really dissatisfied; this was her method. She explained that she could get most things cheaper and better elsewhere; not that she really thought she could, merely she held it good for the shopkeeper to say this. She told him that his stock lacked taste — she did not mean to be offensive; as I have explained, it was her method; — that there was no variety about it; that it was not up to date; that it was commonplace; that it looked as if it would not wear. He did not argue with her; he did not contradict her. He put the things back into their respective boxes, replaced the boxes on their respective shelves, walked into the little parlour behind the shop, and closed the door.
“Isn’t he ever coming back?” asked the lady, after a couple of minutes had elapsed.
Her tone did not imply a question, so much as an exclamation of mere impatience.
“I doubt it,” I replied.
“Why not?” she asked, much astonished.
“I expect,” I answered, “you have bored him. In all probability he is at this moment behind that door smoking a pipe and reading the paper.”
“What an extraordinary shopkeeper!” said my friend, as she gathered her parcels together and indignantly walked out.
“It is their way,” I explained. “There are the goods; if you want them, you can have them. If you do not want them, they would almost rather that you did not come and talk about them.”
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
November 14, 2015
Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?
This question isn’t about whether you think an individual Unitarian or Mormon would make a better person to rush in Rambo-style and get you out of there. It’s about whether you would prefer the Unitarian Church or the Mormon Church to coordinate your rescue.
I would go with the Mormons. The Mormons seem effective in all sorts of ways. They’re effective evangelists. They’re effect[ive] fundraisers. They’re effective at keeping the average believer following their commandments. They would figure out a plan, implement it, and come in guns-blazing.
The Unitarians would be a disaster. First someone would interrupt the discussion to ask whether it’s fair to use the word “terrorists”, or whether we should use the less judgmental “militant”. Several people would note that until investigating the situation more clearly, they can’t even be sure the terrorists aren’t in the right in this case. In fact, what is “right” anyway? An attempt to shut down this discussion to focus more on the object-level problem would be met with cries of “censorship!”.
If anyone did come up with a plan, a hundred different pedants would try to display their intelligence by nitpicking meaningless details. Eventually some people would say that it’s an outrage that no one’s even considering whether the bullets being used are recyclable, and decide to split off and mount their own, ecologically-friendly rescue attempt. In the end, four different schismatic rescue attempts would run into each other, mistake each other for the enemy, and annhilate themselves while the actual terrorists never even hear about it.
(if it were Reform Jews, the story would be broadly similar, but with twenty different rescue attempts, and I say this fondly, as someone who attended a liberal synagogue for ten years)
One relevant difference between Mormons and Unitarians seems to be a cultural one. It’s not quite that the Mormons value conformity and the Unitarians value indivduality – that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s letting progressives bend language to their will, the same way as calling the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-freedom” and “anti-woman” or whatever they do nowadays. It’s more like a Mormon norm that the proper goal of a discussion is agreement, and a Unitarian norm that the proper goal of a discussion is disagreement.
There’s a saying I’ve heard in a lot of groups, which is something along the lines of “diversity is what unites us”. This is nice and memorable, but there are other groups where unity is what unites them, and they seem to be more, well, united.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.
November 13, 2015
I have written a fair bit on this site and elsewhere (I work in the financial/media world) about this subject, and there is no doubt in my mind that the idea that tax competition is harmful is almost always held by politicians and collectivist-minded commentators who want to create a sort of global tax cartel. Cartels are, we learn in our textbooks, harmful although they tend to fracture with time. (The OPEC cartel had a problem in the 80s and 90 sustaining high oil prices, which at one stage went below $10 a barrel). However futile the attempt, however, do not underestimate the harm that is being done in the process of trying to shut down offshore financial centres and the like. The possibility that people can and will take their money elsewhere is one of the few constraints that exist on otherwise rapacious governments. So naturally, governments try to stop this from happening – hence all this talk about shutting down tax “competition”.
When governments claim that tax dodgers are taking food from the mouths of poor babies, treat it with scorn. The money that goes offshore doesn’t disappear down some black hole, never to appear again: that money, if it is to earn a return and outpace inflation, is invested – ie, it is put to work, often far more effectively than would otherwise be the case.
Johnathan Pearce, “The end of tax competition?”, Samizdata, 2014-11-07.
November 12, 2015
Reaction isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s not suggesting there’s a secret campaign for organized repression. To steal an example from the other side of the aisle, it’s positing something more like patriarchy. Patriarchy doesn’t have an actual Patriarch coordinating men in their efforts to keep down women. It’s just that when lots of people share some really strong cultural norms, they manage to self-organize into a kind of immune system for rejecting new ideas. And Western society just happens to have a really strong progressivist immune system ready to gobble you up if you say anything insufficiently progressive.
And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.
The good Catholic in medieval Spain doesn’t feel repressed, even when the Inquisition drags away her neighbor. She feels like decent people have total freedom to worship whichever saint they want, total freedom to go to whatever cathedral they choose, total freedom to debate who the next bishop should be – oh, and thank goodness someone’s around to deal with those crazy people who are trying to damn the rest of us to Hell. We medieval Spaniards are way too smart to fall for the balance fallacy!
Wait, You Mean The Invisible Multi-Tentacled Monster That Has Taken Over All Our Information Sources Might Be Trying To Mislead Us?
Since you are a citizen of a repressive society, you should be extremely skeptical of all the information you get from schools, the media, and popular books on any topic related to the areas where active repression is occurring. That means at least politics, history, economics, race, and gender. You should be especially skeptical of any book that’s praised as “a breath of fresh air” or “a good counter to the prevailing bias”, as books that garner praise in the media are probably of the “We need fifty Stalins!” variety.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.